Thursday, February 10, 2011

Greed, Compulsion, and the Turn Toward SatAnality

The fourth circle of hell is a kind of tipping point, from exterior to interior, from impulsiveness to willfulness, from corrupt behavior to soul corruption. It is where souls go from being rotten to the core to being rotten from the core.

Lust and gluttony -- circles two and three -- involve impulses directed toward external objects. Superficially, greed might appear to involve attachment to objects, but it's usually the other way around. For the greedy, "appetite" has become completely detached from any rational purpose, and becomes a compulsive and marauding force in its own wrong.

In this regard, it is important to bear in mind the distinction between the impulsive and the compulsive. Outwardly they might look similar, but they're actually opposites. The impulsive person suffers from an absence of will, while the obsessive-compulsive person has an excess, to the point of willfulness. (Obsessions are compulsive thoughts, while compulsions are obsessive behaviors.)

The impulse is not carefully planned or motivated, just "discharged." Such weak-willed persons can resist anything but temptation. According to Shapiro, they are often "remarkably lacking in active interests, aims, values, or goals much beyond the immediate concerns of their own lives," and usually don't have "abiding, long-range personal plans or ambitions." Frankly, they are very much like animals. And they're out there. I meet them all the time.

Again, the compulsive style is quite different from this. Shapiro notes that they have been called "living machines," which is an apt description, since at least impulsive types can be very lively to be around. They can be "live wires," even if their wires habitually short-circuit.

But there is a grimness and rigidity around the compulsive person, plus a narrowness of interest and focus. In other words, the rigidity doesn't just affect behavior, but the soul itself, which becomes sclerotic, predictable, and closed to new facts and experiences. Not for nothing are they called anal, which in turn has immediate associations with the lower strata.

Obsessive-compulsives no longer "see" what is not a part of their compulsiveness. Theirs is a life of trees, with no forest at all. Think of the miserly Scrooge, for whom everything and anything is quantifiable into money, and money is all that matters.

But please note that one can be an "intellectual (or emotional) miser" every bit as much as a financial one. This is because greed is first a state of the soul which only secondarily attaches itself to objects, and the objects needn't be material. It's really more about illusory control, or attempting to control the uncontrollable.

As Shapiro describes it, the normal person can be "obsessed" with something, -- I am all the time, for compulsiveness is only an exaggeration and distortion of a normal human mode -- but "has the capacity not to be gripped, the capacity to detach himself" and "to shift his attention smoothly and rapidly, now to this aspect, now to that aspect."

One might say that the compulsive person is devoid of ironic detachment, to say nothing of humor. One thinks of all those humorless left-wing, single-issue fanatics who are so deadly serious and cannot laugh at themselves -- Al Gore (speaking of living machines), feminists, heterophobic activists, ACORNballs, et al. In the end, the obsessive-compulsive person loses all contact with reality, so narrow is his focus.

Shapiro even compares the obsessive-compulsive to a brain-damaged person, in that they share the feature of a "general loss or impairment of volitional mobility of attention." Thus, they worry and ruminate over things that a normal person dismisses or places in the background, and dismiss things that are of central concern to a normal person.

Note that such people have their place in a Full Employment Cosmos. For example, I don't mind if my neurosurgeon or airplane pilot are a little compulsive. Spontaneity and joie de vivre are fine, but I don't want my dentist to drop what he's doing on a whim because it's a nice day outside.

So at the very beginning of Canto VII, we hear Plutus, the god of wealth, call out to his master, Pape Satan, Pape Satan, aleppe! Apparently, no one knows exactly what aleppe means, but we can assume from the context that the souls here have definitively turned toward Satan, toward the darkness rather then Light. This is where "conscious worship of the satanic principle begins" (Upton).

This is the realm of both misers and spendthrifts, who are just two sides of the same koan. As Upton describes, they "roll heavy weights in opposite directions, run into each other, quarrel, retreat, and then run into each other again on the opposite side of the circle.

For as always, extremes meet -- which is why spendthrift liberals are constantly meeting miserly conservatives in their dreams (from which they never awaken).

Note that the two trends -- greed and miserliness -- are depicted by Dante as two opposing waves that ultimately cancel each other out, but in so doing form a kind of "false center" (Upton). For "both avaricious Misers and prodigal Spendtrifts are attached to wealth; both have rebelled against Providence..." They have "so radically lost any sense of proportion that no real individuals remain among them" (ibid). Again, they are merely typal, caricatures, facsimiles, living machines.

