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$700 Billion, for What?

It’s difficult to know what to think of the financial crisis that our economy is facing right now. The situation is complex; the explanations confusing. We are told that action is needed right away, or our whole economic system will collapse. We are told that we need to commit hundreds of billions of dollars to repair the damage cause by money-making strategies of millionaire CEOs, less than honorable financiers, Wall Street traders, speculators (whatever they are), and paper pushers who produce nothing yet still take in huge profits for themselves.
    For honest, hard-working people who live in a world where one plus one equals two, and responsible living is its own reward, this is hard to swallow. This is especially true when we hear dire warnings (from people who scarcely identify with our problems) who are unwilling to bailout a more egalitarian financial trust like Social Security. That politicians instill us with fear on yet another topic, and equally untrustworthy news-people revel in the possibility of news-driven panic, we find ourselves instinctively asking “who should be trust?” We’ve heard these bad little boys call “wolf” before, and cover up by saying “its not time to cast blame,” usually by the guiltiest parties. (When is the time to cast blame?) The culture of greed that we are being asked to rescue casts a shadow on them all. We are left with our innate desire to save the world. But how is that accomplished by preserving the attitude that up to now has more harm as good.
    We have to trust someone, I suppose, and no doubt we will pay an astronomical price to those bent on safeguarding their own greedy actions. They will take our money, and life goes on between the haves and the have-nots, except that the have-nots will now have even less. Such is life.
    I, for one, can neither condone nor condemn whatever plan Congress adopts. I admit not only my own ignorance but even distaste of the vast money-making processes of Wall Street. To my mind, such greed is inhumane. If I thought about money all the time, perhaps I would understand it better, but mammon is not a god I worship, nor care to live for.
    The crisis does, however, reveal just how widespread, insidious and formidable greed can be.
    I sometimes hear people downplay chivalric warnings about the vice of greed. More often, I detect that such words fail to connect with people who have bought into our strange mix of conflicting values. This is not surprising in a world where greed is so rampant, so controlling of everything we see, that we are anesthetized to it. We see religion that long stood as a bulwark against greed, now twisted into embracing it. We see politics so openly corrupted by it that our democratic system has been effectively subjugated to its whim.
    But then a massive crisis happens, one that was predicted and seen coming by our brightest but for some reason immobilized minds, that shakes up “our house of cards” security. Greed oversteps its bounds, as it always does, and we come to realize (again) that greed is not a good thing. It creates a perspective that poisons everything of value. It is an addiction that corrupts conscience, fairness, and honesty. It carries a price that each of us must bear – some through poverty, some through hard works, some through having their flow of wealth temporarily threatened.
    I cannot advise our politicians on what to do to “fix things,” other than to be cautious. It would be nice if they modified the system to limit the ravages of greed, but surely that is more than anyone can hope for.
What is happening does help illustrate a pertinent truth for us all: greed has no place in the spirit of a true knight. Indeed, that is the distinguishing feature of knighthood, a feature that provides the knight with a sense of honesty, integrity and concern for others. The lack of greed makes it possible for a knight to see things and people for what they are, rather than exploitable commodities. I / Thou, rather than I / It, to use Martin Buber’s words. Think about it. It preserves the knightly virtues. It purifies love, unifies loyalty, and elevates human nature.
When I say that the lack of greed is a distinguishing feature of knighthood, I say this as someone who has seen it as such again and again in those who participate in our fellowship. They may not post comments about greed very often on our open forum. They don’t have to. Read their words, listen to the song of their hearts, feel the essence of what they are saying – no matter how simple or imperfectly. They care about others and the world they live in. They respect truth and fair play. They desire to right wrongs, not exploit them for profit. They reflect a quality of human development that should be recognized and honored.
For those who might inject meaning into my words that was not intended, am I condemning capitalism for what happened? No. There can be no freedom without the right to own property. But we must all challenge capitalism, and every economic system, to be more humane and compassionate. We must challenge our leaders and neighbors to place higher ideals and moral principles ahead of economic systems, so that greed, and its many forms of evil, can be controlled.


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