Saturday, April 15, 2006


In the spirit of Easter, a few thoughts about rebirth.

The Wife watches Oprah, something I only admit to because apparently she has millions of fellow viewers. Inevitably, I end up sitting through the occasional show as circumstances dictate.

The formula seems pretty well developed. Somebody who has totally screwed up their life comes on, then everybody tut tuts about how well they have screwed up their life. This is followed by an uplifting denouement in which all is forgiven, acne is cleared up, and everybody emerges as happy and productive members of society. All accompanied by much demented cheering from white chicks in the audience who are secretly hoping for some freebie to be handed out.

But enough about Oprah. What really intrigues me is the easy way in which the traditional confessional and penance of mainstream religion has been transformed into the stuff of TV shows and pop literature.

Every society needs rules in order to ensure that things keep running and that the weak have a fighting chance against the strong. Morality, unless you really believe in the stone tablets, is the embodiment of the evolution of those rules.

The problem with systems that hold out damnation for sinners is that they fall apart unless the sinner is offered redemption. After all, if I commit a sin and then am eternally damned, I might as well forget about the rules for the rest of my life and just enjoy myself. Confession and penance are a neat way to keep the flock in line by offering the chance to wipe the slate clean. Now, this used to be something that happened privately, and supposedly confidentially, between you and your religious representative/priest/minister/shaman whatever.

Today in America things have become a lot more open and streamlined. Now you can completely screw up, get caught, do time (or not, depending on how much money you have), then go around telling everybody how much you screwed up and bask in their forgiveness and the 15 minutes of fame that go along with it. All pretty painless.

Since lots of money is spent screwing up, and more on the cure, and then even more on the publicity created by the recovery, one has to believe that this has a significant impact on the economy. Instead of worrying about all the American consumers in debt over their heads, just think of all the pending redemption stories out there. The books. The TV shows. The movies. The new charitable foundations.

I wonder if Greenspan took all this into account.

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