I am currently reading Saul Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, because it seems to be an increasingly dominant influence in American politics. Rules for Radicals promotes a “win at any cost” message, which causes many Christians like me to take great exception to it. However, one of the goals of the book is to empower powerless people, which I can appreciate. I don’t like his methodology, however. Alinsky coaches powerless people to increase their effectiveness at being heard by disrupting the status quo. In other words, he encourages them to do or say whatever is necessary to get their way, or to gain power (sound familiar?). This is how they increase their worth to their causes.
Systems for giving voice and defending the worth of average people are nothing new. Since the Magna Carta, representative governments have increased the political value of average people. I am writing this blog during an election season in which political parties, candidates, and entities behind ballot initiatives and proposed constitutional amendments are striving to get people’s votes. Every time we advocate, vote, and participate in our political process we increase our worth. Representative political systems increase the value of people.
Free Market Capitalism has also increased the value of people. Apple, Facebook, Coke, Ford, and Target are just a few of the thousands of companies that compete to provide us with the goods and services that we want and need. And when they do, they prosper. Serving the needs and wants of people is the key to success in our system, which empowers all of us as consumers. Every time we buy anything, we send a market signal. That increases our value.
It appears, however, that we are entering into an era where others are increasingly attempting to determine our value, as well as how and maybe even if we will be allowed to live. (That has always been the case in nations where governments project greater constraints and control over their people.)
I’ll give you an example that, in my mind, is indicative of the trends we’re seeing. MIT media lab just analyzed 40 million responses to an experiment they launched in 2014 to help determine the algorithms that will direct our self-driving vehicles if they are involved in an accident. Obviously, damage occurs and lives are changed when vehicle accidents occur. Because vehicles are becoming more autonomous, for the first time we need to formally pre-determine where a vehicle should be directed in the midst of an accident and, as a result, who is more likely to be injured or killed.
The results from 40 million responses suggested people preferred to save humans rather than animals, spare as many lives as possible, and tended to save young over elderly people.
The surveys also revealed smaller trends of saving females over males, those of higher economic status over poorer people, and saving pedestrians rather than passengers.
These split-second decisions about the lives of others have always been a part of our driving purview. But now we’re formalizing the value of others in our algorithms. The point of this blog is that we all have different values in the minds of others and we need to realistically assess our own value and consider what we can do to improve our value in the minds of others.
God values each of us, and that gives us intrinsic value. But other people view us differently. I do not believe it is realistic for us to assume anyone else will respect our intrinsic worth. Instead, we may need to accept the responsibility of creating our value in the minds of others with the decisions we make.
Saul Alinsky recommends that you do and say whatever it takes to get your way. He casts doubt on virtue, nobility, and altruistic motivations. He thinks love for others and kindness are myths that are culturally required by the Judeo-Christian heritage in western civilization.
I would differ. I believe in the transformed life that Christ offers that changes our hearts and implants sacrificial service, love for others, and an authentic desire to see others better off. Alinsky firmly believes in the power of selfish ambition and seems to believe honorable motivations are smoke screens. It’s obvious why he is so popular among secular political activists.
But he obviously misses the Holy Spirit’s ability to transform lives from selfish ambition, deception, and manipulation to integrity, responsibility to serve others, and honor. How valuable are we? Our ultimate value is based on our desire to serve Christ by competently serving others. Taking the responsibility for ourselves and serving others ultimately determines our worth, our value, our power, our influence, and our position.
So what should we do to increase our value? Start by reading the Bible, God’s Word, and seek wisdom and perspective in its pages. In addition, learn to pray and to think. Meditation on the Word and praying to your heavenly Father on a regular basis will open your heart and mind to his ideas. In addition, make a commitment to regularly meet with a local gathering of Christian believers. This will give you depth in relationships that will inform political and social ideas and roles.
As you do these things, your life’s foundation will become increasingly firm and your relationships will improve. This foundation will allow your priorities to be better defined, your aptitude to improve, your abilities to increase, and your skills to strengthen. As you become more competent, you will become a pillar of strength and trustworthy. And in this, you will be worth so much more.