Down in the herebelow of middle earth, everything is subject to change and transformation, growth and decay. But this is precisely what the greedy person attempts to defend himself from -- as if through accumulation of possessions, one may cheat the rules of life. This only results in a progressive deadening of the soul, for to live is to risk and lose all, a kenosis with no earthly paddle unless one has an oar in the ether.

In this regard, I am reminded of some excellent aphorisms of Don Colacho, such as Whoever lives long years is present at the defeat of his cause, or Not all defeated men are decent, but all decent men end up being defeated, or Man is important only if it is true that a God has died for him.

38 Comments:

Blogger LordSomber said...

Gluttony has the two extremes also -- overeating at one end and fastidiousness at the other. (It's all a preoccupation with food.)
I think C.S. Lewis brought it up in Screwtape.
Related:
"The Moral Crusade Against Foodies":
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1969/12/the-moral-crusade-against-foodies/8370/#

2/10/2011 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger jwm said...

Bob, this series has been some of the best stuff I've read here. I am enjoying, and learning immensely. As a side note- This last Christmas we invited a bunch of our close friends over for an open house, and buffet style supper. I would add, that my wife's friends are sweet, and wonderful people, but they are all Buddhists, and lefties. (*sigh*)
The one exception is a self styled radical libertarian. (*sigh again*)
He made the mistake of turning the conversation to politics, at which point I ran like hell for the kitchen.
It took less then thirty seconds before he, and the entire right were attacked because of the GREED of evil corporate executives who make untold zillions, while there are po' folk.... you know the rest of the narrative. I have noticed for quite some time now, that whenever a lib says "greed" what I hear is "envy".
Anyway- thanks for this series.
wv says "horses"

JWM

2/10/2011 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

JWM,

Cooncur about this series.

I've noticed lately the lib use of the word "corporation" as like a swear word or for an invocation. They just say the single word corporation like it has magic in it. But really it's the underlings who are just picking up on "the something" that their masters leave in it when they use it.

2/10/2011 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Again, the compulsive style is quite different from this. Shapiro notes that they have been called "living machines,""

Bob, maybe you remember how I told you my neighbor who is a gambler (his game is 21) tells me what he likes about playing it (when he likes it) is how he feels like a machine.

2/10/2011 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I'll third JWM's comment.

Re. Greed and obsessive compulsion, I know a fellow, a "friend" of my mom's, who is both a miser and a spendthrift, not only financially but interpersonally. Friend is in quotation marks because he quite simply doesn't know how to be one, but he obsessively collects people, in a way. He meets women on dating sites, compulsively, and carries on with a few at a time. Not always romantically; he has a friend who's a morbidly obese shut-in. He visits with her and brings her food, presumably because she'll listen to him talk. But in person and in conversation, he's rather odious - he can only talk about his latest acquisition, usually a computer of some sorts, purchased with money he doesn't have, and is completely oblivious of anything happening outside of what he is currently obsessing on. He loves to talk at people. Listening, though, not so much.

At the same time, he refuses to spend money on things most people would consider somewhat important, so that he lives in a bizarre sort of squalor/ abundance. It's actually sad to see, because you know there's nothing you can do for him.

2/10/2011 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I was meditating on Job 36:13 earlier this morning. It seems to fit.

The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when He fetters them, they do not cry for help.

You are correct, Somber, Lewis talks about the protagonist's mother who wants only a small thing done with much trouble. She thinks because it is so small an amount it cannot be greed or gluttony.

2/10/2011 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

In my early teens I used to run a lot. The whole family did (it was the late 70s). I never enjoyed it like some people claimed -- the high and all that. It was nice to be in shape and to watch your time improve, a little competitive and I liked being a runner at that age.
Of all the running days there were only one or two times when I felt like a machine -- that my body felt like a machine and I enjoyed that.
But never felt that way in my mind. I think that's related to the detachment you're talking about.

2/10/2011 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie,
My gambling neighbor exhibits both miser and a spendthrift qualities.

2/10/2011 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

That there is a willful aspect to compulsion is not something I would have put together, though it makes sense when you point it out.

By the way, did you all see that John got his comment in the sidebar on AD? I was impressed. It's like being best friends with Pat Sajak -- I must say.

;)

2/10/2011 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I did see that, Mush. And I was all, "Pape John, Pape John, Aleppa!

2/10/2011 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

At American Digest? I'm not seeing it this time, but John's been up there a few times now, and always deservedly so.

2/10/2011 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Rick, playing 21 isn't really gambling. You are guaranteed to win if you know what you are doing.

It's basically a way of moving the casino's money into your pocket.

You had better feel like a machine when you are doing it, becasue that's the only way you will make money.

2/10/2011 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

JWM says:

"It took less then thirty seconds before he, and the entire right were attacked because of the GREED of evil corporate executives who make untold zillions, while there are po' folk.... you know the rest of the narrative."

