coromandal


you missed one of the rungs in the ladder
June 9, 2018, 6:39 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

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In his essay Such Were the Joys …, George Orwell describes the claustrophobic social realities of early century England.

The social and class milieu was rooted in low church religion and upper class unattainability and snobbery, which cancelled each other: on the one hand: sex puritanism, hard work, academic distinction, no self indulgence. And on the other: anti-intellectualism, love of games, xenophobia, contempt for working class, fear of poverty,  materialism, power and leisure.

To be socially acceptable one had to live on the interest of a sizable family endowment. It was virtually impossible to attain upper class status from the middle class: best case was a middle manager civil servant, but more likely, after a lifetime of hard work, an office boy.

Today we have indifferent boomers, a majority who can’t retire, lost millennials, the precariat, giggers etc. Was Orwell’s time any different from our own?

The various codes which were presented to you at Crossgates – religious, moral, social and intellectual – contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century ascetism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for “braininess” and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

Very early, at the age of only ten or eleven, I reached the conclusion – no one told me this, but on the other hand I did not simply make it up out of my own head: somehow it was in the air I breathed – that you were no good unless you had £100,000. I had perhaps fixed on this particular sum as a result of reading Thackeray. The interest on £100,000 a year (I was in favor of a safe 4 per cent), would  be £4,000, and this seemed to me the minimum income that you must possess if you were to belong to the real top crust, the people in the country houses. But it was clear that I could never find my way into that paradise, to which you did not really belong unless you were born into it. You could only make money, if at all, by a mysterious operation called “going into the City,” and when you came out of the City, having won your £10,000, you were fat and old. But the truly enviable thing about the top notchers was that they were rich while young. For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. You clambered upwards on a ladder of scholarships into the Home Civil Service or the Indian Civil Service, or possibly you became a barrister. And if at any point you “slacked” or “went off” and missed one of the rungs in the ladder, you became “a little office boy at forty pounds a year.” But even if you climbed to the highest niche that was open to you, you could still only be an underling, a hanger-on of the people who really counted.

George Orwell, Such Were The Joys …, p 31

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Do your work, then step back
June 19, 2014, 6:49 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Lao Tzu



where history counts for nothing and money = intelligence

goldman-sachsThe great economist James K. Galbraith describes two factors that contribute to financial euphoria – the special fiscal  insanity that has led to more than one collapse of markets, the most spectacular being the great collapse of 2008.

The first contributing factor, in paragraph no. 1 below, is a systemic aversion to history; and the second factor, in paragraph no. 2, is the mistaken belief that financial success can be connected to intelligence.

There is a brilliant description of the Peter principle in paragraph 2:  CEOs are mentally predictable, intellectually unchallenging, cavers.  The system that supports them is soft, uncritical and in the end error prone.

Our market fundamentalists are just as inbred and parochial as our religious fundamentalists.

Here is Galbraith:

Contributing to….euphoria are two further factors little noted in our time or in past times. The first is the extreme brevity of the financial memory. In consequence, financial disaster is quickly forgotten. In further consequence, when the same or closely similar circumstances occur again…they are hailed by a new, often youthful, and always supremely self-confident generation as a brilliantly innovative discovery…There can be few fields of human endeavor in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance.  Past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of the those who do not have insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present. Continue reading



money is a promise: American jubilee

 

Here is a story about fierce people.  A king decides to sell a servant and his family into slavery to settle the servant’s debt.  The servant begs the king for leniency to repay the debt, and the king has pity and mercy and not only releases the servant but forgives the debt in full.

The same servant meets a man in the street who owes him money and grabs him by the neck, and demands repayment.  The debtor pleads for leniency, but the servant has the man thrown into prison.  Friends of the servant see this cruelty and relate it to the king, their common benefactor.  The king calls the unforgiving servant to him, chastises him for his hypocrisy and lack of mercy, and throws him into prison.

Unhappy ending, sorry.  You probably remember this story from Matthew’s gospel from childhood when you went to Sunday school.  Or if you’re of another faith, echoes of the universality of the message in stories from your own religious teachings.

***

The author David Graeber wrote a book called Debt: The First 5000 Years.  I have excerpted three passages from one of his chapters below to introduce the idea of Jubilee, which is state sanctioned debt forgiveness.

