What Gangsters, Goths, and Gurus Have in Common

Hustling the dream of relocating from your glass house to a diamond fortress.

Posted May 22, 2019

We all live in glass houses. Every one of us is human, fallible, and to some degree self-dealing. It’s therefore dangerous for us to start attacking others for their failings and self-dealing. If we throw stones, we’ve got our glass houses to protect against retaliation.

Throwing stones is tempting. It’s fun and exciting. It makes us feel heroic. Throw a stone, and at least until the retaliation, we feel safer for it. When you’re outraged by someone else’s failings, you can ignore your own. There’s no shorter path to self-aggrandizement than via outrage. Indignance makes us feel righteous. You know the feeling. It’s the thrill of writing that note telling someone off. Maybe you regret it later, but not while you’re writing it. You feel like a hero for throwing that stone.

Fun aside, there are people who deserve to be pelted with our stones, people who take their self-serving fallibility to extremes. Live and let live has its limits. We can’t just surrender to tyrants. Someone has to throw stones at those who make life intolerable for others.

“He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone,” is a nice sentiment, but as a principle to live by, you can’t. None of us are without sin. We can’t just wait for some sinless someone to throw the first stone. Taken literally, it means we could never assign judges to sentence criminals because no judge is without sin.

Casting stones is fun and functional, but here we are in our glass houses, which we need to protect. No wonder we dream of relocating to an impenetrable diamond mansion/fortress from which we can cast stones without risk of retaliation. If we lived in one, we could dish it out all we want without ever having to take it in.

It’s the dream of landing somewhere perfectly and permanently safe and free, a place where we’re free to be our unconstrained selves, pigs if we want. Whatever. And yet perfectly protected, secure and successful.

That’s the diamond mansion/fortress we’d like to occupy, and there are plenty of sociocultural movements that promise us exactly that. They take two basic forms. Some sell a mansion on a hill, a dwelling of permanent piety, a way to be holier than thou to everyone who doesn’t agree with us. Some sell a diamond fortress, the opportunity to be a pig and get away with it. In other words, some emphasize permanent safety, and others emphasize permanent freedom.

Ideologies (whether religious, spiritual, political, or philosophical) sell permanent safety. Once you have embraced their ideology, you are born again, woke, a permanent exception to human fallibility. You are even perfect in your humility, perfectly freed from self-dealing. After all, you’re a selfless devotee to an immortal truth. That can’t be self-dealing, right?

The allure of gangsters, anarchists, billionaires, fascists, authoritarians, shock jocks, and shock rockers (punk, metal, gangster rap, etc.) is permanent freedom: You can be a pig and get away with it. You can even be a superstar, doing well while expressing your full-range, raging inner beast.  

Those who hustle perma-safety and those who hustle perma-freedom offer two sides of the same alluring coin. This coin, which would appeal to all of us, is the luckiest one of all. It’s the coin with which we imagine that we can trade up, relocating out of our glass houses and into a perfect, impenetrable diamond mansion/fortress from which to throw stones, a home where we can be both perfectly safe and perfectly free, guaranteed that we’re eternally safe and free.

You can act like a pig in your mansion/fortress. You can do whatever you want. You can be as nasty as you want to the neighbors, casting stones, tossing beer cans into their yards, and whatever you do, you’ll still always be safe, free from threats, free from retaliation.

Freedom and safety are not independent tracks. The safety is generated by freedom. It's not just the casual free-tossing of beer cans into the neighbor's yard. It's pelting everyone who isn't in your community with such a barrage of stones that they can't retaliate. As such, it's more like a fortress in full battle mode than a diamond mansion. People in glass houses shouldn't boast either, but in a diamond mansion/fortress you can boast all you want. It insults others, but that's part of how you stay impenetrable. Who cares what they think? They're just hypersensitive ninnies, unlike you up there in your secure hold. 

People flock to this authoritarian leaders and gurus revealing the "One True Path" to enlightenment for the same reason that I found Tony Soprano so alluring and charismatic. The allure of shooting down at everyone from the safety of one's diamond mansion/fortress.

Tony was a psychopath, and the guru is all about virtue. What they have in common is the appeal of a high-end realtor inviting us to move into their gated community, offering us a deal we can’t refuse on an impenetrable diamond mansion/fortress from which to pelt others.

Punk rockers, gangsters, billionaires, and saints all offer this deal. You watch them do whatever they want without threat to their success. You want to be like them, because as it is, you dwell in your glass house, frustrated and constrained. You can’t say what you really think. You’ll end up with broken windows and a broken reputation. It would be so much better if you could relocate to a perma-free and perma-safe diamond mansion/fortress.

Who wouldn't want to be perfectly free and perfectly safe, guaranteed for life? Or eternity with some religious and spiritual diamond mansion/fortresses. Either way, for the duration of your experience of eternity.

Free at last. Thank God, I'm mighty and free at last!