Chris Rock, Jay Z, Baudrillard & Dostoevsky: Crime & Punishment In Simulacra & Simulation

I was watching Chris Rocks: Bring The Pain special for the thousandth time in my life. As I get older, days away from my 22nd birthday, I’m starting to relate to many of the bits on a deeper level. Chris Rock uses his specials to create social commentary, which is what makes him hilarious. He’s able to convey timeless truths in our society and show us the humour in them. Bits like the one about "men surrendering" didn’t make sense to me as a kid but as I get older, I get it, he’s right and that's hilarious. This special is infamous for his “Black People vs Niggas” bit. The bit discusses the perceived negative aspects of the black community.


He talks about people who idolize the crime aspect of society, our idolization of ignorance, and the low expectations we have of ourselves. The joke also echoes the pitfalls of the white community while reminding his own community that the goal should be betterment and progression, not comparative stagnation. The joke is hilarious because of the truth in it. Crime exists in all societies, impoverished communities tend to have more violent crime because violent crime is directly correlated to financial status and people in need are more willing to commit violent crimes, it's not a race issue like the media displays. The media has historically distorted the black image to promote stereotypes and division, which has had an affect on the perception and general fear between different communities.


Violent crime is a proximity and poverty issue, and it's rampant because of poverty but also because society puts capital acquisition as its highest value. There is no objective morality outside of a law that is very obviously flawed, created by criminals, being upheld by provable criminals, that also tells you acquiring the most capital is the most important task, and it needs to be accomplished by any means necessary. This system encourages us to see people as the means to a more valuable end.


Our society tends to idolize crimes and criminals, whose crimes brought severe harm to the broader community. Al Capone, Pablo Escobar, the Godfather, the Founding Fathers, Thomas Edison, Jay Z, John Stevens and the railways. The actual building blocks of modern civilization are oppression and exploitation. The creators of the modern infrastructure and leaders throughout history, did morally reprehensible things like genocide and slavery. Through time the methods of control have changed, but human nature has not.


Despite being negatively depicted by some corporate media entities, Jay Z is widely loved and praised by people around the world, including myself. Jay Z's journey is the de facto narrative for the real face of the American Dream. His crimes just happen to be documented and promoted. Jay Z, a descendant of slaves, went from being a kid in Marcy Projects New York to becoming a billionaire, his story is of mythical proportions. Jay Z is a “criminal” but he’s praised because he avoided the pitfalls of his society by not getting caught. He also took his money and funded one of the greatest art careers in human history, one of the greatest art collectives and spawned some of the best artists for multiple generations after him, while being an inspiration to millions.


As long as humans have existed, drugs have existed, and as long as drugs have existed, people have consumed and sold them. The sale of drugs is profitable because people want to get high, and might suffer from various other untreated mental health issues. The industry is deregulated and certain drugs are made criminal, in doing so the government creates a booming criminal underbelly, a homeless problem, and mental health issues that are treated as crimes. In a profitable underbelly where your capital is not protected by police, and is sought after by the police, you have to resort to methods of self and capital protection. That is when young men create organizations focused on providing a product into the marketplace, they take loans from a supplier that they need to pay back, and they occupy the real estate, while beating out the competition. The thing with unregulated and rapacious capitalism, that is inherently based on a collective understanding that laws are being broken and people are being harmed, is that it is willing to take matters to a criminal level which includes violence.


That is the business model that the modern world is built on. Slavery, colonialism, war, bloodshed, all for the sake of capital. War is an industry that requires and incentivizes violence in order to survive. Allowing countries to go to war for capital, and hearing stories of the crimes that took place to create civilization as it stands today, makes you see the current value systems in full display and come to some grim conclusions about the nature of the nuances of power and power acquisition, which is the game society is playing. The current value system is the only one that matters on the scoreboard. The economy is widely stated as the most important aspect of human life.


In a world without objective morality, why shouldn’t an aspiring Jay Z sell drugs that harm people and destroy communities, scam people, kill people, or ruin the environment in order to achieve wealth and power, if he can get away with it, when that is exactly what those in power have done to get to where they are, that due to the current value system, is deemed as an objectively better position than their current one? This is the same question Dostoevsky tries to answer. In Fyodor Dostoevsky's ''Crime and Punishment'', the protagonist, Raskolnikov, has a great admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, which leads to his decision to commit murder.


Prior to the murders, an article that Raskolnikov writes that describes his political views is published without his knowledge. In it, he says,


''… legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed--often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defence of ancient law--were of use to their cause.''


Based on this observation, Raskolnikov concludes that what sets great men apart from commoners is their willingness to be criminal. When Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, responds that he doesn't consider himself to be like Napoleon, and therefore doesn't understand how a Napoleon might behave, Raskolnikov fires back, ''Oh, come, don't we all think ourselves Napoleons now in Russia?'' Another officer contemplates out loud that someone who believes that way might be the murderer.


Raskolnikov goes on to feel immense guilt, paranoia, and shame until he was told to look for resolve in Christ through repenting for his sins, admitting what he did to the police and accepting the consequences of his actions. The ending was very much placed in Christian theology but the psychology behind the motivations still exists within people. Most of us aren’t Napoleon, we’re the members of his army that are wrapped up in the broader narrative, that would be just as haunted as Raskolnikov if placed in a similar situation. We tend to excuse morally reprehensible behaviour for narratives we subscribe to, be it when discussing great leaders and ignoring great crimes, or purchasing products from corporations that build products in sweatshops using child labour.


In a world without an agreed upon consensus of objective morality, there’s no empiric reason I can provide that will force you to be moral outside of the law in your jurisdiction, but that's mainly because of our current value system. Empathy is a psychological disposition that you can’t control no matter how tough you try to be, unless of course you are a sociopath. Dostoevsky came to the conclusion that Raskolnikov's value system had to change from materially based to spiritually based for him to resolve the truth of his nature. The dichotomy lies in a society of empathetic people that places wealth and material consumption at the top of its value system.


As a person who has spent most of his life traveling with the instability of life as an expat, I have no attachments to physical land or property. I’ve moved my whole life so I'm not overtly attached to a distinct local home, people are my home, people are my stability. The value in my life is in relation to other people. My love of other people comes from the relationships I have, the tools that benefit my life, the infrastructure powered by people around the world that make my life easier, my friends and family, the creativity that has added meaning into my life, people like my garbageman and my local convenience store owner mean the world to me. Those are all decent, well meaning, ordinary people, whose mere existence adds an infinite and ineffable amount of value in my life, that can't be replaced. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasizes common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. That is what I believe in, the inherent goodness in most people. Most people aren’t sociopaths. Most people are just trying to do what's best for themselves and their loved ones, but in a society that places consumption above humanity it's easy to put those you don’t know or care about in harm's way for the sake of our own capital acquisition.