Further to the various comments and analyses on the effects of the floods (especially the fly-blown rhetoric directed at insurance company directors to play Lady Bountiful with their shareholders’ money), the following passages from an essay by Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) may be of interest.
'In all Civil Societies Men are taught insensibly to be Hypocrites from their Cradle, no body dares to own that he gets by Publick Calamities, or even by the Loss of Private Persons. The Sexton would be stoned should he wish openly for the Death of the Parishioners, tho’ every body knew that he had nothing else to live upon.
'London was a great Calamity, but if the Carpenters, Bricklayers, Smiths, and all, not only that are employed in Building but likewise those that made and dealt in the same Manufactures and other Merchandizes that were Burnt, and other Trades again that got by them when they were in full Employ, were to Vote against those who lost by the Fire; the Rejoicings would equal if not exceed the Complaints. In recruiting what is lost and destroy’d by Fire, Storms, Sea-fights, Sieges, Battles, a considerable part of Trade consists; the truth of which and whatever I have said of the Nature of Society will plainly appear from what follows.'
But the Necessities, the Vices and Imperfections of Man, together with the various Inclemencies of the Air and other Elements, contain in them the Seeds of all Arts, Industry and Labour: It is the Extremities of Heat and Cold, the Inconstancy and Badness of Seasons, the Violence and Uncertainty of Winds, the vast Power and Treachery of Water, the Rage and Untractableness of Fire, and the Stubbornness and Sterility of the Earth, that rack our Invention, how we should either avoid the Mischiefs they may produce, or correct the Malignity of them and turn their several Forces to our own Advantage in a thousand different ways; while we are employ’d in supplying the infinite variety of our Wants, which will ever be multiply’d as our Knowledge is enlarged, and our Desires increase. Hunger, Thirst and Nakedness are the first Tyrants that force us to stir: afterwards, our Pride, Sloth, Sensuality and Fickleness are the great Patrons that promote all Arts and Sciences, Trades, Handicrafts and Callings; while the great Taskmasters, Necessity, Avarice, Envy, and Ambition, each in the Class that belongs to him, keep the Members of the Society to their labour, and make them submit, most of them chearfully, to the Drudgery of their Station; Kings and Princes not excepted.'
It is in Morality as it is in Nature, there is nothing so perfectly Good in Creatures that it cannot be hurtful to any one of the Society, nor any thing so entirely Evil, but it may prove beneficial to some part or other of the Creation: So that things are only Good and Evil in reference to something else, and according to the Light and Position they are placed in. What pleases us is good in that Regard, and by this Rule every Man wishes well for himself to the best of his Capacity, with little Respect to his Neighbour. There never was any Rain yet, tho’ in a very dry Season when Publick Prayers had been made for it, but somebody or other who wanted to go abroad wished it might be Fair Weather only for that Day. When the Corn stands thick in the Spring, and the generality of the Country rejoice at the pleasing Object, the rich Farmer who kept his last Year’s Crop for a better Market, pines at the sight, and inwardly grieves at the Prospect of a plentiful Harvest. Nay, we shall often hear your idle People openly wish for the Possessions of others, and not to be injurious forsooth add this wise Proviso, that it should be without Detriment to the Owners: But I’m afraid they often do it without any such Restriction in their Hearts.'
Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988) vol. 1, p.367,
The complete text is available electronically at: http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=846&Itemid=28