October 11, 2014
There’s an old joke (I remember it as part of Jack Benny’s comedy routine back in the 1950s) about the wealthy penny pincher who was confronted by an armed robber saying, “Your money or your life?”
The penny pincher thinks for a minute and the robber finally says, “Well?”
To which the penny pincher replies, with some anguish, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”
The joke was hilarious back then, because most ordinary people would have said, “Here,” handed over what little they had in their wallets and considered themselves lucky to escape with their lives.
In today’s intricately intertwined globalized economy, where everything seems to depend on everything else – not unlike a game of pick-up-sticks on steroids – the joke is not so funny. Especially if you see it as a metaphor for what’s going on in the large Western economies and the Empire; especially if you look at the globalized nature of the bullets in the robber’s gun. Global warming and climate change, ecosystem destruction, financial instability, waning resources, failing infrastructures and, now, the possibility of a global pandemic with a very ugly disease.
More and more, the West’s response to the robber seems to come down to preserving their wealth or preserving all our lives.
And the more the robber wave the gun in their faces and say, “Well?”, the more the government, the elite and those still completely dependent on the system seem to yell in frustration, “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”
At this point, I’m not sure they can do otherwise. The pursuit of constant growth has become so pathological, the myth of constant progress so firmly entrenched and the game of pick-up-sticks we’re all stuck in down to no good choices left, any one of the sticks that remain is able to bring down the whole pile.
At this point, the joke seems to be on all of us and we are each stuck with having to answer that metaphorical question for ourselves, fast. Do we wait around for them while they’re “thinking”? Or do we hand over the money and pray the bullets won’t kill us.
What’s it going to be? Our money or our lives?