In September, the man who the internet coined “Pharma Bro“, Martin Shkreli, CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, set the world on fire when news broke that he purchased the rights to a 62-year old anti-parasitic drug called Daraprim (used to treat people with weakened immune systems) and raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. His reason? It wasn’t profitable. He attempted to answer his critics via interviews with news outlets and recently submitted himself to an hours long “Ask Me Anything” session with Reddit users but no one’s buying his defense (pun intended). While he’s been busy repositioning his shield toward incoming ammunition, San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals entered the fray and announced they would be offering a comparable alternative to Daraprim at just under a $1.00 a pill.
How is the internet responding?
WARNING: explicit language
Before Imprimis announcement
Martin Shkreli karma will be unkind to you for many life times.
— Ruby Rose (@RubyRose) September 22, 2015
Turing Pharmaceuticals owner, 32 year old douch bag motherfucker Martin Shkreli needs to accept that his karma,… http://t.co/gB6jLHovnd
— Lisa Stoutmoose (@stoutmoose) September 21, 2015
— Edward Ovalles (@eddieovalles) October 23, 2015
These tweets are indicative of the “Pharma Bro” headlines filling my facebook feed and their ride-a-long comments.
Over the years, I’ve heard other friends and family likewise appeal to “karma” in the wake of human transgression. One such friend’s parents had an important UPS package stolen from their front porch. Fortunately, the theft was caught on camera. After the news was shared on facebook, the comments (as expected) came in hot and heavy, echoing the sentiment of the tweets about Shkreli’s Indishkretion (sorry, I had to): “Scumbag! I hope he gets caught!” said one. “Karma is going to get his ass so good!” proclaimed another.
Do you believe that you somehow existed in the eternal past as a Sioux Indian or Benedictine Monk or Nazi warlord or Mother Theresa or Harriet Tubman trying your moral damnedest to eject yourself from this pitiable cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth (which will carry on into the eternal future, with your main objective being to let go of everything that makes you who you are – to reach nirvana where you’ll be blown out like a candle in the wind? or according to another interpretation, become a flame that does not flicker?) Do you believe that there’s a mechanistic *impersonal* force behind this material universe measuring and distributing the dark and light energy that you *personally* project from all your actions whereby you receive what you *personally* deserve for whatever *personal* good or evil you’ve contributed to the entangled relational matrix of the past…whether from a previous life or this life? And that your current output will be carried over into the future? Do you believe that every circumstance is a test to help disciple you into your eventual transcendence of this illusory physical existence…goodbye desires, goodbye ego… (better luck next time)? Do you believe that we all get what we deserve? Yes? At least you’re consistent. Karma has a home in your diction. No? Then drop the word from your vocabulary.
According to karma, my friend’s parents who had their UPS package stolen (which resulted in a $1000+ loss) …they had it coming too. Karma may be on the ass of the thief, but not before stopping by their front porch to nail them first.
I recently read an exchange on a Buddhist forum between a person who was trying to make sense of why they were molested as a child (in the light of karmic truth) and a senior member of the forum. The latter’s response: “It is more helpful for us to take responsibility for not only our past actions, but also our current actions and then having done that, determine to do better actions in order to generate better results. A human life is therefore considered as a rare and important opportunity to consciously ‘clear up past karma’ and create the causes for a life that contains more happiness for ourselves as well as for other people.”
Molested? Your fault. Learn from it. Abandoned by your parents? Your fault. Learn from it. Raped? Your fault. Learn from it. Lied to, stolen from, cheated on…starving and lying on the streets of India? Your fault. Let go of ego. Of the body and its desires. Transcend your circumstance. The cycle will continue until you wake up. Karma truly is a bitch. And she don’t care.
I wonder if the people taking delight in this Pharma Broham being served hold within their morally superior hearts a cognitively dissonant disdain toward the notion of a Just God who is angry at our volitional abuses (sin)? Even their own? Far be it from Love to Judge lying, stealing, cheating, lusting, murdering, envying, greedy, self-centered hearts. Why is karma right in its adjudication but God not? And wouldn’t taking pleasure in someone else’s destruction produce bad karma?
What do I, as a student of Jesus, make of Pharma Bro? First, I presuppose a Personal God who created us with intention, bestowing the blessing and curse of free will to humanity with the charge given to us to steward our relationships with love. Knowing intimately the price of volition, He entered our very real pain (not illusory), subjecting Himself to the groans of the material order and to humanity’s worst – which we afflicted Him with when we rejected Him and crucified Him. And He, not a hapless victim, used it to thereby expose the hypocritical lunacy with which we, in the name of righteousness, carry out scapegoat justice. On the cross, we see our true condition and God’s true character. We murder the God-man come to save us from ourselves, Jesus. In crucifying Him, not only do we betray our brother in humanity (Jesus being the True Man) but also our Father in heaven (Jesus being the face of the Triune God). And all the while – He forgives us – praying for our wholeness with compassion as our hands and face are wet with His blood. My awareness of this then serves as an invitation to turn from the crimes of my own heart and my propensity to point the finger, to blameshift and scapegoat. I’m invited to take responsibility for my failings, to learn from them and to receive His compassionate restoration – thereby empowering me to extend the forgiveness that His resurrected life purchased when he deposited His Spirit into the human metanarrative – of which I am a partaker. His gifted Spirit counsels, comforts and convicts me as I laugh and cry, eat and drink, work and play, embrace and fight my way toward the dying light. He empowers me to view with the same compassionate eyes with which He views me – those who scapegoat and crucify me and those I love (which at times can include myself…for as they say, we can be our own worst enemy).
And so I look at Martin Shkreli as I look at myself. A man who needs to be confronted with the truth of his own selfishness and restored by the Mercy of His Maker who gave him the special gift of life and with it – the gift of power to curse or bless, build or destroy. Instead, he abused his charge and (taking his action at face value) did something destructive, warranting the concerned public to hold him to account. He now suffers the backlash of his actions – especially now with Imprimis stepping in. Boomerang effect? No. What of the person who stands up to defend the weak and pays with their life? What of the loving couple who lose an innocent child? The ravenous wolf on wall street who prospers? The dictator who dies peacefully in his palace bed while thousands of his countrymen were executed at his command to safeguard his kingdom? I have no idea why stuff happens…this question bothers me as much as anyone else. I do know that I am only responsible for my whys. And in light of the poor, mocked, stripped, blasphemed, tortured, wretched God-man hanging on the cross with nothing but love in his heart for the ones who put Him there, my hope, informed by my Maker, is not that Martin is crushed by all this…but that he takes this opportunity to change his ways…to stop living for himself as a material consumer of a material universe but instead as a mysteriously immaterial person who inhabits a material universe driven by a love that binds both. Should he close his eyes to eternal sleep while holding tightly to his self-collapsing heart …then I trust in the Justice of an omniscient God to mercifully blow out his candle. For now, I hope and pray for his repentance (the change of the posture of his heart and mind toward the world he inhabits).
It’s easy to demand hell for Shkreli. To presume he *must* be mindful of the poor and suffering. He is other. But do I hold myself to the same standard? Do I, like the Scrooge living in the public consciousness before him, hoard my treasures? If my damning sins ever ushered me into the court of public opinion, would I not desire mercy? Grace? Restoration? Then to demand hell for him would be to demand it for myself.
The irony is this: While the world calls upon an impersonal force to pay him according to his deeds, the Personal God they deny proclaims this:
“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” Ezekiel 18:23
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they? So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9
*All* – which includes you and me and Martin Shkreli.
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