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Money and Faith

It seems like a whole lot of money is going up in smoke.  As though it was never real.

What is money anyway?

Here's what I think.  Money is a symbol of our confidence in the stability of our way of life.  As long as two people agree that something has value, it does.  And it can continue to have value longer than it should, simply because it has for as long as we can remember.   Faith is a very powerful stabilizing agent.  Facts have to wallop most people pretty hard before they'll question what they ordinarily believe.  It's too frightening to think that the only thing making a dollar worth trading for food or shelter is the habit of belief.  Underlying contradictions rarely make it to the level of consciousness when our beliefs are serving us comfortably.  I have noticed, for instance, that the people at the top tend to believe we live in a meritocracy.

But one day something happens and it seems that everything changes in a flash.  We are as blind to the fragility of our routines as little children who think their parents can take care of everything.  Only when we grow up and look back with the wisdom of age and experience do we see that the world we believed in was only a wish.  A thunderbolt didn't suddenly strike; we realize instead that the way we saw the world kept us from sensing the threats to our way of living.

The economic crisis now unfolding was hastened by belief in the invisible hand (loving God, parent figure) of the market.  This myth that the market is the best and only solution to every problem is no more rational than the belief that there can be no ecological crisis because God says in the Bible that He will always provide for His children.  There is absolutely no reason to believe it.  There's plenty of motivation to believe it, but that's not the same thing.  All the arguments in favor of this fairy tale view of a complex world, (which reach their absurd, self-contradictory pinnacle in the absolutism of Milton Friedman), stem from the optimism of men like Adam Smith, an 18th century deist.

Deists believe that the world unfolds perfectly according to natural laws that reveal God's beneficent plan.  And, centrally, that this plan is oh-so human-friendly.  (It was a sort of Enlightenment bailout plan for the old miracle-making, micromanaging God, whose existence was under assault by the rise of science.  They regulated his powers so that the spiritual market wouldn't crash.)

I think plenty of people still hold this philosophy.  I also think these people are stupid.  You could make the argument that God's plan is perfect and we just can't understand it, (I think the book of Job makes a good argument for this), but there is no way to make the argument that this plan has anything to do with human hopes and desires in this world.

Other than just not thinking about it very deeply.  Which is easy when the money's rolling in.

(I'm speaking here of honest belief.  There will always be bad actors who argue what profits them.)

But history is about to force us to look at what we have believed.  How easy, convenient and self-justifying it was.

And when old gods die, they tear down their temples in their fury.
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