Cain’s question and Orwell’s 1984

There are a lot of people on this planet and we all need to get along better than we do. That’s what I think. There are two ways of doing this, we can treat each other like brothers and sisters and take care of one another, or we can allow an outside force (i.e. government) to control how we act so as to prevent the ability to injure one another. In each case the end result is that people do less harm to one another, but the means of getting there are anything but equal, and one certainly isn’t beneficial. There are two popular phrases, each includes the word brother, and each represents one of these methods of improving worldwide human relations. One is a question and the other is a statement. The question first.

Cain’s Question

Cain and Abel. Byzantine mosaic i =n Monreale

Cain and Abel. Byzantine mosaic i =n Monreale (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read about Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. Cain is a farmer and Abel is a shepherd. It comes time to offer sacrifice for God and Abel’s sacrifice is accepted, but Cain’s is not. This is discouraging to Cain. God then tells Cain that if he acts right that his effort will be acceptable. If Cain would not choose righteousness then sin would be at his door. As it turned out, Cain chose to allow sin in at the door and he chose to kill his brother, Abel. When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain said he didn’t know and asked “am I my brother’s keeper?”

Orwell’s 1984

Satirist and author George Orwell conceived of a future world where bureaucracy was everything and individuality was nothing. Looking fifty years into the future he set the scene of a society where individual thought was monitored by Big Brother, an overreaching arm of government intent on controlling everything. All aspects of this society point towards control. The people are compelled to be obedient. Whatever the controlling party wants to be reality is shaped into existence through lies and propaganda. Big Brother keeps tabs on everyone and makes sure this reality exists as the controlling party wishes it to.

All together now

big brothers keeperThere are a lot of people on the Earth, as I have recently considered in another post. We don’t all treat each other very well most of the time. We tend to be selfish and prone to establish in-group and out-group methods of living. We like our in-group and we’ll help those we associate with it, but we pretty much ignore the rest of the world, aside from occasional wishes for “the rest” in general terms. There are two methods to combat this, either we all choose to do more to adopt brotherly love or we turn over the responsibility to a governing body and allow it to control us into a semblance of brotherly love. We can be our brother’s keeper or we can submit to Big Brother.

Do you think it is simply one or the other? I honestly do. I think there are two forces, oppositions, and we each follow one or the other, either consciously or by refusing to choose, in which case we will list like an boat at sea without engine, sail or anchor. This shouldn’t be the case, however, as we are very intelligent and capable beings with the ability to exercise individual will and moral agency. By our nature we are intended to be actors, not props.

Whenever we give up our responsibility and accountability to care for each other out of our own will we turn over some of our will to be controlled by Big Brother-esque forces. It doesn’t matter what the topic of the day may be, the current events are filled with them, the point is that if we do not act for ourselves we become things to be acted upon, we become props.

So how do we encourage people to embrace being their brother’s keeper?

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About paulbrodie

I am a writer and a musician. My education is in psychology with emphasis in industrial/organizational psychology. My work experience has been primarily with electronic document management. Academically and intellectually I am interested in criminology and sociology. I am married to my favorite person in the world and we have one daughter.
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13 Responses to Cain’s question and Orwell’s 1984

  1. You’re tapping at the heart of where you and we might have different perspectives on a broad set of issues. This comes up when the topic of reasonable gun legislations is broached as well.
    Many times, people fall into the loose language of talking about “The Government” as though it is some foreign entity totally separate from “We, The People.” We don’t see things in such dramatic, black-or-white relief.
    Here are a couple of examples. We the people (put pressure on/sanction/allow) our government to act for us, collectively, to supply poorer nations (and the people in those nations) with aid in the form of food, education, assistance with infrastructure and even arms. While a minority of very vocal Americans makes it known that they generally don’t approve of this use of our shared resources, an even more vocal majority makes it plain that they would have us – and therefore our government – do no less. In fact, in times of famine, civil war and so forth, this vocal majority generally insists we Do More to aid these nations, and our government usually complies with those wishes.
    Here at home we (Americans) routinely engage in similar behavior; that is, we make our will known to our government that we want certain people – and certain classes of people – to share in some of our collective wealth. Thus we have innumerable example of schools, health centers, legal venues, food assistance, job readiness programs and so on and so forth all aimed at assisting “our brothers.” Again, a vocal minority makes it known that they oppose this kind of use of “government” (our) money. But an even louder majority makes it clear we expect no less of ourselves and our government.
    Here’s the problem with the individual responsibility and accountability you reference: History and the present context show it doesn’t work very well. Time and time again, whether we’re talking about providing education or providing relief for those who have been hit by hurricanes, collective action has proved far more effective than individual action. Before you counter that “the government” is not doing very well in these areas, we urge you to take a hard look at what they were like Before the government got involved. (Or, as we see it, a more accurate way to look at this is to take, for example, education, and look at what it was like in America Before a majority of Americans prevailed upon the government to oversee it. After education, take a look at health care, fishing quotas, mining regulations, water quality, or a host of other things which were in a state of sorry neglect before people collectively got involved and insisted we pool our resources and through our government take action.)
    As we see it, a downright frightening problem America is facing right now is that some very powerful entities have swung the balance at the top of our economic system way too far in support of the individual. And while these individuals wage powerful PR campaigns to convince us that they are “giving back,” the reality paints a different picture. They’re not. If you have a few moments, I hope you’ll take a look at this video: http://beingliberal.upworthy.com/9-out-of-10-americans-are-completely-wrong-about-this-mind-blowing-fact-3?g=7. Although this video was put together by a self-identified “liberal” group, the basic information can easily be verified at other Internet sites.
    Hope your day is going well, and thanks again for the provocative post. JD

