(Week 17 - Wednesday, Dec. 3)
Charles Dickens opened his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities with perhaps the most famous of all literary curtain risers (after "In the beginning . . ." that is); i.e. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." He was referring specifically to the nascent-industrial England of the late 18th century, but the same can be said of the present epoch. Indeed, contemporary global civilization has stretched this dichotomy to the most extreme polarity possible.
It can be said that a large portion of humankind at present lives in a cornucopia of unfolding progress, possibilities and richness that fairly beggars the imagination. In the historically-brief last century or two it has plumbed the depths, spanned the heavens, opened the floodgates of material abundance, developed vast technological capabilities, shrunk the world into a global village, exploded the boundaries of artistic expression, enacted sweeping social and political reforms, unlocked the atom, mastered incredible techniques for healing, and approached the mysteries of the creation of life itself.
Yet, in spite of all of that, it may be fairly asked if we are not approaching the brink of the incomprehensible suicide of civilization, or even the destruction of earth itself, through any number of possible avenues; be it the spontaneous unraveling of the ecosystem; the overwhelming of the last barriers to infectious pandemics; the revitalization of class, ethnic, racial or religious intolerance; the grinding realities of agricultural, industrial and service labor; snowballing monetary indebtedness; the ever more maddening pace and dehumanization of modern life; the exhaustion of material resources; the collateral consequences of an imperialist New-World-Order hegemony; nuclear holocaust; or the wrath of an angry creator.
What are we to think of this impossibly contradictory state of affairs? The juxtaposed "best" and "worst" of times is in actuality not a contradiction, but rather an expression of the poles of the overarching paradox. What, then, is the paradox? This may be expressed many ways, but in an outward sense it surely is reflected in the reality that humankind, in this era of vastly expanded financial activity, has not mastered money. In what life does money not exist as the most polarized of love/hate, embraced/condemned, or sought/feared elements? It is indeed the essential riddle of our time.
The fact that the subject is money dictates that the discipline of banking be brought most particularly under the green shade of scrutiny. The problem, though, is by no means limited to those involved overtly in the banking or financial professions. In this modern era, we are all economic creatures, and do in fact mould the form of the economic life with our thoughts, feelings and actions. If the economic cake were sliced along a different cross section, any number of other walks or categories of life could be held up for similar treatment.
If there is a 'bottom line' to this story it is that, while different "classes" (a divisive word, to be sure) of society may indeed have their respective economic issues, there is ultimately no us-vs.-them factor in their resolution. This premise is held forth adamantly in the fullness of the narrative represented by the unfoldment of these columns. As fellow sojourners in the earth we are all in this together; both as agents for the problem, and as hopes for the cure. If there is any distinction to be said for people of finance it is that theirs is a special calling in an age when the full blossoming of the economic life is coming providentially to the fore.
In the course of performing any economic activity within the present system I suspect that we virtually all experience on some level an existential split, and stand in our respective ways in the need of liberation and healing. In this time of great historical reckoning and economic unfoldment, the chasm occasioned by matters of money, both between people and within them, can no longer be accommodated. It behooves each of us to engage in soul-searching as to our truest and deepest relationship to money. The space for a free dialogue between people of finance and the body of the social order must be opened up for a bracing, but empathetic discourse. Clearly, the truth cannot be spared, but in our quest there can be no place for attitudes of condescension or recrimination.
Rather, it is our task in this time to seek in brotherhood the transformation of the economic order from one premised on scarcity (i.e. there is only so much money because someone has to borrow it into circulation, and pay the "interest" on the loan), to one of abundance (i.e. we as a people and a civilization can do as much as we in freedom elect, and the money to finance it is available in whatever quantity needed out of our sovereign power to issue it). This will change everything.
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The complete set of columns from this series is posted at the following websites.