Tag Archives: greed

“Timon of Athens” by William Shakespeare

I recently saw this play performed on stage. Prior to that, I had no idea what this play was about, except that it probably had something to do with a guy named Timon who was from Athens. What I discovered was a really cool play which touched on themes that I could relate to. I decided to read the text and explore the nuances of the text.

To very briefly summarize this play, it is about a guy named Timon who was from Athens (surprised?) who was fortunate enough to have some degree of wealth. Timon was very generous and would hold lavish parties for his friend, give them expensive gift, and offer charity to those in need. But after a while, Timon found himself in financial trouble and sought the aid of his friends. It is an old but true cliché, that when you are down and out, you discover who your real friends are. Timon sadly discovers that his friends were false and just hung around to sponge off of him. Not a single person offers to help him. Disillusioned with humanity, he leaves society to live in the wild, certain that all people are solely motivated by greed and selfishness.

Early in the play, there is some foreshadowing of what will happen to Timon.

When Fortune in her shift and change of mood
Spurns down her late beloved. all his dependants
Which labored after him to the mountain’s top
Even on their hands and knees let him slip down,
Not one accompanying his declining foot.

(Act I: scene i)

After Timon’s flattering fake friends turn their back on him, he comes to the realization that humans are worse than animals. Animals would not use each other for material gain, or neglect each other when difficulties arise. This dark revelation affirms in his mind that humans are not to be trusted, and this loss of faith in mankind swiftly turns to a hatred of all humanity.

Timon will to the woods, where he shall find
The unkindliest beast more kinder than mankind.
The gods confound—hear me, you good gods all! —
The Athenians both within and out that wall!
And grant, as Timon grows, his hate may grow
To the whole human race of mankind, high and low!
Amen.

(Act IV: scene i)

While Timon is in the woods, he is accosted by some bandits who suspect he has some hidden treasure. Timon responds by pointing out that nature can provide all of a person’s needs, that money is not required in order to thrive.

Your greatest want is you want much of meat.
Within this mile break forth a hundred springs.
The oaks bear mast, the briers scarlet hips.
The bounteous housewife, Nature, on each bush
Lays her full mess before you. Want! Why want?

(Act IV: scene iii)

As I finished this play, I was reminded of the song “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” And while I have had my share of experiences with fair weather friends, I am also fortunate enough to have close friends who have always been there for me in my time of need. For this I am grateful.

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Environmentalism and the Qur’an

Throughout the Qur’an, it is repeatedly stressed that God created the heavens and the earth. The impression I got from reading the text is that God expects the believers to show the same honor and respect to the earth, which God created, just as God expects the believers to respect and honor the words he has passed to humankind through the various prophets. There is also an emphasis on the Garden where the faithful will be taken following the Day of Judgement. The Garden is described as a place of beauty with clear streams and abundant fruits and vegetables, clearly an indication of the joy, comfort, and blessings that a healthy environment provides.

There is a strong passage in the text where God points out the interconnection between things in the natural world, and warns of the destruction that will come if humans thought their arrogance come to believe that they have power and dominion over God’s creation.

The life of this world is like this: rain that We send down from the sky is absorbed by the plants of the earth, from which humans and animals eat. But when the earth has taken on its finest appearance, and adorns itself, and its people think they have power over it, then the fate We commanded comes to it, by night or by day, and We reduce it to stubble, as if it had not flourished just the day before.

(p. 130)

The Qur’an emphasizes the importance of heeding the signs and warnings that are made clear.

Ever closer to people draws their reckoning, while they turn away, heedless: whenever a fresh revelation comes to them from their Lord, they listen to it playfully with frivolous hearts.

