Yesterday’s tirade about moderation reaped me an email objection I should have expected. My correspondent assumed that I had a “system” of some sort in mind, rather than a simple respect for the equilibrium principle that governs all things under the veil of time. The writer asked if I were about to advocate “Christian Socialism,” a concept with which I was only vaguely familiar. The reference “sent me to the stacks:”
Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which some Christian denominations consider a mortal sin. Christian socialists identify the cause of inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism.
Christian socialism became a major movement in the United Kingdom beginning in the 1960s through the Christian Socialist Movement, since 2013 known as Christians on the Left.
Socialism with a miter and crozier, eh? Thanks, I’ll pass.
There are several terms of condemnation in the above, but the standout, which gives the thing its overall flavor is greed:
greed n: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.
The term greed is widely exploited as a pejorative by the busybodies of the Left. If you have more than they think is “right,” they accuse you of “greed.” If you protest being mulcted of your earnings by the Omnipotent State for “redistribution” to others, they deem you “greedy.” And of course, your entirely natural and understandable desire to retain what you’ve earned for purposes of your choosing is irrefutable evidence that you lack “compassion.” Never mind that the compassion-shouters of the world have done far more harm than good, whenever they’ve been allowed their way.
May God save us from such people and their arrogation of His authority.
But let’s get back to my correspondent’s inquiry. By implication, he lumped me in with the Christian Socialists. As I’m moderately wealthy by my own labor and pleased to be so, I found it amusing. A sincere Christian Socialist would be busily dissipating his savings – assuming he had any – in pursuit of that impossible goal of all socialists, “equality.” And while I have no such intention, I also don’t strive to increase my wealth still further.
The censoriousness of the compassion-shouter, who wants to decide your point of moderation for you, is “balanced” by the money-addict for whom no bank balance can ever be high enough. Neither respects the economic principle of diminishing marginal utility:
In economics, the marginal utility of a good or service is the gain from an increase, or loss from a decrease, in the consumption of that good or service. Economists sometimes speak of a law of diminishing marginal utility, meaning that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units, with a continuing reduction for greater amounts. The marginal decision rule states that a good or service should be consumed at a quantity at which the marginal utility is equal to the marginal cost.
Like most economic theses, the law of diminishing marginal utility cannot be proved. However, it is illustrated by nearly every course of action we undertake. It’s particularly plain in decisions about consumption. It applies with equal validity to individual decisions about virtually any desideratum known to Man.
Any desideratum pursued too far becomes destructive.
First, it blocks other desiderata, which is bad enough.
But worse still, it becomes poisonous in and of itself.
That that “certain point” is a matter the individual must determine for himself is one that’s lost upon the folks who strive to rescue the word greed from pejorative status. Yes, our desires propel our efforts. (I include our needs among our desires for simplifying purposes.) If we desire nothing, we do nothing; that’s the law of human action. But desire itself obeys the law of diminishing marginal utility. At some point, Smith’s pursuit of more Gorgonzola / single-malt scotch / negotiable bonds / commemorative plates and figurines from the Franklin Mint will make him no happier in the all-important personal sense, and might just obstruct his pursuit of other things he needs.
If Smith is functional – i.e., if he can manage his own affairs satisfactorily without a minder – he’ll know the point of moderation when or before he reaches it. It’s one of the more common tests of personal balance. Yet there are a lot of unhappy people who are unhappy because their pursuit of some item has passed that point without their recognizing it. Indeed, that might be the dominant cause of unhappiness in America today.
Advertising – the art of getting the audience to desire something enough to go out and buy it – is responsible for part of this. Happiness isn’t about acquisition per se; it’s about having what you want and not having what you don’t want. (Ask any man whose wife has exhausted their home’s closet space.) But there’s an additional dimension to be considered: the widespread promotion of goals that are inherently unachievable for all but a very few. Goals of wealth. Goals of beauty. Goals of strength or endurance. Some of these goals have nothing whatsoever to do with human happiness…unless it’s the happiness some perverse souls derive from dictating the behavior of others.
I’ll close with a tale from the great Raymond Smullyan, as closely as I can remember the essence of it:
Once upon a time there was a man who hated above all other things being envied. He felt the envy of his less-well-off neighbors for his prosperity, so he dissipated his savings, resigned from his profession, and took a bottom-tier job to keep him in necessities. Others envied him for the love of his wife and his sons, so he divorced and separated himself from his family. Still others envied him for the clothes he wore and how good he looked in them, so he wore nothing but a burlap sack. Finally, in a last despairing attempt to avert all envy, he gave up even his subsistence job and went about the land begging for his meals. At last, he said he said to himself, no one can envy me now.
Then he happened upon a friend from his earlier life, with whom he had been out of touch. The friend looked at his beaming smile and said, “My God, how radiantly happy you look! How I envy you!”
But do have a nice day.