The Liberation of Ebenezer Scrooge (and possible liberation of Jamie Dimon)

The Consumerist brings us the latest in a wave of recent stories about a mystery benefactor bringing holiday cheer to strangers in need.

Call it holiday cheer or call it the best bandwagon we’ve ever seen, but yet another kind-hearted consumer has plunked down cash to make the season a bit brighter for his fellow humans. A man in Laguna Beach, Calif., shelled out almost $16,000 of his own money to pay for layaway items of 1,000 Kmart shoppers.

[The donor] called up the store last week and asked if they would kindly tally up the items on lawayay that cost less than $100, reports L.A.’s local CBS news. He proceeded to send a check to the store for $15,916.61 to pay for all of the gifts on that layaway list.

The store manager had the fun job of calling up customers over the course of four days and revealing that their item was on layaway no more, thanks to the generosity of a stranger.

Even more strangers joined in the giving, donating an additional $8,000 to the Kmart to pay for more layway items.

This rash of generosity really is wonderful to see. An anonymous woman in Iowa City paid overdue water bills for 17 families. A mystery donor gave a cancer patient $10,000 to continue her treatments. And anonymous benefactors have been paying off layaway accounts at discount stores from coast to coast. This has been happening so much lately that the trend has even gotten a name: “layaway angels” or “layaway Santas.” (I like what Shane Claiborne calls it — “holy mischief.”)

This is a beautiful thing.

But then you don’t need me to tell you that this is a beautiful thing. You don’t need anyone to persuade you to admire these generous acts, or to explain to you why they are admirable, delightful and good. We all agree on that.*

We love these stories. They remind us of another story we love, a story we tell and retell year after year: the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.

At the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the archetypal Dickens villain: a grasping, greedy rich man and a cruel, miserly employer. By the end of the story, Scrooge has become the archetypal Dickens hero: a joyful, generous rich man and a kindly, benevolent employer. A great many of Dickens’ stories begin the way this one does, with the heartless rich man spreading all sorts of misery. And a great many of his stories end the way this one does, with the good-hearted rich man swooping in as a deus ex machina to make everything right again. The magical thing about A Christmas Carol is that in this story, they’re the same person.

Old Ebenezer’s contagious, uncontrollable joy at his own transformation — his redemption and liberation — wins us over year after year.

What does it say about us that we love stories like this? They all have one thing in common. The hero of all these layaway-angel, secret-Santa, holy-mischief and Christmas-Carol stories is a good-hearted rich person.

We like good-hearted rich people. We like them very much.

So when Jamie Dimon, “the highest-paid chief executive officer among the heads of the six biggest U.S. banks,” babbles about our supposed hatred of the super-wealthy, he’s clearly misreading and misunderstanding the public. Bloomberg’s Max Abelson reports on Dimon and other super-rich men like him fighting back against this perceived hatred:

“Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” the JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. “Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.”

Dimon, 55, whose 2010 compensation was $23 million, joined billionaires including hedge-fund manager John Paulson and Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernard Marcus in using speeches, open letters and television appearances to defend themselves and the richest 1 percent of the population.

Poor confused, self-pitying Jamie Dimon is only looking at one end of the story — probably because that’s the only part of the story he’s familiar with.

It’s certainly true that we don’t like Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol, but that dislike has nothing to do with the fact that he’s rich or that he’s “been successful.” We hate the Scrooge we meet at the beginning of the story not because he’s rich, but because he’s a cruel, selfish, greedy miser enriching himself from the toil of the employees he mistreats.

And you know who else really hates Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story? Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s one of the most miserable, joyless, wretchedly unhappy figures in all of literature.

Scrooge tries to comfort himself by telling himself that he’s just a cool-headed rationalist who sees the logic of greed. He tries to make himself feel better about his abuse of poor Cratchit by thinking of himself as a “job creator.” It doesn’t work. It can’t work. He’s miserly and, therefore, miserable.

That’s why I call this a story about the liberation of Ebenezer Scrooge. He is the one constant victim of his own heartless greed. But in the end he is set free.**

Can someone like Jamie Dimon also be set free from his selfishness and self-pity?

