Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oikonomia

Sometimes it’s useful to recall the roots of our God-words. Underneath the word economy are two Greek words; oikos means house and nemein to manage. The Greek word for steward, or manager, was oikonomos, and the activity engaged in was oikonomia. The Latin script did not have the letter K; Romans used C instead. They took the word over and spelled it oeconomia. Getting to us, the word went through French first, where it lost the leading O, acquired an accent aigu, and had its IA ending transformed into an IE: économie. We dropped the accent and transformed the IE into y. But the word still means household management.

But how does a simple phrase, indicating an activity that we engage in every day—taking out the garbage, filling up the car, calling the plumber, making the beds, cooking the meals—an activity fundamental to orderly and comfortable daily life, become a God-word? By expansion. At the level where it still works—or if it doesn’t we make changes promptly—one person is responsible, the steward. When we expand the thing, strange things happen. Economists are by definition not the people who run the economy—but those who write about it. The people said to be responsible for it, like the Federal Executive, have virtually nothing to do with it and only engage in ritual gestures, like priests everywhere do. We’re supposed to think, indeed believe, that they are in intimate contact with the Ineffable, but they are just doing mumbo jumbo. Oikonomia, the god, is worshipped, his difficult-to-read pronouncements are discernible, vaguely, by means of a vast semi-mathematical activity itself obscure to actual view except for glimpses of people, on Nightly Business Report, who frantically jump up and down gesturing with hands filled with little pieces of paper. We call this mystery the Dow. He, the god, he has a hand—but only one—and it is hidden. His will, of course, is omni-omni-omni. We suffer it meekly and curse the priests to whom he will not listen—campaigning all the time to replace them with those with more sacred charisma. Oh, great Oikonomia. Only a few, miserable mystics seem to understand—but they’re despised—that you are only housekeeping, which we engage in so that, all in order, we can do what humans are meant to do.

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