Jubilee, called amargi (freedom) by the ancients, was perfectly described in the moment – in Matthew’s gospel – when the king forgives the servant and the servant is made free of his obligation.  What exhilaration must have accompanied this transformative moment in the servant’s life.

Continue reading



capital, coin, currency, means, dosh, funds
February 16, 2011, 6:02 am
Filed under: unseen world | Tags:

Lapham’s Quarterly

The definition of money is a moving target.  In as much as the famous speak for the age they live in, here a version of the course money takes from the ancient world to now.

To ancient Rome, money was the essence and strength girding the empire’s central institution:  the war machine.  In the Age of Reason it was regarded with suspicion and was best when controlled and dispersed.  In revolutionary America and England, money was a carrot at the end of a stick, and — for perhaps the first time — personified and rivaled man’s other – and perennial – best friend the dog.  The Victorians had splintered views; the German and French regarded money as the root of happiness and of evil respectively; the British liked its function and prescribed – like proper bureaucrats – its place in the social order.  During the early 20th century and the first world war, money is an empty blessing and a filthy ruse propped up.  In the sixties, a collapsed ideal.  And in the seventies another split:  personal whim; and the better thing, if there’s a choice, but only as a default, and with conditions.



yams and pigs

Even on the farm, even in so-called primitive contexts, people need to escape the bonds of family and blood and initiate relations with other people.  And this is just as true when it comes to trade and commerce as with other forms of social human interaction, says Mark Anspach in an interview excerpted below.

Some Americans – New Yorkers for instance – resist the idea of the big box retailer, and Walmart and other stores find not enough love to convince the five boroughs to let them in.  Residents don’t want the fine balance of trade, which includes mom and pops and boutiques and large retailers, being wildly disrupted by a mega retailer.  And they have the money and power to keep them out.

Other Americans are proud of big box retailers like Walmart; they like the car convenient ritual, the low prices and the enormous choice.  They identify big boxes with being American.  Often these Americans don’t have the power and money to influence how their markets function anyway.

Big is anonymous and the bulk of the money and policy that swirls around big boxes in America sets the primal impulse to trade on it’s end.  The base human economic transaction between a buyer and a seller is changed completely because the seller isn’t really in the room, nor really in the town or city, and maybe not even in the state.  Same with the goods, they are mostly in transit in the hold of an airplane or ship somewhere in the middle of a large ocean.  Same with the crafts person who makes the goods, who sits in a fluorescent lit room, one in a long row, somewhere thousands of miles across oceans and sand.

Anspach explains how economists see human trade quite differently than anthropologists.  The economic view is narrow and instrumentalist.  Buyer, seller, pig, yam.  I have pig, you have yam, we print money, we buy each others pigs and yams.

The anthropologist has a much richer view and sees trade as a critical tool for tying together members of a community and avoiding privatism and forming essential bonds with neighbors.  In this view, trade is less about getting the best deal on a farm animal, than establishing a lifelong bond by offering, in trust, your product to your neighbor as a form of gift.

Continue reading



ornate and mad in the evening sun
January 6, 2011, 6:31 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

I first read the poem Money by Philip Larkin over 20 years ago, and have gone back to it occasionally since, and it still comes back to me and sits in my mind these many years later.   Mostly the image of the fourth stanza:  looking down / From long french windows at a provincial town.  How strange – and beautiful – that money could be like looking out a window over a town.

There are two kinds of people in this milieu, those who use money and live and those who don’t understand these systems and become critical of them and eventually merely observers of life.  Try as he may, the poet can’t let go his criticism of the futility of acquisition and pursuit and allow himself to enter into life.

In the first stanza he’s goaded by money:  it scolds him – use me for pleasure, it says.  In the second he looks around at other people not waiting to buy relationships and material goods with their money.  In the third he agrees with what the world tells him:  it’s crazy to wait, spend your money and live now, he decides.

It’s the fourth stanza that’s strange and beautiful.  He’s ensconced, now, in his acquisition and money in a room with tall windows looking down at a town far below:  a place that is backward, poor, superstitious, gaudy, crazy, but also alive.  He’s outside of life in all four stanzas but in the fourth he’s in money, looking down from it at people madly pursuing life.  Money separates him from the life he was told he could live if he embraced it, and now it’s late, sunlight is draining away from the town and money sings it’s melancholy song.

Read the whole poem here.  Following is the fourth stanza —

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down

From long french windows at a provincial town,

The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad

In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Money, Philip Larkin