Earlier this week, I stirred quite the hornet's nest with a silverogosphere allegory about Dave the Dung Beetle, which focussed on the themes of evidence, faith, responsibility and accountability. Warren followed up with some thoughts on being both right and wrong at the same time. So it falls now to me to try to complete the trilogy with a look at 'good' and 'evil'.
Good and Evil, the relationship between them, and the struggle for supremacy of one over the other, have been classic themes for as long as there has been writing. The first great epics of Greek, Roman and English literature (the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and Beowulf, respectively) can all be read through the good/evil prism if one chooses to do so, and it is a solid theme throughout the Bronze Age Semitic anthology of foundation myths and other tribal fiction that we now tend to refer to as 'the Old Testament'. Its Iron Age and 7th Centuary CE sequels are similarly popular reads thanks in part to their use of this theme. And Shakespeare is probably primus inter pares regarding the manipulation of an audience's emotions through an examination of good and evil, in plays such as Macbeth, Hamlet and Richard III.
Culturally, then, homo sapiens has a brain that seems to be 'hard-wired' to see - and, crucially, represent - the world in terms of good and evil. Modern popular culture is replete with such examples, which all cater to this peculiar taste of ours. It's easy to see why: black and white is always simpler (and arguably more attractive) than shades of grey. It is easier to judge than to understand. And it is far more motivational to feel that one is in a position of 'good' in a fight against 'evil' than if we were forced to accept that we are in a complex and ambiguous position battling another (equally) complex and ambiguous position.
The problems associated with such a narrow perspective are legion. By any objective measure, the Third Reich was 'evil', and the Allies 'good'. But Goering and Hitler (for their deluded and psychotic part) considered Jewry to be the ultimate evil in the world, and viewed the world from their campaign for 'goodness'. The bombing of Dresden by the Allies was widely seen in Germany as an act of Evil, which they took as further proof of the righteousness of their own path. In truth, both sides committed atrocities, and both sides felt they were fighting on the side of goodness. I of course endorse fully the traditional view, as it would be abhorrent (to me) to think in any other way. But to do so is to frame the world from one perspective only, which is a tactic that rarely leads to greater understanding either of events or between peoples.
My favourite quote about religion is by Steven Weinberg, who said, "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." Although I agree with the thrust of this, I think one can sometimes also substitute the word 'dogma' for 'religion', as it is clear that political, racist or other ideological dogmatism can serve just as well as religion in draining a sense of perspective from the mind.
'May the Force be With You' - General Dodonna
So, to Star Wars, one of our favourite-y-ist things ever, ever, ever. Conscious, perhaps, of the ambiguities and complexities discussed above, George Lucas needed to create a world (actually, a galaxy) in which the greyness was truly removed, and only pure good and pure evil could remain. The baddies were very, very, bad, and only motivated by a personal lust for power over others (the Emperor, Darth Vader), personal enrichment (Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt), or cruelty for the sake of cruelty (Salacious Crumb, EV-9D9). The goodies, on the other hand, were truly good, motivated only by a sense of justice (Leia), the welfare of their friends (Luke), or spiritual completeness (Yoda, Obi-Wan).
It's fabulous stuff, seen by seemingly everyone on the planet (except Monsieur d'Arc, who is a curmudgeon about those sorts of thing) and it works so well not in spite of the fact that audiences don't need to wrestle with ambiguities, but rather because of it. Put simply, anything that allows one to feel a woosh of moral certainty, a feeling of being on the 'right' side, or of battling something truly wicked, well, that's something which is a valuable commodity. Rarely in our own lives and personal relationships are we given such surety, so we naturally crave it.
'Do or do not. There is no try' - Master Yoda
How fitting then, that such striking, non-morally challenging, imagery is frequently co-opted by those who wish to provide moral or political certainty to others. I will never forget the time when a friend, who felt (unfairly, I still maintain) that I had betrayed him, said to me, "you Lando". Had he said "you Judas", I doubt I would have felt nearly as vexed. And although Darth Vader has a certain caché, who wants to be Jabba the Hutt? [No offence meant to the third of GM's five ex-wives - Ed.]
The imagery also serves well those who wish to portray themselves as the underdog: the little guy taking on an awesome external force (and winning!). It keeps hope alive of victory, and adds in a dash of heroism, which appeals to the vanity in us all.
And it separates us into 'do-ers' and 'non-do-ers'. Who will stand up and be counted? Who will defend their rights? Who will fight, even if the chances of success are slim?
