Dickens warned us; we didn't listen

Dickens warned us; we didn't listen

Many big-box stores are now officially opening the Christmas shopping season on the evening of Thanksgiving Day. It is expected that exuberant shoppers, fueled by their enormous holiday feast and armed with their Tasers and pepper sprays, will descend upon stores in the mad pursuit of "those petty and paltry possessions with which they glut their lives" (to reference Alexis de Tocqueville). And all in honor of the Christ child.

But it is clear that the gifts have crowded out the child rather completely. And this is precisely what Charles Dickens warned us about in "A Christmas Carol." Behind the saga of Tiny Tim, Dickens offered a powerful denunciation of the growing, pervasive evils of capitalism, utilitarianism, of "business efficiency," of self-seeking behavior in the market place, in the counting house, and in public and private life. Dickens' "Carol" is an explicit rejection of the notion that self-seeking in business affairs, and only self-seeking, is what makes society and the economy run, and that "benevolence" has nothing to do with it. So much for compassion.

The clearest denunciation of the political economists' dismal model of ruthless business efficiency and utilitarianism occurs when Scrooge, in his terror before the ghost of Jacob Marley, attempts to placate Marley by recalling that, "You were always a good man of business Jacob." To which he receives a thundering rebuke:

"Business!," cried the ghost, wringing his hands. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Dickens wrote at a time when the socially malignant and humanly degrading consequences of free-market economic behavior were already blatant and undeniable. Today, after about 200 years of aggressive capitalist economic growth, of almost unbelievable technological advances, and with endless "economic growth" as humanity's mantra and Holy Grail, we, all of humanity, confront worldwide ecological destruction and global social collapse (think "Anthropogenic Global Climate Catastrophe").

Unless we can transcend our global rape and pillage, the economic basis of our existence, and build a system that respects ecological limits while sharing justly among all peoples the social product and fruits of our labor, humanity will be visited by nature's Jacob Marley, who will show us the mercy we deserve: none!

Gerald Cavanaugh