Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Magic Beans

The ouroboros, the snake or serpent simultaneously feeding and destroying itself, is an ancient worldwide symbol, the meaning(s) of which is pretty much lost on us modern folk.

Similar to these universal symbols, there are root words deep in our language that have important and relevant meanings, but have fallen into the storage bins of the old curiosity shop. Too bad -- they were clearly descriptive and useful once, and could be again.
An original "Indo-European" source for these words common to a number of modern languages, from somewhere on the steppes of Eurasia, is postulated by linguists. Its remains today may well be Sanskrit, but we have more hypotheses than facts.

Dmitri Orlov is a Russian native, an engineer and writer, who lived in New Hampshire and now resides on a sailboat. About a year and a half ago, in his blog Cluborlov.com, he finds that a Russian word, fuflo (plural)/ fufel (singular), neatly describes our current economic and social wedgie. A fufel is a situation where an irrational or foolish character willingly participates in being conned (think about Jack and his magic beans --it worked out for him, but that was a fairy tale). As time goes on, the poor sap even comes to demand it as it's his new reality. The lamb lies down in front of the coyote; the frog trusts the crocodile to carry him across the stream. Surely we are not simple lambs or trusting frogs...

The fuflo also is something that gets bigger over time, while providing the same or lessening value. Like a successful colony of bacteria or mosquitoes, it produces offspring which also grow. Bringing it to specifics, think of megachurches, mortgage scams and multisyllabic financial "instruments."

The same word and concept shows up in English ("fuffle," 16th century), Italian ("fuffa"), Gaelic ("kafuffle"), and Swedish ("fuffel"), all meaning either deceit and dishonesty which may land you, unwittingly, in a messy situation, or an artful fake made solely to fool people into paying for it. And the best part is getting people to pay for it again and again (installment credit with interest comes to mind). The best fuflo grow to insane proportions over time. Current examples are student loans, suburban McMansions and giant trucks and SUVs driven by lone commuters. You've been fuffled when the size and cost of what you're buying exceeds what anyone needs or can afford.

Too bad we humans have too-short memories and attention spans to see things for what they are. Matt Taibbi in the notorious Rolling Stone article on Goldman Sachs (those grand masters of international three-card monte), spelled out what just happened under our noses: the Federal Reserve accepted the huge fuffle of "troubled assets" as collateral for loans to insolvent financial institutions, who used them to buy up U.S. Treasury securities -- thus making their toxic financial waste our public debt. The ancient snake symbol depicts that quite well, don't you think?

1 comment:

  1. We assume we will be wisher, but we are not. How many versions of a book turned into a movie or a song repeated to different media must we endure until we settle on the original which serves our wants. Will we learn or just fuffle our life away.