(p. 203)

As I read this, I immediately thought of the climate change deniers, who scoff at the prophetic warnings of the scientific community and forge ahead heedlessly, impelled by greed and short-sightedness. We bring destruction upon ourselves when we fail to heed the warning signs that present themselves to us. In my opinion, God (however you interpret God), science, nature, are all presenting us with a prophetic warning: we do not have power over the earth and we need to act respectfully and nurture this planet. The choices we make right now will determine whether we inherit the Garden, or a place of desolation and suffering.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 8: Anti-Government Sentiment

donquixote_cover

I think it is a pretty safe assertion that most people today at one point in their lives have had a negative view of government. We see the corruption, the bickering, the greed, and the meanness that permeates the institution. Well, if it is any consolation, these feelings have been around probably as long as there have been governments, so it’s not surprising that we find instances of anti-government sentiment in Don  Quixote.

The first one I will share is when Sancho is telling his wife of his plans to become a governor. Teresa’s anti-government stance is borderline anarchist, where she feels that no government is good.

“Nay, then, husband,” said Teresa; “let the hen live, though it be with her pip, live, and let the devil take all the governments in the world; you came out of your mother’s womb without a government, you lived until now without a government, and when it is God’s will you will go, or be carried, to your grave without a government. How many people are there in the world who live without a government, and continue to live all the same, and are reckoned in the number of people…”

(p. 574)

It is later asserted that even an idiot can become a governor, that education and intelligence are not requisite for being in the government.

… and moreover, we know already ample experience that it does not require much cleverness or much learning to be a governor, for there are a hundred round about us that scarcely know how to read, and govern like gerfalcons.

(p. 803)

And finally, one that made me chuckle. When discussing whether Sancho should bring his donkey Dapple with him to govern, Sancho point out that there is no shortage of asses in government.

“Don’t think, senora duchess, that you have said anything absurd,” said Sancho; “I have seen more than two asses go to governments, and for me to take mine with me would be nothing new.”

(p. 814)

As I watch how uncivil our government and democratic process have become, it becomes apparent that it is the loudest, craftiest, and most offensive who are winning in the political arena. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with one last quote:

God help us, this world is all machinations and schemes at cross purposes one with the other.

(p. 775)

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The Black Monday Murders: Issue 03

blackmondaymurders_03

This is the third installment in a complex graphic novel about Wall Street power brokers drawing on occult powers to maintain wealth and control. The story is so labyrinthine that with each layer that you peel back, you uncover more questions and uncertainty. It’s like a puzzle that gets more complicated the more you work on it, which makes reading this both frustrating and exhilarating.

There are some great quotes in this issue that I would like to share.

But this is how secrets work, no? They hide in the shadows until they grow into something… uncontrollable.

I find this quote fascinating because it is true on multiple levels. On a personal level, when you keep secrets, those secrets morph into something else that is often detrimental to an individual. I was told that we only as sick as our secrets, and I truly believe this. When we hide things in the shadows of our consciousness, it changes us in ways we often cannot imagine. But this is also the case on a larger scale. I cannot help but think of governments and corporations, these massive institutions that specialize in hoarding information and secrets. While this may seem beneficent at first, especially when the keeping of secrets is done with the best intentions, the institution begins to change, and we are left with something else, something that exists solely to gather and keep secrets, which are the currency of power.

The other quote that intrigued me regards Wall Street.

The history of Wall Street is written in blood… it’s an industry built on human sacrifice.

Humans have always sacrificed themselves for money, symbolized by Mammon. They sacrifice their happiness and exploit others for the pursuit of Mammon, the manifestation of greed and material wealth. People become nothing more than objects to exploit in the endless quest for more power and more wealth, because once you get caught in this trap, there is never enough, you are always left wanting more, and more, and more. This is the dark side of our material world.

As I watched Wall Street rally this past week, I could not help wondering about the forces that fueled this surge and what it means for the average person. Those who are in power and have access to secrets see sociopolitical events differently than most of us. I wonder what they see in our future.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 9” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!

Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.

Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.

Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!

