Monday, August 30, 2010

OK ... so ... Greed is Bad?

These are the robber barons that represent the Age of Mammon. The greed, avarice, gluttony and acute materialism of these American traitors has not been seen in this country since the 1920′s. The hedge fund managers and Wall Street bank executives that occupy the mansions and penthouses evidently don’t find much time to read the bible in their downtime from raping and pillaging the wealth of the middle class. There are cocktail parties and $5,000 a plate political “fundraisers” to attend. You can’t be cheap when buying off your protection in Washington DC. The Age of Mammon

(A very short post because my right shoulder is gored.)

There's more and more articles like the one I quote from here which are disgusted by those greedy criminal bankers. What amazes the bejeesus out of this crippled blogger is why we should expect anything else from capitalism; from a survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed, maximizing self-interest, selfish-gene culture that directly equates material acquisition with success; from a river-bed sediment that flooded our thinking some centuries ago with the meme of 'enlightened' self-interest, independent and autonomous selfhood, the primacy of the I, of liberty to do as I damn well please the world be damned; from this fodder we are to expect some different beast!? HOW CAN IT BE ANY DIFFERENT!? How can that gaggle of ignorant platitudes about humanity and 'life out there' yield any other outcome!? Has it ever? Even once?

I'm a fan of Peanuts (Charlie Brown). One of my favourite sketches involves Sally (Charlie Brown's sister) asking her brother — who is preparing for a baseball game — why he always puts his left sock on first. Charlie patiently informs his sister that baseball players have these superstitions. Were he not to put on the left sock first, he might lose a game.

"Have you ever won?" asks Sally.

Cut to the baseball mound where Linus and Lucy are wondering where Charlie Brown is. He's still in his room flummoxed by his sister's innocent question.

Time to ask ourselves why we expect outcomes other than the inevitable from a system designed to yield outcomes that benefit the few at the direct expense of the many.


Debra said...

So, you saw this post too.
You know, Toby, my PRICELESS training in psychoANALYTIC thought allows me to examine NOT JUST WHAT IS SAID, but the way it is said.
This is the prophet's discourse.
In another age, it sounded like... "Repent, for the end of the world is coming"...
Did you notice THE BIBLE quote, too ?
It is interesting to note that the secularization of our culture has picked up speed to a vertiginous level since.. the 1860's or so.
Fewer and fewer people KNOW their Bible, and fewer and fewer even CARE whether they know their bible or not. And yet... THE BIBLE presents a very convincing CASE AGAINST GREED, and IDOLATRY OF MONEY. As such, it stanches these OH SO HUMAN BEHAVIORS, or at least INHIBITS THEM for the benefit of social control.
Many "liberals" oh so eager to trample all over the Bible are NOW bitiing their nails frantically, and doing their own prophetising talking about the evils of idolatry.
LOL LOL LOL. The more things change, the more they stay the same, said THE MAN, as I love to point out.
That said... I had a brainstorm yesterday, when realizing that conspiracy theories that single out ONE INDIVIDUAL, ONE CLASS, ONE CAUSE, are all symptoms of the totalitarian uniformization of thought WHICH IS THE GREATEST THREAT TO OUR CIVILIZATION at this time (maybe...)
As I like to point out... the problem is NOT CAPITALISM, it is the absence of alternative ways of looking at human activity.
The problem is IDOLATRY.
Ironically, monotheistic thought is a concentrate of the totalitarian question. Paganism is POLYTHEISM, which, to me, goes better with diversity. BY SANCTIFYING and IDOLIZING the "one/unique GOD/INDIVIDUAL, monotheistic thought brings about what it seeks to guard against.
But I am afraid this is inevitable.
It is inevitable because totalitarian thought processes (uniformization itself) are the LOGICAL RESULT of the effects of the word "one" on us...
Its implications.
Do you understand ?
Brave boy, you, typing with that shoulder.

Toby said...

I'm not brave, I'm foolish. ;-)

How does capitalism relate to idolatry? Can capitalism, rooted necessarily in survival-of-the-FITTEST be anything other than monotheistic/idolatrous?

While Capitalism might not be THE problem, it is in my line of sights in this post. It is so very very defended as the One True God, that it needs a good drubbing, and a decent exposure to cool/impartial analysis (don't chastise me here — analysis is essential to understanding). When capitalism is attacked, there's this knee-jerk defense of it; there is never any other way! Alternatives are unthinkable. And yet the predictable outcome of capitalism is the evil so many now seek to besiege (while simultaneously defending its source). So, Capitalism is very much part of the problem of monotheistic/inflexible thinking right now. So stop defending it! ;-)

I'd like to see a post from you on idolatry. Seems appropriate. Do you do requests?

