31 July 2009

Just who did we think we were?

Obama has been in office a little more than 6 months.

I don't doubt he has been coming up with some pretty threadbare answers. That doesn't mean there haven't been some very, very good questions along the way. And though it is unlikely that today's neat little ideological boxes are going to be of much help here, surely we can think our way out of them? Provided, that is, we can find words old enough, and rich enough, to re-frame and ask our questions in the right ways. Words that more nearly encompass who and what we human beings are, and not just all the wonderful things we'd like to make, and buy, and sell.

Only to find the right language we may have to re-locate our workspaces for a brief while. We probably will need a breather from the narrow, stuffy aisles of today's infallible Economics and Politics. For far too long, too many otherwise sensible people have had their noses buried in the likes of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Perhaps it's time they consulted some other writers who can shed a more generous and penetrating light on human behavior as a whole. Authors like Arthur Miller and Chekhov and Chesterton. Like Dostoevski, Dickens and Wordsworth. Like Pascal and Shakespeare. Maybe even Dante or Aquinas, or St Augustine. Or St Paul.

As for the questions themselves, I'm afraid the best-worded and best-phrased among them will have to wait for a more gifted blogger. But for now, here is my personal best:

Does anyone know what on earth our recent Masters of the Universe were thinking of? (Assuming they were on earth at all, and not locked away in some ivory tower of self-infatuation?)
How did such an extraordinary concentration of intelligence, talent, wealth, ambition and - in some cases at least - hard work, manage to produce such monumental foolishness? such epic confusion? such instantaneous poverty? How did the superhuman vigor and self-confidence of a few issue in such a paralysing loss of confidence in the rest of us mere mortals? In this best of all possible countries, I thought we paid our geniuses stratospheric salaries for making things go right (as distinct from making them go right off a cliff). So when did human talent become something merely to be worshiped and appeased - rather than channeled, and disciplined, and directed finally to some decent earthly use?

On second thought maybe I'm being naive. A mere cursory examination of the facts might be enough to explain how our wise CEOs, investment bankers, auditors, etc, managed to do it. The better, but less pleasant and more difficult question might be: How did they become morally capable of it? (And with so many others - politicians, economists, historians, pundits, preachers - looking on approvingly?)

But to address that would demand a much harder, much closer look at ourselves as an actively-thinking Nation - at our intellectual and moral and business cultures - than most of us at present are capable of. Myself included.


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