Joshua Brown thinks so. As the title of his blog — “Reformed Broker” — suggests, Brown knows firsthand about the liberation that Ebenezer Scrooge experienced, and he hopes that Jamie Dimon might learn about it too. So in response to Dimon’s comments in Abelson’s article, Brown has written a letter:

I am writing to profess my utter disbelief at how little you seem to understand the current mood of the nation. In a story at Bloomberg today, you and a handful of fellow banker and billionaire “job creators” were quoted as believing that the horrific sentiment directed toward you from virtually all corners of America had something to do with how much money you had. I’d like to take a moment to disabuse you of this foolishness.

America is different than almost every other place on earth in that its citizenry reveres the wealthy and we are raised to believe that we can all one day join the ranks of the rich. The lack of a caste system or visible rungs of society’s ladder is what separates our empire from so many fallen empires throughout history. In a nation bereft of royalty by virtue of its republican birth, the American people have done what any other resourceful people would do — we’ve created our own royalty and our royalty is the 1%. Not only do we not “hate the rich” as you and other em-bubbled plutocrats have postulated, in point of fact, we love them. We worship our rich to the point of obsession. …

When Steve Jobs died, he did so with more money than you or any of your “job alliance” buddies – ten times more than most of you, in fact. And upon his death the entire nation went into mourning. We set up makeshift shrines to his brilliance in front of Apple stores from coast to coast. His biography flew off the shelves and people bought Apple products and stock shares in his honor and in his memory. Does that strike you as the action of a populace that hates success?

… So, no, we don’t hate the rich. What we hate are the predators.

What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country. What we hate are those who take and give nothing back in the form of innovation, convenience, entertainment or scientific progress. We hate those who’ve exploited political relationships and stupidity to rake in even more of the nation’s wealth while simultaneously driving the potential for success further away from the grasp of everyone else.

That’s strongly worded, but it seems quite gentle compared to the words and sights it took to loose poor Ebenezer Scrooge from his chains.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* OK, yes, I’m sure that even now some annoying little “contrarian” or “freakonomist” is attention trolling by taking “the other side” on these stories. May I propose that we all make it a New Year’s Resolution to ignore these half-clever, half-honest, SEO-driven hacks in the year to come?

** Charles Dickens’ outlook could be a bit naive and limited, overlooking any role for structures or institutions and focusing only on, as George Orwell wrote, a “change of heart”:

It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong’s school being as different from Creakle’s ‘as good is from evil’. Two things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a ‘change of heart’ — that, essentially, is what he is always saying.

If that were all, he might be no more than a cheer-up writer, a reactionary humbug. A ‘change of heart’ is in fact the alibi of people who do not wish to endanger the status quo. But Dickens is not a humbug, except in minor matters, and the strongest single impression one carries away from his books is that of a hatred of tyranny. I said earlier that Dickens is not in the accepted sense a revolutionary writer. But it is not at all certain that a merely moral criticism of society may not be just as ‘revolutionary’ — and revolution, after all, means turning things upside down — as the politico-economic criticism which is fashionable at this moment. … Two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. … ‘If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687121933 Carrie Looney

    OK, I only read as far as the comment about the cancer patient.  The story mentioned that conventional chemotherapy has failed, and she’s seeing a doctor in Texas.  Dollars to donuts, it’s Doctor Burzysnki.  He’s a fraud and a fleecer of the desperate – an evil, evil man.  The first paragraph in this link has links to the discussions of his ‘methods’ and the ways in which he encourages the desperate to fundraise and continue to line his pockets.  Sorry to derail.  It pisses me off.
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/12/burzynski_and_the_cult_of_personality.php

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Good post, Fred. Yet another one I’d recommend linking around and showing to as many people as possible, because I at least found it thought provoking.

    “Hey, One Percent- we don’t hate you because of your success, we hate you because your success involves crushing the shit out of, uh, the other Ninety Nine Percent.” Hence, if they agree to stop the crushing, I’ll agree to stop the hating.

    (I offer the same deal to a conservative, modified for what their particular sins are, although with significantly less hope that they would even ever recognize that being not-wrong is something worth giving a try.)

