Friday, March 17, 2023
It's Friday, March 17th, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Extraordinary Madness of Crowds: Did Twitter Drive to the Run on the Bank in Silicon Valley?
To what extent was the fall of the Silicon Valley Bank the extraordinary madness of crowds? To what extent was it a popular delusion? To what extent was it driven by Twitter? Interesting questions in the aftermath of the fall of two massive banks and they are the second and third-largest bank collapses in American history. And as you know, a lot of public attention given to them.
On the one hand, we need to remind ourselves these stories always unfold over time. So when you're asking, "How did that happen? What happened first? What happened second? What happened third?", it's going to take some time to come to a definitive understanding of this, but here's one thing we know. It was a bank run. The interesting point for our consideration today is was it the first Twitter-based bank run in world history? Does this change the rules of the game?
Now, back in the 1840s, a Scottish thinker by the name of Charles MacKay wrote a book entitled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Now that book has kind of worked its way into intellectual circles and conversations ever since because it was one of the first books written in English that considers the fact that crowds do crazy things. You have popular delusions, crowds believe them. Crowds are sometimes euphorically happy and then they can turn violently angry. Crowds are different than individual minds. And it's not just like one mind, two mind, three mind. It is just that at times a crowd seems to have a mind and often it's an irrational and insatiable mind. Sometimes it's a mind that reflects something, well, a little bit short of good judgment.
Now as you're looking at Silicon Valley Bank, there was a problem. There was a basic financial weakness that had to do with the financial books and the reality of the bank's financial situation, but it was not a minute by minute crisis. It became one. One of the things we now know is that it became a crisis because of a lot of activity on Twitter. At least Twitter had a great deal to do, it is now believed, with driving this bank run.
Now, I just want you to understand something, if it's possible in this one bank where there was a fundamental weakness and is also possible in a situation in which there's no actual weakness at all, if you can convince people in something like an exploding mass movement that there is a problem and they need to panic and take action, then people will tend to think like a crowd and they'll panic and take action.
The reality is that what we now face is the question as to whether one of America's enemies could simply buy some kind of messaging on social media cause a massive bank run that could go a long way towards collapsing the American economy. All of a sudden there are people saying, "Well, it looks like that actually might be possible."
The Wall Street Journal's really done some good work on this. In recent days, Georgia Wells and Alexa Corse wrote an article entitled Social-Media Postings Amplify Anxiety Over SVB Collapse, and even the subhead in the article says that at least some lawmakers and others are calling it a Twitter-fueled bank run. The two writers say this, "Some users," that means Twitter users, "and others on social media were trying to offer financial advice aimed at helping readers." I continue, "Others appeared to take a more extreme view of the situation. In total, fairly or not, the messages sewed anxiety at a time when confidence in the country's banking system was shaken, lawmakers and social media observers said."
One entrepreneur and internet personality said "Run on the bank!" And that was a post on Twitter reposted more than 3,000 times. Another startup investor put in all caps, "YOU SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED RIGHT NOW." Now, one of the things we just need to understand is that the way crowds work, crowds are often panic. You tell a crowd you should be absolutely terrified, well, you can plant not only the seeds of terror, you can actually incite a real terror.
Another billionaire investor put out several social media messages suggesting that there would be more bank runs in the aftermath of this bank collapse. That hasn't turned out quite the same way as predicted by the way. But you're also looking at the fact that representative Patrick McHenry, Republican of North Carolina, who's chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, described what's taken place as "the first Twitter-fueled bank run."
Others described what took place as a Twitter panic. Perhaps we just need to think for a moment that this is how human beings are. Maybe we need to know this about ourselves. Maybe we also need to know that Twitter now represents, along with other social media, a certain kind of social vulnerability. And of course we are concerned about this kind of vulnerability when it comes to, say, adolescents and others whose self-esteem and personality and all kinds of things can have a great deal to do with what goes on social media. Not to mention or underestimate what it means for all kinds of evil stuff and wretched stuff to be available on social media. But the point is you can actually also cause a panic now on social media and it might not even be based on reality.
Also, something we now know that infects social media is that when you have people making a claim that they've seen something, they can even put up a photograph and tell you what they say that it means and even what they say it represents when it can turn out that the photograph actually has nothing to do with the claim whatsoever or the photograph is a manipulated image. The fact is that when social media operates at such fast speed, there is almost no way to do any fact checking and a mob can be incited very, very quickly. And here's where we just need all to admit to ourselves, we could easily be a part of one of these mobs.
