Greed, Compulsion, and the Turn Toward SatAnality
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.