Thursday, February 19, 2009

"It's Only Money!"

Tibor R. Machan

How is it you never hear prominent critics of Western materialism and capitalism defending the likes of Bernard Madoff with the exclamation, "It's Only Money!"? If their disdain for money is honest, if they consider it something dirty and unimportant in human life. at least in a decent, exemplary human life, then surely it should be of no great significance that some people like Madoff steal if from people big time.

Indeed, why is it that when there is an economic downturn like now all those folks who urge us to go back to nature--really they mean the the wilds--and who decry all the development that occurs in good times are deafeningly silent? There ought to be triumphant Op Ed pieces in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Review of Books or other publications that often publish pieces dubious about our materialist ways. Don't you think? This is just what such folks wanted--the destruction of the automobile, the de-industrialization of the country, the return of workers to labor in their gardens or the woods. What could be better than widespread unemployment to undermine the excessive commercialization of society? Without jobs, people will not be crowding the malls but, more likely, commune with nature in the hundreds of national parks and forest preserved for just the occasions when the rat race of capitalism has subsided?

Oh, but times like these make folks more honest than when it costs them nothing, not even embarrassment, to deride modern materialist society. Still. I would admire the people more if their integrity showed when it may be a bit tough to live by one's professed ideals. It would be admirable to see animal rights advocates out in the wilds defending small prey against the large, show that they are not only against the human use of animals but also against other animals' use of vulnerable animals. Or to have all the critics of modern civilization to step up and publicly applaud all the downsizing going on in Detroit and elsewhere, maybe even lend a hand to those who have become unemployed by, say, hiring them as gardeners or farmers and animal care givers--you know, all those jobs that leave the wilds intact and do not cause urban sprawl.

Alas, this reminds me of that well known quip that there are no atheists in foxholes (which, by the way, is a crock). Integrity, which is keeping in mind and acting on all the right values without ditching some of them when they become inconvenient, is in short supply. It is in extremely short supply with politicians and bureaucrats who are part of an essentially corrupt system, one that lives off the principle that it's perfectly fine to rob Peter in order to benefit Paul (and skim some of it in the process for one's troubles). It also brings to mind those celebrities on late night talk shows who insist on attempting to persuade the audience that they care nothing about money, nothing at all, only their art concerns them! Yes, and I have this bridge you may wish to purchase from me if you believe that bunk.

For all the people out there who are routinely disdainful about money, I call upon you to come to Bernard Madoff's defense--as well as the defense of others who defraud clients and rob banks and otherwise take other people's money without permission--by proclaiming loud and clear, "Hey, it's only money, so what's the big fuss?" I implore all the priests and ministers who keep telling their flock that "the love of money is the root of all evil," to now insist that Bernie Madoff & Co. are not worth fussing about since all they did was take the money, which, as the faithful have been told over and over again, isn't really what's truly worthwhile. (But then why bother about sending around the collection plate?)

Fact is, money represents hard work and some luck in our lives and we use it to obtain the products of other people's hard work and creativity (and a bit of their luck, too) if they are willing to sell them. To scoff at money is no smarter than to denounce theater tickets that get you in to see the show! And when one has it stolen from him, as the Madoffs are willing to do, one has every reason to be outraged. Because money matters!

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