Saturday, June 20, 2015

Money is the Root of ... Some Evil

I may begin an irregular series in which I attempt to debunk many cliches.

For instance, the saying, “money is the root of all evil”, has been passed down through the centuries. 

It was inspired by the writings of the Apostle Paul, who actually stated, “All wrongdoing can be traced to an excessive attachment to material wealth.” Usually, this is translated as “the love of money is the root of evil.”

But really, even with this qualifier, such a sentiment cannot be upheld as even half-true. Could even half the evil in the world be attributed to a “love of money”? Certainly, there are many who believe so, and say that all evil is attributable to a love of money. Indeed, self-sacrifice is often accused of having greed as its ulterior motive. 

Certainly, many forms of criminality, such as theft, robbery, extortion, blackmail, and so on, have as their motive a lust for money. However, more serious - and truly evil - crimes have other causes besides. 

For instance, rape is not motivated by greed (though the word “rape” originally meant “theft”), even where the assault is accompanied by theft of money and materials. 

For that matter, most murders and deadly assaults are not committed in the name of greed, but because of jealousy, feud, rage and mental illness. The worst forms of evil, as recognized by criminal law the world over, have not greed as their motive most of the time at all. 

It is often said that war is always, at root, about the lust for wealth. This is true, in its way. For it is lust for necessities, rather than luxuries, which drives states to go to war with each other. Civilized society depends upon the extraction of resources for its existence. 

Natural wealth dwindles as human riches grow, so too are states forced to range further afield to secure staple resources. Inevitably, each state encounters others with the same goal. Mutual need sometimes leads to peaceful trade, but more often to warring sides. 

Recorded history is in large part the annals of states going to war to secure resources that they literally cannot do without. Kings and strongmen have waged war for reasons other than mere plunder. War is driven more so by a necessity to neutralize some presumed rival, whose equality of power and resources seems a threat in itself. Even where the explicit goal of war is lust for wealth, it most often results in loss of precious blood and coin for all involved. 

A lust for money does not the motivate, but ameliorates the lust for war. By expediting all forms of exchange, money encourages production of what is plentiful, in trade for what is scarce. As war interrupts trade, and devalues money, cash provides an incentive for civil rather than martial efforts to acquire resources. 

In pacifist literature, war is often portrayed as the fault of profiteering bankers and bomb-makers. The high-interest loans that banks grant to governments to pay for war, more than compensate for the loss of civilian business by destitute populations, except that governments have always defaulted, delayed, reneged, renegotiated these loans in peacetime. 

During the Renaissance, several prominent banking houses went bankrupt after many princes defaulted on their loans, stalling the cash economy for centuries. 

In the twentieth century, lust for wealth seems to have a very secondary motive in the pursuit of World Wars, except for a need to acquire staple resources. Nazi Germany was determined to set up a rustic leisure-state of hundreds of millions of Aryans, supported by a slave-class of Slavs and other race mongrels. 

The Nazis’ eye was always to the east, to the mythical homeland of the Aryan race, and they saw Russia as the obvious target for conquest. They were hardly concerned with the material splendour of the Soviet Union, most of which had already been destroyed by the Bolsheviks. They instead coveted the oil, wheat and other untapped riches of the Rus. 

The Nazis intended to level the conquered Soviet Union, and replace it with the new Aryan super-state. There, the racially pure would live in a cashless, medieval utopia. 

Similarly, the first Great War was inspired by not by the love of money, but of that primal concern of statesman, to neutralize rivals of equal power to themselves. Germany emerged from its defeat of France in 1870, as the new global rival of the British. From then until 1914, the Brits and Germans engaged in an arms race, the former becoming allies with old rivals France and Russia to complete what the Germans saw as “encirclement.” When war finally came, all the participants seemed reluctant and horrified at having to carry out what they nevertheless understood was inevitable. 