    • paulbrodie says:

      I enjoy tapping at the heart of topics where we might disagree because you have very educated responses to leave, which helps me learn. I appreciate that.

      I don’t know much about the state of various programs before the federal government got involved with them. I do know that the formation of this country was a benefit and that society in general benefits from community behavior. My intent with this post was to look at what I view as opposing ends of a spectrum of behavior.

      I hope that we can all accept the reality that we are our brother’s keeper, without being forced to behave like that. It is good for me to help my neighbor. If I do it because the government tells me to or if I do it because I want to the end result is the same for the neighbor, they get the help. So my categories of Cain and 1984 style motivations both obtain the same end for the receiver, but not the giver.

      If I am forced by risk of fine or prison to behave charitably, or even if there isn’t a punishment affixed, but something is taken from me and used for those purposes without my consent then I am not making the choice to behave charitably with my individual will. The choice is made for me and I become a prop, not an actor. One of the principles of life that I feel is of top priority is the freedom to act for myself. Orwell’s 1984 depicts a scene where that freedom has been eradicated. I fear anyone who wishes to take that freedom away, even in the name of “helping your brother.”

      Now, if I freely choose to behave charitably, then everyone benefits, the neighbor and myself. I gain the strength of character that comes through charity. I am acting, not being acted upon. This is what it all comes down to, and I’ll address this in my April 15th post on what I define the purpose of life to be. We must retain our individual choice, no matter how poorly we use it, with the exception of when we use it to cause harm and this according to the agreed upon laws of the land. I do agree with preventing harm from direct abuse or from neglect, but I don’t agree with forcing charitable behavior. If a person chooses to sit in their living room and never venture out to help anyone else, that is their choice.

      How does that mesh with my support of the brother’s keeper rule? I believe in justice from God, as we’ve previously discussed, saying “because God says so” can be a conversation stopper, but I don’t want it to be so, I’m just trying to explain why I believe what I believe, I’m not trying to impose, just offering my perspective. So for me, I trust in God’s justice. Yes, I hope that we can all come together on at least the minimum belief that we are all brothers and sisters and then treat each other accordingly, but without external force. I support external influence, but not coercion. I don’t believe that the government sending foreign aid generated from tax money to other countries for humanitarian aid is the same as individual people do so. I might change that if I felt that there wasn’t such a separation between the federal government and the people, which is apparently something we disagree on again. And yet we are still talking, which proves the point that people can get along well without agreeing on everything and no topic is beyond rational discussion. I think that’s great.

      I do think there is a separation between the people and their representatives. Whether it is the representatives moving further away from the people and becoming elitists, or it is the people giving up their share of the responsibility to make their voices known because of apathy, I don’t know, but I do think the separation is real and significant. Of course, there is a third option which could very well be true: I am out of the loop and not fully aware of the state of the nation, and as I see the majority opinion and my personal opinions grow further apart I attribute it to government factions and not what it really may be, that public opinion and my opinion differ greatly. Whatever the case may be, I think we are better off acting under our own choice and not being imposed upon by external factors, and I support the majority voice, even if I don’t agree with it, but I just need to really feel it is the majority voice. I’ll admit that I’m becoming less trusting of career politicians and so I don’t necessarily believe what they say.

      As always, great response, you make me think outside myself and I like that! I will watch that video you linked and let you know what I feel about it. Thanks!

    • paulbrodie says:

      I watched the video. It doesn’t surprise me. Greed and power are very corrosive and lead to corruption. There is a lot of propaganda out there, the PR campaigns, from everyone who wants us to believe one thing while they simultaneously do something different out of sight. Most people do that to some extent, projecting a social-self while continuously working on their personal-self.

      I see this economic swing you have suggested as an individual problem. But since it is happening with a lot of individuals it becomes a social problem. I don’t know what the author of the video suggests we do to resolve it, he might not have a solution, just presenting the facts about perception of reality. All I know is what I believe and I believe that individual responsibility is the answer. I know, I keep saying that, but I really believe it. This is what I’m driving at with the theme of identifying the purpose of life. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to get a report from people in each of those economic classes in that video of what the individual people believe to be the purpose of life? I would be fascinated to get the candid definition from the so-called 1% as well as the politicians, and everyone right down to the brokest person on the spectrum. I don’t know that everyone would give a fully honest response, again, propaganda and fear of social reprisal, but it would be great to get it.

