The Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer battle was a heavyweight fight with what seemed like a clear winner. In religious terms – which nobody used – it was about what we’re serving, whether gods or idols. That’s really too simple, though. It seems like a cloudier picture.
Gods, as theologians define them, are those values and ideals that can give us a more noble and authentic life when we serve them faithfully – a life of which we can be proud in front of any audience. Idols, by contrast, are the far more seductive values pushed on us by our social group, our religious club, our economic and racial castes. They promise a privileged, entitled kind of life, but in the end we may find they got their power by sucking it out of us, with nothing of substance to offer in return. That’s a theological teaching many centuries old.
In this scenario, the “salvation” plot is clear. Expose the idols, exalt the gods, convert the unsure, and lead them to Life More Decent and Pure.
If you ask the masses, as public opinion is doing, it’s clear who served what in this recent fight. Stewart won, so he was sponsored by God. Cramer, who was billed as God, embarrassed himself as soon as he appeared before a broad audience no longer limited to True Believers (“In Cramer We Trust”? Even Aesop knew that pride goes before a fall.) He was obviously the plaything of idols. Cramer played stocks as a game for the idle rich, on his CNBC network with fewer than 300,00 viewers, none getting food stamps. They must keep their smug discussions confined to The Faithful because their arguments are repugnant when made in front of an audience of workers rather than investors. So the venue itself – just putting Cramer in front of Jon Stewart’s audience, then millions more through internet and YouTube amplification – doomed Cramer. The fact that he was both unprepared and wrong didn’t help either.
But history is on the side of Cramer’s group. The rich have almost always ruled and made the rules. Even this country’s founders were divided on this, with the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court declaring that “The people who own the country ought to govern it,” and James Madison saying the primary responsibility of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” because those “without property, or the hope of acquiring it, cannot be expected to sympathize sufficiently with its rights.” And serving the rights and privileges of property is the route to the only salvation worth scurrying after. They would have been watching CNBC, not Comedy Central. So this recurring claim that the government should serve a majority of the people is, seen against a background of real history, way out of touch with reality. There is a God here too, and it is clearly the God of history.
What the masses have on their side, besides never-ending battles in a game against a stacked deck, are all the noblest and dearest teachings of every religion and almost every philosophy on earth. When the greedy conspire to increase the power of their greed, as they must, they couldn’t and wouldn’t try to defend it as loving, compassionate, as doing unto others as they would have others do unto them, as being in harmony with the Tao, or as nurturing the Buddha-seeds or God-seeds within them. It’s about them, their greed, their cunning, their power, and the resulting shape of the world, pure and simple: believing that the people who own the world ought to govern it. The masses don’t really count, as even the stock market shows. In 1960, when we actually had an empowered middle class, the Dow was well under 1,000. When worker unions win, workers get higher wages and benefits, get health care and decent pensions, and stock prices go down because it cuts into the short-term profits of the cleverer. Perhaps the only religious theme available to Jim Cramer’s CNBC audience is the claim to the unalloyed selfishness every religion has identified as the most fundamental and damaging of all human sins.
Maybe this isn’t so cloudy after all.