Going for Broke

Theory of deficit spending.– At a certain point, irredeemable debt starts to feel irredeemable. From that point, every tether is cut. It is too late to repair the damage by correcting the trend, so psychological limits disintegrate. When one feels that one is adding quantities to infinity, what is the difference between two trillion and four trillion? Or seventy-five trillion, for that matter?

This psychological mechanism applies to nations and individuals alike. It probably accounts for more of what has gone wrong with the modern democratic world than most of us would care to admit — it hits too close to home for most of us to contemplate.

The psychological mechanism of profoundly “giving in” — by which I mean succumbing to an impulse that is not merely a trivial itch but life-changing, and therefore inherently as frightening as it is attractive — seems to require a preconditioning that we might compare to tenderizing. One must run up against the barrier repeatedly, mentally pulling back at the last moment so as to restrict the force of the impact, however slightly. “After all,” one thinks in that instant, “what would happen to me if I should actually smash right through the barrier?” Eventually, having driven oneself to that point of near-abandon many times, only to withdraw suddenly (but predictably) to the safety of the known, one might be softened enough to the possibility of “the other side” that one simply keeps going at last, right up to the usual moment of impact, and then straight through it without the habitual last-moment hesitation. 

This kind of process accounts for both the worst falls of human weakness and the best flights of spiritual strength. It explains both suicide and freedom, both the abyss of damnation and the glimpse of eternity. All depends on which barrier one has habituated oneself to charging at, and what is in truth lying on the other side of it. The lesson here, then: If you are going to make a habit of running at your protective walls — and not running at them entails suffocating the life impulse itself — then you must choose your targets wisely at the outset.

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