  • Becca Stareyes

    I recently read A Christmas Carol, and Dickens hits hard about how miserable Scrooge is.  His wealth is pretty much a means of keeping score — he’s just as miserly to himself as he is to his associates and family.  He deliberately seems to go out of his way to alienate his nephew, then, when the Ghost of Christmas Present drags him to his nephew’s party, he actually has fun, despite not being able to interact with anyone.  Similarly, the interactions with the Ghost of Christmas Past are the first time we see that Scrooge had a heart, and he does seem to have genuine joy at seeing his childhood, until the Ghost starts hammering him with all the ways he went from happy-but-poor to rich-but-miserable. 

    Also, seconding the worry about the cancer patient that Carrie brought up.  I hate to see the generosity of people and the hope of a family wasted on something that reeks of conning the sick with snake oil. 

  • Tonio

    The word “successful” doesn’t even belong in this discussion. The word implies that one is mostly or solely responsible for one’s level of wealth, denying the huge role played by circumstances. And it treats wealth as the only measure of success.

    Below is another refrain of the suffering tycoon. Seriously, if you’re pulling $23 million a year, or if your net worth is $1.8 billion, why should you care what others with less wealth say about you? You have enough money to tell the world to go piss up a rope.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/its-not-easy-being-a-hedge-fund-billionaire-these-days/2011/12/06/gIQAWakqZO_blog.html

    The Tea Party’s slogan: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

  • Daughter

    Re George Orwell’s comments:  I brought this up on the last thread.  Both are true: changes in attitudes can help change societal structures. Support for QUILTBAG rights is growing because attitudes are changing.  And changes in structures help change attitudes.  Having to interact with people who are different from you (in school, the workplace, etc) because the law says you have to helps to change attitudes.

    Along those lines, here is an awesome story and photo:

    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_12/homecoming_tradition_buries_da034268.php

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Along those lines, here is an awesome story and photo:

    That one made me smile.  Especially the bit where it’s right there on the Navy’s website.

  • Daughter

    Balloon Juice has a video.  The women won a raffle to be the couple to share the kiss.

  • fraser

    I said something similar (though not as well put) on my own blog last year (http://frasersherman.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/christmas-carol-is-not-a-treatise-on-victorian-economics/). And I was reflecting  more recently on how utterly miserable Scrooge is (http://frasersherman.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/scrooge-never-lets-me-down-well-hardly-ever/). Which probably explains why he denounces his nephew as poor when the guy appears to have a very nice middle-class life: In Scrooge’s eyes, the very fact he’s spending his money on frivolous things like a pleasant home and Christmas dinner presumably means he’s heading for poverty.
     

  • truth is life

    Well, as a Houstonian, I would point out that there are a lot of perfectly good cancer doctors in Texas (*cough*MD Anderson*cough*), and it’s possible that she is seeing one of them, given how vague the article is…

    …that said, it would be very sad if her “doctor” was actually a quack like Burzysnki.

  • Anonymous

    I think my favorite part of these stories is when the donor remains anonymous. It makes it that much more cooler, what awesome people. 

    And speaking of changing attitudes I love this letter where the MN LGBT community apologizes for ruining a nasty, adulterous,  homophobe’s marriage, http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2011/12/gay_marriage_amy_koch_michael_brodkorb.php

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Well, as a Houstonian, I would point out that there are a lot of
    perfectly good cancer doctors in Texas (*cough*MD Anderson*cough*), and
    it’s possible that she is seeing one of them, given how vague the
    article is…

    Sadly, your hopes that they’re at MD Anderson or similar seem mislaid (which, considering she was in San Jose, and therefore pretty close to Stanford and UCSF…).  A quick application of Google-fu gave me this article.  The money quote:

    The Vargas family said after Kaiser’s chemotherapy failed, they took Maria to the Burzynski Clinic in Texas.

    It also indicates the family is suing her original hospital for not using Burzynski’s treatment methodology.  So this story could get really shitty really fast.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Last weekend I went to a party with several friends whereupon we watched old episodes of The Muppet Show, crowned off by a showing of A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Libations and tofu curry were, of course, imbibed during this process, and a great joy was had by all.  

    We made several obvious and ironic jokes while watching this film to the effect of Charles Dickens being a “job-creator hating socialist.”  I pointed out that such “class warfare” tends to be a recurring theme in Dickens’ stories, from Oliver Twist to Great Expectations to A Christmas Carol, being explorations of wealth disparity and the contrast between those in poverty and those in power.  