'I copy, Gold Leader' - Red Leader
One of the reasons behind the success of various sites on the silverogosphere is the colourful use of such imagery. The world becomes neatly divided into good (Sprott, Butler, Wynter Benton [until recently], and Turd Ferguson) and evil (Blythe Masters, George Soros, Ben Bernanke, the Screwtape Files). A fight is being fought - not just for economic safety, oh no! - but for goodness itself. And, from the Odyssey and Beowulf and Shakespeare, we know that evil never prospers. So who would not want to join such a just and noble cause?
The master of the use of this imagery is Turd Ferguson, who borrows wholesale terms from the Star Wars trilogy, with the "Evil Empire" being the best known. In fact, Evil Empire (EE, having earned its own acronym amongst silverites) has become virtually synonymous with JPM-C. As has 'the Death Star' for the COMEX. Even when not explicit, the terminology is there ("join the Turd Alliance", etc.) It is, of course, quite deliberate, and is also very well done. Even for the sophisticated and critical reader, it has the effect over time of creating mental links between buying gold and silver and cherished childhood memories. Of bat-shit crazy right-wing-ism [I'm sorry, but it often is - Ed.] and fighting the evil Sith (such as liberals).
It makes entertaining reading, and is great for making people feel part of a community. But the downside is that it adds once again to the idea that the world exists in black and white, and that that includes the investment world.
'I find your lack of faith disturbing' - Darth Vader
The problem of this obsession with the Evil Empire is that it rather makes one's fans feel like they're part of the Rebel Alliance; the flip-side being that anyone who isn't in complete agreement with you must therefore be on the Dark Side. And once labels are applied, rational debate quickly dies. What is never done is a pause to consider things from the others' perspective.
The demonisation of Blythe Masters on the silverogosphere is, to me, one of the most distasteful, misogynistic, cruel and infantile aspects of the community. I have seen comments expressing a desire to rape her, wishing her to get various cancers, wanting to throw acid in her face, and calling her a 'bitch', a 'whore', and a 'c**t'. Often the word 'Jewish' is appended before or after these epithets. Now, do I have a lot of respect for someone who has devoted their life to creating fiendishly complex financial instruments that have the sole purpose of creaming off productive wealth from society? No, I don't. Do I respect someone who raises millions of dollars a year for breast cancer charities? Yes, I do. Do I like the sort of person who takes legitimate hedging tactics and uses them to further destabilise markets? No, I don't. Do I like to see a strong, ambitious, woman rise in a notoriously sexist industry through talent and hard work? Yes I do.
It's complicated, isn't it? Regardless, virtually no-one (serial killers, child molesters and the Third Reich aside), deserves such a level of vitriol and ad hominem assault. JPM-C is able to do what it does because the legislation is not in place to stop it doing so. So attention needs to shift to the politicians.
But, again, we are hamstrung in our efforts to do this, because of the filing of everything into the 'good' or 'evil' camps. So, today's big news is that the Supreme Court has ruled that Obama's Health Care bill is constitutional. Reading the silverogosphere today, we see more of the same: Obama is "evil" (less politely said, of course). Now, I do not want to launch a debate on the merits or otherwise of this health care plan - that is NOT what Screwtape is about - we're not political in that sense. But, anyone who is in full control of their faculties can surely not accuse a man who wants to bring health care to millions of people as being 'evil'. Misguided? Perhaps - one can argue that. Visionary? Perhaps - one can argue that. But 'evil'? No, I'm sorry - a sense of perspective is needed here, and it is sadly lacking because the use of imagery such as that described above has helped to polarise people into different camps.
'Looks like you've managed to cut off our only escape route' - Princess Leia
Which brings me to the conclusion. Although 'good' and 'evil' can be fun, and certainly make a great way to tell a story, real life is invariably more complicated. In truth, we all have good and evil motivations, and we all have motivations that are seen as good by others (when we think they're evil) and evil by others (when we think they're good). Trying to compartmentalise people through the prism of one's own moral righteousness serves only to destroy a debate and ultimately to lose the very argument that we'd hoped to win.
Call the COMEX the 'Death Star' if you like. It's funny, and memorable. But it adds little value to the advice being given if readers stop considering the importance of the LBM. Call JPM-C the Evil Empire if you like - it's humorous and possibly apposite. But what does that make silver billionaire investors that are behind so much of the pump and dump tactics used on the web that have helped take silver from $26 to $49 back to $26? The Rebel Alliance? Feel free to imagine that you have all the answers, and could do a better job of running the world's biggest economy, but perhaps the skills needed to do so come from all quarters?
Only the Sith deal in absolutes...
(not included in the original article, but appended later)