“. . . a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. . .” (Walter Benjamin)

samothrace

The pantheon of Samothrace (Photo: Wikipedia)

In 1968 I voted for the first time. Humphrey for President. Naturally. I am not to blame for Nixon. I went so far as to exercise my public duty and work as a tiny cog in the big wheel of the campaign at the county Democratic party headquarters in a ramshackle house on Euclid Avenue in Upland, CA. In that year and in 1972 I still thought politics ―democracy― worked in this country. I headed up the 1972 McGovern campaign in our town. I am not to blame for Watergate. That was the last time I worked in a political campaign.

I was determined to keep this blog free from my amateurish political ramblings, but I find it almost impossible to insulate myself from political machinations these days. Our presidential cabal (a cabal is a group of plotters against the government, but these are governmental plotters against the people) has one facility above all others, i.e., to catch us off-guard with some (ultimately) meaningless but (deliberately) bewitching bit of chicanery every day. Steve Bannon is the master-mind of these dangerous distractions. We are living in the era of the “shock event.”

If the shock event strategy works, though, many of you will blame each other, rather than Bannon, for the fallout. And the country will have been tricked into accepting their real goal (Heather Richardson, Facebook, January 29, 2017; Richardson is Professor of History at Boston College).

When I was young(er), I accepted many assumptions that were probably naively dangerous. Having come of age in the era of the anti-Vietnam War protests, I thought the American democratic process would eventually right the course of the ship of state. After all, Lyndon Johnson was unceremoniously convinced not to run for reelection. We got Nixon/Kissinger in his place, but they did withdraw from Viet Nam in 1975.

We (I, at any rate) were too naïve to realize that the correction of course would be so drastic it would begin the slide ever more to the right until we are being coerced (not led) by Steve Bannon, Chief White House Strategist and former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, who says he doesn’t

. . . believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and [I] certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that. It’s going to be an insurgent, center-right populist movement that is virulently anti-establishment, and it’s going to continue to hammer this city, both the progressive left and the institutional Republican Party. (Conor Friedersdorf. “The Radical Anti-Conservatism of Stephen Bannon.” The Atlantic. Aug 25, 2016.)

“. . . an insurgent movement . . . that is virulently anti-establishment . . .” except for one central component of the establishment. The

. . . big banks were never the focus of his [Bannon’s] animus. “Goldman Sachs isn’t the firm it once was when I worked for it,” he explained in a gentle 2010 critique, but “it is still one of the building blocks of our capitalist society” (Friedersdorf).

The purpose of “trick[ing us into] accepting their real goal” is to destroy government function and finally to invest private corporations with all power and autonomy, that is, to give the final victory to the capitalistic oligarchy. His (and Trump’s) belief in the capitalist iron fist is religious in its fervor.

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion. The proof of capitalism’s religious structure―as not only a religiously conditioned construction . . . but as an essentially religious phenomenon―still today misleads one to a boundless, universal polemic . . . .
___Three characteristics of the religious structure of capitalism are, however, recognizable at present. First, capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. Within it everything only has meaning in direct relation to the cult . . .  This concretization of the cult connects with a second characteristic of capitalism: the permanent duration of the cult . . .  Third, this is a cult that engenders blame. Capitalism is presumably the first case of a blaming, rather than a repenting cult. Herein stands this religious system in the fall of a tremendous movement. An enormous feeling of guilt not itself knowing how to repent, grasps at the cult . . . (Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings, Volume 1, 1913–1926, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard Belknap, 1996.)

Trump has an overarching reason for neither releasing his tax records nor divesting himself of his properties. It’s quite simple. Everything he (they) have done so far in the official life of the cabal is designed to prepare the way for the final and complete establishment of what they believe is the American religion―capitalism―and the subordination of the democratic order to their religious one.

Besides Bannon, Trump’s nominees for high government positions include:

  • Chairman Council of Economic Advisors― Gary Cohn, President and COO of Goldman Sachs;
  • Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission― Jay Clayton, partner at Manhattan law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, whose clients include Goldman Sachs;
  • Secretary of State―Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil for the last decade;
  • Secretary of the Treasury― Steven Munuchin,  a former senior executive at Goldman Sachs;
  • Secretary of Labor― Andrew Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Holdings;
  • Secretary of Education― Betsy Devos, billionaire Republican donor whose wealth is from Amway;
  • Secretary of Commerce― Wilbur Ross, another billionaire, for 25 years, CEO of Rothschild Inc.

Am I even wackier than I was in the ‘70s when I was traipsing from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Iowa City, and points between participating in the movement to end the Viet Nam War? Does my analysis of Trump’s refusal to divest himself of his capitalist holdings in order to fulfill his oath to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” seem over-the-top, conspiratorial, without evidence? I’m sure it is all of those things.

I am an agnostic. My agnosticism applies to all religions, including capitalism.  I stand with Diagoras the Atheist of Melos, the fifth century Greek poet, who was the original atheist and free thinker.

He mocked the Eleusinian mysteries . . . and was outlawed from Athens for hurling the wooden statue of a god into a fire and sarcastically urging it to perform a miracle to save itself . . .  [He visited] a votive temple on the Aegean island of Samothrace. Those who escaped from shipwrecks or were saved from drowning at sea would display portraits of themselves here in thanks to the great sea god Neptune. “Surely,” Diagoras was challenged by a believer, “these portraits are proof that the gods really do intervene in human affairs?” Diagoras [replied], “Yea, but . . . where are they painted that are drowned?” (Petticrew, Mark. “Diagoras of Melos (500 BC): An Early Analyst of Publication Bias.” Lancet 352.9139. 1998: 1558.)

Where are the paintings of those whom capitalism has not saved?

2 Responses to “. . . a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. . .” (Walter Benjamin)

  1. Capitalism is certainly a faith, Harold, which these days is supposed to equate to being the same as a religion (“faith” is a bit tonier, isn’t it, sounds more substantive as well). I understand the point he’s making, that capitalism is something people believe in deeply and castigate others for opposing. But, then, Nazism, Stalinism, vegetarianism, et al. are all faiths, or cults, as well, no?

    Also, I have been appalled at the reaction of my liberal friends to the election. I see the same mentality, i.e. purely visceral mean-spiritedness, in many of them that I saw in the Republican Right when Obama was elected in 2008 (Trump among them)–that he was not an American, was Muslim, possibly a terrorist himself and ran for office only so he could destroy the nation. It’s been an education for me in human nature, that intellectual sophistication and income do not in any way correspond with rational thinking.

    Thanks for sharing this bit of your odyssey on the planet. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Pingback: Please don’t think this has degenerated into a political blog. PLEASE! | Me, senescent

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