Each side consciously decided to sacrifice in order to stand up for an ideal — for the Austrians, to avenge the murder of the heir to throne; for the Russians, to defend a fellow Slav land from Germanic aggression; for the Germans, to defend their Austrian allies against Russian aggression, and to show the British that they hadn’t dominion over the world; for the French, to avenge the conquest of Alsace-Lorraine; for the British, to defend against “Prussian” authoritarianism in Europe and around the world.

The diplomacy leading to the First World War has also been described as a case of several bald men fighting over a comb. In the end, all sides sacrificed far more in material wealth (not mentioning the millions of lives lost) than anyone believed possible at the outset. Each side managed to do far more damage to themselves, than they ever inflicted on their enemies, and the victors were scarcely victorious. The great powers consciously liquidated their considerable reserves of wealth, all for the principle of the thing, and they didn’t succeed in making war obsolete, either. 

If war discloses just how evil the human animal can be to others of its kind, this malice has its seat in the idealistic or abstract faculty. War erupts as opponents threaten, or seem to threaten, each other’s access to the necessities of civilization. It is often precipitated when one side or the other is seen to violate some basic or sacred ideal or moral, and is undertaken usually in spite of its cost. 

Wars fought on principle, whether between states or between factions of the same state, have fomented more evil than other sorts of conflict. They not only visit torture and brutality upon combatants, they destroy material wealth all around. 

Often, the principle being fought over is religious in character. Religious civil war frequently has a “decadent” establishment pitted against a puritanical insurgency. When the latter prevails, yet more material wealth is destroyed in the name of the ascetic. 

In the twentieth century, highly-principled enemies of material wealth succeeded to power in many, very populous lands. The result was a literal decimation (the destruction of one in ten) of the affected populations, with millions more killed in inter-state wars. 

It is hard to describe either the Nazi or Soviet regime without reference to evil. The Nazis were satanic, for their deliberate genocide. But the “Aryan” German not involved with trade-unionism or communism was not subject to the sort of ongoing terror that affected the citizen-subjects of the Soviet empire. 

The latter was a regime of arbitrary arrest, detention, imprisonment and banishment, all to the end of cowing the people into cooperation with the latest five-year plan. 

Given all this, it would be more true to say that “the hatred of money is root of much evil.” In contemporary times, at least, there has been a demonstrative link between the capacity to commit great evil, and the willingness to provide humanitarian measures for the downtrodden. 

Those who have committed evil on a mass scale, are praised by many exactly for their selflessness. Thus, while Ulyanov overthrew nascent Russian democracy, and set into place the apparatus of terror that later consumed millions, Lenin is still praised by many for his frugal lifestyle and humble demeanour. When his successor condemned thousands in show trials during the 1930s, Walter Duranty, Russian correspondent for the New York Times, observed that making an omelette required broken eggs (Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the Soviet Union). 

Later, after the war, Duranty wrote in the Nation journal, that “purge” in Russia meant merely “to clean”, and thus the purges that Stalin was undertaking at that time were merely like a colonic for the Soviet body politic. 

Those socialist apostates, the fascists, had their admirers near and abroad, as well. Before and during the war, even years afterward, it was common to hear that while persecution and Holocaust are surely bad things, "Hitler did put millions to work." Similarly, Mussolini was credited with "making the trains run on time."  

In the anti-colonial wars which followed World War II, the most brutal insurgents were also those who provided humanitarian assistance to the peasantry. The lack of civil liberty in Castro’s Cuba, similarly, is excused because of the regime’s alleged provision of the best medical care and free schooling. It implies no cynicism in the motives of parties just noted, to suggest that humanitarianism and brutality are expressions of the same will to power and control. Terror and welfare instill dependency in populations: giving is implicitly or explicitly coupled with taking away.

Of course, money itself is scarcely problem free.  It is, in fact, a fetish, a contemporary version of the witch-doctor's talisman.  It is perhaps for this reason, in turn, that some of the early Christians considered if not money itself, then the excessive love of it, as "evil"; it was simply too pagan but to be important

No comments:

Post a Comment