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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Parable of the Talents

I am perhaps wrongly assuming your ignorance of this priceless story, but since I have a pedagogical itch that must be scratched from time to time, here goes.
I have a great admiration for Jesus, who, in my book was probably one of the greatest teachers, philosophers, doctors, and shrinks who ever lived.
Like most of the TRULY progressive people on the planet, he met the inevitable fate that awaits those who dare to take on the establishment, and do not bow down, neither to the powers that be, nor to the social body (US, in our desire to belong, and that NO ONE, NOBODY stick out in any way or form to worry US about OUR normality...).
If you think that George Bush (and his beliefs) is an idiot, you RISK discarding the precious wisdom that Jesus Christ offered (for free...) around him in those three years that he traveled around, living a nomad's life.
Our economic leaders would be WELL ADVISED to meditate over, and ponder, the parable of the talents, because Jesus was anything BUT a namby pamby, goody goody "liberal" in his economic theories. (WE are namby pamby and goody goody. WE (those of us who espouse the classic, dogmatic "liberal" creed) are naïve people living in a Disneyland cloud cuckoo land.)
Enough for the prologue. The parable, from Luke 19,11-27 :

"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the Kingdom of God should immediately appear (pie in the sky ALWAYS looks more attractive than life in the hic et nunc...).
He said therefore, "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, "Occupy till I come".
But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, "We will not have this man to reign over us."
And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, that he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
And he said unto him "Well, thou good servant : because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities."
(Idem for the servant with 5 pounds.)
And another came, saying, "Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin : for I feared thee, because thou art an austere man ; thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow."
And he saith unto him, "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow :
Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury ?"
And he said unto them that stood by, "Take from him the pound and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given ; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me."

If you read all the way through that you MUST realize that the image that "we" have of Jesus of Nazareth is light years away from who he REALLY was, and what he said.
Something to keep in mind (re your comment to Hell on the current post, Thai...) : it is necessary to differentiate in Jesus' teaching when he is talking about... the way things ARE, and the way he thinks that they SHOULD be. Here, in my opinion, he is talking about the way things... ARE.

Our economic leaders would be well advised to consider this parable attentively, and Barack SHOULD know it, if indeed he learned anything at all from Jeremiah Wright and can apply it to HIS life.
It's not by "reducing" our economies, and our spending to make them conform to a piece of paper (with lots of numbers on it...) that we are going to get out of the mess that we are in.
In order to live well, we are "condemned" to grow. But... grow... HOW ? In what domain(s) ?
Our parents' generation assumed that growth = acquisition of material objects, and a comfortable lifestyle. They were emerging from a period of historical privation, and their desire to materially better THEIR lives, and their children's, was entirely natural and understandable. This kind of "growth" however, is no longer viable for our society, or for our species.
By the way, John Maynard Keynes was a quixotic mystic who probably knew his New Testament pretty well...


Thai said...

Deb, your going to have to dumb this post down a little bit in order for me to understand as I am having a little trouble following your point here.

Can you translate into erector set language? ;-)

Thai said...

Deb (moving over from SD so the others are not spammed by us), if ANY of the following problems in California are "fixed", "California" would be much better off but some Californians would obviously be worse off as a result.

... On the other hand I agree an earthquake would be a big problem for everyone so let's keep our finger crossed that does not happen.

Debra said...

My point is at the end, Thai.
"We" (the financial sector, and the politicos, at least) are collectively reasoning and behaving like the third servant.
And you can see where it is getting us.
I can, at least...

Debra said...

Responding to your links in the jungle, Thai :
union workers in the public sector : I am nonplussed by the guy who automatically pronounces that... private sector jobs are GOOD jobs, whereas as public sector jobs are BAD ones.
The American ideological slip is showing...
We had a long discussion at table last night on the differences between French and American higher education. My French friends were VERY surprised to discover that the alumni from private American colleges/universities were asked to contribute financially to the alma mater's upkeep, and this with no power to determine the political bent of the institution.
Alumni make no financial contribution to the alma mater here because... financing comes from the State. (You should see the state of the buildings at my son's medical school...)
On the link to Godel, Escher and Bach, the author's endeavor sounds a little bit like Joyce's early 20th century venture with Finnegan's Wake.

Debra said...