This is very practical advice for living life in the material world. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and we must work and do certain things to take care of ourselves in this life. But what Lao Tzu is saying here is that we should not let our earthly desires dominate our lives. We all must work, and we all need a certain amount of wealth in order to survive, but the key to happiness and the “Way to Heaven” is to be content with just enough, and not to keep constantly striving for more. When we reach fullness, it is time to stop and rest. When a bird has finished building a nest, it does not keep building other ones. Likewise, when the bird has eaten enough, it stops eating. If it were to continue eating after it was full, it would no longer be able to fly.

We can spend our lives chasing after things that mean nothing in the end, but will that bring us happiness? I personally do not think so. I encourage you to pause, rest, and reflect on what is really important in your life. I suspect that it will not be material gains.

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“Four Quartets” by T.S. Eliot – Part 2 of 4: East Coker

FourQuartets

In my previous post, I looked at the first of the Four Quartets: “Burnt Norton.” The second poem in the collection is much darker than the first and offers a bleak view of modern society.

The poem is structured in a circular style. The first and last lines of the poem are mirror reflections of each other. The poem begins with “In my beginning is my end” and concludes with “In my end is my beginning.” So from a basic structural view, Eliot is challenging the reader to read the poem over multiple times, but I also see deeper symbolism. In the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, when you are born, your consciousness is separated from the Divine Consciousness and your connection is severed. Likewise, when you die, your consciousness is reunited with the Divine until it is time to be reborn again, as part of the eternal cycle.

The overall theme of the poem is that modern humans, with all our science, technology, and money, are essentially destroying ourselves and the world in which we live. It really doesn’t seem like there is much hope for us. In the poem, Eliot offers only one possible path by which to save ourselves, and that is through Christ.

In the opening stanza, Eliot sets the tone for the poem, evoking images of a crumbling society while incorporating references to Ecclesiastes, thereby letting the reader know that our world is in decline and the only chance for salvation is through biblical wisdom.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

As the poem continues, we are provided with a view of life during a simpler time, before we became slaves to science and technology.

On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie

A dignified and commodiois sacrament,
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,

(Lines 25 – 34)

The imagery here makes me think of a pagan ritual. Villagers are gathered together and partake in rituals celebrating the union of man and woman. I would even venture to suggest that Eliot is likely depicting a Beltane ritual, where the symbolic sexual union of man and woman evokes a sympathetic type of magic resulting in the fertility of the earth. I also love the shift in language to an “Olde English” style. It is almost like reading Chaucer.

The Dance by Matisse

The Dance by Matisse

After this pastoral section, the poem takes a darker turn. We are presented with a prophecy, one in which astrological signs and omens point toward the inevitable destruction of humanity.

Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

(Lines 58 – 67)

The following lines impacted me the hardest. Here, Eliot describes the root of our demise, the rich and powerful who view the world as theirs and seek to exploit the planet and all those who dwell upon it, dragging us along with them on the path to destruction.

O dark dark dark. They all go dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.

(Lines 101 – 111)

These lines terrify me. They could have been written today. As I look around at what is happening to our world, I see a handful of people taking the rest of us along with them to the grave. And when we reach that point of collapse, there will be no one left to bury the dead. We will decay along with all our creations and everything that we built. Ultimately, we will succumb to ourselves.

But Eliot sees one chance for us to save ourselves, and that is through the acceptance of Christ’s teachings. He sees Christ as a healer, able to cure our societal ills and disease.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fevered chart.

(Lines 147 – 151)

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Near the end of the poem, Eliot writes: “As we grow older the world becomes stranger.” This is true on two levels. On a personal level, as we mature we no longer live the lives of simplicity that were ours as children and youth. On a societal level, our culture and society changes as it ages. Technology and science have replaced our wonder at the mysteries of life and existence. As a result, we find ourselves strangers in a strange land, in a world that becomes stranger and less recognizable with each passing day. It is a sad possibility that one day we may awaken into a world which is completely unrecognizable to us. I hope that day does not come.

Look for Part 3—“The Dry Salvages”—soon.

