Sunday, March 22, 2009

Filling the Vessel

Checking my Gmail this morning, I saw that today's quote of the day was from Plutarch: The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

Now there's a thought to stir the hearts of bloggers everywhere. Unfortunately, I'm more of a vessel-filler than a firestarter. With that in mind, did you know that even Plutarch, writing thousands of years ago, was warning others about getting too far in over our heads? Here's more Plutarch:

Plato in the Laws forbids people to take any water from a neighbour's land unless they have dug on their own land down to a layer of potter's clay, as it is called, and found that the place will not produce a flow of water; for the potter's clay, being by nature oily and solid, holds back the water that reaches it and does not let it through; but, he says, those shall have a share of others' water who cannot get any of their own, for the law gives relief to those in want. Ought there not, then, to be a law about money also, that people shall not borrow from others for resort to other people's springs who have not first examined their resources at home and brought together, as from little trickles, what is useful and necessary to themselves? But now, because of their luxury and effeminacy or their extravagance, they make no use of what is their own, though they possess it, but take from others at a high rate of interest, though they have no need of doing so. There is strong evidence of this: loans are not made to people in need, but to those who wish to acquire some superfluity for themselves.

Even in Plutarch's day there were too many people living a Lexus lifestyle on a Kia income. It's probable that many of our own Founders were aware of Plutarch's comments on loaning (and accepting) money; after all, he was one of the most popular authors for the Founding generation. Benjamin Franklin grew up in a house with two books: the Bible and Plutarch's Lives. Plutarch echoes in Franklin's The Way to Wealth, in statements like, "These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing."

It's not just that we've strayed from the American way of frugality and self-reliance. Many of us (and culturally speaking, society at large) choose to ignore wisdom that is thousands of years old. Sure, we can send a man to the moon and send information around the world in an instant, but we can't convince people that it's a bad idea to live beyond our means? In fact, the more we build incredible and amazing consumer products that many of us can't really afford, the worse off we get.

For the most technologically advanced civilization the world has ever known, we really are a bunch of idiots.

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