Saturday, March 16, 2013

Call Me Ishmael

Queequeg (played by former JPMorgan Chase & Co's Ina Drew) was in front of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations explaining how a harpooner could personally net $29 million in blubber alongside Starbuck (played by supervisor Achilles Macris) and his $32 million haul.  Meanwhile Fedallah (played by the celebrated Chief Investment Office London trader Bruno Iksil) - long bloated on the seabed having been entangled in ropes and drug down to the abyss by Moby Dick- was once again the object of great theatrical wrath served by a court of landlubbers who, themselves, have been incapable of a single rational fiscal decision in the past decade.  More harpoons.  More ropes.  And still more tragedy meted out by a system long unmoored from the safety of Nantucket.  One can only imagine what Herman Melville could do with this week's latest episode in the ongoing saga to tame the great white bull whale or the maniacally fixated Ahab.  But reader, take heart!  The Pequod (played by the inestimable JP Morgan Chase & Co.) though taking on water according to the stress test results in which the Fed concluded that there is "weakness in their capital planning process", is not yet sunk.  Still clinging to the rope around his neck and now fated to join Moby Dick in whatever fiendish designs the bull whale contrives, Ahab remains steadfast. 

Melville's 1851 MOBY-DICK or THE WHALE served as an amicus indictment on the hubris of both an industry and a human condition in which monocular and cruel task-masters could expend humanity for the pursuit of an iconic purpose.  Within a decade of its publication, the pretextual metaphor of 'white' and 'black' would animated a nation to draw over 3,000,000 men from their homes into the field of battle where over a third would pay with life and limb.  Within 50 years, mining and smelting would overtake whaling as the leading temple of Kali drinking the blood of thousands for the enrichment of the few.  And 150 years later, we'd replace industry with indenture and make trillions of dollars in bets against humanity's performance (in the form of credit default swaps) and further entangle humanity in the harpoon lines of previous greed-fueled quests.

The Senate's inquiry happens to be a hubris exceeding that of the Ahab they so revile.  While Jamie Dimon's "tempest in a teapot" dismissal of $6.2 billion in losses inflames vindictive public servants, these same judges fail to recall that just a few weeks ago, their failure to accept accountability invoked over ten times Jamie's teapot and their careless neglect still fails to consider the looming $3 trillion in debt and entitlement liabilities the country is not prepared to honor.  

"All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it."   Replace "Moby Dick" with any of our present too-big-to-fail or too-big-to-hold-accountable institutions and we realize that it's not JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon or the rest of the lot that we really revile.  It's our own incapacity to start with our own accountability and realize that we can only ever require of others a standard that we are willing to hold faithfully.  What we most revile is likely that which, in our own view, we're most unwilling to confront.  As the magnitude of our vindictive impulse grows, so too should the reflected consideration of our own loathing of the points in life where we've traded purpose-filled engagement for the expediency of self-interest.

Victimized by our own surrogacy, we can join Ahab in shrieking:  

"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee: from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."

Or, we could take another view.  We could realize that the gear of the great machine that is represented by JP Morgan Chase & Co. and the United States Senate is a machine built to serve a system dedicated to perpetual growth without consideration of sustainability.  As long as we celebrate any portion of that system or seek to consume its oily production for our own sloth (marketed as "convenience"), we have no place to critique.  It is not until we actually establish new paradigms for engagement and live within the means sustained thereby that we realize that vindication and blame serve no purpose.  In a realm of personal accountability and communities of responsible citizens, we can finally realize that there is no 'other'.  Just We The People.

Here's to krill and plankton.  Like the lilies of Solomon's field, they grow in elegant, frail complexity, neither toiling nor spinning, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these!  Consider and want not!

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave