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As a dog returns to its vomit,
so fools repeat their folly.
— Proverbs 26, 11
One of the themes I ruminated often during the last few weeks is the matter of meaning. I am always returning to a little book titled Signs of Meaning in the Universe, written by Prof. Jesper Hoffmeyer, published by Indiana University Press. From the intriguing ideas presented by Prof. Hoffmeyer I gather that biological creatures, even simple single-cell organisms are engaged in a constant sensing of their surroundings. Let’s imagine some amoeba that specializes in eating acid stuff, anything acid —I do not know if such amoebas exist, this is just an imaginary microbe. Our amoeba must continue munching acid stuff to survive. It needs to move around and sense the acidity of the eatable stuff around, constantly seeking more to eat. That sensing is reduced to a simple chemical interaction: acid? eat; not acid? don’t eat and move on. In that process, our amoeba has to make a judgement of value. The more acidity, the more value. Its tiny life, however inconsequential it may seem to others, shares with us that trait. We are born pursuing not one single thing, our program is more complex, but we are moving forward from point A to point B, seeking something and making judgments of value. We need, we want, we value. Normally, the more we satisfy our thirst for value, the better we feel. If a person sees no value around worth pursuing, that person may conclude that life is not worth living. There is no life without value, not even at the simplest organic level. Why?
We are thrown into this complicated world with barely enough tools to survive. Soon we learn that life has two components: pleasure and displeasure. As we live and learn we know that life involves suffering. The Aleph, the plow is in constant motion forward towards the end of the line, the Tav (the Cross) and as we near the end, suffering increases. The object of religion is to show us that there is value in suffering. In our religion we know, since Saint John the Divine, that the agent of life, the Logos, the Person-Force that created, and gives impulse to everything in the Universe, showed us the way by becoming one of us and pursuing the Cross Himself. Someone told me once that if one sees a Swiss banker jumping off a tenth floor window, one should jump also, sure to make money in the process. Well, if you see the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe seek the Cross; not anyone but the very Logos … then seek the Cross.
Then there is that mysterious phrase of St Paul in Romans 8:20 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope.” There is a universal hope for value but that value transcends this futile world we live in. And yet, we have to live in it while we breathe. When I was a kid, a man called Tennessee Ernie Ford was often heard singing this on the radio…
Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man’s made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong
From Momma’s arms to Heaven’s Pearly Gates, a man’s gotta work. The only way out is in that pine box. Life is tragic but we must live it. Because we are not amoebas we can ask ourselves “why?” and inside that simple question there is a ton of meaning. By asking “why?” we admit (unwittingly for the most of us) that our life is transcendent, there is a reason for our suffering and we must figure it out. That question is hiding the ultimate value, that piece of information that will shine some light on our darkness: “why is life happening to me.” In Die Götzen-Dämmerung Nietzsche manages to be almost funny in a Germanic sort of way:
“If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does.”
If we are working in answering that “why” we have a purpose in life. The Baltimore Catechism has the answer:
“God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.”
See? That is a transcendent answer to our biggest “why”. The rest is jut details.
Only a few seconds before telling his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem expecting to be crucified, Jesus said these enigmatic words in Luke 18: 29-30 …
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times more in this age — and in the age to come, eternal life.”
What Jesus seems to say here is that aligning one’s pursuits to the path of the Logos, has its own rewards here in this life. Of course! We need to have a sense of moving towards the right transcendental objective! That sense is provided by the Holy Spirit if I got my John 16:13 lesson well.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
And what is the truth but the Logos itself. There is a concept! If one lives truthfully, one will get help to follow the true path, and will find Truth itself which is … Jesus!