    I said that I could think of a few politicians and business people whom I would like to see visited by three spirits this coming Christmas…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I like the modern take on it (Scrooged)

    Grad student, scientist and hopeless procrastinator. <– hello, fellow grad student, scientist and procrastinator*!*fist bump*? :D—* I'm supposed to be doing research but meh, that can wait!

  • Becca Stareyes

    *fist bumps*

    I brought work (paper draft!) to my mother’s house for Christmas week; but some of that is that I stay two weeks to see people and save on airfare.  Having something to do while my mother and brother work is nice. 

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Funny how Scrooge is popularly known mainly as the guy who didn’t like Christmas.  When in fact the main message of the story is that viewing other people as competitors in a game of worthiness (Zero sum, a few with infinite worth and a mass with none at all) will ultimately leave one empty, unable to feel the slightest happiness.

    A beautiful sentiment, though unfortunately only a half-true one at best.  There are I’m afraid many in the one percent who take a downright erotic delight in seeing their wealth as proof of being better than everyone else, as well as a combative thrill from being on the lookout for anyone who dare suggest otherwise.   And of course, however much Dickens wanted to keep himself PG, there’s always been hookers and blow. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Yeah, if I had more time I’d probably take my work with me. As it is I’ll get a few days’ respite so I plan to do nothing for those days. :P

  • Lori

    OK, yes, I’m sure that even now some annoying little “contrarian” or
    “freakonomist” is attention trolling by taking “the other side” on these stories. May I propose that we all make it a New Year’s Resolution to ignore these half-clever, half-honest, SEO-driven hacks in the year to come? 

    I’m totally with you on this.

  • Emcee, cubed

    OK, yes, I’m sure that even now some annoying little “contrarian” or
    “freakonomist”
    is attention trolling by taking “the other side” on these stories. May I
    propose that we all make it a New Year’s Resolution to ignore these
    half-clever, half-honest, SEO-driven hacks in the year to come?

    Is it violating the ignoring rule to point out that these contrarians are probably the same people who say things like “the government can cut health care and aid programs to the poor because private individuals will take up the slack”?

  • FangsFirst

    OK, yes, I’m sure that even now some annoying little “contrarian” or
    “freakonomist” is attention trolling by taking “the other side” on these
    stories. May I propose that we all make it a New Year’s Resolution to
    ignore these half-clever, half-honest, SEO-driven hacks in the year to
    come?

    I’m mostly just afraid of someone criticizing it as the action to which someone chose to put their charity.
    Mostly because right now, well, I actually work at a Wal-Mart. At the service desk. In a pretty shitty part of town, economically. Almost every receipt I’m handed has EBT on it, if food was purchased. Half the things I have people return, it’s because they found out they simply couldn’t afford the $8 they spent.

    But just about every layway (right next to me) has been for people’s kids, despite the objections I fear could come to tales of such generosity. Often people who exceeded their means and ended up having to take some of those toys back to afford a power bill or rent, but meting out what they can anyway.

    It would make a lot of days out there, and not for people who would get to magically coast and revel in their unexpected ‘wealth,’ but because they could get their kids the things they wanted.

    So, good on those people for those donations. And let us indeed ignore the naysayers. I’m right there seeing what people put back. It ain’t mounds of selfishness.

  • David in Chicago

    Some years ago, it struck me how strange it is that when we use the name “Scrooge”, we mostly mean to conjure the soul-sick miser at the beginning of the story. 

    But just think: on the basis of one Very Bad Nightmare (or possibly 3 Very Bad Nightmares) Scrooge completely turns around his life. There are few among us who would have the faith – and the courage! – to do such a crazy thing. Why do we not call the crazy dreamers among us “the Scrooges”?

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    I read another story about that incident and a depressing amount of the commentary was along the lines of HAWT! GURL! ACTION! I’d estimate that in the five pages of comments I read, HAWT! GURL! ACTION! out-paced Evil Spawn of Satan more than 2-1.  

  • friendly reader

    One of the nerdier webpages I visit has had its comedy vloggers chasing off Christmas Carol spoofs on the grounds that “I love Christmas! I love everything about it!” as their excuse, but it irritates me because they mean the festivities, and that’s not the point of the Christmas Carol.

    I feel its summarized best in this section from the first chapter:

    “But you were always a good man of business,
    Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this
    to himself.

