By Victoria Lynn Hall
Around this time last year, I came across this absurd headline of an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
This self serving work of bad fiction masquerading as “expert” opinion was penned by former senator, Phil Gramm (and his colleague, Mike Solon), who was once named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 People to Blame for the 2008 Financial Crisis.
Now it is 2021 and Time Magazine has just awarded self centered tech billionaire, Elon Musk the title of “Person of the Year”.
Elon Musk is the personification of a modern day, neoliberal Scrooge. He combines our society’s obsession with the accumulation of wealth with the very flimsy, hopeful illusion this can be done without a price to our planet. Meanwhile, by all appearances he seems to be deeply troubled and unhappy.
As a symbol of all that ails us, perhaps person of the year is a somewhat apt title for Musk but this is not quite the rationale that Editor-in-Chief and CEO of TIME, Edward Felsenthal, gave:
“For creating solutions to an existential crisis, for embodying the possibilities and the perils of the age of tech titans, for driving society’s most daring and disruptive transformations, Elon Musk is TIME’s 2021 Person of the Year.”
More disturbing than this generous and inaccurate assessment is the fact that many average Americans have a favorable opinion of this egomaniacal hoarder, as my podcast partner Jesse Crall explains in the clip below:
I don’t think it is likely that a team of Dickensian ghosts will be visiting Musk any time soon or that under those circumstances or any other, he will be undergoing a Scrooge like transformation.
In any case, as I suspect Dickens was well aware of, it would take far more than a sudden change of heart from one miserable, wealthy bastard to solve the conditions of wealth inequality in any century.
Surely, the moral of “A Christmas Carol” wasn’t just that rich people should be more charitable. It was also a cautionary tale of the damage greed could do to anyone’s soul as well as society at large, and, perhaps most importantly, a commentary on what was truly worth valuing in this life.
The latter is exemplified in the poignant words of Jacob Marley’s ghost:
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”The Ghost of Jacob Marley From “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
Are we making “mankind, the common welfare; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence”, our business? Or have we lost sight of the comprehensive ocean in pursuit of that drop of water that this world defines as “success”? Is that really what we thirst for? If it is, then why do the affluent people we deem as most successful behave as though they are so unquenchable?
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’From “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
What if it is not just what we achieve but what we aspire to that make up the chains we are forging now? How could re-examining our own values set us free?
“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”From “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
If you are in the giving spirit this season, contribute to a strike fund:
To learn more of how Dickens’ social views influenced his writing of “A Christmas Carol”, check out this paper by Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY: Why did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol?
If you have never read “A Christmas Carol” you can download it for free at Project Gutenberg.
If you’d be more interested in watching one of the many movie adaptations, Collider.com has a great list of ‘A Christmas Carol’ Adaptations Ranked from “Bah Humbug!” to “God Bless Us Everyone!” (I agree that the 1951 version is the best but would rate “A Muppet Christmas Carol” much higher).
A self taught artist and creative entrepreneur, Victoria Lynn Hall lives in the Kansas City area with 4 spoiled cats. She believes in art and the magic of kindness.