WE KNOW that the culture is wrong. Every day, young people are pushed towards self-confidence and self-promotion, because adults do it. Talent-shows promote that which is not talent. Careers promote bankers, politicians, and media people to high levels of ineptitude. Academics with one idea borrowed from someone else are crowned with the status of intellectuals. We are all supposed to be confident in ourselves, blossoming with self-belief and committed to letting the world know about it.
Given that some of us are anti-motion because we just want to sit around, the promotion industry remains a tower of Babel. Self-promotion is easy. Bernard Madoff persuaded supposedly intelligent investors to part with $50 billion in a puff of smoke. Conservatives, who were completely behind the financial capitalism and deregulation creating our banking crisis, say, “We will sort it out,” and we believe them.
Often, those at the top are wrongly promoted incompetents, prevented by their secretaries and those around them from doing too much damage. We have all met them. But the myth must always be maintained. Headhunters, PR people, and other overpaid executives all depend on the illusion for their place at the trough.
Part of the game is to make things complicated which are simple. Banking is really only moving money from one account, where it won’t be used, to another, where it might be. Politicians say, correctly, “This is right,” and media people may sometimes convey what is true.
Yet the people at the top claim far more. Bankers want vast bonuses for losing billions of pounds in a complicated way. Politicians claim, “We are right,” a claim of unbelievable stupidity. Media people claim to be stars and give us “reality”. They also tell us, the people, what is popular. All are paid vast amounts for confusing us with convoluted hype.
More than this, self-confidence involves stealing credit. The executive sacks 1000 workers, tells the rest to work harder, and claims their credit for a few million pounds profit. Shell and BP take credit for sucking God’s good, and irreplaceable, oil out of the earth. Now we know they don’t even have to suck.
We all reel in credit to ourselves and expel blame. Most of the West pats itself on the back while being carried on the sedan chair of Third World labour. Self-confident people at the top are looting kudos from those around them on a global scale. Women used to be, and often still are, a soft touch for this stuff. Doctors are paid vast amounts for telling us to go away until it is better, while nurses, often women, do the real caring. You do the work; I take the credit.
Meanwhile, those with the confidence of Mussolini fail and are dangerous. The academic who cannot rethink is as useful as a closed book. When Tony Blair said “Trust me,” the débâcle of Iraq was on its way. The wealth-creator does just the opposite. The charismatic figure self-harms, and harms others. Self-confidence is ruining the world.
The whole gross system is false for so many reasons. God is Creator; we are pathetic creatures. Every day, evidence destroys our claims to being right. Others are better than we ourselves. We depend on others. We are miserable sinners and do evil; it is Macbeth who says vaulting ambition o’erleaps itself and falls on the other side.
Much glory is hollow. We are failed friends, spouses, parents, and workers. Faith not in ourselves, but in the Christ, is our only sanity — the Christ who emptied himself and said definitively, “Everyone who exalts himself will fall, and he who humbles himself will rise.” So we say goodbye to self-confidence, and seek the mercy and grace of God.
Dr Alan Storkey is the author of Jesus and Politics (Baker Book House, 2005).