Is it all right to openly express emotion? Think about it for a bit before giving your answer. Does it matter if the emotion is anger?
For the last several days I've been part of a flurry of email from a grass roots effort to start a group reading of James Joyce's Dubliners, entitled MotleyRead. Barbara was one of the folks doing the inviting and I knew some others being copied on the emails. So I agreed. Yesterday, I read the introduction by Brenda Maddox from the Bantam Classics version and the first story, Sisters. Maddox tells us that Joyce was angry, very angry. He was angry at the Irish, for the personal harm he had suffered, because all the real talent of prior generations had emigrated elsewhere, and those who remained seemed stuck in the mire. Yet I didn't see anger in Sisters. That could be me as a reader. Joyce is notoriously hard to decipher according to Maddox, though Dubliners is his most accessible work. I come at this with no schooling whatsoever. So my take away may very well be off the mark.
Sisters seems to be a child's perspective on the empty lives of adults, two sisters whose brother has passed on, he a Priest with some unspecified, perhaps illicit behaviors, and one explicit habit that personally I found revolting; he consumed snuff. (I've got an older friend who now seems to be withering away who used to consume chewing tobacco, absolutely dreadful.) The sisters appear to have no life of their own. But Joyce doesn't seem to be angry at them. It's more that he feels sorry for them.
Yet anger remains on my mind. While I was starting on Dubliners I was finishing How Markets Fail, by John Cassidy (economics reporter for the New Yorker). I saw Cassidy and Andrew Ross Sorkin on the News Hour during the Winter Holiday, which is how I became aware of the book. There has also been a flurry of activity on a variety of econ blogs talking about a piece Cassidy had in the New Yorker from mid January on the Decline of the Chicago School. So I was intrigued. Indeed the first third of the book is a decent intellectual history of classical and neo-classical economics a la the Chicago School. The middle part of the book is an equally decent treatment of the rather traditional economics of market failure, along with the critique of homo economicus by Kahneman and Tversky. None of this is particularly upsetting nor new ground, at least for me.
The last third of the book, which chronicles the history of the recent financial crisis from the perspective of the myriad players, is a different story. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I'm still quite angry about it. The train wreck that is the financial crisis is about to happen yet it is full steam ahead with no application of the brakes till it is far too late. Principal culprit in this tragedy is Alan Greenspan, former Chairmen of the Federal Reserve, who gets spanked by Cassidy on two counts. He kept interest rates too low for far too long, well after the economy had recovered from the original dot.com bubble and perhaps the Fed was responsible for that earlier bubble too. More importantly, Greenspan over extended the teachings of Adam Smith, who warned that financial markets were unlike other markets and prone to instability without adequate regulation, the Invisible Hand be damned. Greenspan argued that these market were self-regulating, in a manner far more effective than anything governments might do. He therefore ignored much evidence of a situation spiraling out of control.
Greenspan as the overlord of of the entire mess is first in line for blame. But there is plenty to pass around. The CEOs of the various big banks and financial houses get their share, though Cassidy takes pains to explain the "Prisoner's Dilemma" they were operating under and that they almost had to go into high risk-high yield real estate securities or be accused of seriously under performing the market relative to their competitor financial houses. I buy this argument not very much. A better argument for me is that even people at the top didn't appreciate the risk their companies were taking on. Either way, through a combination of myopia, hubris, enormous greed (the incomes these people made is truly infuriating) and a prior of riding the bubble these people let their "too big to fail" institutions march to the brink. And then there are the other players, the issuers of the deceptive and predatory loans who cared about their origination fees but nothing else, and the borrowers with the bad credit histories with eyes bigger than their stomachs, taking out mortgages on homes they knew they couldn't afford. Surely, the financial crisis is our current day Sodom and Gomorrah.
As we are all aware, with the unemployment rate hovering around 10% and state government budgets shriveling into nothingness, the damage caused by the defaults on loans in the housing market have created cycle after cycle of destruction elsewhere in the economy. My Campus is feeling it bad now. So we have to shrink, in staff if not in students, perhaps damaging the essential character of the place in way that may be very hard to remedy. And some of of the current problem is because leadership on this campus, as elsewhere, suffered from the same bubble mindset that prevailed in the financial markets. So we lived beyond our means even before the dam burst. People feel smarter than they actually are when they feel they can print money. Witnessing that, how can one not feel aggrieved?
Feeling angry, I look for soothing alternatives. I had recorded Mozart and the Whale on a lark, watched a bit of that and then put it aside. So I turned it back on after finishing Cassidy and watched the rest. It is a love story about two people who have Asperger's Syndrome, a subject close to me because one of my children probably has it, and perhaps I have it too. The male lead struggles with eye contact, something I had problems with, particularly as an adolescent. There is a poignant scene where he tells the girl its awkward and he doesn't know what to say, a heroic trumpeting that breaks your heart. For me the problem, with authority or with girls or with somebody I didn't know, is that I would know what to say if I were off on my own and without the pressure of the moment. Then I might say it very well. But it took a lot of nerve to stay in the moment, so often I didn't or I flubbed it.
The movie starts to charm you and opens up seeming possibility that you wouldn't think is there. Then there is self-destruction. The culprit is anger. Overt expressions thereof become a deluge in Shangri-la. What is beautiful comes to an end. This is the reason to keep anger concealed. It wrecks, everything. Some things we may think are already a wreck, but if we look closer there is possibility. Knowing we may not have looked hard at first, we should be loath to destroy what might bud and flower.
Maddox tells us that Joyce while expatriate becomes homesick for Ireland and the friendliness of the people. The exasperation he felt as a young artist vanishes as a more mature yet somewhat broken adult, to be replaced by nostalgia and a warm glow.
We, who are clumsy in expression may then think twice about saying anything at all, let alone doing it with a righteous tone. I have not figured out why, if the task is to discuss Dubliners, there has been little or nothing posted so far on the substance of what Joyce wrote but instead the whole chazzerei on how the group should communicate via snail mail and how to obtain the book in its various forms. Yet the others likely have more people intelligence than I and may also have more personal attachment to these stories. So let the fun begin, even while I repress some sharpness of tongue and peer at the group effort though remaining in the periphery.