The problem with the banks and the understanding of bank failures in 2008, that massive economic disturbance in the United States, the big question right now is what would've happened if Twitter had been at full speed when that collapse began to happen in 2008? The bad news about the economy in 2008 took a little bit of time to get out to the population, which at least in part created an opportunity for people to move in and try at least to preserve some value. When you have an absolute run on a bank, well that turns out to be an absolute disaster.
I think it's also important that Christians consider that point made by Charles MacKay over a century ago when he warned against the madness of crowds because I think we do understand that there are people who will do things as a part of a crowd they would never do in terms of their individual responsibility. I think you can look at all kinds of events where there's sporting events, or for that matter, headline news events, and understand that at least a large part of this is explained by people doing as part of a crowd where they would never, ever do or even contemplate if alone or in a much smaller group. There is something rather troubling and terrifying about the mind of a crowd.
Before leaving this, I think it's important to raise the question and it's Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal who raises this question as to whether or not our own federal government panicked because of what was observable on Twitter. Henninger goes on to say that might be that this was not only a Twitter-driven bank run, but as he says, "The first Twitter-fueled treasury run." Later Henninger writes, "What intrigues me about the SVB, meaning the Silicon Valley Bank panic, is that the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation could have been spooked into a premature bailout by the chance that a social media wildfire might collapse confidence in the banking system over a weekend."
I guess my larger concern is what might be fueled on Twitter as a matter of mass information that's actually disinformation that can have a very material effect and not only on our banking system and economy, but on the entire society. At least something we ought to be concerned about.
I think Christians know right up front that just because you see it on Twitter doesn't mean that it's true, but it does mean on the other hand that it was truly on Twitter. And that's a reality we're all going to have to figure out and we're going to have to deal with.
The Black Sea and its Long History: Russia Destroys U.S. Drone, Sparking Bigger Questions of the Importance of History and Geography
Next we're going to take a couple of issues just before we turn to questions. One is the fact that all of a sudden we're talking about the Black Sea.
Now as you're thinking about this, you recognize that the most recent incident that made headlines is the encounter between those Russian warplanes and an American drone and those Russian warplanes, as it's now very clearly demonstrated, they forced a collision with the drone that ended up destroying the drone that ended up in the Black Sea. We're now told that Russian intelligence and naval sources are trying to retrieve or recover the drone, now broken into several parts, in order to take the intelligence value from it.
What we now have is a major diplomatic confrontation between the United States and Russia and over an incident that took place over the Black Sea, which is actually something that both nations at least presumably were trying to avoid. There's no question about the Russian aggression in this case, but it's also interesting to note that there's a history here that should at least interest us, and that is the history of why the Black Sea is so strategic, so deeply immersed in history, and for that matter, so volatile as one of the spots on planet earth where this kind of trouble can quickly emerge.
Geographically speaking, the Black Sea, which is connected narrowly to the Aegean and thus ultimately to the Mediterranean, it straddles both Europe and Asia in that meeting place of ancient civilizations and land masses. Historically, it is believed that it was created by the melt from snows and one of the interesting things is, is that it probably began as a fresh water lake, something the size even larger than California. It also became an issue, an area of vast geopolitical conflict and strategic importance.
One odd thing about the Black Sea is that even though it has been now salinated and you're looking at the fact that so much of the water probably does come from the Mediterranean flowing into the Black Sea in this sense, it's also true that the lower depths are not oxygenated. So beyond depths of about 200 to 300 feet in the Black Sea, there is no discernible major complex life. Very, very different than what you would find in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, or for that matter, in the Mediterranean. But what the Black Sea lacks in oxygenation and its depths, it makes up for in geopolitical significance.
You think about some of the major wars of ancient history and even of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Black Sea has been of outsize importance. And it is again. One of the reasons is that the warm water ports in the Black Sea are something that Russia has long coveted and long desired, and that is what explains the 2014 headline news when Russia took possession and basically invaded the Crimean Peninsula, which had been a part of the nation of Ukraine. It wanted a warm water port, which the Russians of long called Sevastopol.
