Puritan Success

citybeyoPuritan Success

Lynn Parramore: Jamie Dimon’s Ultra-American Rise and Fall: The Great Gatsby Meets Moby Dick

Australians have an old joke about their country’s founding elements: Sure, we got the criminals, but America got the Puritans, which is much worse.

The folks who arrived on our shores from Europe four centuries ago brought with them some peculiar notions. The Puritans believed in the Calvinist “Doctrine of the Elect,” a depressing divine plan whereby God pre-selected those destined for heaven and damned everybody else to hell. You could never know who was on the A-list and who was in for a fiery eternity. At least that’s what old John Calvin had taught.

But mere mortals could never be content with so mysterious a system, so they became obsessed with finding out who was elect. Material possessions, they concluded, must be a sign. Didn’t people who worked hard and kept up their prayers often amass more stuff than others? Hard work was godly, and since it often resulted in riches, they must be godly, too. Wealthiness was next to godliness.

In an essay on The Great Gatsby, America’s great literary ode to our distinguishing love of wealth, John A. Pidgeon notes that the striving for money became a means of salvation. Take the Puritan reverence of riches, add in equal parts transcendentalism and rugged individualism, and you’ve got the American Dream in all its shining glory: If you work hard, if you believe fervently enough, you can make yourself a fortune. You, too, can join the ranks of the elect.

Lynn Parramore: Jamie Dimon’s Ultra-American Rise and Fall: The Great Gatsby Meets Moby Dick


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Bill Moyers Fights the Good Fight

Here is a selection of the words of Bill Moyers. The first is from Salon and is in print today, February 14th, Valentine’s day. The next three are closing remarks from episodes of Bill Moyers’ Journal. You might say that this is a valentine to Bill. May he live a hundred years and continue to inspire us every day of that time.

James Pilant

America’s billionaire-run democracy – 2012 Elections – Salon.com

We are drowning here, with gaping holes torn into the hull of the ship of state from charges detonated by the owners and manipulators of capital. Their wealth has become a demonic force in politics. Nothing can stop them. Not the law, which has been written to accommodate them. Not scrutiny — they have no shame. Not a decent respect for the welfare of others — the people without means, their safety net shredded, left helpless before events beyond their control.

The obstacles facing the millennial generation didn’t just happen. Take an economy skewed to the top, low wages and missing jobs, predatory interest rates on college loans: these are politically engineered consequences of government of, by and for the 1 percent. So, too, is our tax code the product of money and politics, influence and favoritism, lobbyists and the laws they draft for rented politicians to enact.

America’s billionaire-run democracy – 2012 Elections – Salon.com

Plutocracy and Democracy Do Not Mix

Bill Moyers on Greed

Bill Moyers on the American Dream

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Practicing Medicine Can Be Grimm Work (via New York Times)

Valerie Gribben writing a guest editorial in the New York Times discussed life as a doctor in relationship to stories.

Here’s a paragraph

Fairy tales are, at their core, heightened portrayals of human nature, revealing, as the glare of injury and illness does, the underbelly of mankind. Both fairy tales and medical charts chronicle the bizarre, the unfair, the tragic. And the terrifying things that go bump in the night are what doctors treat at 3 a.m. in emergency rooms.

I believe in stories. I teach my students that humans think in two ways, through reason and by stories. Often, the stories win out over facts and reason. There’s a good reason for that. Stories are the older of the two methods. We humans have only been trying in any large numbers to use reason and logic since the Enlightenment in the 18th century. The Iliad was being repeated over and over again around campfires for hundreds of years before Christ. And for many thousands of years before that, the storyteller had been working his craft.

In many ways we live by stories. We live several narratives at the same time. In the United States, we have running at the same time, the “city on a hill” narrative along with the “American Dream” story. (Maybe that’s why we foolishly equate success with goodness?) We have our personal story running in synch, opposition to and in tandem with, everybody elses’ dreams.

But Ms. Gribben points to Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I have read a good number. Generally speaking when we think we are familiar with one (Cinderella), our knowledge is based on a Hollywood sanitized version.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales are stories from a world of sadness and terror, fear and danger. They were used to warn and teach about a dangerous world where even the smallest most innocent child was in danger.

I worked with juvenile delinquents for some years. I believe that the sadness in those stories was often mirrored in my clients. And certainly our author here, has found a world of application for these stories.

So, please read her guest column and enjoy.

James Pilant