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Applying “Common Sense” to Current Issues

CommonSenseLast year for my Independence Day blog post I read and commented on the Declaration of Independence. This year I opted for Common Sense by Thomas Paine. I’d read it years ago in college in my “Survey of American Literature” class, so I understood the concepts that Paine was trying to convey, essentially making a “common sense” argument in support of independence for the colonies.

In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense. (p 23)

Overall, I found this to be pretty dull reading. Paine is slow in getting to the point and as far as his simple facts go, he sure uses a lot of words to state them. That said, I approached the text with the intent of seeing what, if anything, is still relevant today. I found a couple of passages that could be applied to current issues.

The first issue I would like to address is marriage equality. In the US, we have a history of failing to acknowledge that discrimination based upon sexual preference is morally wrong. Many people are still attempting to pass legislation narrowly dictating what types of marriages should be accepted in this country. Essentially, this behavior is what Paine asserts is the defense of custom.

A long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. (pp 1-2)

I see the tumult finally subsiding, as demonstrated by the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The antiquated ideas that have been promoted as custom and tradition are finally being swept aside.

The next issue is that of commerce. Paine states that when commerce, or capitalism, becomes the main focus of a country, that country suffers. People become complacent and are not willing to take the risks necessary to advance society as a whole.

Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of patriotism and military defence. And history sufficiently informs us, that the bravest achievements were always accomplished in the non-age of a nation… The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture. (p 51)

Paine concludes his pamphlet by addressing the issue that has plagued us from the beginning: the separation of church and state. Today, there are still people who use religion as a reason for promoting laws, especially laws that deny or restrict the rights of others. We must always remember the words of those who founded this country and oppose the influence or religion on politics whenever it rears its head.

And here without anger or resentment I bid you farewell. Sincerely wishing, that as men and christians, ye may always fully and uninterruptedly enjoy every civil and religious right; and be, in your turn, the means of securing it to others; but that the example which ye have unwisely set, of mingling religion with politics, MAY BE DISAVOWED AND REPROBATED BY EVERY INHABITANT OF AMERICA. (p 73)

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July, and help keep freedom and equality safe in this country.

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“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

ChristmasCarolI figured that since it is the holiday season I should read something appropriate and write about it. This made me realize that I had never read A Christmas Carol before. I’ve seen plenty of film versions, seen stage productions, I even played Scrooge in a school play when I was a kid. That, combined with the fact that the story and its references are such a part of our culture, meant I knew the tale on a deep level. Still, I felt I should actually read the words that Dickens wrote, and I am very glad I did.

I’m not going to spend time talking about the story–you all know it. I do want to talk a bit about the writing. It is amazing. The level of description and the way he crafts the story is flawless. To change a single word would be blasphemous. There is one scene where Scrooge is with the Spirit of Christmas Present and they are traveling out to sea. The passage incorporates some great symbolism, where the sea represents things like life, consciousness, and unbridled greed, and the caverns worn into the rocks represent the ravages wreaked upon one’s memories and society as a whole. But what elevates the passage to even higher levels of art is the use of alliteration, where the repetitive “r” sound creates a sense of the roaring and crashing of the waves.

To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth. (p. 49)

Another passage that stood out for me deals with the issue of individuals using religion to justify hatred and bigotry. These people claim to know the will of the divine, but in actuality, they are just projecting their own ideas onto their image of God and using it to validate themselves.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.” (p. 37)

There is one line that truly sums up the greed and selfishness that is the Scrooge archetype: “I can’t afford to make idle people merry” (p. 7). It saddens me that this mentality has experienced such a resurgence. I witnessed it on an almost daily basis during the past election season, where people screamed and ranted about not wanting to support the lazy welfare recipients who were living off of the hard work of others. I for one believe that it is important for society to care for those who are less fortunate. I have been blessed with enough to support myself and my family, and I have no problem sharing with those who are less fortunate. I understand that I am just one disaster away from being in a dire situation. It would be wise for all of us to remember that.

I want to conclude by wishing you a blessed holiday, whichever one you observe, and a happy New Year. I hope 2013 brings lots of great books your way!!

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