Slay the dragon…

I’ve been thinking a lot about dragons lately.  In teaching Greek myth, I often talk about dragons and serpents in Greek and Eastern Mediterranean thought.  There they are often associated with the Great Goddess, with rebirth and renewal, and with secret knowledge (the serpent goes underground, but can also slither about above ground, and so knows about this world and the Underworld).  As such they are often associated with trees, which have roots underground, trunk at ground level and branches in the sky, joining all three worlds.  And the Goddess who is associated with childbirth often has dragons/serpents/trees as symbols.  And when patriarchal civilizations came in, well, that just couldn’t continue — think of Eve and the serpent and the Tree of Knowledge — you know patriarchy looked at that and said we gotta break up that cabal!  Consequently, many of the heroes have an adventure where they slay a serpent or a dragon (and so put the Goddess and women in their place).

But it was a particular type of dragon and what it symbolizes that I’ve been thinking about lately, in connection with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  In Germanic lore, the dragon is a monster who is contrasted with the good king.  The good king is the Ring-Giver, the one who distributes the material wealth to his people and so keeps the medieval economy going.  The dragon, though hoards stuff, primarily material wealth and virgin women.  The dragon does not spend the gold or redistribute it, but holds it tight.  The dragon does not mate with the woman, or marry her, and so produce a family, but holds the woman prisoner, keeping her from producing children, or helping two warring kingdoms to make peace.  I don’t approve of the idea of treating women as commodities, but you get the idea — dragons in the medieval Germanic lore are monsters that keep the economy from working properly — they cut off the flow. 

For example, in the Beowulf poem, a poor man who has fallen afoul of his lord happens upon a cave where there is all this loot stored up.  He takes a single cup as an offering to his lord, as a means of making amends.  The dragon which guards the hoard is sound asleep, but once the cup is taken, the dragon wakes up (the guy didn’t make a racket taking the single cup, but was pretty quiet) and then terrorizes Beowulf’s kingdom, and the old king (Beowulf is about 70 years old) must suit up and deal with the problem.  SPOILER ALERT:  he does take care of the dragon, but not before the dragon mortally wounds him (he is after all 70 years old).  As a king for 50 years, he has kept the peace and kept his people safe.  Following his death, there is a fear of the total collapse of his kingdom, as there is no one with his skill set.  The dragon doesn’t care that his hoarding hurts the economy or people.  The dragon, once wounded, is perfectly willing to bring down the whole kingdom, and even court his own death — he’s running on pure instinct, with no emotions engaged except rage. 

But the dragon must be slain.  There is no dealing with the dragon.  Returning the cup would not placate the dragon now that someone has messed with his stuff, stuff he doesn’t use, and stuff that may help others.  There is no appeasing the dragon at that point — it’s mortal combat time.  And the Beowulf dragon is “too big to fail.”  It does, ultimately, fail, but only after killing Beowulf, the only hope for a better tomorrow. 

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  All of those banks and Wall Street investment firms were “too big to fail.”  They (and the 1%) are all about hoarding.  Further tax breaks and cuts for them does not result in more jobs.  It means more gold for the dragon to hoard.  Of course, Wall St. is a dragon with PR people who can spin a different story about job creation, and how government regulations keep companies from growing, while corporate profits and CEO/CFO salaries continue to outpace everyone else, even though most of the companies are busy tightening their belts, and putting more people out of work, or cutting them to part time.  And it seems that the Republican party has become a fully owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the richest, so there is no Independent voice acting for those not in the economic stratosphere.  There is no satisfying the Wall Street dragon, though some in government feel that so long as we feed the dragon, all will be well.  Well, a greedy, hoarding dragon can never have enough, and will bellyache about any sacrifices it must make (very egocentric is the dragon).  In fact, as we saw in the 2008 meltdown, the dragon cannot even see to self-preservation — just more, more, more, even when hoarding means that fewer people spend less money to fuel the economy.  Ultimately that will have an effect on Wall Street, but the dragon can’t think past “more, more, more,” even when it will ultimately lead to “less,  less, less.”

We can’t let the dragon make its own rules, which is what deregulation is all about.  The myth that the market will regulate itself is, ultimately, a false concept.  All the dragon wants is “more, more, more.”  Anything that gets in the way of “more, more, more” will be seen as an unnecessary burden.  It doesn’t matter that bloating doesn’t help the dragon, or the ecosystem that supports the dragon, because all the dragon understands is “more, more, more.”  As I see it, there is no way to reason with the dragon.  If reason worked, it would already have done so.  But the dragon cannot get past its mantras of “more, more, more” and “greed is good.”

The only solution is to slay the dragon, or contain it so it can’t do more damage to itself or to the society it inhabits.  I don’t see this happening anytime soon.  I do take some comfort in the Occupy Wall St. people and their movement.  If nothing else, they are putting a face on the suffering, and making politicians have to look at the victims of unregulated dragons and realize that profit for its own sake comes at a cost.  And perhaps some hearts will be touched, some minds will be changed, and We, the People may trump the dragon (at least keep it contained).  I can hope, and do hope that religious communities will begin to speak out, that business schools at Catholic Colleges will tear themselves away from preaching the gospel of Wall Street and realize that the dragon is not Christian and knows no God but “more, more, more.”  Maybe, this Christmas season coming up will result in a radical rethinking, will get us past coin to community, past personal greed to common wealth.  I have hopes, but that dragon, though teetering, will not give up easily, but keep to its mantra, even as it falls, and takes us along with it. Where’s St. George (and I’m not talking Bush) when you need him?

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