Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Couple Divergent Thoughts

1. Some of my family watched Divergent this afternoon again on DVD. It's an interesting concept, dividing society into factions like the brave, the smart, the selfless, and the candid. It's a little like the four cardinal virtues of the ancient Mediterranean--courage, wisdom, self-control, and justice, although candor seems the weakest of the choices.

In this post-apocalyptic Chicago, you cannot change factions once you have chosen in late adolescence. It's reminiscent of the caste system in India (priests, warriors, farmers, servants, and untouchables) although there you were stuck from birth. It also reminds of Plato's Republic, where there are the philosophers (the head), the warriors (the chest), and the workers (the abdomen).

Of course it's a ridiculous system, but we are but dust. Anyone who thinks the human race has outgrown the most ridiculous of worldviews or that the West is somehow above all that is horrendously self-deceived. The average human being here is just as unreflective and capable of atrocity as the average human being anywhere else.

But what I find particularly fascinating about the first Divergent movie is the tension between the faction called "Abnegation" and the one called "Erudite." (BTW, I can't stand the way they pronounce the word in the movie. I know it's one way to pronounce it but, please, just say "air-oo-dite"--THERE'S NO Y IN THE WORD!!! It's like it cancels out what the faction is supposed to be... SMART!)

2. After Chicago emerges from its apocalypse and the faction system is created, Abnegation (those who are selfless and put themselves above others) are put in control. Why? Because it is against their own principles to do things in their own self-interest over others. They are, as it were, the Christian or Buddhist faction.

This actually is a profound idea. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories from Roman history. Cincinnatus in the early Roman republic is a hero of mine and many. The Romans called on him from his small farm to lead an army as dictator twice. The first time he had subdued the enemy in two weeks and surrendered his power the day the conflict was over. The second time he was raised to quell a rebellion and, again, immediately surrendered his power when the rebellion was defeated.

So the idea that those who don't want control or power would be those who had to rule is an idea full of wisdom.

3. Enter Erudite, the bookish, smart ones. In the movie, they plot to take over the city and to put all of Abnegation to death. They especially want to destroy those who are "divergent," individuals who are gifted in multiple ways and don't fit neatly into any one faction.

Several things are fascinating about Erudite here. First, being smart doesn't mean a person is right. Get ten "smart" people in a room from different tribes and you will often find ten different ideas. No one is objective and perhaps Socrates is still right that the person who knows how much he or she doesn't know is the wisest person in the room. No one is completely objective.

But many smart people are convinced that they know the right way to go or the right thing to do. In this case, the erudite are utilitarian. They believe that killing the enemies of the system will save society long term. So kill a thousand to save ten thousand.

Of course they are wrong in this movie.

A good leader makes decisions but wants to hear multiple perspectives before making it. And a good leader will make that decision not for selfish benefit but for the benefit of the mission, with a view to the team.

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