Aw shucks, Thai, your California link is really really biased, and not in a way that I like.
Prison guards paid more ??
How about the SIZE of those supermax prisons, and the NUMBER of inmates rotting away in the prison system ??
I told you a while ago that Loïc Wacquant, a French sociologist, maintains that the U.S. has implemented politics to replace social "aid" with punitive, repressive prison systems, IN ORDER TO DEAL WITH POVERTY.
The problem is... it costs MUCHO more bucks to "house" people in the prison system than it does to build affordable housing.
This is an ideological problem, once again.
I am NOT sympathetic, here...

Dink said...

"your going to have to dumb this post down a little bit in order for me to understand"

I tried twice with no success to understand what was happening here. The language is part, but I sense there is a deeper weirdness as well preventing me from understanding this. Its like when I first heard the the story of Job. All I could think was that the deity was one sociopathic piece-of-work.

"maintains that the U.S. has implemented politics to replace social "aid" with punitive, repressive prison systems, IN ORDER TO DEAL WITH POVERTY."

Every once in a while Mish posts some shocking statistic on the size of US social aid. Its staggering. And its not working. I wish I know what would work (for their sake, not the tax payers sake). And given the size of the aid, I can't really fathom the repercussions if it were to end suddenly (ie China stops buying our debt).

Debra said...

Yes, but dinky, in Mish's posts is he talking about the $$$$$$ being forked out to pay for the prison system, and everything connected with it ?
Has he compared those two sums ?
That's what I'm interested in.
Not how staggering the social aid bill LOOKS LIKE on paper to you.
Now... if it were really and truly the priority of the U.S. government to ensure that citizens had JOBS, I'm not sure that things would look this way.
I keep telling you, over there in the States, you are JUST DISCOVERING what the European countries have been living with for at least 10-15 years now, and that is light years away from full employment.

I sincerely don't understand why you don't understand my reasoning about the third servant in the parable, and John Maynard Keynes' insight into the way the economy works.
You DO understand me if I say that... bankers lend to rich people, right, and NOT to poor people ?
Bankers lend to people who ALREADY have money ?
This is not really "logical" is it ?
Thinking you're rich, feeling you're rich is as important as having those $$$$ in your pocket.
You're not going to convince ANYBODY to invest if you're riddled with fear, and worrying about the return for YOUR investment SO MUCH that it's paralyzing you, are you ? You're not going to convince anybody to invest if there is no trust, are you ?
Of course none of this is rational behavior, but it is really NOT in your interest to behave as though man is rational THE WAY THE ECONOMISTS HAVE BEEN DOING FOR SUCH A LONG TIME NOW.
Only investment is going to save us now in this debacle.
But we won't be saved unless we figure out HOW to INVEST, and the psychology behind investment.
And, as I keep screaming here, and in the jungle too, investment ONLY works and "pays" with RISK.
No risk, no SALVATION (yeah, I'm eliminating the "profit" word from my vocabulary. And I'm talking about investment in the real economy, not... manipulating numbers on paper...)
And no cheating on this either.
No trying to have your cake and eat it too.
It won't work.

Thai said...

Deb, this is position that has many gaps which require filling before it can be made. I am not saying you are wrong but x does not get you to z with what you have laid out.

You are missing a lot of y

Dink said...

"I sincerely don't understand why you don't understand my reasoning about the third servant in the parable"

I don't even understand the parable itself. I have dark suspicions that you've met with your spychoanalyst/old testament study group this weekend (the one that made Thai stick his hand in a blender last time)and are now deep into some rabbit hole.

"Bankers lend to people who ALREADY have money ?
This is not really "logical" is it ?"

See, I think you're using the term "logic" in a way that could use clarifying.

Analogy: Some jaded teacher describing the US legal system to a group of students. He asks "What is a judge's job"? And they say "Determine justice". And the evil bastard says "No, its to make sure precedent is followed". And the class squeals.

We hope the precedents will result in justice; that was the original intent. But well...

Similarily, "logic" is a system of rules. We hope using these rules will lead to "logic" as "universal reason" (can't think of a better term now, but I think the essence comes through). But well...

Hmmmmm. No, this isn't coming across how I want. Lets try again.

Okay, you can have a defined series of "if/then" rules that makes a nice flow chart. It can be absolutely bat-shit insane, but if it has rules it is "logical".

Nah, I'm tired. I want cookies and sleep now. Good night :)

Debra said...

