In this time of human drama called the financial crisis, the coming tragedy is sad to contemplate. But in even the worst situations there are also elements of comedy, even fun. Let me explain. We know all the bastards are evil and greedy, but how evil are they: geniuses or idiots? Now that they have milked the cow (the productive economy and tax payers) dry are they consciously carving it into steaks or trying to fill it back full of milk? Do they understand that all of the bailouts and bullsh** are meaningless or make the situation much worse; is this all part of a grand plan to bring continuing power under a new more fascist system? In other words, are we witnessing a sin of commission by evil geniuses or a sin of stupidity by a group of idiots? To most of us in our daily lives the answer makes little difference, but there is a great difference in the level of sin involved. For me there is an element of fun contemplating which circle of hell, la Dante, the politicians, the sycophantic press, and the plutocrats who rule us will end up. Of course this is somewhat of an arcane pastime; a bit like doing statistical research on batting averages (disclosure, I am a former member of SABR). Also for a fleeting moment I wonder if it is wrong for me to think so blithely of such a serious aspect of the human condition. However, as I am part of the cow, I think it is a small sin and some well-earned enjoyment in my little escape into schadenfruede.
For anyone who has not studied Dante’s Divine Comedy I give a very simplified list of the concentric structure, the rings of Hell, that he describes by listing each circle’s sin. The center, the 9th circle, is for the worst of the worst, e.g., Judas Iscariot.
- conscious fraud and treachery,
Let us consider some of the major actors in our farce (a hint regarding my feelings).
President George W. Bush. Regarding the economy, of course he is an idiot, a useful tool of the evil geniuses. But then again, he has enjoyed inflicting mass murder and destruction on other countries as well as the snuffing out of the last flickering light of constitutional government in the US. Certainly circle 7, 8, or 9 for him.
The pundit William Kristol. He is not a genius but he plays one on TV. He has much malevolent influence in high places. He can be given a share of the blame for virtually all of the bad things that the Bush administration has done. Perhaps he deserves to be somewhere in circle 8.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. The bald head and beard add to the appearance of gravitas, but as a highly successful academic economist, he must be an idiot. His helicopter speech alone puts him in my Pantheon of Idiots. Whenever he opens up his mouth there is fraud. Go to circle 8 and do not pass GO.
Big time investor Bill Gross, of PIMCO. I saw this guy shamelessly calling for the bailout knowing a good fraction of the ill-gotten gains would be going directly to him to cover his stupid bets. Seems like conscious fraud to me; circle 8.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Here is someone that we know understands the damage he has done because he wrote about it decades ago. He is the archetypical Faustian character who has traded his soul for the power, the girl, and the money. He is certainly the evil genius who is a traitor to all of the human species. Yet, for years now he has personified another, the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He is the lovable old guy who is blind literally and figuratively to all the damage he does. I can’t hate Magoo; in fact I always felt like saying to the latest Greenspan blunder, "Magoo you’ve done it again!”
OK, I admit I am not very inventive with my placements in Hell. In fact, Dante was an insightful old bird. He made a special place in hell, a pit called Blogia 10 in the 8th circle near the center. Dorothy L. Sayers, who made a translation of The Divine Comedy, remarked that Malebolge (the 8th circle of Hell) “began with the sale of the sexual relationship, and went on to the sale of Church and State; now, the very money is itself corrupted, every affirmation has become perjury, and every identity a lie; no medium of exchange remains.” I am in total accord with Dante, the whole kit and kaboodle are idiots who belong in circle 8, bolgia 10.
So there you have it, enjoy yourself, put your favorite politician or pundit in their circle of hell. You can play the same game for the Global War on Terror and any other government program too.
Ira Katz [send him mail] lives in Paris and works as a research engineer for a French company. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.