Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

The scene is of wildfires burning at night, of smoke and flames on the outskirts of Athens, making a ring in the distance around the Acropolis. In an account by Guardian reporter, Helena Smith, there's a sense of the scale of destruction:
Environmentalists said that the blazes had caused "biblical damage" to an estimated 120,000 hectares of virgin fir and prime forest.
This is enough to awaken prophetic vision, or at least it should call to mind something of the Ancient Greeks' interpretation of "the cycle of history", at the very least. Climate change is making this part of the Mediterranean world drier; and there are periodical reports and suspicions that developers set some fires during this dry season, in the countryside and along the coasts, to make tracts of land available for more hotels and resorts.

The piecemeal burning of civilization is what we notice more and more on this side of the ocean: the undermining of civilized conduct, the ubiquitous propaganda that spreads paranoia and delusion, and the busy corporate takeover of government, and the normalizing of endless war. And each of these is like a shower of sparks and embers, its own hand of arson, of social damage and upheaval, which has set wildfires that spread across the land. We are engulfed gradually as the smaller and larger fires converge.

The fires are at the gates of the city. Governments that do the bidding of corporations have the arsonist's hand, helping along the inferno. Like those who sold junk mortgages on Wall Street, they are piling wealth into the hands of the few; and if disaster capitalism is not separated from the organs of government, and cannot be closely regulated, it will surely push this world backwards into slavery, where children are once more in the workhouse, forced to stand on treadles all day.

Bush and Cheney's torture chamber is finally being opened for public inspection. They took the United States to the late stage of empire, represented by sadism and circumvention of law, and corruption of office holders. The mistreatment of people held in custody is one measure by which a country is condemned as uncivilized.

CIA and military interrogators threatened prisoners with imminent death, and made horrors of drowning on waterboards; stripping men and boys and leaving them in freezing cold, beating them and threatening their mothers and children with harm. However, the new president is not sure we should dwell on the past.

There must be a line between advertising and indoctrination that has blurred. Corporations are now backing charter schools in the US, where they can control the curriculum. The civic institution of public school will be all that the poor have left; and rundown schools and rundown neighborhoods will go together. The corporate charter school idea uses gentrification by real estate development to push out the unsightly poor.

And it will be an uncivilized state of affairs; if fires such as these make their way to the city. It is also sad to say; but the very last thing this government will give up is its expeditionary army, and its fortified bases overseas, and its military adventures. And these things are unsustainable. They cannot or will not see that the tether will break; for those who rule us cannot imagine what peace is. Their civilization might outlast them; but they insist on their delusion of power, and govern according to that.

Members of the US Congress who have sold out to insurance companies have flung the most incredible fantasies into the public debate over health care. A bland paragraph in the bill that concerns having a doctor reimbursed for an elective discussion with families, about living wills and end-of-life decisions, is distorted into some template for euthanasia. It's hard to relate to this level of dishonesty.

In Canada, people cannot be denied medical help because they have "pre-existing conditions" and they use their health card in any part of the country without worrying about paying out of their own pocket. In Canada, the government can cover every individual, without exception, on 7 percent of GNP. In the USA, the HMO system eats up 9 percent GNP; and fifty million people are still uninsured. The delusion is rampant that the status quo system is not in the business of rationing care and denying certain medical procedures to those who have the insurance.

There is a difference between living in error and living in delusion. A person living in error can get new information, grab an olive branch if one is handy, and beat out a fire before it spreads; but a person in delusion is putting a match to a wildfire.

Homer is clear about the delicacy of Ate, goddess of delusion, when he says,

"her feet are delicate; for she steps not
on the ground, but walks upon the heads of men."

--The Symposium, Dialogues of Plato, (trans., R.E. Allen)


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