Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5760 - June 28, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
What Makes People Run Today?

by Mordecai Plaut

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 appear[s] to feel that any kind of moral brakes on what you do seem old-fashioned or out of date or even nonexistent.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 involved."

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 earlier.

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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