From Hitler to Pharaoh: 2
This year, a meteor and Passover inspired me to investigate our world's spiritual condition. As a result, I have some good news and some bad news. Short version: the good news is that Hitler’s ghost no longer rules the world; the bad news is that instead we are ruled by the ghost of Pharaoh.
For the long version, I start with the meteor at Chelyabinsk. Dashcam videos impressed me with the cosmic fury of the meteor, but also with the iron nerve of the Russians. Sure there was a mysterious fireball homing in on them; sure it was blindingly bright; and sure it exploded with the force of a 500 kiloton bomb; but they were going to make that turn at the traffic light, and they were going to make it smoothly! What valor! What fortitude! What courage under cosmic bombardment! The people of Chelyabinsk all deserve medals!
My emotions were not just admiration for stalwart character; they also included grief, horror and shame; for that 500 kiloton airburst stirred up painful memories of the Cold War. Those dashcam videos were like a glimpse into the nuclear holocaust that we didn't have. The nightmare was; you'd be in traffic, and suddenly there'd be a bright light, and it gets brighter, and brighter, and brighter...
- but lucky us, it faded away, and it was just a meteor, and the people of Chelyabinsk were going to live, hallelujah! Jesus said, love your enemies. I don't agree with everything the rabbi said, but this time I get it.
This is even though I never thought of the Russians as enemies! More like fellow victims of collective insanity. Here's something strange; I couldn't hate their rulers, the Communists! Well, maybe a little, because I was told to, but not thousands of megatons worth of hate. Here's something even stranger; I couldn't even hate the anti-Communists! Well, maybe a little, and I didn't need to be told to; but again, not thousands of megatons worth of hate.
None of the Cold War made any sense to me. Nobody wanted it, everybody hated it, we even called it M.A.D.; but somehow we all signed on passively. Your tax dollars at work. It was as if the world was in thrall to an evil spirit.
Which brings me to Hitler's ghost. The Cold War was Hitlerian, from top to bottom, inside to out, and beginning to end. Genocide was not a flaw of the system, nor a bug, nor even a feature; genocide was the system. The cold warriors never did the evil deed, though they got close at times; but the threat was deed enough. The Cold War was state-run thermonuclear terrorism; it was psychological abuse of the entire world; it was a crime against mankind. If the Cold War wasn’t evil, then what is?
Part of the wickedness of the planetary death machine was its deflection of responsibility. Russia played Hitler to America; America played Hitler to Russia; and therefore it was all the other side's fault! No-one was to blame, and anything was permitted! America and Russia; best-worst of frenemies!
Philip K Dick's, in his science-fiction novel, "The Man in the High Castle", described an alternate history where the Axis won World War Two. A book in that world - also named "The Man In The High Castle" - imagined an alternate history where the Allies won instead. Someone in that world, wondering about this, threw an I Ching hexagram. It read "Inner Truth". I get Dick's point.
But enough with memories! For it's past now; Gorbachev ruined the whole cozy scheme by walking away. Since then the Pentagon has been scrambling for ways to justify a Cold War budget. They thought they had a winner with stateless terrorists, but frankly this Baby Boomer is unimpressed. I've survived superpower thermonuclear terrorism; an underwear bomber leaves me cold. Yawn!
I distinctly recall being promised a peace dividend. It didn't materialize. Instead the grinding down of the middle class continued, and continues to this very day. Though labor productivity has doubled in the past forty years, post-inflation wages for the poorest 80% have been stagnant or declining. For forty years. Not only have some of my students never known rising wages; some of them are children of parents who have never known rising wages.
These past four decades have seen a technological revolution, and an economic counter-revolution. Vast new wealth now exists, thanks to computers; but those gains have gone exclusively to the very richest amongst us. The 10% to some extent; the 1% to a greater extent; the 1% of the 1%, beyond all belief.
Which brings me to Pharaoh's ghost. The world is now an oligarchy. It is run by malefactors of great wealth. The plutocrats are above the law; they have no loyalties beyond profit; they are accountable to none; their ambition is limitless; their methods are extreme; and they do not know or care about the mass suffering their greed causes. In the security of their rigged wealth, the 1% of the 1% believe themselves immune from the consequences of their crimes and follies. The price will be paid, but not by them; that's the system.
From a Hitlerian Cold War to a Pharaonic New World Order! I suppose it's a slight improvement; being a debt slave is a lesser evil than being a radioactive corpse; but the lesser of two evils is still evil. Also you could argue that Hitler's ghost merely softened us up for Pharaoh's.
Despite this, I am optimistic. It is Passover now, and the Haggadah teaches us that each generation must regard themselves as personally redeemed from the house of bondage. The slave-driver thought himself a god, but he wasn't. Down he went; and it took only ten plagues.