     ”Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands
    again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common
    welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance,
    and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings
    of my trade were but a drop of water in the
    comprehensive ocean of my business!”

    (“Common welfare”… clearly class warfare!)

    And of course there’s also the final scene of the “Ghost of Christmas Present,” with the two wretched children, Ignorance and Want, where the Spirit taunts Scrooge with his earlier comments about prisons and workhouses. Many, many versions cut this scene out; the George C. Scott Christmas Carol doesn’t, which is part of why it’s my favorite. It’s a terrifying scene, and undercuts the more “jolly” appearance that the Spirit gets in other versions, like the Muppet Christmas Carol.

    The Muppet version, as much as I love it, downplays the more terrifying “abuse of the poor” message in the book, probably because it’s explicitly for kids. It becomes more about “being nice and making loving connections with people,” which isn’t bad. But one of the songs has a chorus that I think isn’t far-off form the message of the book either, at least in the sense of Scrooge’s final revelation:

    It is the season of the heart

    A special time for caring

    The ways of love made clear

    And it is the season of the spirit

    The message, if you hear it

    Is “make it last all year”

    Giving, caring, loving — not just the Christmas spirit, but the proper human spirit year-round.

  • Kirala

    Heh. Muppet Christmas Carol also explicitly addresses Fred’s point – the Marley brothers sing
    “Captive, bound, we’re double-ironed
    Exhausted by the weight
    For as freedom comes from giving love
    So prison comes with hate!”

  • friendly reader

    Ooh, I’d forgotten about that line! Maybe because the song wasn’t as catchy.

    And of course, that whole scene in the book is followed by a vision of scores of miserable ghosts trying futilely to help people now that they’re dead, realizing that they missed the purpose of life while living. Miserable in life, even more miserable in death. Chilling stuff, honestly better than most descriptions of “hell.”

  • muteKi

    I was watching the George C. Scott version earlier. I think it does a very good job of highlighting that Scrooge’s issues are not his grouchiness but because, as you say, he abused the poor. The social message is, indeed, what makes it stand out to me — it definitely feels like the focus of the work.

  • WingedBeast

    Hrmm.  I propose the lifechanging epiphany based on experiences that are either entirely internal or could just as well as be so be named A Scrooge Experience.

    I think the reason we don’t call the crazy dreamers “the Scrooges”, though, is that Scrooge spends far more of that story as the miserable miser than he does as the man who realizes that the best way to have joy is to share it.  It would be like thinking on the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast and imaging Beast as that blond guy at the end.

  • Baeraad

    This. I have seen a lot of greedy, selfish people, and while they weren’t exactly brimming with inner peace and contentment, they always seem like they’re at least having *fun.* I mean, I suppose I do believe that a gentle, caring, sensitive life gives you *more* happiness than one spent on a permanent adrenaline high, always on the lookout for opportunities to exploit and rivals to beat down, but that doesn’t sound like a very compelling argument even to me. “Well, sure you’re happy, but if you completely changed your entire personality and way of life, you’d be *slightly more* happy!”

  • truth is life

    Three of us in one thread! (Un?)fortunately, I don’t actually have anything to do over the break except whatever I myself choose to do to prepare for the next semester.

  • truth is life

    Ah. Well, that is bad, yes. Especially the suing the doctors for not being quacks thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Oppen/594893122 Eric Oppen

    My own take on Scrooge was that he’d been badly traumatized early on.  It’s often not remembered, but the late 1700s/early-1800s (roughly 1790-1840), when he’d been young, were not good times in Britain, Regency Romances notwithstanding.  The economy had been bled nearly white by the Napoleonic Wars, and then you had the disruptions of the Industrial Revolution.  Scrooge always reminded me of old people I’ve known who’d been through the Depression and still were haunted by it. 

    And he’d earned a reputation for honesty such that his signature was worth any amount he cared to raise, which is not the sign of a crooked man.  He’s grumpy and cranky…but not everybody likes Christmas, and he has some particular reasons not to.  A real hard-heart wouldn’t be thinking of his dead-five-years best pal to the point where his door-knocker suddenly looked like Marley’s face.  It also wasn’t his fault that Bob Cratchit had a sick son, or more children than he could comfortably support.  And leve us not forget…he did give Cratchit Christmas off, with pay, which was not the norm in early-Victorian Britain…the holiday had been badly damaged under Cromwell, and many Dissenters and Scots still scorned it.

