Archive for the 'Opium of the People' Category


Hail the Pope

I am sorry to interrupt the Adele Gödel series: truth is, all the reference material I need is shielded by paid licenses, and the abstracts are too vague to let me understand if paying would actually get me the right article, so my post on fluoridation is stuck, so to say, in thick red mud.


It is hard for any left-winger, or anybody who cares for justice not utter some worry at the election of the new pope. The old one was bad enough. His position on pretty much every issue came straight from the XIII century and his purpose in life seemed to be to drag society back to that time. In other respects, however, he was treated unfairly by, well, people like me. He had been a member of the Hitler Youth, and much has been said about that, mostly because the idea of a Nazi pope, especially one who so much looks like a Star Wars villain, is irresistible. But the truth is that most German boys were in the Hitler Youth at that time, the exceptions being people with far more than ordinary intellectual independence. That kind of people are very rarely religious, let alone on the way to becoming Catholic priests.

The current pope, Mario Bergoglio, is made of sterner stuff. He was not a poop-headed teenager during the reign of Videla and Galtieri. He was a high prelate whose responsibility, both as a christian and as a decent human being, was denouncing and opposing the atrocities of the regime. Instead, he was somewhat involved in the disappearance of (at least) two other priests. The two reappeared, naked and drugged; versions then differ, with human rights activists claiming Bergoglio handed them to the junta, and Bergoglio claiming he worked behind the scenes to ensure their release.

It doesn’t matter. In the former case, Bergoglio would be a murderous opportunist using the regime to get rid of colleagues he disliked. In the latter, he would have been so involved with the shady characters of the junta he could affect their decisions without any public denunciation.

Not that that the choice of a man so muddled in murder is particularly surprising. The Catholic church, as it loves to drivel, is rooted in tradition and, albeit one would be hard pressed to find a worse pope in recent times, endorsing massacres of civilian populations and the rooting out of intellectuals is not Francis’ prerogative: pope Innocent III did the same in Southern France, destroying the most vibrant culture around the Mediterranean. The amount of civilians summarily executed (mostly by burning) was about the same as under Videla and Galtieri, close to 20000. Occitanic culture, possibly like Argentina, would never recover.

Well, for Catholics, a pope is assumed innocent until all witness have been silenced, and all evidence muddled with, and I expect people will keep on asking me for more “evidence”; you can find more about it here.

Update (25/3/2013): the pictures of a priest and Videla smiling at each other are not of Bergoglio; which, of course, doesn’t make him any less of a scoundrel.


Capitalism as a Cargo Cult

I have hinted before at the fact that capitalism is not so much a political but rather a religious idea; in order to make the Reader understand how, I will not so much focus on the definition of religion (there are thousands, and I am not really interested in politically correct mumbo-jumbo), but rather on which practices commonly characterize successful religions. These are:

  1. The presence of a set of arbitrary Rules that are not open for discussion.
  2. The promise of happiness in the future (usually, after death) in exchange for present misery and for following the Rules.
  3. The empowerment of a priestly or prophetic class whose task is interpreting the Rules, and whose members enjoy both luxury and the respect of those who do not belong to it.
  4. Natalism, in the sense of encouraging the adherents to reproduce as much as possible: a religion’s success is in numbers, and religion is most often picked from parents.
  5. Harassment, emargination or oppression of those who do not adhere to the religion.
  6. Rituals.
  7. Sectarianism: splitting into slightly different but reciprocally hostile currents of thought.

Is this much different from capitalism? Not really.