      I don’t know. I don’t really care if someone has 380 times more money than I do. I don’t think just because he has that much money he should be forced to give it away, but I do believe he’ll be accountable for his stewardship over it. If he gave it away to people it wouldn’t help anyone. Look at all of the folks who win the lottery and then a year later have squandered all of it. Something for nothing doesn’t do anything good for anyone. Rather than condemn, if we all focus on inviting others to live a better life then maybe more people will have the individual desire to be wise stewards over what they have and impart of their substance freely, thereby leading to no poor among us. It is absolutely possible, but it absolutely depends on free will and personal choice to act benevolently.

      Thanks for the video link.

  2. cdmyers00 says:

    Great article and response. While I would come down on the side of “brother’s keeper”, there is an issue to be addressed in Cain’s response. He asks the question AFTER the crime. Barbra and Jack really make that point with their response. Our government only truly works when individuals govern themselves. Whenever (Cain included) the individual puts their needs and desires ahead of the needs and desires of others, government is FORCED to step in. “It is Gods servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4). But the individual, with a true desire to serve others, can be a GREAT force for good.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’m glad Cain asked the question so that we have the opportunity to learn from his atrocious error of choice. I expect that Cain knew the answer before he asked it, just like God knew the answer before he asked “where is thy brother?” God asked that question so that Cain would have the opportunity to act for himself and own his choice. He refused it, like we sometimes do when we are in error, in order to justify or rationalize his behavior. I believe we are accountable to God for the use of our moral agency, the ability to choose for ourselves. God gave Cain the opportunity to confess, the same way he did when he asked Adam certain questions in the Garden of Eden. God obviously knows the answers to these questions, but he asks them so that we can exercise our agency and be accountable.

      I do like the point that you are making about Cain’s timing though, and I think it is relevant to this discussion. I think when the government intervenes and forces people to do anything against their will, not only is it a form of bondage, but it is setting up a situation where we ask that question after the fact, or after the act. We are essentially being forced to serve our brother and then asking afterward “am I my brother’s keeper?” If we acted without coercion then we would be acting under the knowledge that we are our brothers’ keeper.

      Romans 13 is a perfect chapter for this discussion. Paul is referring to the ministers of the Lord that are the retribution, in the form of aiding in the process of repentance. I do not believe the federal government in the U.S. is working in accordance with God at the current time, and I do not believe they are ministers of the Lord, ordained with power from on high, as Paul mentions earlier in that chapter. If they were then I would more fully appreciate their heavy influence, although I do not believe that any ordained ministers of the Lord work with a heavy influence, meaning coercion. Love works through gentleness and invitation, not coercion. I support individual will and agency, even when we mess it up. I trust in God’s justice, which means that often things we see as unjust go unpunished in our world of men. I also like Romans 13:13 for our current government.

      I appreciate your comments, though I disagree on the government being forced to step in. I suppose there are instances where that will be necessary, but there are going to be many more where that isn’t the best case. People need to own their actions and accept personal responsibility. That’s what I think.

      Thanks for building the conversation!

  3. Ned's Blog says:

    Excellent piece, Paul.

  4. Subhan Zein says:

    ‘1984’ is one of my favorite novels of all time! It is amazing how one genius was discovered near his death bed. But that’s one of the mysteries of life, right? 🙂 And the great thing is the political satire rings true in many countries. If they ever translated ‘1984’ in countries China there would probably another massive political turmoil in addition to what has been caused by Liu Xiobo’s detention and Falun Gong’s large demonstrations. But then probably the system is too strong for anyone to be able to rock their boat.

    • paulbrodie says:

      Perhaps. They do seem to have things locked in place over there. But you never know. Given the right circumstances people seeking liberty from oppression can overcome some pretty great odds.

      I think Orwell was a genius, too. Maybe not in the IQ definition of genius, but certainly in his perception and understanding of humanity.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Subhan Zein says:

        Oh, we don’t need IQ definition of genius, do we? Orwell is a genius, no doubt. Anyone who could write a book like that is a genius, would you agree? Lionel Messi is a genius, but he only got less than 120 in his IQ test. Truth is, he is a genius, even greater than Diego Maradona.

        And thank you for reblogging my latest post, my friend, you are one generous soul 🙂

      • paulbrodie says:

        I agree. IQ tests aren’t as reliable as people like to think they are, in my opinion. Like you are implying, genius can manifest in many ways and isn’t tied to tests. Just like education isn’t tied to universities and diplomas. Although, the Wizard of Oz may disagree.

        Your poem inspired me, like you suggested it would. I thing the image of reflecting our light back and forth to each other so that the world never knows darkness is perfect for a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately and what I hope to convey through my blog posts. I worry that sometimes I come across as trying to outshine other people. I’m not, I just want to make sure the light I have gets seen. So I work on my methods.

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