I hate corporatists and corporations generally, but that has more do the fact that many of them do not seem to be sane moreso their being "greedy".

I perceive large megacorporations as being insane more than anything else. They have no sense of limitation and seem to be sociopathic due to improper first principles.

I thought Buddhists were supposed to be detached so as to reach nirvana and not attack greedy corporate executives.

Libertarians are basically autistic.

2/10/2011 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"You are guaranteed to win if you know what you are doing."

Ok, forget I said gambler. My curiosity was with why someone would desire to feel like a machine.

2/10/2011 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

How do you hate a corporation?
I don't understand this.

2/10/2011 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic, but this is interesting, especially the part where he describes how he sees with sound. His photography is good, too, imho.

2/10/2011 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

You can dislike certain forms of human social organization on asthetic grounds.

I dislike the asthetics of corporations.

Of course, I'd love to be a CEO and be on "The List", where CEOs are drawn from.

And then I would play with the internal strucure of said corporation until I was more comfortable with the asthetics.

2/10/2011 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Well, if you are needing a job, and you can't get one, then playing 21 professionally will keep food on your table.

So, "feeling like a machine" would be enjoyable to the extent that it was the means to an end.

2/10/2011 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

My neighbor is a pharmacist. Secure and well paid. The 21 is only for enjoyment.

2/10/2011 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

What do all corporations do that you don't like?

2/10/2011 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Thus, they worry and ruminate over things that a normal person dismisses or places in the background, and dismiss things that are of central concern to a normal person."

That certainly brings a few people... and trolls... to mind.

2/10/2011 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Rick said "What do all corporations do that you don't like?"

Function as if they were machines, and their 'Human Resources' are dealt with as if machine parts.

I don't hate them... I think that's a bit of a stretch, but I much prefer working in small to mid-sized companies, peole tend to discuss issues and make decisions more, rather than whip out the flowchart checklist of what to do next or who to forward the hot potatoe on to.

2/10/2011 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

It's been a week or two so JWM has probably been displaced, but he done us proud.

I can kind of understand where JP is coming from on corporations. I currently work for a large multinational that is, for the most part, benign. I once worked for a small privately-held mom-and-pop (literally) corporation where I could say, howdy, to the CEO every day. In between, I worked for a midcap financial service corporation. We got young MBA's, with famous names in some cases. It dawned on me that some of the more ambition ones would wind up on "The List", as JP says.

Corporations work for the stockholders, and sometimes the relationships among corporate entities can get pretty incestuous. And so, too, the much more disturbing relationships between government and corporate entities.

2/10/2011 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

My company is a small corporation. Always been about 10-12 people. I prefer it as well.
But we are too small to build a battleship or produce insulin. Petting zoo we can do.

2/10/2011 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

But isn't that like saying, I don't like Buick Roadmasters because Bob's not an excellent driver?

2/10/2011 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

But are the really big corporations Roadmasters, or are they a cannibalized Roadmaster/Yugo hybrid of some sort?

They have adapted quite well in an evolutionary way to the restrictions as well as the subsidies of government. If they are rather monstrous looking, I'd suggest that's the fault of the environment to which they've been forced to adapt. It still doesn't make them pretty.

Smaller corporations don't work with the same boundary conditions and regulatory pressures that very large ones do. They can be much prettier.

2/10/2011 04:12:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Rick said "But isn't that like saying, I don't like Buick Roadmasters because Bob's not an excellent driver?"

More so than many would think. I've worked in a number of large corp's... I guess five, if all my memory is intact. One of those was downright anti-individual, one so indifferent that you had to dig deep to see how a policy related to an actual person, two where the people recognized the bureaucracy was ridiculous, but what could you do, and one was completely focused on it's people within HQ, and even more so on those out in the field around the world, considered every decision which I had info on, and was actually an enjoyable place to work.

Some small & mid size co's were less than enjoyable to work at, two (one with only 15 employees) that were so wretched that I moved on.

Mgmt makes a huge difference - do they manage people, paper or policies? Which... probably falls somewhere along that greed continuum.

Even so, the small to mid-size co's are much easier to think and act outside the box.

2/10/2011 04:23:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Yes, Jim and I were commenting on the leftist perspective on "the other" corporation, while you and Mushroom's were comments on them from the perspective of working within one. Yours is on the reality, there's on the projection.

2/10/2011 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Oops. I meant, John, not Jim.

2/10/2011 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

When lefty types throw around the accusations of greed I think of an old joke of George Carlin's:

Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster is a maniac.