  1. Capitalism has promulgated for years economic theories that have no theoretical or experimental base, but which nobody is allowed to discuss. Reducing salaries is supposed to bring prosperity. Reducing taxes is supposed to improve state budgets. Cutting jobs is supposed to reduce unemployment. Putting resources in the hands of few is supposed to be good for everybody. The bankruptcy of banks is going to bring the End of the World as We Know It. All this runs contrary to both reason and history, but nobody who believes in capitalism discusses it.
  2. All the former has a vague, eschatological character: where Soviet communism made five years  plans, capitalism applies policies that are supposed to work sometimes in the future.
  3. Believers in capitalism bear no grudges towards the truly rich, no matter how ill-gotten their gains are. In fact, they think nothing of paying $831 each for a “stimulus package” of which, two years later, 16% had already been used for paying bonuses to the same managers who had caused the crisis it was supposed to solve (the rest merely disappeared).
  4. Capitalist beliefs are associated with high birth rates; Eastern European countries, which are still heavily influenced by communism, are at the bottom of the list; Cuba is the lowest in the Caribbean. Local culture and availability of resources have some influence as well, as do non-integrated immigrant communities, but capitalism systematically promotes the wife-country house-and-children culture; and never mind if you can’t afford the house.
  5. Capitalist governments think nothing of outlawing communist parties, forming anti-Comintern pacts, pepper-spraying demonstrators, accusing anti-capitalists of terrorism, using state militia as strike-breakers or plainly killing  left-wing politicians. It happened in Chile, it happened in Argentina, it happened in Indonesia and, unless you do something about it, it will happen where you live. On a less dramatic scale, it is impossible for avowed communists to have an industrial career in most countries: the Present Writer is forced to use a pseudonym to keep his job, as do many other left-wing bloggers.
  6. There is nothing beautiful, or comfortable, in travelling with a 10-metre limousine. Caviar has a vague taste of fish, but nobody in his right mind would prefer it to a sole. People with self-respect, the kind of people who do not sit on corners drinking from a paper bag, will never taste worse wine than Champagne. Golf is, as, in the words of Mark Twain, “a good walk spoiled”. This doesn’t matter to the aspiring capitalist: these are ritual tools, not utilities.
  7. There is much-quoted book called The Black Book of Communism. There is no black book of capitalism because capitalism is so fragmented in almost-identical but non-mutually-recognizing movements that it has successfully rejected any historical responsibility. The Peterloo Massacre, the peasants slaughtered in Guatemala and Viet Nam, the intellectuals dumped in the sea by Gualtieri and Pinochet, those hacked to death in Indonesia and those shot by the Freikorps in Berlin are victims of the same ideology; but when it comes to criticising it, we are not allowed to call it capitalism: all of a sudden, we have to think of individual responsibilities.

But which kind of religion is Capitalism? It is hard to assess: the fact of being dogmatic, murderous and continuously attempting to pervert law and government is typical of old-world monotheistic religions; however, Capitalism, unknown to many, has actually defined itself as a religion, by creating of the concept of cargo cult.

A cargo cult is or, rather, would be, a Melanesian religion where wealth simply falls from the sky or drifts ashore without its adherents having to go through the tedious details of production. They would just have to imitate a military parade, or something like that. Reports of such cults started appearing in anthropological papers from the early 40’s, and prospered during the age in which, in the “free world”, being a racist was considered hip, that is, until the early 70’s. After that, the papers became both rarer and more critical until, in the 80’s, sociologists mostly wrote about cargo cults to say that they never existed, and that the idea was invented to make Melanesians look like uncivilized idiots. Throughout all this, nobody behind the Iron Curtain ever wrote about cargo cults: as they would later do with lobotomy, Soviet scholars immediately identified the idea as pseudoscience and never endorsed it.  It pervaded popular culture, anyhow, and Michael Rutschky used it in relation to the protests that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall. Afterwards, it became gradually clear that the idea of cargo cult was mostly a projection of capitalist tendencies on obscure and heterogeneous South Pacific cultures which we expected to behave like us; this resembled the way bad science fiction writers have aliens from Outer Space to speak English to each other.

By 2004, anthropologist Doug Dalton was calling the cargo cult concept “The Mimetic Critique of Capitalist Culture”. And why not? Melanesians do not, it turns out, expect to get American-made goods by holding mock military parades. But we do expect to receive Chinese-made goods by bombing Syria. And that, my honoured readers, is religion.