can’t see the forest

Of Camels and Needles and Roots of Evil

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Jesus, in Matthew 19:24

(Most scholars and archaeologists are in agreement that there was no gate to Jerusalem called the ‘eye of the needle’ which was too small for a camel to pass through comfortably; beginning with medieval European theologians in service of nobility, this explanation is often given to imply that Jesus did not really mean that wealth precludes piety. More probably, since the Aramaic words for ‘camel’ and ‘rope’ were synonymous (because ropes were often made of camel hair), Jesus was saying that it is easier to thread a needle with a rope than for a wealthy person to enter heaven. And let us not forget the context of this quote, in which Jesus told an otherwise pious young man to sell his riches and give to the poor in order to be perfect.)

BBC World economic correspondent Andrew Walker reports (emphases added):

The richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of all household wealth, according to a new study by a United Nations research institute.

The report, from the World Institute for Development Economics Research at the UN University, says that the poorer half of the world’s population own barely 1% of global wealth.

There have of course been many studies of worldwide inequality.

But what is new about this report, the authors say, is its coverage.

It deals with all countries in the world – either actual data or estimates based on statistical analysis – and it deals with wealth, where most previous research has looked at income. . .

. . .Why does it matter? Because wealth serves as insurance against times when income tends to fall, such as unemployment, sickness or old age.

It is also a source of finance for small businesses, a particularly important point since it is the countries with lower levels of personal wealth which also tend to have weaker financial systems without the funds, ability or inclination to lend to small firms.

The report is not about policy recommendations.

But one of the authors, Professor Anthony Shorrocks, says it does draw attention to the importance of enhancing banking systems in developing countries to help generate the funds for business investment.

Come on, Professor. Is that really where the study leads the eye? And is that really why it matters?

Economic systems described as socialist often include the idea of worker ownership of means of production, rather than workers being treated as a means of production, as components in a machine of production with which they have no relationship beyond the compensation they are offered for their time and labor. In a socialist system, the compensation paid to workers might derive from ownership in business rather than compensation for labor—when workers are paid laborers rather than paid owners, it is said that they are removed from the means of production or, alternatively, that they simply are the means of production and are paid as such.

In some socialist systems, such as that of the early USSR, the equitable redistribution of wealth was seen as important to creating a fair and balanced society. But such systems failed, and they failed for reasons which are a great deal more simple than many critics are willing to admit. The redistribution of wealth was hardly equitable, and in the end it was not equitable redistribution which was so brutally and murderously enforced so much as corruption.

It is not the inert medium of capital which is ‘the root of evil.’ It is the lust for capital which is problematic, and therefore the problem of unequal distribution is a moral issue. Because the moral battleground is always most fundamentally within the self of the individual, the answer to unequal distribution will necessarily never arise from a collectively or governmentally imposed system.

I sit at an expensive computer, in an expensive chair, in an expensive house. I sit in cogent realization that a world in which the vast majority of the wealth is controlled by the slimmest of priveleged minorities can never be conducive to peace and cooperation; nor can the poverty of the majority be perpetually, permanently eliminated by their elevation and emancipation. Clarification: elevation from poverty is not a bad thing, nor a futile thing. But the implication in the neoliberal ethic is that it is a means, not an end (see above quote from Jesus.) Perpetual economic elevation is logistically impossible; the Earth cannot provide for it, and no amount of economic planning can provide for it.

So where, then, is the answer? It lies within me. I charge myself with the education of others that the answer lies within them, too. But it is an ineffably difficult matter to lead by example, with the troll of futility tromping along behind. And so I sit, a hypocrite.

Enhancing banking systems, indeed. What do you think? Is it not the case that a peaceful world must be, can only be, generated first by one self and then by a multitude of selves?


3 Responses

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  1. mytzpyk said, on 12/7/06 at 10:52 pm

    There are some people doing it. They are not easy to find or they are found in places I don’t usually go. I don’t usually go there because I…I…well I guess I…I too am a hypocrite.

    The Earth is having a very difficult time providing for even the wealth of the 2%.

  2. raincoaster said, on 12/9/06 at 7:42 am

    A very thought-provoking post. As a communal anarchist I recognize that my position is theoretical, not practical, and I firmly believe that capitalism requires an underclass in desperate poverty. Without appetite, the model fails. We reallly only have the option at any given moment to make the ethical choice; not just economics but all of being exists on the knife edge of Right Now. Buying a Red t-shirt may not save the world, but it may be better to buy the Red t-shirt than the black one. Simple as that.

  3. Curtis said, on 12/10/06 at 12:02 am

    You are right, Mytzpyk. But there is, I think, not a lot of productivity in feeling bad about the role one plays in the problem. The difficulty lies, I think, at least partially in the total acceptance of self-ownership of what raincoaster has eloquently called the knife edge of Right Now. (I like that lots and lots.) There are considerations that come into play, very real, immediate, and consequential considerations such as family, children, lifestyle, and so forth. Taking absolute charge by developing a method rather than an ideology is not something that is easy to do. It requires the development of the self in this respect, which is certainly the most difficult step as far as I can see, and then the incorporation into a community, in which a whole different set of problems arises.

    Minus all the negative connotations, the virus is a good role model.


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