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Blessed are the sarcastic, for they shall succeed in business

7 June 2016

I have sometimes suspected that the phrase “Christian Businessman” was an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, and that suspicion was reinforced by an article I have just read on the Web. Harvard Study Shows that Sarcasm is Actually Good for You:

Data from a recent study entitled, The Highest Form of Intelligence: Sarcasm Increases Creativity for Both Expressers and Recipients, suggests that the delivery and deciphering of sarcasm offers psychological benefits that have been largely underappreciated and long overlooked.

The article tells us that the research was sponsored by Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School and INSEAD (“The Business School for the World”).

For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the saying “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”

The article I just cited tells us that people who believe that are stupid and uncreative.

So what is sarcasm, and why is it something that Christians should avoid if possible?

sarcasm n. Bitter or wounding remark, taunt, esp. one ironically worded [1]

sarcasmThe English word sarcasm is derived from the Greek sarkasmos, which suggests the image of a predator devouring its prey. So if, as the article, suggests the people most likely to succeed in business are those who habitually go around making nasty remarks about others, and the most effective bosses are those who habitually tear strips off their underlings, the term “unscrupulous businessman” is a pleonastic redundancy.

Well what’s new? I think most of us knew that.

I think we all knew that “business ethics” was a contradiction in terms. I recall seeing a cartoon in Mad magazine that had some tongue-in-cheek suggestions for commemorative postage stamps (remember them?), and one showed two people hugging each other, each with knife in hand, stabbing the other in the back. That was to commemorate 100 years of business ethics.

What’s new in this article is a kind of psychological proof that nastiness works, that being sarcastic gives you the edge in business. So sarcasm is a virtue to be inculcated and cultivated. Yet it is the very opposite of ubuntu and Christian values.

Nearly every Sunday in Orthodox Churches we sing the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).

Why so often?

Perhaps because of the frequency with which we are bombarded with propaganda to do the opposite.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, but being sarcastic is the very opposite of being merciful.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Wrong, say the business gurus. Blessed are the pushy.

It is perhaps easier to find Christian values among the scruffy beatniks and drop-outs from society than among the business leaders.

As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.'[2]

It is the worshippers of the bitch-goddess Success who hold out sarcasm as a virtue and a behavioural ideal.


[1] Concise Oxford Dictionary, Fifth Edition.

[2] Lipton, Lawrence. 1959. The holy barbarians. New York: Messner.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Gordon permalink
    7 June 2016 9:51 am

    Sarcasm is almost unknown among some ethnic groups. It is far simpler to use the skills of theft, corruption, violence and unmitigated racist evils to attain that mansion in Hell.

  2. 7 June 2016 10:19 am

    I don’t believe this, Steve.

    Or rather, I don’t agree with it.

    I think the problem is (and I see this often on social media) that people have confused the definitions of sarcasm and irony. I read somewhere, someone say that “While (almost) all sarcasm is ironic, not all irony is sarcastic.”

    I DO believe that a good sense of irony, and humour in general, is helpful in business. The ability to laugh at situations can often prevent you from crumbling under all the pressure that typically comes from being in business. It can also help you to appear more personable to the people around you, and furthermore, you might be more open and able to see certain opportunities in these ironic situations.

    If you go around making sarcastic, snarky comments and observations all the time, you’ll only end up being labelled a dick, and nobody wants to do business with someone like that.

    I still believe that sarcasm IS the lowest form of wit, because sarcasm by definition is designed to wound people, and if you can’t say something nice…. 😛

    • 7 June 2016 7:10 pm

      No, I don’t really believe it either.

      I once had a boss who was given to making sarky remarks, and I had no respect for him as a boss.

      If you are always putting people down, it doesn’t make them work better, it just makes them despise or resent you.

  3. 9 June 2016 4:57 pm

    Phil 2:3-4 is so opposite of business sarcasm and ‘success.’ i think you’ve made a mistake in naming success as a female goddess – rather i’d say he’s a male bastard god.

  4. 16 June 2016 11:47 pm

    I would at least differentiate irony from sarcasm, and suggest the former may be helpful but the latter not. FWIW, I suspect that sarcasm isn’t simply biting “humor”, but is related to skepticism… the red-headed step child of rationalism released on an unsuspecting world and unbridled from ethics that once accompanied “reason”. Recommend: John Ralston Sau’s book (“Voltaire’s B@stards”) written 20 years ago that astutely peels back the deep layers glossed in “how did we get here?” Lack of memory being a convenient contrivance for the “isms” that drive us forward, but somehow keep a failed rationalism in the driver’s seat. Would also recommend David Frost’s podcast on ethics (IOCS on Ancientfaith).

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