THOLOS OF ATHENA

Sunday, November 21, 2010

CIVILIZATIONS EXIST ON BORROWED TIME (AND MONEY)

The timeless Mark Twain wrote this in a letter to Danish writer, Carl Thalbitzer:
My wife does not allow this manuscript to be published, and as ninety-nine parts of me forbid me to make myself comprehensively and uncompromisingly odious, it has not been difficult to persuade me to restrict the reading of it to myself! But you shall read it when you come to see me; then perhaps you will believe with me that civilizations are not realities, but only dreams; dreams of the mind, not of the heart, and therefore fictitious, and perishable; that they have never affected the heart and therefore have made no valuable progress; that the heart remains today what it always was, as intimacy with any existing savage tribe will show. Indeed the average of the human brain is not a shade higher today than it was in Egyptian times ten thousand years ago.
The empire dream is, without doubt, one of the most brittle dreams of the mind; and the fall of an empire, the point of slipping away, is the moment when corruption gains the upper hand; and the permanent values have to be gathered from the wreckage of broken, impermanent things.

Technological progress has not made human beings better; and with the waging of class warfare, it is the wealthy sector of society that has purchased government outright, and has created a bicameral apparatus for implementing political and military policy, controlling how people live and the kinds of things they think about. This control is not yet absolute; but it is effective enough, in that it permits the looting of the wealth that people at several levels of society have accumulated. The new corporate power is also invested in converting the middle class into an underclass, and ultimately turning the underclass into a slave class; where slaves, of course, are the most invisible, ignored, and expendable class.

Thomas Frank, in the December issue of Harper's Magazine, has described the peculiar deterioration of academia in this country; a market glutted with historians, for instance, where he describes the complaints of colleagues and friends who "...all told the same story of low-wage toil, of lecturing and handing out A's while going themselves without health insurance or enough money for necessities."

His article concentrates on failing standards of professional journalism and the further exploitation of workers there, that he traces to the creation of what he calls "content-mills", in which professional people are tethered to the same economic models that are degrading academia. There is a reliance on the input of focus groups. Newspapers are less and less interested in describing the world as it really is, and more inclined to tailor content to fit things the audience has been polled about, what people seem to want.

What people want, and what they are told they want, must bear a closer examination. When Walmart trumpets "ALWAYS LOWER PRICES!" it means that somewhere, sometime, someone must work for less. A world market is a collection of national markets; and societies that are brimming over with the unemployed are surely those where people are willing to scratch for life, and are left at the mercy of new robber barons, who are flush with loot and plunder.

As far as American empire-building goes, look no further than the 19th Century's Gilded Age, for the blueprint, the words of Samuel Insul:
My experience is that the greatest aid to the efficiency of labor is a long line of men waiting at the gate.  (ibid)
It looks as though Americans must be shaken by realizing that they are owned by a financial empire that has been on a looting spree, one which has not been hampered with criminal prosecutions. The criminal class in capitalism can cause a meltdown and profit from the new situation. The racketeers in the financial and banking institutions have discovered that waterboarding the Golden Goose will provide a few more eggs.

The free ride, the impunity to act without fear of punishment, is accorded to those who have the pluck to bring down the world's economy; and these lively entrepreneurs are bringing misery to hundreds of millions of people. As Mark Twain has reminded us, people need to focus on the crucial difference between permanent and impermanent things. Technology remains an enchantment to the progressive crowd; but it is a two-edged sword.
So powerful is our desire to believe in the benevolent divinity of technology that it cancels out our caution, forces us to dismiss doubt as so much simple-minded Luddism. We have trouble grasping that the Internet might not bring only good; that an unparalleled tool for enlightenment and research and transparency might also bring unprecedented down-dumbing; that something that empowers the individual might also wreck the structures that have protected the individual for decades.  (Frank)
The word on the street is that evil is ascendant; therefore take precaution as you must. The republicans keep telling their damned lies about Obama; but America's first black president reacts mildly to republican nihilism, and its bubbling cauldron of lies, believing that it is more important to work with such people, despite their ugly motives, and put up with them for the alleged good of the country. The candle snuffer of hope has disillusioned many who voted for him in 2008. American energy corporations keep blowing the tops off mountains, come what may. They pollute the rivers to get at the coal. Big natural gas producers, like Chesapeake, use millions of gallons of fresh water in fracking operations, and have turned it all into a toxic soup, which is either dumped somewhere or injected back into the earth.

If we aren't willing to give up the empire; then we can't save the country. The empire cannot be saved because it costs much more than the money spent to keep it on its feet. The empire is an impediment to our progress as human beings. It is the impermanent, but callous machine that destroys democracy. The empire maintains itself with hideous violence. The empire needs psychological war, and an immense network of outlets, for all its lies. The empire now rests on the military as its ultimate enforcer, and counts on it in a deteriorating society, to employ our jobless youth. And the empire is a financial empire at its root, feeding on debt, on compound interest, on crooked financial instruments, on drug cartels, on rigged accounting agencies; and it is only satiated when it can drink a substantial quantity of blood.

The whole process that has been dubbed, "Disaster Capitalism", cannot be allowed to go on; for the economy, like the body, can only take so many shocks before it collapses. In India, another wounded democracy, the more comfortable people are also mesmerized by the shiny bauble of corporatism, the new wave of development that is called "India Shining", where life will get better for the better-off, just as soon as some tiresome tribal people, the truly dirt-poor, are dispossessed and driven off their land.

Cue Barack Obama, a truly graceful American actor in the land of India, coming onstage with an entourage of 250 corporate representatives, and among them, men who have practical experience in securing mineral rights and opening the mines, in drilling and blasting. "India Shining", like "Change You Can Believe In", is advertised to the skies, and is described by all present as wonderful.

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