When will money stop shouting?
December 18, 2008
As America faces the consequences of eight years of frenzied consumption, unbridled greed and a culture of “pay to play” in all walks of life, perhaps we will learn some lessons about the significance of money. It has appeared to many in the Bushwacked age that people with a lot of gelt were smarter than those who decided not to make mammon their god. As an architect, I’ve seen this in many of my clients–success on Wall Street translated into an arrogance about nearly everything. Listening to the advice of a qualified architect was not on their agenda. Kings of bond trading and queens of derivatives went around acting like their knowledge and wisdom were boundless. Mr. Madoff has proven conclusively that a lot of them were fools.
The sheer stridency of our culture has worn down many of us who believe that wisdom comes only through experience, and that knowledge has to be cultivated in an atmosphere of humility and respect for others. Expertise, artistry, craftsmanship, leadership and other salubrious qualities cannot be purchased at auction. Moreover, he who shouts the loudest and carries the biggest sheaf of credit cards should not be granted credibility in areas of public discourse in which he otherwise possesses no credentials.
It is time for Americans to look at civic virtue through the lense of past ages and learn from the history of greed and corruption. During the Roaring Twenties, the French Ancien Regime, the Regency, the reign of Czar Nicholas Romanov and other ages of excess those with money shouted and people listened. The results of their gullibility and short sighted reverence for the plutocracy are written in the tragic history of failed regimes and ecomomic crashes.
It will be refreshing to go forward under new leadership that does not reward aggression in any form, but especially the kind of win at all costs view of success that has characterized the last eight years. When money does more than talk, but rather drowns out civil discourse as it has in recent history, the consequences are devastating–to morals, education, politics, the environment–indeed, nearly everything a democratic society depends upon. Perhaps at the next town meeting we will be able to listen intently to a modest farmer, philosophy professor, fiddle player, or shoemaker with respect, unconcerned about her net worth or rank in the Fortune 500.