Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Ghost of Gordon Gekko

Remember that Michael Douglas/Charlie Sheen movie from the 80's, "Wall Street". In the film, Michael Douglas' iconic character Gordon Gekko famously sings the praises of greed. "Greed is good" he says. Apparently a whole lot of folks believed in Gekko's philosophy and now Americans find themselves in a big financial mess, with the "Depression" replacing "Vietnam" as the most common historical analogy on people's lips. Timothy Egan puts it nicely in the New York Times today:

"There is certainly a food chain of greed, from the lowliest house-flipper in the Southern California exurbs to the Hamptons hedge fund manager. We all put reason in a box and buried it for a time. But before $700 billion is committed to a secretary whose decisions “may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency,” as the original draft of the bailout states, it’s worth remembering where the biggest heist took place, and how Wall Street dragged down the rest of the country once before. You could hear the echoes of history in Tester’s question, riding the fierce urgency of now at a time when the Great Depression and all its gloomy atmospherics are in the air again." (Read the whole thing here)

Baha'u'llah put it this way:

"Say: If ye be seekers after this life and the vanities thereof, ye should have sought them while ye were still enclosed in your mothers' wombs, for at that time ye were continually approaching them, could ye but perceive it. Ye have, on the other hand, ever since ye were born and attained maturity, been all the while receding from the world and drawing closer to dust. Why, then, exhibit such greed in amassing the treasures of the earth, when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost? Will ye not, then, O heedless ones, shake off your slumber?"
(Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 201)

God willing, this present crisis, like all the other ones currently pressing down on humanity, will inspire us to ponder deeply the condition of our souls and the defective social order that is a reflection of that condition. In the words of the Universal House of Justice:

"The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men. It is not merely material well- being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives -- they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behaviour. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed...

we know that the working of the material world is merely a reflection of spiritual conditions and until the spiritual conditions can be changed there can be no lasting change for the better in material affairs."