We have walked through the looking glass and the other side is extraordinarily dark. We are somewhere between the enemies of the future, as described by Virginia Postrel in The Future and its Enemies,* and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, on the Pequod, up and down over an indifferent sea, yet unaware that Ahab is at the helm, his dead reckoning conflicting with our own, two fixed points clashing.
We’re at the edge of a wide and foreboding abyss.
“Static visions depend on hiding the connections between disparate aspects of life,” says Postrel. She continues,
Statists thrive by issuing prescriptions that ignore the details of life, believing that the details are unimportant, the stuff of anonymous specialists, and can safely be ignored…Critics assume that readers will share their attitudes and will see contemporary life as a problem demanding immediate action by the powerful and wise. This relentlessly hostile view of how we live, and how we may come to live, is distorted and dangerous. It overvalues the tastes of an articulate elite, compares the real world of trade-offs to fantasies of utopia, omits important details and connections, and confuses temporary growing pains with permanent catastrophes. It demoralizes and devalues the creative minds on whom our future depends. And it encourages the coercive use of political power to wipe out choice, forbid experimentation, short-circuit feedback, and trammel progress.
The “relentlessly hostile view” begins by manipulating perception. We are in a crisis of perception. We perceive, for instance, that The Market, as it’s called by business, politicians and the media–and how it’s falsely studied by student-economists–exists somewhere beyond us; that it’s somehow a creature onto itself moving, breathing, devouring without our doing. (This is the way we think about technology, too.)
The Market is us. We don’t know what to do with ourselves, so corrupt and immoral are our actions. The Market defines our socio-moral condition. The Market exposes our deepest, most profound perversions.
Since the deregulation brought about by Reagan and escalated by McCain – Gramm, we have experienced intense fluctuations in the markets. Why? Because of the basic fundamentals of trading. I have a stock tied to a corporation. You want that stock because it can bring you some wealth right now, but you’re unsure. You need a sign that the stock you want is worth something. I react by engaging you in speculation–the ifs: if you bet high, you can also bet on a derivative to try and stabilize a drop, and vice versa. Thus, in a very short period of time, within seconds, we have a stock–a financial instrument–that doesn’t represent anything but speculation based on fear and mistrust. No real value, other than the value we place on our anxiety and the ambiguity of our time.
This is totally controlled by the “tastes of an articulate elite.” It’s not surprising that Paulson, the former Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs, wants–and needs–$700 billion to bailout–not Wall Street and not you and me, the common citizen–Goldman Sachs itself.
Let’s start calling a spade a spade. Let’s start by investigating the fox that’s left standing. Let’s see where and how this problem began, who instigated it. And I dare anyone who does this not to find Goldman at the start and the finish of this, one of the darkest periods of American moral history.
It’s also not surprising that when officials gathered around the table to bailout AIG, the only non-government person present was the current CEO of Goldman. AIG is into Goldman big time, $21 billion!
We really want such a closed group of men controlling everything we own?
Some folks are having a party at our expense. We’ve not been invited–and Lehman wasn’t either. These are elites, as Postrel points out, that are frightened of the dynamism that is the reality of the way we live and are pursuing a utopian vision defined by stasis. Paulson and company, which includes both Republicans and Democrats since Reagan, are laboring very, very hard to keep the world as it is, the control of wealth and power in the hands of few.
I know, I know–I can hear you from here. Many of you are laughing, seeing my words as overly romantic and rife with paranoia about conspiracies. But what I am saying is not concealed, it’s not hidden. It’s right in front of our very eyes; it’s a message: this is the way it is, and this is the way we elites want it to be.
The immoral corruption existing in our markets has run wild since Reagan; deregulation ensures that the worst in human nature will rise to the top. This is historically true; there is evidence all over the place.
While on the one side we are told that we live immoral lives based on our socio-cultural, sexual inclinations, these same people are reaching into our bank accounts and robbing us blind. Isn’t it interesting that suddenly those who love to preach from pulpits have gone silent? Yes, yell at us about our immoral entertainment, our gay lives, our single parenthood and abortions–but when immorality is extraordinary and real, when it devastates people and communities, when there is real soul wrenching suffering, the pulpits across America are silent.
The wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, and this darkness visible hanging over our economic lives are all interconnected, guided by an immoral force that seeks to make an America founded on despair, suffering and tension the future. They are spitting on Hamilton, Madison and Jay and The Federalists Papers, the notion that ambition should be tempered by ambition. This is fundamental to any pursuit of democracy. Our culture is falling, and falling fast because of blind ambition.
In The Doubloon chapter of Moby Dick, Ahab pauses before his equatorial coin and says,
There is something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and all other grand and lofty things; look here, –three peaks as proud as Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab; the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is Ahab; all are Ahab, and this round gold is but the image of the rounder globe, which, like a magician’s glass, to each and every man in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve itself.
Here we have it, Ahab the Goldman broker. Extraordinary narcissism willed onto the value of a gold coin that will be, for “each and every man,” a “mirror” that will serve as a vessel to be filled with our fantasies. This is how we get ourselves into trouble. This is the prescription for overvaluation.
“I see nothing here,” says Ahab to his crew on the Pequod, “but a round thing made of gold, and whoever raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So, what’s this staring been about? It is worth sixteen dollars, that’s true; and at two cents the cigar, that’s nine hundred and sixty cigars. I won’t smoke dirty pipes like Stubb, but I like cigars, and here’s nine hundred and sixty of them; so here goes Flask aloft to spy ’em out.”
The deck of the Pequod is the trading floor on Wall Street. Only to gain his aim, Ahab mistakes the mathematics. But this doesn’t matter because the crew–America–is suddenly moved, fixated on the vision Ahab gives them through the inflated value of the doubloon, its gold shinning possibilities, uniqueness. It is a false utopia founded on stasis–keep the world as is, because in this world, I can then pursue my perversions.
This is where we stand today, right now, at the dawn of a new vote on the bail-out.
Yet the economic world has not ended. Skeptics recommend that Congress do nothing. Two-hundred economists have signed a petition protesting the bail-out.
Narayana Kocherlakota, of the University of Minnesota, calls the White House’s case an unconvincing one. “I think one of the reasons why so many people were signing that is the administration has not brought forward the information that would be compelling, that yes, we are facing economic Armageddon,” Kocherlakota says.
It’s evident that no one knows what’s right here; no one knows what the future holds.
But one thing is true: the current bailout is meant to soften the blow to those who have committed the most profound crimes against humanity, the destabilization of the human condition for the excessive profits of a very few people.
This history is long, though. It’s simply that those who cover the news and who are given the responsibility to address these issues have been laughing at the few who have been raising flags all along.
David Kay Johnson, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter of The New York Times and author of Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill), says that this is “business as usual.” And that it doesn’t matter who will be president next because we are still living–and experiencing–the Reagan Era. Tragic.
“We have created in the United States, largely in the last thirty years, a whole series of programs—a few of them explicit, many of them deeply hidden—that take money from the pockets of the poor and the middle class and upper middle class, “says Johnson, ” and funnel it to the wealthiest people in America.”
Is this the America defined by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay? Is this the America we want? What are we willing to do to right this ship?
“The drama’s done,” writes Melville. “Why then here does any one step forth?–Because one did survive the wreck.”
Will any one of us “survie the wreck” to be, like Job, “Alone to tell thee”?