Don't worry, dink. There's a lot of speculation about what the parable means.
That speculation has been occupying many people for quite some time now.
But I wanted you to see it. So that it would be evident that Jesus was NOT a namby pamby guy, essentially.
Especially for that.
Yes, you're right about the logic, and the fact that "logic" is an ambiguous tool.
The parable can be interpreted lots of different ways, and I'm showing you MY way, that's all.
As for not understanding it, that is the point.
It was designed to be "open", and ambiguous, so as to suggest many meanings to many people.
(But there are limits in understanding it. Everything does NOT go.)
The parable is the... antithesis of erector set language, as you noticed.
And I maintain that the ideas behind it are at work in John Maynard Keynes' theory of the economy.
And that this kinship of theory, and spirit is what makes Keynes... anathema to many people out there, who don't really perceive the ideological similarities.
And I'm operating on intuition, too.
We can move on, as Thai says...
One last point... I keep telling you, and I believe it, that the issues at stake here, for example, are underlying the big big economic problems we are having.
Somewhere it is true : the economy is everything. Because it is the CONCRETE (and mostly abstract these days...) expression of our ideas about our interpersonal relations, and the way we exchange.
Yes, the economy IS the most important field of our experience. But not quite the same way as we have worked it out in the past 100 yrs or so.
Those CDS, as Hell calls them, are elaborate instruments designed to get rid of risk FOR ONESELF while passing it on to the next schmuck.
As I understand it, at least...
Maybe I'm wrong ?

Thai said...

Deb, no claws and we can or can't go on if you want but I still don't think I understand your interpretation of the parable so I am a little unclear as to why you see this as the same as Keynesianism.

Again, I am not saying I disagree or you are wrong but I don't see the links you have made.

As for CDS being instruments that push one person;s risk somewhere else in the system: Bravo! You are seeming the conservation of energy! ;-)

Debra said...

Thai, to put it flatly, I am saying that we are not INVESTING in our economy.
Playing roulette is not the same thing as investing ; it follows a different mentality.
And playing roulette BECAUSE you have taken out an insurance policy that will cover your losses, well that REALLY is not investment.
I am saying that we are not willing to assume risk in Western society.
Like the third servant's fear (of risk) paralyzed him into inaction.
Now, given the fact that our society is STILL founded on Judaic perceptions of the world and of the economy, this refusal to take risks is having dire consequences for the economy.
Come to think of it... I am not sure that I am enamoured of an ideal which puts... CONSERVATION on a pedestal.
In conservation, there is the obvious trace of the word... "conservative".
I am not a conservative, Thai.

Thai said...


No you are definitely not a conservative, you are just an.... ????

Um... An Irrationalist?

PS- Some of us do try to save a percentage of every penny we earn and invest it in ways that make both ourselves and the collective better off- again, this is always with the caveat of "from whose viewpoint, are we talking about, etc..."- but it is very hard when there is always a group of consumers who are hell bent on consuming what we are saving for their own purposes.

PPS- Most Americans are most definitely not afraid of investing/taking risk. Be careful of getting only one snapshot of our nation from the group on SD. Contrary to popular reports of our early demise, America (and California, etc...) is doing fine. It is some people's viewpoints that are getting damaged, that's all.

Debra said...

Gulp, Thai, are you REALLY sure that you want to maintain your rather IRRATIONAL viewpoint on American's capacity to assume risk in the face of what I see as evidence of structural phenomena which suggest precisely the contrary ?
Example number 1 : that sign at the Washington Smithsonian Zoo which I keep harping on about, and that the founders would have wet their pants over, had they seen it.
2) Barack Obama's decision to NOT get rid of Guantanamo, which looks precisely like a no-risk "gamble".
3) the plastic individually wrapped fruit in airports, grocery stores to prevent germs from "getting" us.
These are just little examples of what is a structural problem, and which determines our attitudes.
And enterprise cannot flourish under these kinds of attitudes.
You and HELL are not seeing the same thing, Thai.
Your link to the Keynes rap thing was funny but it does NOT deal with Keynes' great intuition : human beings must GROW SOMEWHERE, so you better channel it in a meaningful way, and provide them with opportunities to do so. Otherwise it gets out of control in areas that you don't want it to control.
This is why I don't like conservatism Thai.
Because it negates this need.
And since you're telling me that I'm irrational, I'm going to ask you to... point out to me precisely in what I just said just WHAT is irrational ?
What IS irrational, by the way ?
What we can't immediately understand, or what threatens us ?
I have found in the past that it is really tempting when discussing different points of view to dismiss and/or disqualify somebody else's point of view by labeling it with a certain label (and I'm not saying that I am immune from doing this either...).
But when you start looking at the label, you realize that it's not all that easy to define it.

