In yesterday’s column, I distinguished between two aspects of self-interest: the bright side that enhances wealth and well-being through trade, and the dark side that augments immiseration through conflict. I suggested that a small window exists for trade and wealth-enhancement even when individuals are driven by the dark side of the force.
Today, Christmas Day, I shall illustrate my point by reference to the behavior of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s famous Christmas story, A Christmas Carol.
Ebenezer Scrooge, when the story begins, is driven inexorably by the dark side of the force:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. he carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas!
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather shill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. they often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did”. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol December 1843
There, in consummate prose, dear readers, Charles Dickens defines the dark side of the force.
Yet by story’s end, a radically different Ebenezer Scrooge emerges from those dark shadows into the sunshine of a Christmas Day:
“He became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” ibid.
Now, how that transformation came about is explained in the story – which you are strongly encouraged to read. Two interpretations are possible. First, Ebenezer Scrooge may have undergone a fundamental transformation from the dark to the bright side of the force, like Saul to Paul on the Road to Damascus.
Alternatively, Ebenezer Scrooge may have peered into the future in his third dream, and viewed the likely dreaded consequences of continuing to behave as his instincts signaled that he should. Scrooge may have squeezed through the narrow window of trade that remained open to him on the dark side of the force, in order to protect himself from the horrendous future depicted for him by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come!
A Merry Christmas to all you, readers of these columns. May you all and always enjoy Christmas Day on the bright side of the force.
And do not ever forget that the force – bright or dark – is always with you.