Thursday, May 7, 2009

O Fortuna


In my world today, the global economy is on life support and we are under a flu attack from the swine. I’m not apathetic; I’m just ignorant. I want to help people have jobs and money, and I want to subdue the swine, but I don’t know how. Economists say that spending more will stimulate the economy. But I don’t trust economists. Didn’t over-spending cause this recession? From what I can see, economists get in their offices, sit down at their desks, open their drawers and pull out their Ouija boards. Perhaps if Avian Flu is the order of the day, they’ll sprinkle some chicken blood, but if not, I’m sure some other voodoo will do.

My distrust for them is perhaps the only tangible product of their sooth saying. What other professionals with equally rigorous education consistently produce such catastrophic results? When was the last time all the patients of the nation’s hospitals spontaneously combusted because the doctors had been pumping kerosene instead of blood through their veins? But I guess they're just human.

O Fortuna,
Velut luna
Statu veriabilis!

So begins the opening lament of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana—that fortune, like the moon, is in a state of constant change. It’s true. I believe it. I’ve never known anyone whose life was all tiramisu and no SPAM, or vice versa. I concede that that principle must also inevitably apply to economists. Certainly they benefit us at times. Like the old cliché goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But a problem with the anonymous monk who penned Orff’s lyrics and with almost everyone is that we focus too much not only on the downward swing, but on Lady Fortuna and her wheel in general. This idea of shifting fortune is essentially a law of nature. Do we also need cantatas for all the laws of thermodynamics? Yes, the economy is bad, but it will get better. Why? Because that’s what economies do.

Much more important than noting the obvious turns of fortune’s wheel is to maintain our balance and dignity throughout all phases of its cycle. A critical thought to cherish while at the bottom of the wheel, for instance, is that we’re human. I like humans, and I’ve found that very few species outside of our own will tolerate me. The Norse said correctly that “man is the joy of man.” We are a race of divine fetuses rolling on our big blue orb. Granted, some will grow to be as irresponsible and promiscuous as Zeus, or as destructive as Shiva, but we also have the potential of Loki’s wit and even Jesus’ grace.

Likewise, while riding the crest of prosperity’s wave we need also remember that we are humans. Unfortunately, we have a terrible capacity for greed and poor form. Others will find us easy to forgive if, in the depths of deprivation, we forget to mind or manners. They will not be so forgiving, if, however, with belching sensuality, we flaunt our advantages in the faces of the poor, and with outrageous self-indulgence, rob our children of economic stability.

So. Stay balanced. Stay temperate. And remember, “What a piece of work is man!”

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