Monday, February 28, 2011

Abraham Lincoln

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Abraham Lincoln: Did not one of your countrymen say ‘It is almost as difficult to make a man unlearn his errors as his knowledge. Mal-information is more hopeless than non-information; for error is always more busy than ignorance. Ignorance is a blank sheet, on which we may write; but error is a scribbled one, on which we must first erase. Ignorance is contented to stand still with her back to the truth; but error is more presumptuous, and proceeds in the same direction. Ignorance has no light, but error follows a false one. The consequence is, that error, when she retraces her footsteps, has further to go, before she can arrive at the truth, than ignorance.’

Interlocutor: I believe so, it was Charles Caleb Colton. Why do you quote him here?

AL: Because, as I have said, the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. And while we have men who think they know the answers to our most pressing problems lie in those tried and tested formulae used a thousand times before, we must make ourselves aware that we are preparing ourselves to fail in the solving of those problems.

I: Can you be more specific; which problems?

AL: Those problems that attach themselves to old thorns – greed and avarice, corruption, partiality and those venal sins the man of commerce is unfortunately heir to on the occasion of his acquiring a love of money for its own sake.

I: You sound as if you are somewhat Machiavellian in your outlook, sir.

AL: In what way?

I: Why, sir, by your insinuating that the ends justify the means.

AL: That is exactly the polar opposite of my stance where the making of a dollar is concerned. It is the means that justify the ends; it is the making of the dollar that justifies our earning of it and pocketing it. The dollar in itself has no intrinsic value other than that which can be purchased with it.
To love it for its own sake, which is to say to love it merely for the having it in one’s own pocket, is tantamount to the way to ruin.

I: Ruin, sir, whose ruin? Surely not the man who has the dollar safely ensconced in his own pocket.

AL: Just so sir, his ruin.

I: But why his? Has he not earned his dollar?

AL: He has, but in earning it, he has coveted it, and those dollars he looks forward to pocketing.

I: But that is surely the main premise upon which commerce proceeds – growth.

AL: It is the promise of growth – the striving for it, that foretells our doom, is it not?

I: How can that be, sir? Is not economic growth the mainstay of our economic system – the system that sustains us?

AL: Look around you. Look at the plundering of farmland, inherited by us from our forebears the native Americans. Did they plunder the land?

I: They most definitely did not, but then their concern was with living within their means, keeping the land as a resource that would sustain them through the long North American winters and the harsh summers, was it not?

AL: They lived within their means, as you righty said. Now, what are those means?

I: Living within one’s means is the same as living with the money at your disposal, surely.

AL: But you have said nothing about living within the limits that the land can sustainably provide, have you?

I: For the very good reason that we have traditionally looked upon the land we live on and off as ours to do with as we please, have we not?

AL: We have, and therein lies the heart of our problems, the crux of our difficulties, of the dilemma we now face. For consider, the indigenous population, a people our kind have been wont to call primitive, knew well what the land would support and what it would not, whereas the supposedly more sophisticated, intelligent and more aware individual we call the businessman, seems, by the actions he takes and dictates to others to take, to either know very little of the land’s limitations, or else sees himself able to overlook those limits, preferring to leave it to future generations to pick up the pieces and repair what he has left amiss.

I: But you also spoke of man coveting the dollar – loving money for its own sake, dod you not?

AL: I did so. It is the acquisition of wealth, and the accumulation of wealth, that man is drawn into his love of it; his desire for more of it; much more than he can ever spend in his own lifetime. Why does he do that, I wonder?
I think it is the momentum of the bank balance, galloping ever upwards, ever higher, until he sees the rows of noughts, signifying the multiples of 10 until he sees rows of six, nine or more, and by that he accounts himself something he is not.

I: What is that?

AL: A person of great worth in the eyes of others.

I: But surely he is of great worth?

AL: Spoken like a man of your time, my friend. The rich are not necessarily of great worth, even though they invariably seen as such.

I: If they are seen as men of great worth, surely they are just that, are they not?

AL: WE are back to ‘the Emperor’s new clothes, a story by Hans Christian Anderson, are we not?

I: By that, I take you to mean that just because the multitude sees the same thing, it does not mean it is that thing. Am I right?

AL: You are, my friend. There are some values of ours that have been lost through their being unused, until man comes to the point at which he no longer knows what to believe, or only believes what others believe. The schoolyard comes with us into adulthood, I am afraid.

I: Why do you say that?

AL: Because I maintain that the pressure of the many is such a formidable force that only a brave man will go against it. To do so is to invite the censure of everyone, and no one wants to bring that upon themselves.
Besides, we have our so called ‘gurus’ – men of superior knowledge – who insist that we believe it. An inherently odious form of corruption is that which makes better men knowingly inform others that what they say is in their best interests when in reality it is diametrically opposed to them.

I: And who are such men?

AL: The good and the great of society: politicians, academics, teachers, employers, and anyone who coerces common sense in the name of the common good.

I: Surely if something is in the common good, it is of great value, is it not?

AL: Ah, you are falling into the trap set for you. The common good, so we are led to believe, is anything that makes us financially better off.

I: But surely, if something, some course of action makes us finically better off, is it not good?

AL: That is to use but one dimension of what is accounted good, and one only, is it not?

I: How so?

AL: Because man and the world in which he lives runs on a very different fuel to the one to be found in bank vaults.

I: What goods are they?

AL: If you have to ask, that seals your fate, that signals to me that you are taken in wholly, that you are a man of your time.

I: Along with millions of others, yes.

AL: Quite so!
Robert L. Fielding

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