Inferno: the State of the Modern Capitalist Soul

Divine Comedy - InfernoThere’s no doubt that I’d be a communist if I had even the smallest amount of faith in humanity. But I believe that regardless of the economic system that we create, the worst people will rise to the top. It’s because these are the people who care about rising to the top. That’s not to say that all people in the ruling class are equally horrible. But I do think they are mostly equally uncreative. What young man worth his salt thinks, “I know what I went to spend my life doing: I want to spend it making a lot of money!” His is a soul worthy of Dante’s Inferno

Yes, the 25 year old who wants to save the world is naive — silly even. But he’s got a soul. You know the old line often (falsely) attributed to Churchill, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”? There is something to that. Of course, in fact, people don’t get more conservative as they age. Sometimes society passes people by, but people are pretty consistent.

If you think that you are going to make a bunch of money at 20 and then at 35 you will do what you really want, you truly have no brain. You are what you do not what you plan to do. And if you plan is to make money today, it will be same tomorrow and when you are 35 and when you are lying on your death bed and finally when you are deep in the Inferno.

The Communist (False) Hope

In theory, a communist system would allow one to be more serious about the choices one makes. Think about it. How much would everyone have to work in order to make sure that everyone was housed and clothed and well-fed? An hour a day? I can’t imagine it’s more than that. And that would allow for a lot of time for people do what they want to do. It just so happens that a lot of what they want to do is stuff that makes the world better. I’ve known a lot of inventors in my lifetime. None of them did it for the money.

Inferno MovieI look out on our capitalist system and I see unbelievable waste. Look at the internet! Have you noticed that every month someone comes up with some new and annoying way to shove advertisements at you. The button to close an annoying video commercial changes so you have to hunt around for it. A pop-up may not have a button; you may just have to click outside it to make it go away. It wastes your time. It angers you. And it even increases your blood pressure. I have no doubt that people die as a result of this nonsense.

The Capitalist Inferno

So why do they do it? Because 0.1% more people will watch the stupid video ad or click on it. And the website owner will be 29¢ richer! But don’t get me wrong! I understand! I’ve read my Adam Smith! I’ve read my Friedrich Hayek! I understand that there is a cycle. That website owner makes money and continues to provide me with the great content that I’m looking for. It’s like the natural world itself! Isn’t that great: capitalism has allowed humans to create a system that bacteria discovered three billion years ago!

I just have a few questions. Where is our Iliad? What about our Aeneid? Where is our Divine Comedy? Do you know what shows up if you Google “Inferno”? Dan Brown’s 2013 novel and the movie based on it that is coming out later this month.

I’m not saying that communism is the solution. We humans are hopeless. But it does bother me that in the modern world virtually no one even thinks that maybe something better than capitalism is possible. I’m cynical. I know that. But I also know that humans are clever. If we tried, we might be able to come up with a system that would work better than the one we have. But instead, we just get better and better at selling things. And the result is that we get no Iliad, no Aeneid, no Divine Comedy. We just get better and better at extracting 29¢ here and 29¢ there.

Our Civilization Is in Hell

It’s not just we’ve lost the souls of young people who think making money is a fine way to spend a life. It’s that we’ve lost the soul of our culture. When western civilization crumbles in upon itself and we are reduced to countless warring tribes, there will be scattered people wondering why it had to be this way. But I can already answer the question: we haven’t evolved. We still act as though we are one bad harvest away from starvation. Our ideas of justice are warped. We don’t understand mercy at all.

We are just stupid animals who can do clever tricks like earn 29¢ by getting someone to watch the entire trailer of Ron Howard’s newest blockbuster, Inferno. In theaters 28 October!

Odd Words: Bissextile

BissextileAnd so we get another one! Page 28 of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition was no fun! Lots of bi- and bio- words. Do you know them? If you don’t, you can figure them out. So today’s word is “bissextile.”

In This Bissextile Year, Let Me Rant About “Bipartisan”

I have to say something about a very common word on Page 28: bipartisan. In a two party system such as ours, it really should be seen as a pejorative. If you look back at the great bipartisan deals we’ve had, they’ve been terrible. They’ve been the result of the Democratic Party becoming conservative. So we got welfare “reform,” which had the result of making the poor poorer. We got trade deals that did the same thing. We got costly and bloody wars.

In general, bipartisanship is not something that comes from the voters; it’s something that comes from the party elites. I’m no fan of the Tea Party idiots, but I’m with them on the idea that such compromises are really just a form of selling out. What’s funny is that it has been the liberal leadership that has sold out its base. And maybe that’s why. The conservative leaders know that their base is so crazy that it complains about compromise when they do no compromising.

Compromise Is Good

Liberals like the idea of compromise. So do I! But that’s not what bipartisanship has been during my lifetime. In 2011, Obama was willing to trade small tax increases on the wealthy for decreases in Social Security. Tax increases on the rich is a liberal policy — but only when the economy is doing well. It wasn’t. Raising taxes on the rich was part of an austerity program. You know: a conservative program. So he was trading a conservative policy for a conservative policy. Bipartisanship! Let’s have a parade!

And what would the long-term results be? Well, the Social Security cuts would stick. But the rich would find a way around their tax increase. If you haven’t noticed, pretty much whenever a Republican gets into the White House, their taxes get cut. So it would have been a temporary inconvenience. Meanwhile, poor old people would suffer — in perpetuity.

But enough of that. On to bissextile:

Bis·sex·tile  adjective  \bē-‘seks-til\

1. having or denoting February 29, the extra day of a leap year.

Date: late Middle English.

Origin: from Latin bissextus, which literally means “twice sixth.” Apparently the Romans had two February 24ths on each leap year. So why the “sixth”? Well, because February 24th was the sixth day before the beginning of March. If this seems a bit odd to you, well you obviously wouldn’t have made a good Roman.

Example: There are other terms for the added day: bissextile day (which takes some explaining), intercalary day.Guy Ottewell