Thai said...

Deb, I used the term "irrationalist" since you are the one who likes to continually remind us we are not rational beings, that's all.

I am no more rational than you, on that we I agree.

We start with a template and go from their.

We all have different templates or "constants" as I said before.

Thai said...

go from there


Thai said...

And maybe America will collapse and maybe our society is after nothing but risk reduction.

I have zero ability to predict the future but for right now I don't see the collapse of America as imminent.

Lot's of thunderstorms- yes

Collapse- Time will tell

But you can almost use me as an inverse barometer to likely outcomes, so bad is my prediction ability.

Debra said...

But I'm not saying that American society is going to collapse either.
But I DO think that for quite some time now American political and economic supremacy in the world (empire) has gone unquestioned, and that this state of affairs is coming to an end now.
That is not the same thing as collapse.

Thai said...

Oh, I completely agree with you here!

And of course I could be wrong but I suspect once people do look around/question all the alternatives, most will still probably sign up with America.

I am all in favor of questioning everything. I just think when you do, you better also be honest with yourself from a lot of different perspectives. I have a tendency to notice that much of the world that throws stones also tends to live in glass houses. ;-)

Debra said...

Glass houses/throw stones.
Definitely agree on this one. Definitely.
A lot of people over in Europe are looking towards the northern European models, Thai. Less, perhaps, towards the U.S.
The U.S. has... disappointed, you know ?
Don't underestimate the power of disappointment.

Thai said...

Re: Europeans looking north

That will be interesting to watch.
You are much closer to this than I but I have a nagging suspicion that America is in far more French and Italian in many ways than Sweden or Norway.

... And Norway has the unique good fortune of also sitting on a boatload of oil- we shall see whether that will change their society very much so don't be fooled too much by randomness there.

If you will remember back to my mentioning of the descendants of the original folkways of Albion's Seed?

There are similar maps looking at the descendant of Scandinavians in the US- those maps are very interesting in terms of health care expenses, etc...

So if you thought Democracy was totalitarian, I will be interested to see how the French and Italians work that love of their northern neighbors out when they see the necessary trade offs.

It is always easy to see "heads" when you look at one side of a coin (there is that old issue of aspect/point of view), what is much harder is to see heads and tails simultaneously.

Debra said...

Well, well, Thai, that link started out as REALLY interesting and then petered out in a wash of oversimplification.
About 8 years ago I got a hankering to reconnect with Beowulf, and tapped it into the search engine. Not too much came up, but there was a new offering, a record of someone actually speaking large excerpts from the poem.
Two years ago I tapped in "Beowulf" again...
There has been an explosion of interest in the old poem, and new versions of it have come out. People are even following it without translation, and this is no mean feat, because at around 800 A.D. (or is it 1000 ? I can't remember exactly...) Old English is unrecognizable.
Why am I bringing this up ?
Because... Beowulf is the quintessence of a warlord. And his origin is... Viking/norse.
Your author didn't bother going ALL THE WAY BACK through ENGLISH history to analyze what he was seeing, and that is a tremendous loss of perspective.
His ideas are too much... TYPOLOGY for me, and not enough based on actual historical observation. Typology is no substitute for historical observation : it is sheer generalization and simplification.
He does not give enough credit to the phenomenon of the Civil War itself, and the effect of the destruction of Southern aristocratic, AGRARIAN society as an alternative model for the construction of the American nation.
We (should I say YOU here...) live in a society where industrialisation won hands down. The North promptly dispensed with the Southern model, and the country still bears these scars.
Barack Obama not a warlord ?
Oh please... Look at the escalation in Afghanistan.
But... how much can Barack weigh in against the Northern industial model anyway ?
Once again, Thai, I am not condoning the fact that France tends to look toward Sweden (which is a country with its own socialist/totalitarian bent...).
I am saying that this is what's happening.
Personally, I rather like Denmark and Finland, for the northern models.
But that's just me...

Thai said...

I like the Danes too.

But then again I am Scottish by descent which really means I am also quite Norse... In fact, my mother-in-law is way into genealogy and she purchased one of those DNA tests for me as a birthday present a few years ago. I was quite surprised to learn how Norse I really am- of course you have to go way back.

As for the link, I really meant to only show you the map as a reminder to a prior conversation we had. I actually never read the article the person wrote so I can't comment one way or the other but I will go back and read it now.

evision said...

The Most Fabulous Objects In The World

  • Hitchhiker's Guide To The Universe trilogy
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Time Bandits