THOLOS OF ATHENA

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

EMPIRE, WALMART, AND THE GREAT BEAST

"To adore the "Great Beast" is to think and act in conformity with the prejudices and reactions of the multitude, to the detriment of all personal search for truth and goodness."
--Plato, The Republic, Book VI
America's TV anchors, so superbly tailored--urbane and impeccable in every detail--are unperturbed by the encroaching medievalism that is bleeding slowly through the fabric of national life.

A feudal power like Walmart is on the make, in America, where "There's always lower prices".

This trademark has become a culture, a twisted religion. And the false God said, "Screw your neighbors, while the screwing is good. Smash'n'Grab Capitalism has made a comeback." At the top of the food-chain there are the insiders and stockholders. And for the vassals and peons there is paranoia in the workplace, and a pox on any signal of worker solidarity. Even in the land of Washington and Lincoln, there is a war waged on the quality of life: subsistence or below-subsistence wages, timeclock swindles that make people work off the clock.

And above all else, there is the evil of "Always lower prices"--the obscene smiley face-- that covers up the horror of sweatshop labor, on the supply-end, and leaves employees (so-called "associates") dangling on welfare", at the sales-end.

The whole system, in which customers earn and buy, is being diminished, jot by jot, year by year. This methodology is subversive and gradual; and "Always lower prices" is a slogan that works like a drug, to control the mood and maintain the stimulus. Walmart is the 21st Century's premier retail monster: dictating terms to employees, vendors, overseas suppliers, as it pushes into communities with--and sometimes without-- the consent of the governed.

Meanwhile, another space in the nation's history books is being prepared, for the latest outbreak of vulgarized religion and vulgar patriotism.

The Bush Administration's Smash'n'Grab operation in Iraq has gone tragically awry; since our leaders didn't expect so much "interference". Notwithstanding the US Army (whose job was just to "smash the storefront") there remain the sublet mercenaries, and the Halliburtons that handle the handling fees, and the government and Iraqi puppet agents, in charge of the transfer of assets, infrastructure and businesses.

Journalist Greg Palast has presented the following chronology of George W. Bush's pre-war planning, that began in early 2001, with Cheney's secretive Energy Summit, on the heels of State Department screenings of favored Iraqis , possible replacements for Saddam Hussein:
  • "October/November 2001: Then--[Deputy] Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz"..."convince[s] the Administration to junk the State Department "coup" plan, in favor of an invasion and occupation that could remake the economy of Iraq. "..."[The plan] scopes out the "sale of all state enterprises"..."especially in the oil and supporting industries."
  • "2002: Grover Norquist and other corporate lobbyists meet secretly with Defense, State and Treasury officials to ensure the invasion plans for Iraq include plans for protecting "property rights" . The result was a pre-invasion scheme to sell off Iraq's oil field, banks, electric systems, and even change the country's copyright laws to the benefit of the lobbyist's clients. Occupation chief Paul Bremer would later order these giveaways into Iraqi law."
  • "Fall 2002: --Philip Carroll, former CEO of Shell Oil USA, is brought in by the Pentagon to plan the management of Iraq's oil fields. "There were plans," says Carroll, "maybe even too many plans," --but none disclosed to the public nor even the US Congress."
  • "January 2003: --Robert Ebel, former CIA oil analyst, is sent, BBC learns, to London to meet with Fahdil Chalabi to plan terms for taking over Iraq's oil."
  • "March 2003: --Defense Department is told in confidence by US Energy Administrator Guy Caruso that Iraq's oil fields are incapable of a massive increase in output. Despite this intelligence, Dep. Secretary Wolfowitz testifies to Congress that invasion will be a free ride. He swears, "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be US taxpayer money...We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon." a deliberate fabrication promoted by the Administration, an insider told BBC, as "part of the sales pitch" for war."
Intertviewed on Fox News, Secretary of State Condi Rice recently said, "[T]he Administration, I think, has said to the American people that it is a generational commitment in Iraq." [my emphasis]

The Secretary immediately qualified her statement, by saying that she didn't imply military means, but primarily suggested a continued relationship with the country.

The President, of course, didn't mention a generational commitment when he was pitching the Iraq war to Congress; that wouldn't have been a good sales point. He said that the war on terror was a generational commitment; and much later he said that the war in Iraq was "the central front in the war on terror".

Republican America today is an alliance between the ruling class and the luckless people who covet that kind of power. But at the end of the Civil War, in the 19th Century, President Lincoln understood that all which America had suffered was an expiation of the sin of slavery: the blood wrung in bitterness from the backs of slaves, placed on a sacred scale, and set to balance by soldiers' blood at Gettysburg and elsewhere on the tormented landscape.Sin and expiation form a recurring theme in American history; and we haven't done nearly enough healing. In the wicked days we have seen, nothing is so good for the soul, than to remember the best people who have passed our way. Simone Weil was a person like this. In her life it's possible to recognize what solidarity and compassion signify, and why we can't live without these things.

The death of Simone Weil is about saintliness. This French woman who lived too brief a life, grew up in a Jewish family, a brilliant philosopher and religious thinker. During World War II, she escaped occupied France, and by way of New York, reached wartime Britain. In a hospital there, in a country where food was strictly rationed, she stopped eating. She refused all nourishment, including intravenous, because as she said, children were starving to death in her country.

From her writings, Weil presents us with another perspective of the Great Beast,--or the social Beast,--as she sometimes called it. This Beast, first outlined by Plato, is actually not the property of any particular political affiliation or specific religion; but arises when people cannot discriminate between the sacred and profane, but only think they can, as a group.
"The collective is the object of all idolatry, this it is which chains us to the earth. In the case of avarice, gold is the social order. In the case of ambition, power is the social order."
It is as Plato warned us, because those who adore the Great Beast, take refuge in "the prejudices and reactions" of the collective, and its spokesmen; and "all personal search for truth and goodness" suffers from this attachment.

The social Beast sits front-and-center at those carefully staged and screened rallies for the President, riding his policy bandwagon. Those who have been groomed and ideologically filtered, wave hundreds of little plastic flags, and scream at their Leader's imbecilic sylables, and grow quiet on cue. Radical Republicans rejoice in the Beast.

And the Beast is attractive to some in the Democratic ranks, especially those who cry out that we should "stay the course" in Iraq; notwithstanding the President's intended aggression, going in there, and the aggression he still intends.

All that is worst in Americans, in their collective "Beast",--whether it is an outmoded notion of world supremacy, or an unhealthy idea of righteousness, or an addiction to SUVs,--is considered to be absolutely indispensable.
"The service of the false God (of the social Beast under whatever form it may be) purifies evil by eliminating its horror. Nothing seems evil to those who serve it, except failure in its service."
--Simone Weil, Gravity & Grace, p, 221

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