The Politics of Exalting the Humble

Thanks to Alastair Roberts for inviting me to be a part of The Politics of Scripture series at the Political Theology blog where contributors share theological and political reflections based upon the week's lectionary readings.

This week the gospel reading was Matthew 23.1-12 and my post--"The Politics of Exalting the Humble"--starts off this way:
In 2003 Dacher Keltner, Deborah Gruenfeld, and Cameron Anderson shared the results of unpublished study done by two psychologists (Keltner was one of the researchers) in what has been dubbed “the cookie experiment.”

The experiment was about power and about how power affects entitlement.

In the cookie experiment three same-sex participants were asked to discuss various political issues and make policy recommendations. One of the three participants was given the role of “judge” and asked to assign points rating the quality of the recommendations made by the other two participants. This placed the judge in a “high power” position relative to the other two.

About thirty minutes into the discussion the experimenter brought the three participants five cookies on a plate. And the number of cookies was carefully chosen.

Five cookies. Three people.

Someone isn’t getting a second cookie. Who would that be?
You can read the rest of the reflection here at the Political Theology blog.

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2 thoughts on “The Politics of Exalting the Humble”

  1. Interesting experiment. It would be fascinating to extend it by somehow probing the motivations of the "judges" who took only one cookie. Did they take it out of a spirit of genuine disinterested generosity, or as the result of a quick-thinking cunning calculation that the appearance of restraint and humility would add to their moral stature and thus their power over the other two participants? After all -- and as Jesus warned us (Matthew 6:1-4) -- public displays of magnanimity cannot be taken at face value. I am too much an Augustinian -- too much aware of the human propensity for both subterfuge and self-deceit, indeed too well aware of my own mixed motivations when making significant decisions -- not to be inveterately suspicious about human behaviour, especially at its ostensibly most moral. So, alas, we could never be sure of our experimental determination of motivation, could we? Still, yes, the probing might be a fascinating exercise.

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