Friday, September 23, 2011

House Rules

Back when I was the age of my kids, there weren't endless scads of screens to suck up every last moment of our lives.  You had to make do with appallingly low tech things like, say, decks of cards.   On the bus, on the way to school, we'd play War, or Poker.  It was pleasant, a simple distraction, a social pastime.

There was one card game, though, that I just wouldn't play.  I remember a group of boys getting all into it on the bus, and being pressed to join in.

The game was called "Bloody Knuckles," and the rules were basically this:

1)  Player 1 holds out their fist, knuckles up.
2)  Player 2 holds a pack of playing cards, tight and all together.
3)  Player 2 attempts to strike the knuckles of Player 1, as hard as possible, with the edge of the pack of playing cards.  Player 1 attempts to get his knuckles out of the way.
4)  They trade positions, and it repeats, until one or the other gives up.

I just couldn't see the point.

If I lose, I'm in pain.  If I win, I'm inflicting pain on another.  Neither eventuality is positive or desirable.  The game is...well...just...what's the word....stupid.  And as it's just a game, something that has no real hold over us, you don't need to play it.  So I wouldn't.

I explained my position to the kid asking me to play, at which point I was pronounced a wuss by one and all.  I simply shrugged.  They went on hitting each other.

I feel much the same way about global capitalism.

Economics is just a game, after all.  No no, you may say, but that's what economics means, after all, if you care about the root meaning of things.  Oiko-nomia, it comes from, in the Greek that we Presbyterians learn so you can doze off while we preach.  Oikos meaning "house," and nomos meaning "rules."   Yeah, that's house rules, just like in Vegas, baby.  It's not science.   It's not math.  It's not faith.

It's the game we choose to play to pass the time.  

For all of its dizzying complexity, global capitalism is a remarkably stupid game.  And it is a game, certainly as it manifests itself now, a whirling mass of derivatives and quantitative easings and reshufflings of the deck.  The level of anxiety and psychological pain we're inflicting on ourselves is entirely something we're creating.  It's not something that has any foundation in the real.

What is real is that the harvests in the United States of America have been solid for the last several years.  Thanks to climate change, they're not as great as they could be, but they're still bountiful.  In point of fact, there's enough food produced every year that no one need ever go hungry.

What is real is that there is adequate housing for everyone.  In fact, more than adequate, so much more than adequate that we're tearing down some of the excess.

What is real is that there are is enough clothing so that none need go cold, enough shoes that none need go barefoot unless they choose to do so.

And yet in the game we have created, we are fearful that we will not eat.  We are anxious that we will not have a home.  We watch the numbers on CNBC flutter back and forth wildly, a mad flock of trader pigeons spooked to exhaustion by the slightest movement, and we fret about our futures and our retirement and our children.

I look out at the bloodied knuckles of our collective psyche, and at the fear, and at the hunger in the world, and I think...what's the point of this game, again?