Undisturbed Marauders, and the contempt of misfortune…

5 Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune
   as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
6 The tents of marauders are undisturbed,
   and those who provoke God are secure—
   those God has in his hand. (Job 12)

I teach business ethics.  One thing which is particularly troubling is how easily people will let themselves take advantage of others, do pretty obviously unethical things, and yet apparently sleep with a good conscience.  In Christian terminology this would be sin and self-deceit. 

The blindness which comes on someone who convinces themself that it is acceptable to do unethical is subtle and amazing.  People shake their heads wondering how that Ken Lay and Andrew Fastow could have done what they did at Enron and cashed out, knowing the whole thing was a sham and that the company was bankrupt.  People wonder how that Bernie Madoff could have lived with himself, duping close friends and associates he’d known his whole life, while all the while robbing them blind, essentially. 

If there is a way, people seem to find that way to convince themself that they are not so bad, and that others are clearly worse then they are.  How else could we explain why some people like to watch the ‘Jerry Springer Show’?  If you watch an episode where people who are extremely screwed up in bizzarre relationship feuds start throwing chairs at each other, at least you can say, “I’m certainly not that screwed up!” and rest in your semi-normalcy, and ignore your own faults…

But the danger of having our posterchild bad-guys like Madoff and Lay is that in focusing on their bad deeds, we will turn our attention away from our own faults and indifference to misfortune. 

The passage above from Job 12 says that “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune,  as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.”  When we are living in ease, we don’t want to be disturbed by the misfortune of others.  As we do our best to build up our own protected world for ourselves, we do not want the disturbance or risks of being actively involved in the misfortune of others.  I even find myself blaming those in misfortune for their predicament, rather than trying to help them.  After all, the lives of those in misfortune are often quite messy, and that means I may get messsy as I get intertwined in their life. 

The next verse is particularly ominous, as I read it:  “The tents of marauders are undisturbed,  and those who provoke God are secure—  those God has in his hand.”  The marauders are undisturbed, and it seems that they can ignore the misfortune of others and maraud and still be at peace– we see this daily all around us.  But the ominous part is that ‘those who provoke God are secure” and God has them in his hand.  They think there are no consequences to their marauding, their indifference– and we think this because life seems to go on pretty well despite our sins– but Job says that this safety is illusory.  There will be consequences, because God is in control of the situation– of the world. 

Just after this, he encourages his listeners to go “ask the animals”, the birds, the fish, any of Creation, and they will all testify that God is the source of life and the world, God is in control, and He knows what is happenning. 

In other words, undisturbed maraunding will not be undisturbed forever.  Our sins will come back to us. 

So, while I do use Madoff and Lay as model exemplars par excellance of bad business behavior, I always try to help the students (and myself) see how we have our own ways and means of deceiving ourselves as we also commit acts which we would not be proud of.  We are, in some ways, like Madoff et al insofar as we also deceive ourselves and do not take a full account of our indifferences.  We too show indifference to the misfortunes of others, and find our own success to be much more important than helping those who need it.

May God have mercy on us ALL.

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