Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Aboard the Modern Day Pequod

by MICHAEL KIMAID

Call us all Ishmael.

At least those of us who have been unwittingly conscripted on what we thought was a voyage with purpose only to learn out of the sight of land that we were on a monomaniacal expedition of bloodlust revenge. Those who our Captain Ahab stowed below deck as his chosen harpooners: Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleeza Rice, Fedallahs all, knew what they signed on for. We did not, yet our fates are locked together aboard this modern-day Pequod that is the American war on terror. As such, we do well to reflect on the story as it was told one hundred and fifty four years ago.

In Herman Melville’s epic compendium Moby Dick, Ahab nailed a golden doubloon to the main mast; a prize for whomever harpooned the white whale. Is that not in part what motivates our crew today, as well as the Pequod’s owners, Bildad, Peleg, Halliburton, and their likes? While “they were bent on profitable cruises,” our Ahab is “intent on an audacious, immitigable and supernatural revenge.” Are these together not how they exhort us, as Flasks in the pursuit boat, to break our backs and crack our oars, hearts alive with the prospect of bringing our mad captain his vainglorious trophy? And who does the tumultuous work among the sharks and the very deep itself? Certainly not those who urge such ferocity. The many who drop into the water are the hapless conscripts, Queequegs, Tashtegos and Dagoos, those who obey, tolerate and question not the direction or logic behind the decisions made from inside the secluded Captain’s quarters. Blinded by the invented honor of the blood oath that christened the freshly forged harpoon, they think not to reason why, but only to do or die. Meanwhile those aforementioned Flasks, free of the moral obligations that would make a rational person think twice of the entire project, merely view the blood-stained brine their boat floats in as a sign of success.

Yet there are Starbucks among the crew. Those who question the motivation, the reason and morality behind the decision to chase the white whale of terror, at any, nay, at all costs. Ever more, they come to resent the oath they took to pursue Moby Dick, but questioning the directives of a Captain on a ship is a dangerous prospect. While they increasingly consider the integrity of the enterprise (or lack thereof), their responsibility to the hierarchy of the ship renders their dissent ineffective. “He waxes brave, but nevertheless obeys,” and Ahab knows this. Then there are as many Stubbs aboard the ship, but their dissent is mute. Their refrain is hushed when they hear the ivory leg on the planks: “Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way.” Reason gives way to the perceived need for order, and they stifle their dissent in deference to command. Mutiny is never a serious prospect, but their consciences trouble them to consider it as they lay in the bulk of the vessel at night, frustrated that the “terrible old man” manages to sleep in the gale, steadfastly eyeing the purpose at hand, while they toss and turn with the ship. Those 5,500 Steelkilts in uniform who have acted out, who quit their pumps and harpoons in realization that it is not their business, know too well the consequences. Discipline aboard the ship is harsh, and rebellions are always met with the harshest discipline.

Where does this leave us, Ishmael? Though we cringe at the prospect of Ahab’s directive, we are on this “cannibal of a craft,” bound by the enforced hierarchy that governs it. Or are we? Will our relief come as Ishmael’s did, when the white whale destroys our ship and crew while we are left floating on the waves, clinging to a coffin meant for someone else? Or will it come from elsewhere? Will our Ahab listen to the many Gabriels of as many Jereboam’s warnings that the attempt to destroy the white whale will be his own as well as his entire ship’s and crew’s undoing? Or will a Starbuck or a Stubbs yet unheard rise up from within the ranks of the morbid chain of command to challenge the undertaking at hand? Melville’s outcome is a disastrous one, forewarned by the albatross “in tormented chase of that demon-phantom such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren mazes or midway leave us whelmed.” It is a warning well worth considering so that our fate is not a similar one aboard this modern-day Peqoud.

MICHAEL KIMAID teaches History and Geography at The Firelands College in Huron, Ohio. He can be reached at mkimaid@bgnet.bgsu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail