Like most kids, I loved all the stories where the good guys win and the bad guys are vanquished. From the fairy tales with dragon-slayers to the TV Westerns (though I was mixed-up back then about who the bad guys were!) to Charles Dickens' novels to the epic myths like the Ramayana and the Odyssey, the storylines mostly boiled down to good versus evil and the inevitable triumph of good.
With sophistication came the realization that we all are a mixture of good and evil and the true vanquishing to be done was in her own hearts and minds, souls and spirits. The demons that haunt us are not eradicated by assault weapons, but are tempered or ritualistically expressed or softened or accepted through meditation, therapy, music, writing, art and other disciplines of inner martial arts.
And yet there still are bad guys—and gals—out in the world who are out, intentionally or otherwise, to do us harm. Working on loving kindness, understanding, compassion can help us meet them up to a point. But it’s not enough. So many loving communities have been destroyed by marauding hordes from the Mongols to McDonalds and the power of politicians, bankers, soldiers and the like to destroy and harm and hurt is pretty well documented in a gruesome subject called History and the Daily News. Without a body to practice loving kindness, without a home to gather in, without the freedom to do good work, evil will continue to ravage the world unchecked. So we need to take political action seriously and limit the amount of harm the greedy, selfish, fanatic and crazed can do.
Some of my favorite movies—and books—are the ones where fraud and greed and corruption are exposed and the bad guys get their just desserts. Think All the President’s Men, Pelican Brief, Erin Brockovich and the like. Recently, there have been a run of similar exposes—Truth, Spotlight, Trumbo, all of which deliver the satisfying ending. Dalton Trumbo finally gets the recognition he deserved, abusive priests are exposed (though Cardinal Law seemed to get off too easily).
And then there’s The Big Short. This one’s about the 2008 financial crisis that turned some 8 million Americans out of their homes and caused some 6 million to lose their jobs. All while the big boys in Wall Street were getting rich and celebrating their success. At least in The Wolf of Wall Street, the greedy guy flies too high and gets taken down. But here— in the movie and real life— the bad guys who get rich without an ounce of concern for the folks affected by their greed get off scot free. Government bails them out, no one goes to jail, no regulations are put in place to check their power in the future. Is this something new in the world? The bad guys win? It’s as if Judas and Pontius Pilate are the ones we now admire and worship and Jesus was just a loser guy who couldn’t beat the big boys.
It’s easy to identify a Christian Ku Klux Klan or Islam ISIS terrorist and see the evil they perpetuate in the name of their God. But what about the damage from Wall Street greed worshipping their Almighty Dollar? There is much evil afoot here and yet, we not only bail them out and give them tax breaks and excuse them when they break the law; we admire them.
And thus it goes on and will go on until we change our story. One of my Christmas presents is a book from Tim Wise titled Under the Affluence, about this very subject of changing the story, stop blaming the poor and the immigrants and the refugees, stop making it shameful to be poor and start shifting the shame to the rich. I’ll keep you posted on his thoughts.
Meanwhile, it gets my goat that the bad guys are winning and we’re letting them. But I guess there’s always Hell.