“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the universal laws of bootlicking

The third chapter of the section on Propriety in The Theory of the Moral Sentiments is entitled:

“Of the corruption of our moral sentiments, which is occasioned by this disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition”

I believe that this chapter is about the most insightful thing Adam Smith ever wrote. It is certainly pertinent to the present crisis, one which is to be solved by a rushed, inverse bank robbery on the grand scale which is consistent through all of the Great Fly’s disasters. It is an astonishingly audacious step, proposed by a Treasury secretary who has failed, systematically, for a year to understand the crisis, and is thus being hailed by the establishment as a hero and our only hope – Tom Friedman, who has never failed us yet as an omen of the conventional ignorance swapped around country clubs and CEO chitchat fests, comes out in his column today with the gorgeous suggestion that Obama re-appoint Paulson if he gets elected. Apparently Friedman is tired of supporting the Iraq war, the last cretin’s cause he took up, and has been casting about for some other way to be massively wrong. Well, at least there is less bloodshed in this one, even if it does involve the further degradation of democracy as anything more than a con man’s fiddle. Friedman is a special case: the neo-liberal pablum he regularly dispenses comes straight from the various horses’ mouths: the CEO set loves him. And he in turn reflects their biases. This is why you can search his books over and you will never encounter the slightest hint that there is such a thing as a business cycle. Now that we have run into the trough of one, he is reaching for the universal solvent he saves for all difficult occasions: trust the rich.

Paulson’s success with the establishment, which is even greater than the reception accorded Rumsfeld in 2003, stems partly from the fact that he has the interests of that establishment firmly fixed in his mind. But even if he is the investor’s champion, he has produced an investor’s nightmare, and he seems determined to keep plugging at throwing good money after bad until we’ve exhausted all the money there is. The dirty secret is that the credit swap market is busted; the whole of the shadow financial system is meeting the question that it was designed to avoid: what are the derivatives it trades really worth? We have been assured for thirty years, ever since the neo-classicals regained dominance from the Keynesians and attempted to devise a private structure that would do what the state did before, that they insure, and thus extend, the capacity of lenders to lend. Thus, our economy will depend on the equilibrium provided by the private market rather than the heavy handed intervention of the state. We’d all live in the gingerbread house and get to eat it, too.

This was always a rather pinheaded dream, but the scheme was culturally assured by what Smith describes well – the unwarranted admiration that surrounds the wealthy. This is a truly American disease: it is amazing to hear Americans squeal about the wealthy, as though they were demi-gods – so smart! so successful!

A brief conspectus of the Great Fly’s terrible reign can be derived from this handy passage in Smith:

“Many a poor man places his glory in being thought rich, without considering that the duties (if one may call such follies by so very venerable a name) which that reputation imposes upon him, must soon reduce him to beggary, and render his situation still more unlike that of those whom he admires and imitates, than it had been originally.

To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions. But the ambitious man flatters himself that, in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the steps by which he arrived at that elevation. In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavour, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebellion and civil war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way of their greatness. They more frequently miscarry than succeed; and commonly gain nothing but the disgraceful punishment which is due to their crimes. But, though they should be so lucky as to attain that wished-for greatness, they are always most miserably disappointed in the happiness which they expect to enjoy in it. It is not ease or pleasure, but always honour, of one kind or another, though frequently an honour very ill understood, that the ambitious man really pursues. But the honour of his exalted station appears, both in his own eyes and in those of other people, polluted and defiled by the baseness of the means through which he rose to it. Though by the profusion of every liberal expence; though by excessive indulgence in every profligate pleasure, the wretched, but usual, resource of ruined characters; though by the hurry of public business, or by the prouder and more dazzling tumult of war, he may endeavour to efface, both from his own memory and from that of other people, the remembrance of what he has done; that remembrance never fails to pursue him. He invokes in vain the dark and dismal powers of forgetfulness and oblivion.”

Long ago, LI invoked the powers of the chthonic goddess to punish a country that mindlessly ravished and killed Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands. But we never expected it to happen. Well, it is happening. And the dark and dismal powers that are rising up are not, it turns out, fabricated from oblivion: they are all about the debts that can’t be cashed out, the flesh debts. The return of the repressed on the horses of the riders of the Apocalypse are among us, children. Run and hide if you can.


ahfukit said...

Try to gesture while you speak, close the fingers of your dominant hand around an imaginary conductor's baton, then remove it, nestle your thumb in the crook of your index finger, and croon on...

Graham crackers and milk sucked from the ass grows these kinds of creatures. Thick streams for the thousand millions straining for the whole.


roger said...

Well, it is hard to do that and type at the same time.

Although I do have the eerie feeling I'm conducting Satan's orchestra some times. Is it just me, or is this whole disaster so easy to predict that I could just go to sleep here? For instance, since the disaster involves people not being able, on the basic level, to pay their mortgages or stay in their houses, which are too cheap to sell, taking approximately 2 000 dollars per person - 6,000 some per household - and giving it to the richest people won't, uh, solve the problem, but will leave a shortfall that will totally bar the guv'mint from doing anything for the people who owe the money. This is like a Hollywood screenplay written by a crackhead, in which logical continuity has been tossed out in favor of slo mo and special effects action sequences.

ahfukit said...

Billy y Suzie at the Movies:

Gee, Billy, what do you think will happen next?

I don't know, Suzie, but probably one of the very worst things you can think of.

Yeah, Billy, why didn't I think of that! You are a swell guy with whom to go to the movies and I love you!

[kiss kiss grope think of the worst things you can]


'ungrounded' is a theme I'm working, which seems consonant with the crackhead screenwriter scenario. that and (nearly) ineffable disgust (if LI can go to the vomitorium, why can't I?)

I find your work enriching, Roger. Godspeed to us all.