Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Omni Faust

Despite the strains of Puritanism, Calvinism and Transcendentalism in American life, money still has an allure that can corrupt. Money brings with it power and the illusion of immunity to mortality. Money, as the song goes, “gets you what you want.” Certainly money is frequently confused with love. Success in making it or getting it is enough to make some people feel loved, or unloved, depending on their luck. Money is subject to the pathetic fallacy, and nature can seem threatening or unthreatening depending on the condition of one’s pocket book.

But it is not only money. Even if we get enough money, we certainly never get enough time on earth. Who would be willing to ascribe to actuarial statistics that suggest that his or her time is up? The person who dies at 50 is cheated by current standards, but those who live to be 75, 80 and 90 still want more. Who knows anyone—except those whose aging has extinguished their ability to enjoy life—willing to give up their life in the name of fairness?  Who is going to hand over their heart to a younger person who needs it, when they are still fit? Of course there are suicide bombers and Tibetan monks who set themselves on fire, but at least in the case of the former there is some degree of belief that the sacrifice will lead to a payoff in the life to come.
In short, Faust lives on in all of us, whether we are talking of Marlowe’s version or Goethe’s. To what lengths will we go to attain the secrets of life, both material and metaphysical? Who, when offered power and knowledge and the ensuing fruits that they bear, would not be willing to sell his or her soul?  The Faust Syndrome is like the Oedipus Complex, an indelible and insurmountable aspect of the human condition that only loses its potency when Homo sapiens cast their gaze over the world for the last time.

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