Remember. The problem is not corruption or greed. The problem is the system. It forces you to be corrupt.
This line is a quote from Slavoj Zizek’s speech at Occupy Wall Street. I will not try and wade into the larger conversation about this movement (see here for frequent updates). I want simply to focus on this line. For me this line is a stumbling block; and I believe stumbling block is precisely the correct term. I continue to believe in autonomous morality. I continue to believe that it is possible for each individual to make a morally valid decision in real life circumstances. I believe this despite the fact that I know it is not true. And so I come to a stumbling block, an offense.
I sat with this line as I visited a man from my neighbourhood. Our church is not exactly a hot spot for those seeking material support though we get our share of traffic. The process is almost always the same. There is prefacing story which sets the person both in morally acceptable or pitiable conditions. This often includes acknowledging some religious conviction, some desire to work, and some immediate pressing need. I will then wait for the second half of the conversation in which the person will move inevitably towards his (almost exclusively a male) best shot at getting something out of the exchange.
And there I sit, Solomon on his throne, judging how best to suggest sawing his child in half to reveal true motivations. I stand as the face and gate-keeper of what should be the symbol of consuming charity. Now to be sure charity is not paternalism but why does paternalism exist in the context of giving charitably? Still one must learn to be responsible, correct? To the extent that responsiblity lies in the realm of economics I will continue to be corrupt in my engagement with those in need. To the extent that responsbility is integrated into a relational fabric there may be a chance to level out life experiences. Current capitalist economics demands a responsibility based on severed points of accountability. It demands I take care of my house. And this is where existentialism remains important in conversations about social systems. One must ultimately be converted into a larger house; a house that still has rooms and boundaries but a house that also has a larger and expanding commons. The church in North America, by and large, cannot offer a commons to those who seek it. And until then I may be forced to remain corrupt.