Some of the ports, the historic ports on the Black Sea, have names that have a great deal of historical significance such as Odessa, and that's now of course in Ukraine. But you're also looking at the fact that the Crimean War, which was one of the most tragic events of the 19th century, it involved, by the way, France and Britain joining the Ottoman Empire as allies over against Russia. So here you're looking at one of those cradles of civilization areas on planet earth that has often been the source of conflict because the Black Sea is in many ways of such great strategic importance that every empire wants to have it.
In terms of the geopolitics of the moment, it was an American drone over the Black Sea because the American military and American ships currently do not go into the Black Sea. Just about all of the ships currently in the Black Sea area are flagged by one of the Black Sea nations including Russia, Ukraine, it would also include Turkey and Romania and Bulgaria. The other nation that shares a border on the Black Sea is the nation of Georgia. The historic adversaries on the Black Sea have often been Russia and Turkey, but now of course it's Russia and Ukraine. But Turkey is always a part of this equation simply because of its own geopolitical significance and the fact that Turkey controls the very narrow passageway in and out of the Black Sea.
The Crimean war between the years of 1853 and 1856 became the literary occasion for such developments as that epic work, the charge of the Light Brigade. Boris Toucas who's a visiting fellow with the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies underlines the Black Sea's geostrategic significance in what he calls the return of that significance to Russia's expansionist impulses. He writes, "A hegemonic power in the 19th century, an overstretched power during the Cold War and an exhausted power after 1991, Russia has returned to the Black Sea region and eastern Mediterranean as the European and American presence in the region is in retreat."
He asked the question, "Will the Kremlin attempt to secure more unfettered access to the Eastern Mediterranean such as expanding its presence at Tartus? Will the Kremlin continue to enhance its military presence in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, increase pressure on Bulgaria to reduce NATO's presence while orchestrating a Turkish-Russian rapprochement to gain more influence over the Turkish Straits?"
Now, by the time he wrote that article and now, we know that Russia has invaded Ukraine largely for the geopolitical ambitions that are described here. But it's just interesting as we think about the world to hear words like this, "For Russia, the geostrategic factors of the Black Sea region have not changed since 1853 with NATO and the United States replacing individual European states as Russia's main geopolitical competitors."
"Crimea," he writes, "is the military source, Turkey is the pivot, and the Turkish Straits are the strategic throughput and the end goal was access to a military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean as a counterbalance to us and NATO expansion eastward and its presence in the Aegean and the central Mediterranean."
All of that is just to remind us that history is everywhere. You're looking at the Ottoman Empire, well, you're talking about the Black Sea. You're looking at Russian history, you're talking about the Black Sea. You look at Turkey, you look at today's headlines, you look at world wars, the Black Sea turns out to be important and important and important again. So all this taking place in the headlines reminds Christians that history just never goes away. It also reminds us that geography matters, place matters, geopolitics matter and they always matter. Sometimes they matter explosively.
Evolution and Creationism Show Up in the New York Times Obituary Section: Francisco Ayala Dies at 88
Finally, I want to look at an obituary about a significant figure.
I want to cite the obituary from the New York Times and just remind us that in virtually every country, some major newspaper basically publishes the obituaries of record. In England, it's the Times of London. There are even books published of obituaries in the Time of London. There are books published of the obituaries from the New York Times because they become a part of our historical record. In this case, the obituary is for Francisco Ayala and as the headline says, he's an evolutionary biologist. He died recently at age 88.
Now, the point I want to make is that Francis Ayala, a former Dominican priest, wanted to make a point. He was an ardent defender of evolution and an opponent of creationism. "His point was that the theory of evolution is both scientifically sound and compatible with belief in God," says the Times.
And I just want to ask the question, is that right or wrong? Well, interestingly, in one aspect it's right. There's no conflict between the doctrine of evolution and some belief in God. The bottom line for the Christian is understanding that the incompatibility is between evolution and the one true in living God who has spoken in the Scriptures. There's a fundamental incompatibility.
So when you have people who make the claim or you have a newspaper making the claim that you can believe in evolution and modern evolutionary theory and still believe in God.
Well some kind of God, yes, but not the God of the Bible.
Would There Be Sin in the World If Adam Refused to Eat of the Forbidden Fruit? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, we turn to questions.
Very interesting questions sent in by 8th grade students in a Christian school in Clemmons, North Carolina. It has to do with the question, well, let me just read it, "If Eve ate a bite of the fruit first, what if Adam had refused to take a bite because he knew God had told him not to eat it? Would we have sin in the world in a sin nature today?"
