2009

30 December 2009: Cain and Abel tell tale of US politics

Cain and Abel tell the tale of US politics

It’s been a bummer year, and the next doesn’t portend to be much, if any, better. The climate change conference in Copenhagen was a letdown, the health care reform bill is about as strong as Popeye’s spinach-less arm, and job recovery is as robust as caffeine-free green tea.

Two signs of hope: Afghanistan and the Broncos. Who woulda thunk?! OK, make that one: Afghanistan. The play about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, the teacher who taught Keller to communicate, is aptly called “The Miracle Worker.” Sullivan might have performed a miracle, but then she had only to work with someone who could neither hear nor speak.

Barack Obama has 40-plus Senate conservatives. Before continuing to read, answer one question: In a world in which money is neither a necessity nor a tool, would you continue doing your job or stay in the profession that serves as your life’s work?

I know, some of you are asking, “If there is no such thing as money, what’s the point of existence?” Precisely. It is the point of existence, at least in “civilized” or “advanced” societies.

Conservatives reduce freedom to economics rather than personal behavior, which is something they really want to control. As the Grand Inquisitor in “The Brothers Karamozov” gets at, for most people there is no such thing as economic freedom. He tells “Jesus” he would have been wiser to turn the stones into bread as the tempter urged him to do. In a capitalistic system, only the very rich can ever enjoy the privilege. Everyone else is indentured. Freedom cannot mean being required to do something you hate. And doing something because of obsession and addiction is essentially psychological slavery.

So whether one plays the stock market game to make money as an end unto itself — I can’t ever have enough — or simply works to take care of those inconvenient truths called bills, he/she is a slave, willingly or begrudgingly. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It is a funny thing about money: The rich have more than they can ever need; middle-class folks have or get to give them the illusion it has or can set them free; the upwardly mobile, individuals or nations, will never agree to compromise their ability to get it; and the poor, barring winning a lottery, see it as part of a world in which they will never reside, thus it being pointless to save, accumulate or invest.

Capitalism may be modern-day feudalism, but the story began long before the rise of the medieval economy in the period when mankind shifted from hunting and gathering to farming and manufacturing. The Cain and Abel myth is not about literal fratricide but symbolic and can be read as a tale about how we go about the daily task of survival.

Cain asks the correct question that has served as the essential foundation of conservative thought since: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain is the industrious, capitalistic sort. He takes the land — note the present-tense usage as it is an ongoing story/myth — and makes it productive. It is his property to do with as he wishes. In the meantime, little brother Abel simply heads off into the world of nature and makes do with whatever nature — or God, for deists — provides. He’s a free-thinker and a free being, thus to the conservative Cain a threat. As noted, the story is ongoing and as such is repeated through archetypal action.

Even though aboriginals and other indigenous native peoples engage in trade, it has not been to accumulate wealth as a source of power and hegemony. That is not an intrinsic value of such people. Profit and accumulation of wealth are distinct characteristics of civilization, even those in pre-Columbian America: the Aztecs, Mayas and Incas. Within civilization itself, there are those who work to avoid falling into the trap of avarice. Artists, social workers, teachers, various medical caregivers and small-business people help populate the group.

For them, it’s about what one does and not how much money one makes. They understand the biblical statement “the poor you will always have with you” as an affirmation of the reality of any economic system based on profit. They understand too that a health-care system based on profit, not for providers but for middlemen that have manipulated the system to create an extraneous niche for themselves, is morally perverse.

But then, so is Cain killing his brother and Republicans and conservative Democrats killing meaningful reform of the system by creating a public option within it. Like Abel living freely off the land, a public option would have been bad for that business, and even a Barack Obama capable of walking on water can’t change that reality.

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