UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper LXXXI: May 4, 2009, 7:00 p.m.
Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth
(Toronto:Anansi, 2008).Ancient Balances.
This book is about“debt as a human construct—thus animaginative construct—and how thisconstruct mirrors and magnifies bothvoracious human desire and ferocioushuman fear” (2; 1-2). Early experienceswith money (2-6). Ads promising to freepeople from debt (6-7). Credit cards (8). The financial crisis (8-10). Some “ancientinner foundations” underlie the existenceof debt: 1) our need to eat regularly; 2)our sense of fairness (10-15). As RobertWright argues in
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are
(1995), relatedto Robert Axelrod’s work on reciprocity asa strategy, this sense of fairness isrooted in biology as well as culture (15-21). Charles Kingsley’s
(1863) personified two forms of reciprocity in Mrs.Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs.Bedonebyasyoudid (21-23). Theconstellation Libra also symbolizesreciprocity as a form of justice (23-24). The Egyptian goddess Ma’at (25-30). The Greek goddess Nemesis (30). TheRoman goddess Iustitia (31-32). Theafterlife, Greek, Christian, and Muslim(32-34). That justice is usuallypersonified as feminine may be related to“the fact that among the chimpanzeesit’s often the older matriarchs who arethe king-makers” (35). Aeschylus’s
symbolizes the advent of ahigher standard of fairness (36-40).
Debt and Sin.
“We seem to be enteringa period in which debt has passedthrough its most recent harmless andfashionable period, and is reverting tobeing sinful” (41; 41-43). The Lord’sPrayer: debts vs. trespasses: Wycliffe
(1526),Book of Common Prayer
(1549), King James
(1611) (43-45).“But it’s interesting to note that inAramaic, the Semitic language that wasspoken by Jesus, the word for ‘debt’ andthe word for ‘sin’ are the same” 45).Sermons against debt are common onthe Web (45-48). The Bible calls for debtrelief every seven years (48-49). If Jane Jacobs (
Systems of Survival
, 1994) isright that we acquire only through takingor trading, debt exists in the“shadowland” in between (49-51).Pledging: it, too, is hedged about withrestrictions in the Bible (51). Pawnshops(51-56). Pawning people: debt slavery(allusion to Zola’s
) (56-59). The practice of sin eating (giving food toa poor person, who pawns his soul inreturn) and substitution sacrifice (59-67).Christianity as a variation on this theme(67-70). James Hogg’s
The PrivateMemoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
(1824) (70-72). Patrick Tierney,
The Highest Altar: The Story of HumanSacrifice
(72-73). The Infernal Book thatis part of such pacts with the devilderives from the institution of debt,which is also at the origin of writing, andwhich took on a malign cast as a result(74-79). “Neither a borrower nor a lenderbe” (79-80).
Debt as Plot.
“[A]ny debt involves aplot line” (81). Metaphors for debt (81-82). Eric Berne,
Games People Play
(1964), names “Debtor” as one of five“life games” (82-86). Ebenezer Scroogein Dickens’s
A Christmas Carol
withasides on Marlowe and Washington Irving(86-99). Money is central to the 19
-century novel (100). Thackeray’s
(1848) (101-05). Flaubert’s
(1857) (105-06). Edith Wharton’s
House of Mirth
(106). Thomas Hardy’s“The Ruined Maid” (107-08). An aside onmills (108-14). George Eliot’s
The Mill onthe Floss
(108, 114-19). Parlor game:“Forfeits” (120-21).