And interesting to hear you talking in favour of social controls, and biblical social controls at that:

"As such, it stanches these OH SO HUMAN BEHAVIORS, or at least INHIBITS THEM for the benefit of social control."

I'd argue greed is systemic, not human. And I can build a very impressive case too. We don't have to suppress it, actually we need to let our deeper human nature out, give it free reign. To paraphrase Rifkin, we are empathic and social, and are driven by a need to belong. Society is very important to us. Hobbes was way wrong. WAY wrong.

I believe in progress, and refuse to throw the baby out with the bath water till I know it's dead. Humanity has come a long way. It may wipe itself out, but the wisdoms and technology of millennia are of use to us still. We need not go back into an older dogma to fight greed. There are newer ways emerging, exciting ways. The future looks bright, even while the storm clouds gather.

Debra said...

Let me nuance what I'm trying to say, Toby.
I don't think that you can make a case for saying that capitalism is INHERENTLY BAD, because decadence sets in with EVERY utopia, doesn't it, now ??
Decadence is the lot of man, isn't it ?
But AGREED that capitalism has got seriously OUT OF CONTROL right now.
It has gotten seriously OUT OF CONTROL because there is no other IDEA/UTOPIA that is competing against it, even though I don't like the word competing, particularly.
Remember the idea of CHECKS AND BALANCES ?
Our ancestors conceived of the judiciary/legislature/executive as DIFFERENT branches in order to spread POWER, and NOT CONCENTRATE IT.
But I don't think that they understood that in order for the system to work, CONCENTRATION ANYWHERE, in any and every branch of human activity MENACES the WHOLE SYSTEM, the whole social body.
You can't have... a diversified government WITHOUT diversified business practices too. Probably. If your business practices tend towards concentration/uniformization, then your government will inevitably feel the effects in the long run.
Your IDEAL of progress is one I do not share, because I think that human time is CYCLIC, or at least ONE aspect of human time is cyclic, and the ideal of progress conflicts with cyclic human time which should be an EVIDENCE for us, as it appears in nature. Cyclic time means that we are constantly returning to the past for our ideas, resurrecting old ones that we dust off, and reinvent for OUR TIME.
I wrote a comment on the post about Mammon, if you're interested...
I will think about the post on idolatry.

Toby said...

Capitalism is not utopia, nor does anyone think it is, and nothing is inherently bad. I'm picking you up on defending capitalism while attacking monotheism and defending the bible too. That's quite a mix you got going there.

Alternatives are not seriously discussed because the 'fittest' of the competition have assumed control and are nailing things down as they are. Proper discussion is not allowed in mainstream circles. They are resisting the inevitability of change, and causing horrible suffering across the globe in defense of a dying/dead system that can now only poison us all more and more.

No man can put his foot in the same river twice. The second time he is not the same man, nor is it the same river. Change happens to people and to culture. When 'old' ideas find new favour they are different, oscillate, if you like, at a different frequency. It is not cyclical, progress is a spiral in all sorts of directions. And it is subjective...

Debra said...

I'm not attacking monotheism and defending capitalism, Toby, I don't think so.
I'm saying that ANY IDEAL, and ANY IDEOLOGY tends towards totalitarianism when it does not bounce off of other ideologies, other ideals. (And after very briefly skimming through Fukayama's book on the end of history (an admittedly provocative title), I think that THIS intuition is what Fukayama had in mind in his book.) I SHOULD add that totalitarianism is the end game point. The game finishes with ideological totalitarianism (not political...), unless perhaps there is some kind of... SOCIAL BIG BANG to counteract its effect.
I see where Heraclitus makes sense, but I also think that STRUCTURALLY there are a limited number of ways that we can look at the world, and organize our social structures. And our organizing ideas keep coming back IN DIFFERENT FORMS.
If I come up with arguments to say that I think that the problem is not capitalism PER SE, WHY do you perceive me as DEFENDING capitalism ?
Forgive me for putting it this way, Toby, but your position on capitalism LOOKS TO ME LIKE... when I say, for example, that death row criminals should be treated as human beings, and people come back with... "but then you're FOR the criminals and AGAINST the victims."
Do things HAVE to work that way ? (polarization, I think)
Capitalism is NOT utopia, but it emerged historically in our civilization in the framework of the enlightenment UTOPIAS, so it is connected to them. It is ideologically connected to "liberalism", and the word "liberty" is in "liberal". The FREE market. (Although it may exist in some form in ALL societies, who knows, I am NOT an expert on this at all.)
I shall have to do another post.
One of the OTHER organizing elements is the tension in our language between disincarnated IDEAS and EMBODIED, incarnated ones. Rifkin picked up on that, as a matter of fact. He alluded to it in his video.
For example... democracy represents.. an abstract, unembodied ideal of justice, and liberty, while... the monarchy has the ADVANTAGE of embodying power in our eyes in the person of the king or queen. The English system of constitutional monarchy is PARTICULARLY seductive, and STABLE, Toby, whereas democracy... well, abstraction does it dirty.
Too much abstraction gets in the way, Toby. It mushrooms, and gets us away from our BODIES, where it all starts for us.
Did you read my comment on the Mammon post ?

