By Gary Corseri
Oct. 9, 2008
Equo ne credite, Teucri. / Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
(“Do not trust the Horse, Trojans. / Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.”)
–Virgil, The Aeneid
The Trojan horses of our demise: ignorance, arrogance, violence and greed. If we seek analogies for our financial collapse, Trojan horses are more instructive than horsemen of the apocalypse. The latter may be useful to the Fundies with their tiresome end-time fantasies. The horsemen externalize evil; they are children’s boogeymen, writ large in adult type, to frighten adult minds that should know better but cling to victimhood. Trojan horses, instead, internalize dangers—from the assassins crouching within their wooden hulls; to the gullible celebrants taking them into their fortress-city. In our blame-game culture, where and how we affix blame now is crucial to any possible restitution, let alone redemption. The glass is neither half-full nor half-empty; it is a looking-glass through which we may know ourselves.
“A deadly fraud is this,” Laocoon warned his fellow Trojans, “devised by the Achaean chiefs.” For “Achaean [Greek] chiefs” read: banksters, Wall Street, K-Street, mealy-mouthed politicoes, media and academic pundits. And the “fraud” is our credit-based economy. Laocoon was a prophet cursed to be heard but ignored; his reward for prescience was strangulation by two of Minerva’s serpents. (And have we not had our Laocoons? Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; John Lennon and Richard Wright; Paine and Thoreau? Artists like Jeffers, Patchen, Millay and London—ignored, dismissed or reviled.)
Ignorance. In 1987 Allan Bloom kicked up dust with The Closing of the American Mind. It wasn’t just our schools that were failing, but our culture. Not simply that Johnny couldn’t read, but that whatever Johnny and Jean saw on TV or heard from their elders—and the music and songs they listened to—lacked context, depth and framing. Not that they didn’t know who had fought the Civil War or what the First Amendment guaranteed, but that they saw no reason to care. In fast-food America it was about getting the next burger-fix, shot of Coke (-a-Cola!); passing quizzes, padding resumes, screwing cheerleaders or jocks– and the hell with the world. When Clinton signed the repeal of Glass Steagall, annulling the reforms that had kept our banks solvent since the 30’s—what did it mean? Who knew? Who cared? When the progeny of Reagan railed against government, we howled with the wolves till our house crashed down. Instead of conceiving government as the intermediary between ourselves and the financial institutions that have dominated human affairs since the Industrial Revolution, instead of sharpening our tools to build a sturdier government attuned to the bottom 90%, we sang the siren song of de-regulation; we transfixed ourselves in our shattered shelters.
Arrogance. Married to arrogance, ignorance can kill. After World War II, we out-produced the world. American “know-how” we said. We forgot we had conquered a continent, committed our own holocaust/genocide, robbed the natives and generations of Blacks. The Brits collapsed in the Middle East and the French pulled out of Indochina and we said, We are “can-do” people; we’ll do it! Nixon went off the gold standard and abrogated the Bretton Woods agreements that had knitted the economic fabric of the post-war world. God’s chosen people, we destroyed Vietnam to save it. Calvin’s God had made us wealthy and Wilson had bequeathed his mission to make the world safe for democracy. We slaughtered a coupla million “gooks,” fertilized the “killing fields” of Kampuchea. We crushed rebellions in Central America and Chile. We killed a million in Iraq and stomped on Palestine. And when the blowback came and the twin towers crumbled like Samson’s pillars, the boy-emperor stood on the rubble and said we would make them pay. And the men who had lost friends and brothers chanted like a deranged Greek chorus: “USA! USA! USA!”
Violence. We drink it with morning coffee. Wedding party bombed in Afghanistan. IED kills two Americans. 1500 killed by Katrina (Cuba lost 4 to Ike!). 100,000 die in our hospitals every year from hospital infections or neglect. 20,000 die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Our kids inhabit a stroboscopic world of high school bullies, gory video games, TV cop shows of rapes, torture, murder. Kids kill kids. TV, that came humbly into our living rooms, now fragments the family, holds each member hostage in his/her room. Pop-tarts for dessert.
Greed. It’s good, Gecko said in “Wall Street.” Greed for knowledge, wealth, power. How easily we were seduced, judgment suspended. Isn’t it hunger for knowledge? And how much wealth do we need, how much power?
In Tolstoy’s story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?,” a peasant is allowed to claim as much land as he can circumambulate in a day. He must return to his starting point by sunset. He starts out measuring his paces, but soon realizes he has tried to cover too much ground. He runs at the end to reach his starting point again; then drops dead from exhaustion. He’s buried in a six-foot long grave.
How much do we need? Isn’t that the moral question? Do we really want a world of billionaires and paupers? Is there no ceiling to our lusts? Must we celebrate these killer-thieves, earth-rapists? We devised a system of checks and balances to rein in political power and the foxes raided the henhouse and stole the golden eggs. We must realize now: we cannot separate political and economic power. We have a moral imperative to make judgments; we evince our humanity according to the judgments we make.
What is a fair differential between the “average” worker and his/her “boss”? Can we replace “bosses” with “facilitators”? If $40,000 a year is average, isn’t $400,000 enough? (That’s what we pay the president we vote for!)
Ignorance, arrogance, violence, greed—we opened the gates, let them into our minds, our hearts, our children’s dreams. Is it too late to heed Laocoon? The snakes are coiling around our legs.
(Gary Corseri has posted/published his work at hundreds of venues, including Dandelion Salad, Thomas Paine’s Corner, The New York Times. He has taught in universities and prisons, published novels and poetry collections, performed at the Carter Presidential Library; and his dramas have been presented on Atlanta-PBS, etc. He can be contacted at Gary_Corseri@comcast.net.)