Well, first of all, let me take the last part of that question. It's a very good question, by the way. I appreciate it coming from these 13-year-old students. The first thing to say is that the sin nature that is human nature after the fall comes to us by Adam. It is Adam who is directly blamed. We are of Adam's seed and it has something to do even with the fact that you have the transmission of human life through Adam who becomes our federal head, which means we are in Adam. The New Testament distinction is between those all humanity who are in Adam and those who are saved by grace and are now in Christ.
So I want to answer the question by saying that we simply have no ultimate answer to what would've happened if Adam had refused to take a bite because Adam didn't refuse to take a bite. And furthermore, even as I talked about recently on The Briefing in another opportunity to deal with questions from listeners, the reality is that God ordains what comes to pass in such a way that it reveals his plan, it realizes the gospel and it demonstrates his glory.
I'm going to put it another way, and I realize this is a very intelligent question coming from 13-year-olds, but this is a little bit complex. So I want to look at three different conditions unable to sin, able to sin, and unable not to sin. Okay, this can be used in a couple different ways. I want to use it this way. It is God alone who is unable to sin. Adam and Eve were given a genuine command and they were given genuine responsibility and they genuinely sin. So even as God is unable to sin, Adam and Eve were able to sin. Particularly Adam was able to sin and he sinned. And because of Adam's sin, we are now unable not to sin. You'll never meet a human being who is not an actual sinner.
The last thing I want to say to a class of very intelligent 13-year-olds in a Christian school is to say it becomes self-defeating at some point to ask what might otherwise have happened when it comes to the plan and purposes of God. God's intention was to bring himself greater glory, being known as both creator and redeemer, an infinitely greater glory than had he been known to his human creatures merely as creator having never needed to know him as redeemer.
But we desperately do need to know him as redeemer, and thanks be to God we do through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Could You Argue for the Divine Authority of Scripture Without Utilizing Circular Reasoning? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Very interesting question coming from a man named Rick. "Could you explain how the church has argued for the divine authority of scripture through the centuries without utilizing circular reasoning as in the Bible claims to be the word of God, therefore it is the word of God"?
Now, that's a very good question and I might frustrate Rick a bit by saying the truth is we can never get out of circular reasoning as human beings. We can never escape a certain circularity. And intellectual honesty means that's true of every single human being on every giant question of life. We cannot take ourselves completely out of the question. And thus at some point, we're involved in some form of circular reasoning.
Now let me just point out that this is a constant issue as we think about the Christian life because as we talk about the scripture and we talk about God, or you might say as we talk about God and we talk about God's word, well there we are in an infinite loop. We can only talk about God's word because there is God. We can only know God because he's revealed himself in his word. And so Rick, I don't want to frustrate you, but there's no way out of that circular reasoning.
Here's where I want to point out Christians are not unique in this predicament. We're just not. This is not a unique circularity. That circularity comes down to even the most basic question of how I know anything. And it comes back to cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. But you can only think if you are. And if you are, evidently you think everybody's in a circularity of a certain type. Christians are no more trapped in circularity than anyone else.
I just want to say, Rick, our responsibility when it comes to God and to God's word is being found in the right form of honest circular reasoning.
What is the Biblical Responce to Abortion in the Cases of Rape, Incest, and Health of the Mother? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Another great question came from a 17-year old whose name is Luke. He asked this question, "As Christians, we know that life begins at the time of conception and that abortion is a sin. Supporters say that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, incest in the health of the mother. What is the biblical response to abortion in the cases of rape, incest in the health of the mother?"
Great question, Luke. This is very much a part of our, well, every day moral debate, political debate in the United States. I want to say from a Christian perspective, the conditions by which life is brought into this world, the conditions in which fertilization happens has nothing to do with the moral significance of the unborn child. The unborn child is an unmitigated good regardless of the circumstances that brought that life into being. Therefore, I believe there actually should be no exception for abortion in the cases of rape and incest.
Now, I understand that there may be political practicality here, but I just want to say as a Christian, the baby that is produced by rape or incest is no less made in the image of God and that baby's life is no less precious than any other baby conceived in any other context. So there may be some kind of political dynamic that explains why this is a political compromise, but I think ultimately we as Christians have to say that is not sustainable in a biblical logic. In a fallen world, courts may make that distinction and extend those qualifications and legislators might as well. But if you ask the question straightforwardly in biblical terms, the context of the fertilization is not a condition for the full sanctity and dignity of human life.