Debra said...

Toby, in your above post, you seem to stick monotheistic and idolatrous as SYNONYMS ? Am I reading you right ??
Aren't you saying "monotheistic" for "totalitarian" ?
Monotheism is hostile to idolatry in all its forms, and that is evident in the quotes on the piece about Mammon.
How can greed be systemic and NOT human ?
I don't understand. Explain, please.
What is our DEEPER human nature ? Is it like.. FREUD'S DEEPER human nature ?
Yes we are cooperative, and social animals, we CAN be empathetic. But we can ALSO be uncooperative, or isolated loners, if you like, and not care too much for human company.
Or are both ways appropriate for certain people, in certain contexts, at certain times, and are BOTH of them possible ways of being in the world ?
The cycles visible in the social body show a pattern of action/reaction, as the social body's attitudes swing from one extreme to another over a long period of time.
Example... Napoleon turned all of the Church's abbeys into prisons during the French Revolution in the early 1800's, I think.
NOW, there remains ONE Cistercian abbey in France that is STILL a prison, the others have emerged from that status, and ARE ONCE AGAIN BECOMING SOURCES OF PILGRIMAGE and spiritual/cultural quest.
Ironically.. the abbeys probably became prisons because of a SHARED IDEA : the idea of seclusion. The monks CHOSE seclusion, THEIR ISOLATION from the world (the nuns may or may not have...). The prisoners did NOT choose THEIR seclusion.
I think that it is difficult for us to imagine the degree of sheer, blind HATE that drove our ancestors to rampage through the country, DEFACING CHURCHES, PROPERTY, "tearing down the idols" DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, Toby, (AFTER the religious wars, well after...)
That is one of the reasons why, when people get all aroused on the blogs, I tend to do my wet sponge act... i don't want revolution. Not at all.
If we think that WW2 was horror, can you imagine what revolution, CIVIL WAR would be ??
Not my cup of tea at all.

Debra said...

I took a look at the comments on "the burning platform", and I must say... "the guys" are obviously having fun, should we say, but the intellectual level is about the equivalent of my first grade class...
Sad. Why can't WE have fun and use our noggins, too ??

Toby said...

I read your comments last night but was very high on painkillers so waited till now. They've just about worn off. They're soooo nice! I must be careful with them!

Greed is an emergent property (or behaviour) not to be found in the genes. It emerges when the natural human drives towards sociability and 'belongingness,' and also the need to be respected by peers, are affected/aberrated by a scarcity-based socioeconomic system. Why do I believe this? Because of the peoples such as the !Kung, the Piraha and the St Kildans who live/d without greed and, pretty much, no crime. The difference between them and us is the systems we operate under.

Second point on greed is the word itself. It is almost nonsensical upon deeper reflection. The dictionary definition (the one I use) is something like; desiring excessively more of a thing than you need. This begs the question of need. What do humans need? Air, water and food. Are we greedy for air? No. Water? No. Food? Kinda, but when you think about that it's taste we crave, or the endorphins generated by eating to assuage depression. Are we greedy for things we don't need? Yes. Things like money, for example, which we 'need' for socioeconomic reasons. Greed is a systemic property, not a 'natural' urge that needs to be repressed. Change the conditions to an egalitarian, abundance-based system and greed has no reason to occur.

Are you defending capitalism? Yes, I think so, but you don't see it yet. Is it THE problem. No. I don't think there is such a thing, not really. But if we want a sustainable and fairer socioeconomic system, which is what my efforts are about, then it is THE problem. Its two fundamental pillars are private-property and scarcity. Together they work to stimulate an atmosphere of eternal competition (which is 'unnatural' in my view), which leads to precisely the evils most pro-capitalists bemoan.

My questions about monotheism/idolatry and capitalism were aimed at you for clarification, but I see it this way. Capitalism is monotheistic because is allows only one god, accepts only one god, and that is itself. And it seeks to be the one true religion of the entire human race. How can it not? Competition to the death is part of its makeup. It is also idolatrous because it worships mammon, indeed it is mammon manifested in the human realm. It is a false god, a destructive, pillaging god which is implicitly and explicitly against nature, try as it might to promote itself as 'the natural way.'

That's enough from me. My shoulder's sore now.