One of my more rabid lefty friends recently posted on facebook something to the effect of, "The government HAS to take care of the poor, if they don't nobody will."

So rather than say do something himself if he has such concern for the plight of the poor (which I've never known him to do in any serious way), his brilliant plan is that the government should just take more money from the "rich" (who are by definition, in his worldview, inescapably GREEDY)to take care of the poor. Yet he himself is apparently required to do little or nothing.

It's not like he lives some austere life and channels his time and resources to those less fortunate than himself--yet he certainly knows how to indulge himself on his meager earnings.

So to paraphrase Carlin anyone who makes more than him is GREEDY and anyone who makes less is somehow morally deserving of the resources of said greedy person. All without touching his life in any way at all...because he is exempt from either, being fundamentally exempt. (Though who knows maybe he'd want a cut as well). AND gets to be morally superior to boot! What could be better?

“I do think at a certain point you've made enough money” -President Obama

2/10/2011 05:33:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Jack says:

"One of my more rabid lefty friends recently posted on facebook something to the effect of, "The government HAS to take care of the poor, if they don't nobody will."

So rather than say do something himself if he has such concern for the plight of the poor (which I've never known him to do in any serious way), his brilliant plan is that the government should just take more money from the "rich" (who are by definition, in his worldview, inescapably GREEDY)to take care of the poor. Yet he himself is apparently required to do little or nothing."

It's our collective job to "take care of the poor."

It's primarly an individual responsibility.

Tell lefty to self-organize a small charitable organization and get to unpooring the poor.

2/11/2011 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

When I say "corporatism" and "corporations" I am talking generally about the S&P 500 and equivalent organizations, such as the Big 4 accounting firms and the BigLaw firms.

I spent several years as outside counsel (with a smallish firm of about 100 attorneys) drafting and prosecuting industrial patent applications and representing some of the "Worlds Largest Corps", including some military tech.

I'm certainly not talking about small companies when I say corporations.

I agree with Van with respect to small and midsize firms.

And I'm not talking about corporations as "the other". I'm talking about corporations being not sane.

2/11/2011 05:48:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/11/2011 05:48:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I maintain that a corporation is neither sane nor insane.

BTW, still enjoying:

"..playing 21 isn't really gambling. You are guaranteed to win if you know what you are doing."

I believe that is true for anything from pan handling to rocket surgery.

Reminds a little too of: How do you become a millionaire at X profession? Start with 5 mill.

Or the Ace formula for success:
Step 1. Find Casino
Step 2. Play Blackjack
Step 3. ???? (be really good at it)
Step 4. Profit!

2/11/2011 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger JP said...

In blackjack, you can turn the odds in your favor by counting cards and adjusting your betting.

It's the only game in the casino that you can play against the house and win given infinite hands, vs. losing given infinite hands in the other games, such as craps, slots, etc.

2/11/2011 07:29:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Rick, a corporation is neither sane nor insane.

Indeed. Corporations are made of people, and generally speaking they are only as good or bad as the people who make the rules under which the corporation functions. The size isn't the issue, although of course with a bigger corporation there's always room for more problems.

I've seen a few small businesses up close, where the people in charge were either nuts or completely incompetent. The nuts lady couldn't keep any employees, and often sold her food product to customers after it had gone over (we were instructed to tell people it was supposed to be "tangy"). I quit after three weeks. The incompetents were too nice and generous at the start, and had no idea how to keep things going, so after a couple months their employees were blatantly ripping them off. They didn't last, but the nuts lady had been in business for years.

Of the big companies I know a little about, again, some are run by nutjobs but provide a good service and help to support the livelihood of thousands of people. Others are run by decent folk who seem to be a little (or even completely) clueless, while still others are fairly successful.

Just as with people, and by extension the things groups of people do whether its form a corporation or a government, by their fruits shall you know them. Size is not an indicator of morality, good or bad.

2/11/2011 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Julie,
'zactly.

2/11/2011 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "...they are only as good or bad as the people who make the rules under which the corporation functions. The size isn't the issue, although of course with a bigger corporation there's always room for more problems."

I agree. I'll just add, that since corporations typically have so many layers of decision making, one error, flawed or bad procedure/policy, nuts or distrustful mgmt style, tends to propagate and multiply down and throughout the corporation, encouraging or instigating new errors & additional flaws as they go. So unless a corporation is run and tended exceptionally well at the top... the stinky stuff flows downhill fast and deep.

And of course the opposite is true (though not as intensely - I suppose because good isn't automatic, it has to be chosen. With the bad, you can just stand back and let the default badness happen)... and in my limited experience they are few and far between, but you can practically sense it on walking in the door.

2/11/2011 11:34:00 AM  

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