In case you haven’t seen this, here’s an article from the New York Times that everyone should read.
Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’
Recently, I developed a perception of how many Americans, particularly right-wing Americans, look at greed. Just last night I had my perception confirmed. I think it’s simple and pretty obvious, but we have to make these things clear if we’re ever going to deal with them.
I read an article in the New York Times about some multi-millionaire hedge fund manager who has been on a buying binge. New houses, a painting by Picasso, etc. I and a bunch of others saw him as being an example of the grotesque excess that characterizes those with obscene amounts of wealth today. One person suggested in a comment on the article that it would be a good thing to be able to confiscate some of that wealth. A reader responded to that, saying:
“By what right would you or anyone confiscate the property of another? And how would you decide what is ‘excess’?”
I felt like responding to the response and, in a slightly prickly mood, I wrote:
“In a sane world excess is taking more than you need to live a decent life. Let’s amend the constitution if need be.”
This motivated yet another reader to respond to me:
“Mark, your ‘sane world,’ where those who work to earn are ‘takers,’ must be one heck of a horror show.”
My response, which I’m making only here, is that we are already living in a horror show. And it’s largely because of those “earners.” This is right at the heart of my perception. They say it’s not greed if you’ve earned it. But greed is, precisely, working to obtain great wealth. Morally, no one is entitled to go after as much as they can “earn.” “Earn” is a self-deceptive term here. If you insert the word “get,” the meaning changes. And it’s more honest. You cannot earn a billion dollars. Invariably, someone will ask, “So, how much do you think one should morally be able to earn?” I think enough to make a living, but not a killing.
I saw a headline in the New York Times today that said:
Religious leaders, Seeking Unity, Back Santorum.
Below the headline was this:
More than 100 conservative Christian leaders voted to support Rick Santorum’s presidential bid.
I believe it’s important for it to be said—over and over again—that the people referred to in the article are not religious leaders. And Rick Santorum is not a religious man. None of them have any understanding whatsoever of what real religion is. Whenever they do encounter it, they denounce it.
In other news, I’m leaving for New York City in the morning. I’ll be spending a week there, working on my book much of the time (there is a short New York section) and exploring during the rest. I’m also giving a talk about the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill—the flock, book, and film—on Long Island, in Babylon, mon. When I get back I start preparing for another trip to Santa Barbara Island. From island to island and back again. An interesting and lucky time.
I started my series of posts on The Three Views of Existence (part 3 will be coming soon) by saying that the two dominant views, creator god and scientific/materialist, barely recognize the existence of the third, “pantheism.” But I could have said they don’t recognize it at all and I wouldn’t have been far off the mark. Tonight I read a review in the New York Times of a book by an academic philosopher, Alvin Platingas, who believes in the creator god and who has made something of a career out of taking on the philosophical materialists. The third view is never mentioned. For the two dominant views, it may as well not even exist. But I’m convinced that the third view is the true one, and I see its consistent omission as indicative of how far the modern world has strayed.
Tonight I was reading the readers’ comments attached to the New York Times article about the sick act the Republican party pulled off in Wisconsin, and I found myself hitting the recommend button on any post that said, “this is war.” I don’t know yet how that manifests itself. I’m not the kind who gets enthusiastic about wars—of any kind. But it’s clear that something needs to be done. The Republican party is evil. While it will destroy itself eventually—that’s a real universal law—it’s doing far too much harm to the common good right now to just stand by and wait. For starters, I sent some money to the Wisconsin Democratic party to help them in their recall efforts.
There are readers of this blog who dislike it it when I use the word “evil.” But it is the correct word. I’m leaving tomorrow morning for a speaking gig in Pasadena. When I get back I’m going to start work on a post dealing with my thoughts on evil.
I read a book review in the New York Times that got me all het up. Both the author, Thomas P. M. Barnett, and the book’s reviewer, Dwight Garner, live in a fantasy world, I think. A lot of Americans do. It’s largely the result of our belief in “American exceptionalism.” No one is exceptional. Karma is karma. Cause and effect. That’s it.
The passage that got me all in a lather was the reviewer’s praise for an earlier work of Barnett’s called “The Pentagon’s New Map.” I quote:
Mr. Barnett’s sane idea: bring the world’s rowdy, hormonal, emotionally tortured teenage countries to the adult table, and teach them to prosper through capitalism, cooperation, and openness. The enemy “is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition — disconnectedness,” he explained.
This is hubris, the same old hubris we’ve been suffering from for decades. It seems especially ridiculous to be praising something like that considering what we’re putting the world through right now with the near collapse of our financial system. And the statement is cheap intellectually. For one thing, capitalism and cooperation are inimical to one another. In reality, competition is always given the run of the field. “Cooperation” is just a nice sounding word. But you aren’t supposed to point that out. We never have real debate about something like that. Certain ideas are not to be questioned.
My main complaint is with the author’s and the reviewer’s enthusiasm for globalization. Globalization was one of those things I didn’t give much serious thought to—although I was inclined against it instinctively—until I saw it in action. In the summer of 2007, I went to Greece, my first trip back there since 1969. What I saw appalled me. The culture of Greece has been ruined by globalization. The Greeks used to be an extraordinarily friendly, relaxed, and generous people. But they are grumpy now—sullen teenage girls taking your money at the cash register. I talked to the owner of a laundromat in Iraklion about what I thought I was seeing, and he confirmed it. He said that the Greeks are under a great deal of stress now, chasing money. He hated what it had done to his country. The old life is gone. Everything is commerce now. Greece functions largely as a resort for the affluent Northern Europeans and Americans. The tourists have no interest in the place or the people who live there. They drink and work on their tans. So the Greeks have lost their warmth toward strangers. Who can blame them? Greece has started to look like every other place in the world—same products, same bored teenagers, same pop music, same frantic activity, same plastic architecture. It’s gotten so that there’s really no reason to go anywhere anymore. The global corporations are creating a monoculture that is ruining the spirit.
A truly sane idea is: we have nothing to give the rest of the world until we give up the fantasy of everyone becoming a millionaire and start searching for our soul again.