Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Readings: Gittin' Zippy Wid It

Over on Zippy Catholic, Zippy has an interesting discussion going on under a post entitled “Material Prosperity Is Immoral.” In the penultimate paragraph of his post, Zippy writes: “The bottom line is that poverty is a sign (though not a dispositive sign) of virtue, and wealth is a sign (though not a dispositive sign) of vice: not merely in the case of individuals but in the case of economic systems. If we are not self consciously making choices that we know are reducing our material prosperity from what it could be, we are doing evil.” I will readily admit that the reasoning which gets him to that point is soaring way over my head. However, when Zippy says, in response to one of his commenters, “…greed is immoral” he strikes a responsive chord in me.

Just now, as I continued my reading in Simone Weil’s essay “God in Plato” I was provided with words that are descriptive of the problem that I have with the pursuit of “material prosperity” (whatever that is). Weil’s context here is an exposition on the grace of the beauty of the natural world as a source of spiritual energy:

“Various objects can be sources of energy, but of energy on different levels. For example, in war a decoration is really a source of energy (in the literal, physical sense of the word) on the level of military courage; it stimulates movements for which otherwise one would lack the strength. Similarly money, for work.”

I don’t know if I can buy her idea that medals provide soldiers with physical energy; but I certainly agree that money is an effective motivator of work. She continues:

“In a general way, whatever there is a desire for is a source of energy, and the energy is on the same level as the desire. Beauty as such is a source of energy on the level of spiritual life, and the reason is that the contemplation of beauty implies detachment.”

I’m going to give her this, if only because I whole-heartedly agree with the conclusion to which this statement leads her:

“The energy supplied by other objects of desire can only be transmuted into spiritually usable energy through an act of detachment or refusal—declining the decoration or giving away the money.”

In other words, the pursuit of objects of desire (other than beauty), including material prosperity (however one defines it) might be seen as “immoral” in that it tends to exhaust the energy that might otherwise be available for the pursuit of spiritual advancement. One has, in effect, chosen against the Good. I think that this can also be seen as applicable to transcendent entities, such as nations. I have no idea if this is compatible with what Zippy is getting at, but his is how I see it.