Daggers of the mind

Steven Pearlstein makes a good use of Shakespeare to figure out what is going on with the economy. From Macbeth and the Market:

Is this a dagger we see before us, hanging over the global financial system, or a dagger of the mind, a false creation proceeding from the heat-oppressed brains of frightened investors and depositors, greedy short-sellers, short-sighted auditors, and attention-seeking analysts and journalists?

Okay, so I’m no Shakespeare — I never could get iambic pentameter. What I do know, however, is that Macbeth’s famous question is relevant to the unfolding financial crisis. Are the markets reflecting the reality of economic fundamentals, or are we getting lots of false signals reflecting irrational herd behavior?

Whether the daggers we see before us are just daggers of the mind or portents of something real–or, in Macbeth’s case, both–is a question that applies beyond economics to a lot of the fears we have. This is a good example of how a literary image can help us think by giving us categories to think with.

UPDATE: In thinking about Shakespeare’s play, I realized that Mr. Pearlstein misses the point of the imagery. The dagger was not hanging over Macbeth, with him having to decide whether it was real or not before it fell on him. The dagger leads him into the chamber where he kills the king. Macbeth’s dagger is a symbol of TEMPTATION. The application to the economy would be that our fears and projections could lead us to terrible remedies, such as nationalizing industries, regulating the economy, abandoning the free market, etc.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    The unfortunate thing is that economics is often “herd-made”, and thus prophesies and predictions are more often than not self-fulfilling.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    The unfortunate thing is that economics is often “herd-made”, and thus prophesies and predictions are more often than not self-fulfilling.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    My husband used to say, in his simple and consistent wisdom, ‘What you look for you will find.’
    I think people have found the economy they’ve sought, that will let them off the hook for any failure.
    The torch *has* been passed, but to a generation of cowards.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    My husband used to say, in his simple and consistent wisdom, ‘What you look for you will find.’
    I think people have found the economy they’ve sought, that will let them off the hook for any failure.
    The torch *has* been passed, but to a generation of cowards.

  • http://poststop.wordpress.com Ethan

    The daggers are real. Fractional reserve banking…dagger…central banking…dagger…stock market…dagger…401K’s…dagger…medicare, medicaid, govt. pension failures, social security…daggers…7 trillion and growing debt…dagger…right and left wing socialism…dagger…America as Empire…dagger.

    Daggers everywhere! Or maybe it is all just my imagination, nothing to see here folks, back to work.

  • http://poststop.wordpress.com Ethan

    The daggers are real. Fractional reserve banking…dagger…central banking…dagger…stock market…dagger…401K’s…dagger…medicare, medicaid, govt. pension failures, social security…daggers…7 trillion and growing debt…dagger…right and left wing socialism…dagger…America as Empire…dagger.

    Daggers everywhere! Or maybe it is all just my imagination, nothing to see here folks, back to work.

  • http://chaz-lehmann@yahoo.com Pr. Lehmann

    One of my favorite quotations in Shakespeare is from King Lear:

    “As flys to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

    But I always remember it as “We are but playthings of the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

    I’ve met several other lovers of the bard who remember it as we do. I’ve read scholarship that in its discussion of (but never its quoting of the line) uses the word plaything.

    Do you have any idea why I and a few others remember the line this way?

    Help us, Shakespeare scholar, you’re our only hope!

  • http://chaz-lehmann@yahoo.com Pr. Lehmann

    One of my favorite quotations in Shakespeare is from King Lear:

    “As flys to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

    But I always remember it as “We are but playthings of the gods; they kill us for their sport.”

    I’ve met several other lovers of the bard who remember it as we do. I’ve read scholarship that in its discussion of (but never its quoting of the line) uses the word plaything.

    Do you have any idea why I and a few others remember the line this way?

    Help us, Shakespeare scholar, you’re our only hope!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’ve never heard of “playthings.” It completely takes out the vivid imagery of vicious little kids torturing flies. “Playthings” may be an interpretation of the line, but it could not be Shakespeare. Have you seen it in print?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    I’ve never heard of “playthings.” It completely takes out the vivid imagery of vicious little kids torturing flies. “Playthings” may be an interpretation of the line, but it could not be Shakespeare. Have you seen it in print?

  • http://chaz-lehmann@yahoo.com Pr. Lehmann

    No, and that’s what fascinates me. I’m with you. I like the Bard’s version better. I’m terribly *annoyed* with myself that I have a hard time remembering anything but my redaction of it.

    It surprised me when I met others who remembered it the some way. I asked them if they remembered the line of Shakespeare about the gods killing us for their sport and they quoted it as I remember it.

    I wonder if it was altered in a popular videorecorded performance.

  • http://chaz-lehmann@yahoo.com Pr. Lehmann

    No, and that’s what fascinates me. I’m with you. I like the Bard’s version better. I’m terribly *annoyed* with myself that I have a hard time remembering anything but my redaction of it.

    It surprised me when I met others who remembered it the some way. I asked them if they remembered the line of Shakespeare about the gods killing us for their sport and they quoted it as I remember it.

    I wonder if it was altered in a popular videorecorded performance.


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