Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too Big to Bail

Some in clandestine companies combine;
Erect new stocks to trade beyond the line;
With air and empty names beguile the town;
And raise new credits first, then cry them down;
Divide the empty nothing into shares,
And set the crowd together by the ears.

--Daniel Defoe

Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say, let 'em crash!
--Airplane!

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine
--REM

The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency.
--Lenin

Correct Vladimir Ilyich above to read "debauch capital"--and it needn't be the subversive effort of committed revolutionaries. Those who've debauched capital, replacing it with purely theoretic value dependent on nothing more concrete than faith in the inexhaustibility of greed, are, or imagine themselves to be, the most fervent capitalists of all. It takes either sociopathic oblivion or absolute faith in the infallibility of our system to do it this kind of damage; anything else leaves room for those undervalued resources, doubt and modesty--room for decency to latch on. Every calamity is particular to its time, and our time is peculiar for celebrating confidence as its own justification, not to be contingent upon anything so limiting as truth or coherence. We've made a faith of self-confidence and a superstition of positive thinking. Odd for such irreligious times; or not so much odd as inevitable.

But don't chalk it up to the system or society; chalk it up to human nature. These competing means of ordering societies and economies that constitute the continuum from communism to capitalism are all just strategies to harness the power and mitigate the corruptions of human nature. Even our creativity has a dark underside, revealed whenever some human endeavor goes belly-up. Of course this sounds vaguely heretical to most on the right still, like suggesting tax rates can be too low or American power can be misguided. That a system is better than another doesn't make it perfect (or, to put it another way, an end in itself). But the belief in the perfectibility of systems--like the perfectibility of man--is a thing that will always be with us, playing out its familiar cycle of enthusiasm and folly, ruin and revolution.

Our curious system of selectively unrestrained and selectively rigged capitalism has become capitalism sans capital--degenerate, you might say. Traders (if this is an accurate term--things have gotten so involved that one can't be sure) are shamans of a sort, impressing everyone with the intricacy of their incantations. They bear a certain resemblance to postmodern literary theorists. The more opaque and dense their constructs the more successful they are, or were.

In fact these folks aren't so different from each other; they form a class dominant in some ideally situated corner of society or the economy, and from this privileged perch leverage their influence. They are, above all, dismissive of limits and tradition, seeing them as outrageously repressive. They each create their own closed, self-referential systems, forbidding to those uninitiated in their arcane language. They share a similar disdain for both physical reality and conceptual morality, leaving them curiously untethered, floating in the ether of their theoretic gases. They are in denial of nature, appreciating it with neither a religious nor empirical point of view.

Of course if one denies the existence of nature, he denies the existence of human nature, and comes to believe that human behavior is infinitely malleable and predictable, if one only devises a sufficiently exhaustive theory of it. Funny how right and left meet out there, around their respective bends.

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