  • friendly reader

    Dude, his knocker looked like his friend (dead seven years, btw) because there was supernatural stuff going on, not because of a guilty conscience, which he never, ever shows prior to the Spirits arriving.

    And sure, it might not be his fault that Tiny Tim was sick, but it was his fault for being so distant from his employees that he didn’t even know the boy was sick. Or that he wouldn’t give money for aid to the poor, that might have wound up to the Cratchit family.

    Nor was it exactly the Cratchit family’s fault they had so many children. Birth control wasn’t exactly easy to get in 1843. The fact that so many of them had survived probably shows they were more caring than normal parents.

    I mean… seriously, are you defending Scrooge as a “not so bad guy”? Just because he had a lousy childhood doesn’t mean he gets to scorn all human contact, avoid all charitable deeds, and tell the poor to go die. Lots of people had terrible childhoods – lots of Dickens’ characters had awful childhoods – without becoming Scrooges. Plus, we see in the third chapter that he had a great first employer who gave him opportunities to change and an example to follow. He didn’t. Not until the Powers that Be force him to look over his life and realize what a mess he’s made of it. And that’s the point: most people don’t. They’ve convinced themselves they’re content as the 1% and don’t realize that the meaning of life is connecting with the 100%. That’s still the case today, and that’s why The Christmas Carol remains such a classic.

  • Baeraad

    I remember that George Orwell essay being linked to before. It really got me thinking.

    I am, at heart, a natural revolutionary. I don’t trust human kindness. I know too well how it can be offset by something as simple as not having slept very well the night before. I want a society that works irrespectively of whether I am in a bad mood and can’t currently muster the patience to deal with other people’s problems.

    Still, I credit this blog (I rarely post, but I always lurk) with teaching me that being nice doesn’t have to stand in opposition to being good – that in fact a lot of the time those two things come from the same place. That you can care about the big, important issues, and still care about the well-being of people you meet – even the ones who are stupid jerks – and that while sometimes the two are in opposition, in most situations it’s pretty clear which one is called for.

    But yeah, still a revolutionary, and not happy about the fact that we (as per Orwell’s definition) seem to be living in a moralist time. Also, I really freaking hate Christmas. If we have to have a celebration of love and joy, why does it have to be at the darkest and most depressing time of year, exactly when I am the most likely to hate absolutely freaking everything? :P

  • Rikalous

    If we have to have a celebration of love and joy, why does it have to be
    at the darkest and most depressing time of year, exactly when I am the
    most likely to hate absolutely freaking everything? :P

    I think you’re looking at it backwards. It’s the most dark and depressing time of year, so we need to be reminded that there’s love and joy, and they’re worth celebrating.

  • Baeraad

    I understand the idea, but it doesn’t really work – not for me, at least. When I’m cranky, the last thing I need is being faced with demands to be jolly. It just makes me feel worse about not feeling better.

    Not that I begrudge the Christmas spirit to anyone who can muster some, of course. To each their own, and all that. Just as long as *I* get to lock myself in, stuff myself with chocolate and really wallow in my seasonal misery. Like, I promise not to try to steal Christmas from anyone, but my heart is going to be two sizes too small until sometime in early February and that’s just the way it is. ;)

  • fraser

    Regarding the dark vision of the afterlife, one of the criticisms flung at the Alistair Sim Christmas Carol (1951) in the US was that the ghostly scenes were too dark and horrifying and that it wasn’t a happy, cute Christmas story (according to the special-edition DVD I just watched).
     

  • Uncle Max

    Freakonomics isn’t exactly knew, Dickens wrote to a friend making a joke about some bloke objecting to the Crachit’s Turkey as an offence against “Political Economy”.

  • Uncle Max

    new – dagnabit.

  • Anonymous

    Anyone who says this had better include the exact amount of slack-taking-up he, personally, plans to do.  And that number had better be a good bit higher than $0. Otherwise, the proponent of the plan is simply proof of why it won’t work.

  • Anonymous

    I have only seen a small part of the Muppet Christmas Carol, years ago while waiting at a children’s hospital in December.  I still need to get it, and that song by itself is one of the biggest reasons why.

