About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Sins of Sins


Failure to account for the Seven Deadly’s will defeat all pure economic systems.  (And to avoid an accusation of religious bias, these concepts exist in most of the world’s major religions.)  No model system is invulnerable to these pressures.  Feudalism failed due to cruelty, communism fell to sloth and capitalism is being sacrificed upon the altar of greed. 

The medieval serf lived under the knout, and even relatively recent psychological experiments have shown that modern human is still more than willing to inflict cruelty, which is an aspect of wrath, on their fellows when ordered.  (For an example of this phenomenon, refer to the Milgram Experiment.)  The Soviet worker, without incentive became unproductive, and an elaborate, and again vicious, totalitarian system was required to keep the country functioning.  Both systems were unsustainable and collapsed because of human nature.

Capitalism is currently destabilizing because of greed and envy.  Greed has taken the brakes off of the system, envy has created a consumer economy built on keeping up with, or surpassing, the Jonses.  Income disparity in America is at its highest level in a century, and the middle class is being forced out of existence.

The wealthy are repeating the pattern that occurs at the end of every empire, where the self styled “Masters of the Universe,” are finished with the current superpower, and proceed to rape out all of the assets from the fading nation, to take and invest in the new place of interest.  This process is detailed in Morris Berman’s book “Dark Ages America.” 

This can be seen in the drive to outsource jobs, relocate companies, and sell off assets.  When the economic powers are done with a place, they will not come back.  This happened in Rome, Spain, Holland and England.  The Empire is still respected to a certain extent, as a doddery old country, but they never again stride on the world stage.  Greed drives this migration.  When the capitalist interests realize there are more profits to be made elsewhere, they move on like a swarm of locusts.  It is natural.

Envy also is destabilizing capitalism.  It is one thing to consume; almost all economic systems are based on this.  (I’m sure that a non-consumer system could be envisioned, but I’m not sure that it would be an economic system in the strictest sense of the word.)  Envy is the sin that drives people to desire the best, newest, fanciest thing out there, even to the point of disposing of something just because a newer version came out.  (You can find first generation iPads on e-bay for under $200.00)  This pure consumer, envy driven, model is not sustainable.  If nothing else, resources will run out.

Envy also has a more subversive side, one that is not overtly recognized as an aspect of the sin, but when you look at St. Thomas Aquinas’ description of the sin, it becomes very clear.  Invidia also causes people to block other people’s access to the things they have.  With envy, it is not enough for you to have something, you need to make sure that no one else has it either.  In the United States, this has created a perfect storm, where the right blocks access to resources, like education, that would help the poor better their situation, and the left then gives them welfare, which makes striving to improve a zero sum game.  (in other words, it encourages Sloth.  The Seven Deadly’s just keep cropping up everywhere.)

Now back to the original point about economic systems.  They are pure systems, not practical blueprints to build a country, or a world.  The problem with a pure system is that it is a pure system, unadulterated by human failings and unwilling to accept that people typically act in their own self interest, and that self interest is rarely even enlightened.  People act in ways that are best for them at the moment, aspects of lust, gluttony and pride, more Deadly’s, seem to show up everywhere we turn.

Is there a solution to this?  Possibly.

First, people need to recognize that an ideologically pure system is not practical for the real world.  (This litmus test of purity will be further addressed in a future blog post.)  No system can exist in a vacuum.

Second, people need to stop conflating economic systems with political systems.  Communism was not a description of the governmental system of the Soviet Union, it was there economic system.  Their governmental system was Totalitarian.  (Although on paper, it was technically a democracy, even though the Soviets never actually had free elections)  Capitalism does not require a democracy or a republic, just look at Central America, or the New China.  The only economic system that conflates political power with economics is Fascism.  (And then only in some definitions.  Pure Fascism is the control of the economy by corporations.)  Detaching economic theory from governmental theory would free both of them.

Third, people need to fight against the Seven Deadly’s.  This is not advocating a specific religion, or even the necessity of religion, Aristotle created a very significant ethical framework separate from morality.  That said, people need to strive to overcome the demons of their lesser natures, and try to be better than they are, to transcend the petty emotions and impulses that limit them.

It starts with each of us.

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