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Choosing sides among the gods

    by Jack Hartjes, July 2017

Tree huggers of the world, I’m on your side.
I’ve not yet made your acquaintance, but I’m told
You worship trees. Well, we all have our gods.
I like yours better than the capitalist’s,
Whose god is money. Your god at least is real,
Something that you, my god, and I can love.
Money’s just a sometimes useful fiction,
Product of our collective imagination,
More imaginary, more adored
The higher you go in the world of high finance.
Tell your god … Watch out for the god
Of the money-worshiping capitalist.
Things imaginary do have power.

Commentary: In Defense of the Capitalist, but not the Capitalist Religion

 The key lines for understanding this poem are:

 More imaginary, more adored
The higher you go in the world of high finance.

The key to understanding these lines is the meltdown in world finances in 2008.

 First, in defense of capitalists, especially Wall Street financiers, whom I assume are only as greedy, more or less, as the rest of us, I need to say that the word “adored” is meant in its theological, not its emotive sense. I’m not saying capitalists love money, much less that they value money more than family or country or God if they are religious. I’m not making a statement about the morals of the capitalist but about a belief system that is more and more evident, as the poem says, “the higher you go in the world of high finance.” It’s a belief system that attributes magical, or divine, powers to money. That’s where the history of the 2008 financial meltdown becomes relevant.

 In the years leading up to 2008, financial instruments like packaging of low-grade debt, debt insurance, and credit default swaps had gotten further and further removed from reality. Speculators were making money on items that had no real value or even negative value. I wrote more about this in “Spirituality of Banking according to Dad and according to Wall Street.” Essentially the financial wizards were engaged in a flight from reality, trying to get free of the things which essentially go along with matter,namely: limit,death,scarcity,risk, anddependence.I called that akind of spirituality, but the opposite ofChristian spirituality, which accepts all of these things, especially death and dependence. The only non-magical way to limit risk and avoid scarcity is to accept thelimits that materialreality places on us--exactly the kind of banking that my dad exemplified. But that solution is the opposite of where our capitalistic system has been heading for a long time.

The long and the short of it is that, whilc the capitalist may not love money, there is this belief in the magical, or divine, power of money, basically to make something out of debt, which is nothing or even less than nothing. This idolatry filters down from the top of the financial system to even average Americans here below. And as the lastline of the poem says, that god, that "product of our collective imagination," has a kind of power; and it scares morethan just the tree huggers.