Now, the last thing you mentioned is the health of the mother, and here we need to make very clear that we're talking about physical health because what happened in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade is that health became redefined as mental health, and that's just about anyone, any woman could get an abortion or at least in the early term of pregnancy, could find someone to say that there was a threat to health. When you're talking about the physical health or a threat to the life of the mother, we need to recognize those situations are incredibly rare. And here's where the Christian principle is, that the death of the unborn may be an unintended but unavoidable result of some kind of surgical intervention to save the life of the mother, some kind of medical intervention. But on its own, it is never morally justifiable.
The principle here is that the death of the unborn infant might be an unintended but unavoidable secondary effect of the primary cause of a medical action to save a mother's life. But I put it that way because I just want it to be clear, Luke, that there are people who will save the life and health of the mother, but they mean something very different than a direct threat to the life and health of the mother.
What Does It Mean to Be Unequally Yoked? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Very interesting question came in from Aaron and he points to 2 Corinthians 6:14. Let me just read it, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness?" The passage goes on, but Aaron's asking the question, "Does this apply in a business sense? For example, my employer requires me to sign an employment contract which includes us things as non-competes, non-disclosures? Just asking, does this run afoul of 2 Corinthians 6:14?"
I just want to say at face value, no, there is no necessary violation of 2 Corinthians 6:14. Paul's point here seems to be very clear, and that is that Christians should not be united with non-Christians in such a way that Christians are drawn into unrighteousness and lawlessness. But I don't think that has to do directly with employment, because at the very same time, Paul makes it very clear that one can be a Christian and serve in Caesar's army. And so if you can serve in Caesar's military, but again, there are limitations, you can't be joined to Caesar's military if it means you deny Christ. And the apostle Paul is very clear about that.
Now, there may be other Christian concerns about any number of contract stipulations, but I don't think working for a secular employer is itself a violation of 2 Corinthians 6:14 unless that secular employment requires you, leads you, or even entices you to do that, which is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How Should Doctors Respond to Cultural Christians Who Are Convinced God Will Perform a Miracle in the Face of an Undeniable Terminal Illness Prognosis? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Finally, a very clear question coming from an ICU doctor. In a place where he says cultural Christianity is common, he says, "I frequently have family members who are unwilling to accept terminal diagnoses and demand aggressive painful procedures to prolong life in someone who's obviously dying. I frequently get misinterpretation of Scripture from family members saying they know God will perform a miracle. How would you address this?'.
Well, I want to say that you stated this with absolute precision, doctor, when you say that you're talking about painful procedures to prolong life and someone who is obviously dying, that is where the Christian moral and ethical tradition has centered its concern.
What's the pivot point? The pivot point is between those who are living and those who are actively or you say obviously dying. At some point, death is a process and we have entered that process. This is where the Christian ethical and moral perspective says it is our duty to contend for life and never to seek to end it prematurely in such a medical context. But at the same time, when death is actually what is taking place, it is not a Christian obligation to try to prolong what might be defined as life or some kind of biological activity in trying to defeat the process of death.
So this is obviously a line that can be drawn in the wrong place. It's not just a terminal diagnosis, it is the process of active dying. At that point, the Christian medical ethic does not call for extraordinary measures to try to prolong life when death is actually happening. That's very different in suggesting that treatment should be withdrawn at some point when death is not imminent and death is not happening.
And so in the Christian worldview perspective, we have to understand that God has given us life, but that death is the portion of every single human being one way or another. At one moment or another, we are to see death as the enemy. But at the end of the day, when we have a loved one who is dying, demanding a miracle of God and demanding extraordinary medical treatment, that after all is unlikely to have any good medical effect, that is not what is demanded by the Christian worldview nor the Christian moral tradition as applied to medical ethics.
It is not wrong, of course, to pray for a miracle. It's just wrong to pray for what amounts to everlasting life in this life. We're not promised in this life. In fact, we are promised life and death in this life. But we are promised eternal life through Jesus Christ in the life to come.
There's obviously more to say about these issues. There's more for Christians to think about these issues, and so we try to make a little progress week by week, conversation by conversation, and indeed as Christians day by day.
So thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.