A learned reader, in the Dynastic Wealth business, following the conversation with Matt Wesley about the meaning of Gifthub, and, for that matter, of Wealth Bondage, writes me to ask, if to understand WB would require a "soteriology of grace." I take the question in good spirit as a sincere desire to plumb the depths of my ouvre. I am reminded of a remark Swift once made, "that a hole may appear wondrous deep, when it is only wondrous dark." Probably, we are all going too deep. But I will try to answer the question.
To redeem Wealth Bondage and those within it would require a sotieriology of grace, yes, a miracle, an awakening. I had to look it up on Wikipedia, to know what soteriology is. I misread it as being derived from sortilege. Such is my relationship to grace, more like a man blowing on a prayer wheel, bought in an arcade, or casting cards to read a fortune. Wealth Bondage, as a wise reader once noted, is The Garden of Earthly Delights, or Edmund’s Spenser’s Garden where Circe keeps the sailors, including Ulysses, enchanted. When the magic is lifted, one sailor, Grylle says he wants to remain a pig. “Let Grylle be Grylle and have his hoggish mind” says the narrator. In other words, Wealth Bondage is life seen by moderns as a Free Market where all is for sale, and the most apt language is always financial (social investment, social return, four human capitals including wisdom, love, spirituality, whatever is a pearl beyond price). Wealth Bondage is vulgarity in all its forms. It is the alpha and the omega, the source and end of all being. There is no 'outside' of it, because it represents the limits of our moral imagination.
Paradise, as some Wealth Advisors call it, where the wealthy go, and try to stay, unless deported back to the harsh realities that govern lesser lives, seems to me to be a form of Wealth Bondage. (It is also a brilliant book, Strangers in Paradise, perhaps the best book in the field in many years, on how to maintain dynastic wealth over generations, a goal unworthy of its author, it seems to me, and one from which he may some day awaken, by the grace of God, or by falling on his head, if he trips, but a common goal in the field we call "Family Governance.") That vision of an isolated Paradise reminds me of Circe’s Garden. It also reminds me of the Floating Islands of Lagodo in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, or the blue light across the bay for which Gatsby yearns. Petronius’s Satyricon, apparently, was among the sources for Fitzgerald. “They said you was high class” sang Elvis, “But that was just a lie. You ain’t nothin’ but a hounddog.” In other words, if not grace, then laughter. When it works right, laughter is not laughter at another (a form of boundary maintenance, a way of casting others out), but inclusive, a recognition of a shared humanity, fallible, and physical, and temporal. (If Dr. Grubman's view of paradise for the rich, apart from the rest of humankind, is healed not by grace, may it be laughter, not at anyone, but among us all, in a great wave of civic friendship, binding us all, high and low, as we all exchange roles, handy dandy, Lord to Beggar and back.)
Drawing on Greek thought, Martha Nussbaum reminds us that Goodness is as Fragile as an earthly garden; it fails unless tended, and may fail even if tended. Beyond our reason or frail powers, is fate, destiny, providence, chance, and moral luck. I play up the Christian on Gifthub more than I have any right to do. But the Gospels are familiar, and Spenser, Nussbaum, Petronius, Shakespeare, Swift, Fitzgerald, not so much. I believe all things pass, and that dynasty, the dream of it, is at conspicuous variance with every wisdom tradition. It is like trying to stop Fortune’s wheel from turning, or to halt time at mid-summer. “Remember man that thou are dust and into dust thou shalt return.” “Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.” “All things are sliding under the moon.” “Nothing gold can stay.” The vanitas tradition. "Vanity, saith the Preacher, all is Vanity." The lesson of Carnival, or Vanity Fair. The lessons of Lent and Mardi Gras. The lesson as common as graves, and as hard to accept.
We are all brothers and sisters under the costumes. The king will become a pauper and the pauper a king as the wheel of fortune turns, as the seasons turn, as the generations pass, as we all like chimney sweepers come to dust, in Shakespeare’s lyric. What makes me better? What makes me so special? Who am I to point fingers? Who am I to give instruction? Whatever Wise Counselors to Flourishing Dynastic Families have done, I have done worse and for less money. I am a fool, a failure, a man who once had shirtsleeves and now has none. That is the persona here, or alternative identity, or me under my own name, pretending to be me. Grace may come, but “Phil,” the speaker on Gifthub, the Hack, has no ability to pray. The nearest priest, Father Brennan, has been defrocked, for reasons the Church has never made public, under the terms of the settlement. Brennan, now a secular priest, is no help whatsoever. He channels neither grace nor wisdom. He is a toxic healer, carrying the plague, or pox, from house to house, or scene room to screen room, in the darker satire of WB, where it draws on Genet’s scabrous “The Balcony,” where the Bishop is the Whore’s horsey, and the theme is the abuse of power, under the Nazi occupation in Paris, and its erotic delights, considered as a parable of the deranged body politic. Brennan has promise. I tell him if he enjoyed it more, sinned bigger and more boisterously, it could count as satire, and he might not go to jail, even if he is ultimately caught with his pants down, yet again.
