by Mordecai Plaut
What Makes People Run Today?
About 60 years ago, an author named Bud Schulberg wrote a
popular book about the extremes of free enterprise and
competition, showing how ugly they can become, entitled
What Makes Sammy Run? The book described a wheeler-
dealer named Sammy Glick who clawed his way up to the top of
the Hollywood heap. It was not pretty: ". . . in the midst of
a war that was selfish, ruthless and cruel, Sammy was proving
himself the fittest, the fiercest and the fastest." Sammy was
ruthless and single-minded as he moved to the top, and he did
not hesitate for a second to stab his friends in the back if
it brought him closer to his goals.
The author had a definite attitude towards his creation and
it was negative. Sammy Glick was representative of the worst
that freedom and unbridled competition produce: ruthless,
power-hungry, egomaniacal and hedonistic. The full
description of his character in the novel may have evoked
some feelings of pity in readers, but in those days it was
clear that he was far from being a role model.
In an afterword to an edition of the book published in 1989,
Mr. Schulberg wrote that in the previous 15 years or so he
had noticed "a 180-degree turn in our national attitude
toward Sammy." Though he felt the same about the main
character of his book as always, in recent years, audiences
began to see him as a genuine hero, as someone they wanted to
emulate. They admired Sammy. In a recent interview in the
New York Times (May 7, 2000) Schulberg said, "This new
generation . . . appear[s] to feel that any kind of moral
brakes on what you do seem old-fashioned or out of date or
even nonexistent. I don't think they even think about it." In
the afterword to the 1989 edition, Mr. Schulberg wrote that
the yuppies of the 80's were suffering a moral breakdown
"without even seeming to realize that suffering is
This trend does not bode well for American society. Modern
life is built on cooperation; on joining together to comprise
a large system that provides a better (material) life for
everyone. If everyone is ruthlessly out for himself, people
will just destroy each other -- and society as well.
This approach is not a passing fad but really a deep part of
the Western heritage. The Greeks worshiped their heroes, and
the heroes in turn thought only of themselves and their
glory. A distinguished Greek scholar explained that the
Homeric hero must be supremely loyal to himself and to
nothing else, not even the divine. A Greek hero can even pray
for the defeat of his own side in war if it enhances his own
personal glory. What makes Sammy run in the secular year 2000
is the same thing that made Achilles run 2,500 years
Trends like this are worrisome and dangerous to the Torah
community. This approach to life, while perhaps not one of
the worst transgressions, is certainly profoundly at odds
with the Torah's goals for society, such as loving our
neighbors. A person can adopt such an attitude in some areas
of his life and maybe still technically observe all the
mitzvos of the Torah, though even then he would certainly be
what Chazal call a "menuval birshus haTorah" -- a degenerate
who remains within the bounds of the Torah.
We must remember that "we run and they run. We run towards
the life of Olom Haboh, and they run to a dark pit."
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