  • WingedBeast

    Part of that is a bygone to times before where the winter solstace/christmas meant not only the shortest day and longest night of the year, but the marker that warns “things are going to get a lot colder and a lot deader in the months to come.”

    Ontop of that, in mostly agrarian communities, there’s just not much to do in winter.  The work’s been done.  But, that also means that there’s not much you can do.  What work you can do to prepare and thus survive the winter is done and it’s past time to do any more sowing, harvesting, tending, etc to make the winter any less hungry.

    In a time of lean is when we most need reminding that the best way to stay warm and survive the winter is to share that warmth, not be stingy with it.  It’s when everybody has that urge to lock in with themselves that we need to make the effort to reach out a kind hand.  It’s not just a moral asthetic, it’s sustaining the life of humanity.

    On that note, being that I’ve just discussed this holiday without any of the religious undertones, I’m sure I’m as aptly painted a part of the War on Christmas as is the story of A Christmas Carol.

    And to Fraser, I see the criticism and I have to disagree.  (I’m probably agreeing with you on this, but let me type just to see the vision of my own letters here.)  A Christmas Carol is showing us that Christmas is a joyous time *because* of the alternative.  Part of the point of A Christmas Carol is the slowly growing sense of dread and ill-ease.  The pains that Scrooge went through to become the miser he is.  The suffering of human poverty.  The death of Tiny Tim.  And, not the eventual chains but the eventual ignoble and barely acknowledged death of a man otherwise invisible but for the fact of his wealth.  It’s a freaking horror story.  And, like any horror movie these days, you’ve got to have a happy ending somehow.  Somebody has to survive.  In this case, somebody did die, somebody did survive.

    In short, A Christmas Carol says that kindness and generosity throughout the year is fighting against a horror and winning.  The worse the horror, the greater the joy.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Three of us [procrastinating grad students] in one thread!

    At least four. And I’m counting the conversation I had with my family about the dissertation as working on the dissertation.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    *grin* Every bit counts, right? :P

  • P J Evans

    Someone walked into the layaway section at the W*lM*rt in Plainview, Texas, a couple of weeks ago, and paid about $200 in layaways for some lucky people.

  • Tonio

    My own kids love the Muppet version of the story.

  • Lori

    I love the Muppet version of the story (Light the lamp, not the rat! Light the lamp, not the rat!). Just not for exactly the same reasons that I love other versions. 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I think the 1% is *where* the problem is, but not exactly *who* the problem is; the problem is the 30% or so who worship and covet the wealth of the 1% that they act as a sort of unbidden Reinfeld, desperately trying to serve the interests of the 1% (or sometimes, just what they *think* are their interests). Even among the 1%, most of them don’t actually *want* their fawning servitude (Though few enough of them would go out of their way to *refuse* it)  – as evidenced by the growing number of millionaires who have come out in favor of having their taxes raised. For every pair of Koch brothers, there’s a half-dozen who don’t especially *want* their taxes raised, but wouldn’t go around threatening to Go Galt over paying 1990s rates again (In my experience, at least, the people threatening to “go galt” *aren’t* the super-rich, but rather high-end professionals making in the low six-figures who see taxes as a threat to their *ascension*)

  • William

    At least five, then. This is fun.

    … And I’m working rather a lot from my parents house, even while getting in all the (much needed) family visits. I will sleep — eventually (post-tenure, maybe?)

  • Anonymous

    Move hemispheres?

    There’s half a planet where it’s the hottest and brightest part of the year.

    (There’s also the tropical northern hemisphere, where it’s still quite hot and bright)

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I will sleep — eventually (post-tenure, maybe?) 

    Certainly not before. I lost an advisor when he wasn’t granted tenure (his book had been purchased, but not yet published, and the department chair didn’t like him.)

  • Baeraad

    While I respect the attitude of constructive problem-solving, I’m not sure that the solution (uprooting myself from all that I have known, not to mention quitting a job that I only got through some kind of miracle after being unemployed for years, and trying to make my way in a whole different country) is entirely in proportion to the problem (occasionally being expected to be jolly when I’m the most un-jolly)…

    … but then, it occurs to me that the suggestion might not have been *entirely* serious? ;)


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