Shepherd or Charlatan Part 1 - Social Dynamic Foundations

Human social dynamics are complex, but are fundamentally shaped by the material world that we live in. We are finite beings that rely on consuming material resources in order to persist, and so our survival ultimately relies on our ability to procure and consume those resources.

Human reliance on resources traces back to Genesis, when Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden by God due to their disobedience.

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.” - Genesis 3:17-19 (NKJV)

The reason this dynamic is important to understand is seen later on in Genesis, at the Tower of Babel.

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. - Genesis 11:4-6 (NKJV)

Humanity can grow and learn to master aspects of its circumstances. We get good at producing food, providing clean water, and even learning how to treat and cure ailments that afflict our bodies. We get so good at addressing problems that face us that we keep growing the scope and severity of the problems we try to resolve, confident that we can conquer the next as easily as the previous.

It starts with food and water, eventually graduates to elections, power distribution, and waste management systems, and eventually we reach to resolve to the ultimate problem we face: the bonds of our physical finitude.

Our natural desire is to be like God, and sin is, more often than not, when we try to do so on our own terms instead of God's, relying on our own power and perceptions and reasons instead of trusting in God's direction for our lives, even if the things we'd desire are things God would desire for us as well, like family and health, or fortune and comfort.

Reaching for godhood on our own terms was right in the first temptation.

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. - Genesis 3:4-6 (NKJV)

In advancing our power and capability, we are able to automate and obfuscate our basic needs, so much so that when civilization is advanced like it is now, individuals part of that civilization are rarely struggling just to survive.

This creates a problem, because material survival is an external constraint, and it shapes how we behave regardless of what we think about it, and in turn this also defines for us how we relate to others in the same set of circumstances. Relationships and interdependencies form, individuals specialize in skills and abilities, and together their efforts ensure the survival of all.

Nobody really has time to be ___ist, or to entertain being accused of being ___ist, when everyone might starve and die from lack of action in a matter of days or weeks.

Now, when that process has gotten so effective that resources are no longer scarce, and individuals are free to pursue other activities, the circumstantial pressures move from external to internal. If there is no need to struggle to survive, the individual must choose for themselves how to exert their efforts. If the constraints on their behavior are no longer driven externally, they choose internally to replace the lack of those constraints.

This contrast, of internal versus external struggle, creates the two motivations behind all human social dynamics: survival or status.

In survival, where resources are scarce, interactions are driven by necessity.
In status, where resources are abundant, interactions are driven by novelty.

Shepherds are concerned with the survival of the flock.
Charlatans are concerned with their status in the flock.

One example of how this could play out is from a parent's perspective, in how children frequently do not understand why they cannot or should not do something. The parent may need to constrain or direct the behavior of their child against the stated desires of the child. In such a case, the parent is concerned with the survival of the child, and not with their social status within the family, or with how other parents might judge their choice in parenting.

"I hate you!" or "But I want to!" or "You're just being mean!" and other childish objections to the firm direction of the parent indicate how their social status has suffered in the eyes of the child or their peers, but that is not the primary concern of a parent, or at least, it shouldn't be.

Many have interacted with parents who try to be the best friend of their child above all else, and are reluctant to "say no" or provide discipline or guidance to their children, and they are almost never shy about telling other parents about how much better a parent they are then others who must resort to more barbaric means. These parents are placing their social status as a higher priority than the survival of their children. They want to be seen in a good light by others, whether their children or their peers, even if they are sacrificing the future well being of their children to do so.

When the Bible states "no man can serve two masters" in Matthew 6:24, we in an advanced civilization have to choose whether survival or status will be what motivates us. It is not difficult to see how those motivated by status are so dangerous, because the ones most effective at manipulating the emotional states of others that rise to prominence, and to get good at such manipulation requires a narcissistic solipsism that ignores any consequences outside the impact to status.

In contrast, those who prioritize survival may not be the most popular or likable folks to interact with, but there is an inherent trust and reliability that exists because their motivations are not inherently selfish in nature. We see these types of characters in fictional media all the time, the gruff and brutish man who decisively solves problems, even for people who may have mocked or maligned him as a means of gaining social leverage.

So, again, the foundation for social interaction is a binary, driven by whether we exist in resource abundance or scarcity. Our interactions are either framed for us by external constraints, because we are finite beings that require resources, or by internal constraints when there are no external constraints asserting themselves because all that we rely on is readily available. It is on this binary dynamic that leaders end up being either shepherds or charlatans, and before we get into how each of their behavior may vary in a modern context, join me in part 2 to look at Jesus Christ and see if whether scripture paints him as a shepherd or a charlatan, and gives hints on how we might differentiate the two.

In part 3, I'll look at how modern shepherds and charlatans deal with conflict that threatens the group, including a look at the difference between "policing the flock" and "pacing and leading the flock". Finishing up in part 4 will be some examples of how anything in the material realm can be abstracted and used for social leverage, as there is no social circle where this choice about motivation has to be made, even inside the church.

Right now though, it's breakfast time, and I also promised to trim, paint, and mount the body of an R/C car for my oldest.

Thank you for your time and I hope you find this topic worthy of your consideration.

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