Sunday, February 24, 2013

"you're gonna get screwed"

Watching Bill Moyers' interview with economist Richard Wolff last night, the thought danced across my mind...

Religion and economics are both dedicated to flavoring and massaging the down-home recognition that "you're gonna get screwed."

Everyone wants to get laid, but no one wants to get screwed: Isn't that an ancient, tried-and-true koan?

The interview focused on the various dysfunctional characteristics of the current capitalism-under-stress environment in which so many feel the lash and so few feel the balm.

And within that context, Wolff, a man educated at Stanford, Harvard and Yale, made an interesting observation. On college campuses 'the school of economics' and 'the school of business' are not housed in the same building. They are separate and distinct. They may nod to each other from time to time, but the fact is that there are two schools. Does any other discipline enjoy a similar schism ... two schools of philosophy or biology, Wolff asked? Economics is the theoretical stuff, the overview, the feel-good stuff; business is the nitty-gritty of how to manufacture and sell widgets and how to shape and manipulate a 'productive' work force.

Wolff said, and I agree, that America (and perhaps other parts of the world) is like a deer caught in the headlights -- frozen in a kind of disbelief that the 'American dream' simply is not delivering what it promised to deliver. It is no longer true that if you work hard, you are guaranteed a decent standard of living and your kids will have it better than you did. But the deer loves the dream and the facts have not yet gelled into an infuriated response. For now, there are desperate attempts to shore up the wondrous dream, to deny its crumbling reality.

The Tea Party (a tear-it-down right wing persuasion) and the Occupy Movement (a left-leaning recognition that "you're gonna get screwed") are examples of the beginning of a betrayed and enraged response to the disconnect between the economic dream and the economic reality, Wolff suggested.

Everyone wants to get laid, but no one wants to get screwed and perhaps one way to uphold and elevate the wonders of getting laid is to screw at an ever-accelerated pace.

Everyone wants to get to heaven, but no one in their right mind wants to die in order to get there. So maybe, at first, like a deer in the headlights, there is some accelerated creation of belief and hopeful tale telling. It's a bit like being in a foreign country and imagining that if you just speak your own language louder, the natives will finally understand you.

But life doesn't understand you and it does not bend a knee to tales of any kind, no matter how elaborate or heart-felt: You're gonna get screwed -- read 'em and weep. Panoramas of joy and bliss and clarity turn out, on the highway of life, to fall short of expectations ... of dreams American or any other kind. It's got nothing to do with optimism or pessimism: It has to do with fact and fiction.

It's not a big deal, but after so many economic or spiritual tales, after so many bake sales and meditation retreats and stock-market successes, it can be a jolt: Fictions may inspire, but facts rule. The massage parlor into which the facts have been fed turns out to be the plain old kalpa-long whore house it always was.

I suppose everyone has a different way of approaching all this -- of standing in the headlights of "you're gonna get screwed" and figuring out some factual, practical avenue or solution. If 'economics' don't work and beliefs don't work, what does work in a way that honestly addresses the facts of anyone's life? That's facts, not fancies.

I wouldn't try to convince anyone else, but I found Zen practice a very useful tool. It's a bit like switching from being an ecomomics major to diving into business. It's messy and confusing and rewarding and tear-stained and full of laughter and, yes, there are massage parlors galore, but, although it has some ornate story-telling of its own, still Zen seems to offer more opportunity to dissolve the chasm between getting laid and getting screwed.

Does it work?

Fucked if I know!

I'm just a widget-maker.


  1. Transcendental TheoristFebruary 24, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Bah! You had me until you revealed that your "Zen" was pro-business.

    Business is not going to save us! It is too vulnerable to corruption. Trusting business to save makes no more sense than trusting than politics will.

    Corruption is somehow the fundamental flaw of Capitalism and thus to Business, Corruption is what's killing us.

    Oversight. Checks. Balances.

    Things will not change until many currently in Banking, on Wall Street and in Government join the ranks of the imprisoned.

  2. Business is just something people do, have always done. Two thousand years ago Rome ran a trade deficit for two centuries, devalued their currency, used inflation for a hedge... Rome fell, but we still have Italians. So we're doing it again, for the zillionth time greed proves no system is people proof. Blame business if you like, blame government, blame others. But when you have time, you might want to explore why this upsets you, or why you would expect different.

  3. Transcendental TheoristFebruary 25, 2013 at 2:32 PM


    Perhaps I was not clear enough -- the point simply being that relying on business is a mistake. And that's regardless of the size of the business: the sole proprietor may be a mensch or he may be a crook. Likewise the mega corporation. However there is scale to consider.

    Caveat Emptor!

    As for Rome falling but Italians living, what exactly is your point?

    BTW -- My h.s. biology teacher used to say that from the beginning and to the end cockroaches dominate the planet.
    But I said long ago and still say, "what's the point?"

  4. Your first post suggested a revelation that zen is pro-business. I don't read that into either the post or any of the teachings. My point would be that zen is indifferent to such things, that it would urge you to pay careful attention to all things, business, pleasure, etc.

    My point is that business is ongoing and not a new problem for our species. We survive it one way or another. I don't see anything in the post that suggests relying on business for anything other than a metaphor for uncertainty.

  5. I didn't say Zen is pro-business. I commented because I came away with the feeling that the post was pro-business:

    "wouldn't try to convince anyone else, but I found Zen practice a very useful tool. It's a bit like switching from being an economics major to diving into business."

  6. I see. But it began with Adam watching an interview with an economist and the understanding that, at Stanford at least, economics was taught as theory, and business was taught as "how to". I took the point of it to mean that while many spiritual traditions are more theoretical in what they offer, zen was very practical and more "how to".