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
All of this complicated introduction to reveal the reason why I am writing this post. Tomorrow there is a country-wide general strike to protest government policies here in Buenos Aires and most of Argentina. Nothing will move. Most people, most workers disagree with the strike. They will lose wages, they will have to work double the next day to make up for the time lost while getting no extra pay … etc. But a few creeps will show the government that they have the power to stop the country for a day. Big deal! Ever since I have use of reason there have been general strikes here. They always come from the same side, the side that never solved anything but has a good part of the population convinced that there were three really good years for the working class between 1946 and 1949. Every heresy has its false history and a Bible with a few pages cut off. Nothing new here.
And you may ask yourself: “what in the world has this general strike in an insignificant Latin American country with Logos, seeking truth, and acid-eating amoebas?” Bear with me. It all has to do with the pursuit of objectives of value. Some countries do it right and others definitely don’t.
Anarchy, prosperity, and a century of foolishness
Between 1810 and 1850, Argentina went through various degrees of anarchy. The Kings of Spain had Buenos Aires as the capital of a vast territory that extended from the northern Bolivian jungles to the northern edge of the Patagonia and that included both sides of the Rio de la Plata including territories that are now part of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, etc. In 1810 a revolution took advantage of the fact that Napoleon had the Spanish King arrested, eventually a Declaration of Independence took place in 1816. That was followed by roughly four decades of anarchy. Provincial fiefdoms printed their own money, had their own armies, and fought each other endlessly while the peripheries of the old territory were turning into independent countries. It was a royal waste of time and treasure. By 1853 a number of locals with some common sense got together. With the help of foreign money and some soldiers from nearby countries (mostly Brazil but don’t say that out loud, some nationalists are not willing to admit it yet) they took over Buenos Aires, gradually forming a smaller country with what was left of the old Spanish Virreinato. They passed a Second Constitution in 1853, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Perfect they were not but they had a sense of purpose. They wanted to make a country and they looked to the United States for a model. They were old style Liberals, the laissez faire kind. As a result, by 1877 Argentines enjoyed the top income per capita in the whole world. The country had a name, laws, and a more or less stable political order.
Soon enough poor Europeans and Middle Eastern people were pouring out of steamboats seeking to change their fortunes working in a country that knew nothing but economic expansion after economic expansion for nearly five decades. Among the immigrants were all of my ancestors. Some of them came running from cholera, famine, and war in northern Italy, the others came from a tiny hamlet in County Cork, Ireland and had managed to survive the famines of the 1840’s.
That first wave of immigration gave the country a new sense of direction. It was easy to build a house, to raise a family, to make money. Of course there was a direction because there was a hierarchy. The oligarchs of the time were the landowners who exported tons of salted beef and grain to a Europe devastated by constant wars. It is hard to believe it now but back then, Argentines did not even think of class struggles. Everyone was too busy making money.
Meanwhile the boats with more and more Europeans kept coming but something was changing. By 1910 the country had absorbed several waves of immigrants of a different kind. Unhappy communists, anarchists, carbonari, socialists, followers of esoteric secret societies, and others were coming not to work and prosper but to cause trouble. Agitators had Buenos Aires in turmoil and by 1909, and a man called Simon Radowitzky bombed the car of the chief of police killing him and several others. That was the pivotal moment when violence returned.
Gradually the country began developing a leftist mentality that still survives. We lost our sense of direction and in due time, we even lost our common sense. The first Socialist-minded president was elected in 1916 and the long debacle began.
One hundred years later, Argentina has fallen—after spending 50 years among the top economies in the world—to be a financial pariah who has knocked 29 times at the IMF doors seeking relief. Basically every government has repeated the same economic formula since 1916. Although these are painfully evident truths, even when numbers don’t lie, and reality hit us in the face all day … there will be a ton of nasty comments in my mailbox when some read this post. Argentines refuse to stop doing the same stupid stuff what they have been doing for 100 years and they hope that one day it will work.
This is cautionary tale for people in the developed countries because incompetent leaders happen and they can really sink a successful enterprise. Here we need competent leaders. I will expand on that tomorrow. Now … if I only could find the phone for that amoeba … will it know any economics?