In Greek mythology, Pandora is famous for opening a box which unleashed greed, envy and hate upon the world. Once they were out the box, there was no way to get them back in again, and they became an enduring part of the fabric of human existence. We are all plagued by them, and as the Kleinian school of psychoanalysis has shown us, they are so perniciously ubiquitous that our only response can be to live in constant denial of them.
Klein also showed that we all hate the parts of us that are hateful, and that we disown them and project them onto others. Rather than own the hate/envy we feel, it is much more palatable to claim that some other person is envious/hateful, that they are the real problem and troublemaker.
Be wary of the one who points out hate in everyone, for it may be their own hatred that they are struggling with.
I have been taken with the idea that Margaret Thatcher turned out to be something of a Pandora figure in our recent history. Whether wittingly or not, she helped frame an economic ideology which allowed people to justify and celebrate greed, selfishness and avarice. Under her watch it became popular to believe that everyone should only worry about themselves, that society was not as important as assumed, that the market would take care of everything.
Again, she may not have intended this, but so it happened, and it was certainly not a co-incidence.
I’m not really interested in the various counterfactual histories that have been flying around over the past ten days – ‘If she hadn’t done this, where would we be?’ or ‘The trade unions and inefficient industry would have destroyed this country’. It seems clear to me that we can never and will never know quite how much truth or falsehood resides in these claims – economic history of actual events is hard enough, let alone that of imagined events.
I will say though that the idea that ‘she did what was necessary’ irks a little; the assumptions in this Thatcherite thought reveal how economic thinking gradually came to trump and overpower human and social thinking. This paved the way for the legitimisation of the socially destructive emotions outlined above.
But I digress. What I want to say is that these emotional ills were not unleashed upon the world in abstract, but they were unleashed within each and every one of us. Growing up – as I did – in the world where ‘greed is good’ – meant that we were actually encouraged to find and feed the greed inside of us, to find the aggressive and demanding voice which wanted to just take and take from the world.
I’m aware that it was actually the fictional Gordon Gekko who uttered those words, and that Oliver Stone intended them to be taken as satire, but the fact is that they stuck, and they stuck because they captured the spirit of Thatcher’s Britain and Reagan’s America.
Once greed is unleashed it triggers a nasty and vicious cycle of competitive selfishness, where if one person isn’t keen enough to further their interests, and wastes too much time dreaming about helping the unfortunate other, they are only going to fall behind and suffer. Greed snowballs, and leads to the disintegration of the co-operative and collective spirit needed to preserve and better society.
But again, it’s not her that we hate, it’s what she made us into, what she made us become – selfish, rational economic agents, who knew and understood that the bottom line was that money mattered, that the markets were God.
When we hate her we are hating an unattractive and difficult aspect of ourselves, the darkness inside, and she becomes a convenient scapegoat, because she helped create the conditions which allowed us to become tainted in our own eyes.
We project our unpalatable self-hatred onto the helpless image of a now deceased politician.
When I think about Thatcher I can think about the deep recession she presided over which closed down our family business and left my father out of work. And I can think about the subtle ways the ideology she ushered in helped persuade me to give up my Philosophy PhD and follow Gordon Gekko into the world of finance. And it’d be tempting to jump on the hatred bandwagon. But ultimately I now see that it’s my own failing I’m uncomfortable with, my own sense of maybe things should have been different, that maybe I could have done better.
It’d be great to have a figure of evil in the world, a source of all wrongdoing which abdicated us of the responsibility for our failures. But there isn’t, we all exist on a precipice, and we are always going to be challenged and sometimes overwhelmed by the forces of evil that reside in us. We need to own and understand those, for only then can we be alive to the one thing that was left in Pandora’s box – the promising possibility of hope.