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Economies of Seduction
..but if it helps just one person..
Ephialtes of Trachis was a hunchback. Although it had been his aim to serve in battle, the highest honor he might have in ancient Greece, he knew he wasn't a soldier worthy of King Leonidas of Sparta. Rejected, he went to the enemy camp in search of any honor the war might give. If Ephialtes were an honest man, he would not have fallen for the flattery sold to him by the enemies of his King. But those Persians had a different religion, and so they sold him a blessing. In turn, he betrayed the position of Leonidas and his troops. He became a traitor to everything he had held sacred just a week before. This story conveys the treachery of selling virtue, of deflecting an individual from the path of his best understanding by offering him a blessing. This is the moral hazard of blessing the marginal gift.
I believe that you cannot cheat an honest man. If a man truly believes that his honest work is the sum of his moral contribution to society and that his integrity is to be found solely there, then he becomes that honest man by doing that honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. A charlatan cannot sell him the Brooklyn Bridge. A counterfeiter cannot sell him a fake watch. A flatterer cannot sell him phony honor. A whore cannot sell him false love. No priest, poet or politician can sell him the kingdom of heaven, peace of mind or prosperity in our time. The honest man simply cannot be sold, and thusly he cannot be cheated. It’s awfully difficult to remain honest in a consumer society where the business of the nations elites is to sell you comfort and ease.
The Protestant Church exists because honest men realized that they were being sold the kingdom of heaven through authoritarian dignitaries. Martin Luther saw through it. He determined, in so many words, that the conversations between God and man needed no intermediaries. I like the aphorism that you may trust a man who says he speaks to God, but you should never trust a man who tells you God speaks to him. And so it is not simply with spirituality, but all sorts of honors offered to mankind. I am particularly attuned to this set of honors and I am always on my guard against the following style of argument:
"If by this act you improve the life of only one person, then the world will be a better place.”
Let it be known that I have a sensitivity to this particularly unctuous solicitation. Whenever I hear it, I see nothing more than an invitation down a slippery slope and a great moral hazard. It is by this clever little tool that pennies are extorted from the masses and aggregated into irresponsible millions. I say every simple kindness is its own reward and no man who is not a child ever need be reminded what is good and what is not. So let the judgment of men be upon men. Who is cruel and who is vicious and who is gentle and who is gracious is for all of us to see plainly. But let the good man be shamed for not giving the extra penny and who then is beyond our arrogant reproach? Let the murderer be redeemed by writing a children’s book and what cruelty can we not accept?
Today we are being sold by a thousand professional and millions of amateur charlatans. The game is called presidential politics and the currency is not only your vote, but your opinion. When candidate Harris was added to the Biden ticket, immediately the parade of marginal gifts were placed in front of our noses to approve or disapprove. Remember that time she said X? I have rescued the video for you to like or subscribe. A marginal gift to be sure.
It once seemed to me that only religion could motivate men to amplify the value of the marginal gift. For who but the priests of either earthly or heavenly religious disciplines can be the poet, priest or politician who bestows honor upon the common man and his marginal gift? And who needs such blessing? Well only the dishonest man, because any ordinary man can clearly see how significant is his extra kindness. So I’m saying that we are losing our secular nature and becoming religious devotees. I hope I am saying it in such a clear way to illustrate that our poets of fashion, our activists and candidates of politics as well as our priests of organized faiths are each aiming to seduce us into their systems of rewards and punishments. They are making us all dishonest.
I remember that feeling of fear being imposed upon me as a child. The teenager with the stingy brim tilted to the side ambled up me on the sidewalk. “What set you from?” Huh? “I said what set you from?” Ah. He was a gangster. I turned the tables. There are no gangs in my neighborhood. I asked him if he was a Crip. His frustration exceeded his anger so I didn’t get the shit slapped out of me. “No fool. I’m Piru. Crips are cool, but Piru rule. Say it!” I repeated the incantation, slowly as if the mysteries of power were being revealed. I realized by saying it I was absolving myself of a beatdown, even though I wasn’t a rival gangster or much taller than four foot five. “Anytime somebody axe you, you tell them. Crips are cool, but Piru rule.” I nod. He strolled on.
Fifty years later, the lesson remains. With their mighty mystical incantations they seize us in their ideological grip. Instantaneous judgment awaits. One false move, one wrong word, and the big fish eats the little.
You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. These fundamental things apply since the beginning of time. Oh but the politician will sell you in no uncertain terms that a kiss by his opponent is the most vile act imaginable. Or some priest will sell you the that the act of kissing his ring will purchase treasures in heaven. We are told that the LGBTQ kiss is the most dangerous act of human courage. I say these are all marginal acts amplified through arrogant fetish regimes. The dollar spent brushing flies from the face of the African child. These are false moral economies funded by the credulity of mostly honest men and their extra pennies who have bought into P.T. Barnum’s utopia to come.
I say let a man do his work, and let him not be seduced into the false economies of bestowed blessings. Let the man know his own virtue, and if God watches and cares, then God knows exactly as the man knows himself. No other man could possibly know, and only charlatans presume to know. The one thing I have learned that has singularly animated my trust in Christian ethics is the understanding that God has given man free will, without which he would be a mere beast. Inherent in that free will is the absolute and Godlike clarity in the difference and the distance between good and evil, without which man could be neither. This is what is meant by creating man in his own image and the entire import of Eden's apple. So let the judgment of men be upon men. It is fully sufficient, because the absence of men’s judgment upon men is in fact the invitation to evil and chaos. Beware the man who says he brings blessings upon you for your marginal gifts. He is the seducer.