Bankers Into Plowshares?
by Stephen McAndrew
Listening to the radio the other day I was struck as a reporter described a sign held by an activist at an Occupy Frankfurt rally. Translated from German the sign read “[turn] bankers into plowshares”. The activist was referencing the phrase “swords into plowshares”, the image of swords, as weapons of war, being turned into plowshares, agricultural instruments. This phrase looks forward to a time when we will have no conceivable use for weapons of war. When there is permanent disarmament, and we till the earth in peace.
The activist was trying, I think, to get across the idea that without bankers society would be better – fairer and more just and peaceful. I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide their personal position on bankers and the world financial crisis, that’s not what interests me here. What caught my ear was the use of language.
This phrase comes from the Biblical prophet Isaiah, describing the world after God’s kingdom is established on earth and all things are made right. Here is the phrase in context:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (1)
I previously wrote a piece on man’s constant urge for a better world for peace and justice, and the inability to achieve it, which you can read here. I don’t want to repeat myself, but the current wave of protests against the financial systems of the world and reference to the swords into plowshares intrigued me.
The fact is that most people want a better world, but disagree on how to achieve it. It is easy to imagine a dialogue between the author of the sign and a banker. The activist tells the banker the world would be a better place if the focus were not solely on profit. The banker replies that without access to capital, wealth would be concentrated in fewer hands, and that systems that promised absolute equality have historically ended in absolute tyranny.
Both banker and activist could most likely learn from each other, but neither is likely to change the mind of the other. As many see the world lurching throughout history from one extreme to the other, we long for a middle way, for balance. The problem is no one can find this balance…
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