Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pining for a new "Age of Atonement"

The great part about the financial crisis to Katie is the opportunity to get her scold on and remind everybody what louts, layabouts, and wastrels we are:

But none of this [the standard explanations] is where the rubber really meets the road. The real source of our economic chaos, like so many modern troubles, is that most cherished and maligned possession -- the automobile.

In 1909, Henry Ford created the Model T, offering mobility, convenience and liberation beyond Americans' wildest dreams. Everybody wanted one. But even after production improvements brought the price down, the Model T cost $345 -- a budget-breaker for most Americans.

Ford had manufactured, for the first time, "a mass-produced consumer's item that cost between 10 and 20 percent of a family's annual income," writes historian Daniel Boorstin in "The Americans: The Democratic Experience."

Ford was a staunch advocate of frugality and prudence. He maintained that folks should scrimp and save until they had enough cash to buy a car. But other business operators had bolder, if not better, ideas. They quickly concocted the consumer "installment plan" -- a form of financing previously used only to purchase real estate. [italics are Spot's]

Katie is perhaps unaware of the central role of real estate in the recent bacchanalia. At any rate, Katie thinks that installment credit and credit cards are a pipeline to our baser instincts, to the basements of our souls, so to speak. Quoting Daniel Boorstin, she writes:

"It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the American standard of living was bought on the installment plan," writes Boorstin. In the process, he adds, Americans developed "a habit of enjoying things before they were paid for."

This is to Katie, more than anything else, a moral failure. If the lower classes are able to enjoy some of the things that the wealthier people do, they will have no incentive to Improve Themselves:

Evangelicals [in nineteenth-century Britain] interpreted the mental anguish of poverty and debt, and the physical agony of hunger or cold, as natural spurs to prick the conscience of sinners. They believed that the suffering of the poor would provoke remorse, reflection, and ultimately the conversion that would change their fate. In other words, poor people were poor for a reason, and helping them out of poverty would endanger their mortal souls.

We all know that Katie's first concern is everybody's mortal soul. You know, boys and girls, this concern over mortal souls can be carried to great lengths. Consider the Mormon (the 150 year-old sex and revenge cult) doctrine of "blood atonement." This is from a sermon preached by Brigham Young:

Brigham Young took the doctrine of blood atonement further than [founder of Mormonism Joseph] Smith.  According to historian Juanita Brooks, "Young advocated and preached it without compromise."  Young, in an 1857 fire-and-brimstone sermon [during the so-called Mormon "Reformation"], demanded to know whether his his flock would have the courage to do what was necessary should a fellow Mormon commit an unforgiveable sin: "Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed his blood?"  Some sinners, Young preached, who are "now angels to the devil" could have been saved if only some among their Mormon brethren would have "spilled their blood on the ground as a smoking incense to the almighty."

While Church leaders might have emphasized the practice of blood atonement against fallen Mormons, it contributed to the culture of extreme violence that marred the history of early Utah.  The sermons of Brigham Young undoubtedly inspired his followers to commit murder, however unfair might have been the popular press's willingness to blame every violent act in the territory to blood atonement.

While Spot hasn't heard Katie call for blood atonement, she is pro-suffering. It is a difference in degree, but not in kind.

It is fascinating to Spot that of all of the causes for the financial meltdown that you could identify, Katie fastens on two: the intemperate lower classes, and of course, the government that enabled them.

Charles Dickens couldn't have written her better.

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