Mr Merton is the Subject of My Sentence

Social scientists, take note:

King Lear had three daughters. Nothing but trouble.

Now Keanu Reeves has reportedly Lear'd the special effects business: Hello magazine reports that he's giving away £50 million of his reported £70million take on the two Matrix sequels, by redistributing the 50,000 large to "29 whiz-kids" in the effects and costume departments.

The recently-deceased Robert K. Merton wrote a great deal about unintended consequences and their causes. I'd put Keanu as a mix of causes #1 and #3 — mostly #3, the "imperious immediacy of interest."

Reeves intends to make life more fair by spontaneous redistribution, but there were literally hundreds of people who worked on those films. If Keanu divides equally, an outcry will come from those who feel that they were not counted. If he divides unequally, there will be an outcry from those who feel that the animators were slighted, or the stuntmen, or the makeup people — even if the recipients merely turn the cash around to distribute (potentially equally... how to measure?) among their own staffs.

Such gestures, while "cool" at a superficial level, often collapse into a morass of conflicted values and contrary notions of entitlement. The people who worked on the Matrix films did so voluntarily, and with a known set of goals (including their paychecks). By dropping £1,750,000 checques onto the heads of a few, a cycle of finger-pointing and resentment over "undeserved" gains and/or slights is the likely result. A few will escape happily, I hope.

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