Sunday, November 17, 2013
What's in it for me?
A side effect of the great "What's in it for Me" Philosophy that has infected our political and economic systems is a stunning myopia. Everybody can see what everything is worth right at this very second. And it's worth exactly the amount for which they can screw the next guy. Looking five minutes into the future is pointless. It all about what you can get right now. Accounting standards have been suspended for corporations and banks so that this quarter's earnings can always be made to look good, and this quarter's balance sheet can be made to look whole. Markets are all manipulated so that the wealthiest can screw the little guys.
Cassius was a Roman general who practiced such a world view, all the while espousing a philosophy of enlightened Epicureanism. He defended the murder of Caesar on philisophical anti-tyrrany grounds, all the while acting tyrannically in his own estates and with his own men.
When he led his army into new territory, he would take the lion's share of the spoils for himself. Other generals, like his co-conspirator Brutus, had the sense to share his spoils with his men. It meant less for himself in the short run. But his men fought harder for him. His army was more efficient. Which meant more for him in terms of both reputation and wealth in the long run.
It didn't matter, since Crassus' reluctant and demoralized forces suffered defeat at the hands of Marc Antony and that spelled ultimate failure for Brutus too, though he was in the process of whipping Octavian.
Octavian, an inferior general but a superior politician, then turned on his friend Marc Antony when the latter took up with Cleopatra in Egypt. Eventually Octavian became Rome's first emperor. He instituted a series of Moral Reforms meant to bring a veneer of Virtue to his Empire. Unfortunately his beloved daughter Julia couldn't live up to these reforms. His two sons had already died. She was all he had left. And he had to banish her in order to prove he was serious about morality. He died as the richest man in the world, yet childless and heartbroken.