You can see I find it painful to be so literal, so humorless. Brennan may be a sinner, but he deserves his privacy. Who am I to out him? And it is an insult to the Ideal Reader to whom my words are always addressed, as if the Ideal Reader required a cribsheet, like a schoolboy who has barely read the Text. As Dr. Amrit Chadwallah, Senior Adjunct in Charge of Hidden Meaning, here in Wealth Bondage, said to me in the bar last night, after work, “Did you really have to do that? Make up all that stuff about your sources? It is your whole intellectual history, plus a lot of books you never read, the ones I lent you and you never gave back, the ones Tutor reposes on in the Dumpster. Are these people really unable to read Gifthub without being told what it means? I thought you said they were the world class super-smarties. What were their Board Scores? Where did they prep? Their parents should ask for a refund. This blog is hardly AP English Material.”
Explaining a joke is not funny. Explaining the explanation, risks starting all over again with a new joke. Satire works best, I believe, when sublimated. Naming names, or coming too close to real people, as with Fr. Brennan a moment ago, or explaining all the allusions, symbolism, conceits, subplots, and subtext, and the inter-textuality of it all, strips from her the disguises in which naked truth most decorously appears, and brings it back to the ancient dance of the priest and the goat, with the priest wearing the flayed skin of the sacrificial goat that the priest will become, if the laugh goes against him. The only person I can heal is me, and I am sick unto death like all the others. If I feel I am any better, then I am the Pharisee who kneels to thank God that God has not made him like other men.
I have no paying clients. ( That may surprise some of you.) If I required steady patronage, as opposed to foraging in garbage bins and sleeping rough, I could not write like this. “The bow is bent, make from the shaft,” as Lear says to the Fool who crosses him by speaking truth, even in jests and pantomime, which is the Fool’s job. This upside down, inside out, style is only learned in brokenness and surrender, writing under surveillance, as one vulnerable to reprisal, by my immediate superior or the higher-ups.
My resume went for a time straight up, then straight down. All the way up to Gothic Quadrangles with high windows, and a Porter at the Gates, with a Master's Garden, where once I sat with with my own Morals Tutor, discussing Wittgenstein, and all the way down to teaching insurance sales in Birmingham, AL, in a yellow-tinted training room with no windows, and, it seemed, no way of escaping. I have had years, decades, without a voice, or an educated thought partner, other than the many figments of my addled imagination, like Dr. Chadwallah, The Happy Tutor, and Richard (Dick) Minim, of the East Coast Minims, the heir to the Hyena Dog Chow Fortune, and now Senator (D) from MA. I said Brennan is real, and he is. But that is not his real name. And he was not a priest, but some kind of veterinarian. He just pretended to be a priest to seduce women.
I appreciate readers trying to understand me, like the Doctors did at the Asylum for Lunatic Counselors to Dynastic Wealth, before the insurance lapsed, and I was turned back out on the street. I hope I have not hurt or offended any real advisors to serious wealth, particularly any wise and virtuous ones. They are rare and worth their weight in gold. (In fact, that is how they determine their annual retainer, at least in the Emirates, by sitting in one pan of a scale, like the scales of justice, while the client heaps gold in the other pan, or so I heard, maybe in my alcoholic dreams.) This is about wisdom traditions, not us. The traditions speak, when conjured, but the spirits who come are not always gracious. Mine I fear, or know, are from below.
I hope we are now good with my most educated, best placed, readers, with no offense taken. You are honorable people. Wealth Bondage, The Den of Iniquity, would never hire you. I checked your websites. You are on the up and up. I would like to be cordially included in the best circles, your circles, or tolerated on the margins, or if cast out with the trash, gently, so as not to awaken The Happy Tutor, who is sleeping it off with Dr. Rabelais in the Dumpster, after sneaking into the Costume Ball in Paradise Hall last night, having gone as Doctors, in hooded robes, resplendent Scholar’s garb, from the Dark Ages. Judging from their noonday stupor, I guess it must have been quite a party. I hope some day to be invited. Then I will see for myself. At this point I am just making it up, as you can probably tell.