Sunday, December 08, 2013


The Pope has ruffled a few feathers....

Many of the more history-aware readers of the early capitalists (Smith, Ricardo etc) have pointed to the societal value systems that originally surrounded the practice of capitalism itself.  As they were to an amazing extent Scots (a useful text here is Herman:  How the Scots invented the Modern World ) this world-view incorporated Calvinism and the rather severe religious affiliations that arose out of this.

Those Christian ethics informed business for a good chunk of the first century of the Industrial Revolution, a point made by such recent commentators as P J O'Rourke.  Smith's earlier work, for example, was 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments'.  Along with the 'Wealth of Nations' and a never-published third tome, Smith had intended the three to be read as a triptych of sermons.  Yes, sermons.  That's why the damned books are so wordy.

That intimate association between a stern but ultimately sympathetic value system, and the practice of industry and trade, was somewhat broken by the late 19th century (vide Engels and Marx), and finished off comprehensively by the mid-20th, as competing religions which were essentially (as David P Goldman argues) tribal/nationalistic, brought different value systems to great swathes of the globe.

We are still reeling from the turbulence this competition generated, and the virtual disappearance of organised religion and its value systems, from any association with trade and commerce, has led to two observable aspects of the zeitgeist:

1 - A Chestertonian plethora of quasi-religions (from AGW to enviromentalism in general, not to say Marixism, Leninism, Pan-Africanism, Third caliphate Pan-Muslimism) which all demand faith, have ways of dealing to apostates, and none of which have anything like the spread or ritual attractiveness of the old ones.
2 - a value-free trade and commerce, which tends to an explicit disavowal of any larger pretensions:  societal good included.

The first thing is, given that we have dug ourselves this hole, gotten into it, and burnt the ladder, how do we get out?  And the second thing is, do we have to hit some sort of wall (sorry about the mixed metaphor, we are down a hole, must have walls down there too) to wake us up enough to build a new ladder, and climb out?

And just being nice to Gaia, alone,  won't cut it.  That's another faith-based initiative.  But just like the new Pope may have been trying to warn us, we may have to be much, much nicer to each other first.

Or, possibly, much, much nastier.  Because a whole lotta people will want to jump on that ladder to a Better Life, however defined.  And the laws of Ladder Physics still apply.

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