On Capital Punishment

Beheading of John the Baptist, woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld, 1860

There’s no ambiguity in the term: capital punishment is killing, carried out by an entity commonly, but not exclusively, judicially empowered.  It refers only to the killing of persons, of course.  Doesn’t it?

In this uniquely terrible time in America, when there is such fathomless confusion and desperation, such vitriolic, violent and conflicted fury in the adversarial masses, when we watch the empty catechism of our national mythology shatter and evaporate, when we are compelled to stare into the abyss of all our historic falsity, pretense, viciousness and dishonor, when national disintegration and death seem not only possible but likely, to hold on to sanity one must try to understand how this could have come to be.

How is it that a nation that had as close to a truly fresh start as any known, that, free of the socio-economic bonds and fetters of ossified, post-feudal Europe and unencumbered by the congealed paralysis of tradition that strangled Africa and the Orient, might have evolved according to the best  Enlightenment ideals and humane practices, has declined to a point where its political farce is moribund and stinking, its economic reality is obscenely vicious, and its whole society is crippled by anxiety, fear and racial hatred?

It’s not possible to trace and catalog the impenetrably tangled complex of historical decisions and choices that, in aggregate, over time, led to the critical, perhaps fatal, condition in which we are enmeshed and imprisoned today, but that’s not required.  What is required is a species of miracle.  One that only occurs when mankind makes a quantum cognitive leap from one universal, absolute, and ruling dogma to a wiser, sounder paradigm.

The leap that must be made, and against which the odds are astronomical, is from the petrified religion of Capitalism to a life-centered, life-preserving economic system.  If this transition is not made and Capitalism is allowed to continue its mindless, murderous assault on all life it will destroy the natural world, including the human race.  That all humanity is not afire with passion to demand this leap be made is due entirely to the managed ignorance and  policed impotence of The People perpetuated by the Capitalist Tyranny.

Capitalism has been a tool of privilege and power, and a cynical, cruel, malevolent fraud from its beginnings.  In its simple, ingenious design it has proven to be the most efficient tool for mercilessly exploiting human vulnerability and utterly debasing rational government ever devised by the perverse mind of Man.  Its simple basis is using money to extract surplus value from workers paid the lowest possible wage.  In situations of general human poverty–which, historically was nearly everywhere, always–Capital paid only the bare pittance that could keep its miserable labor pool alive.

Marx, in his prolix, academically impenetrable prose, clinically dissected and dismembered Capitalism long ago, but only after its raging infection had armed controlling elites with a financial bonanza that enabled them to own entire governments and impose their vile dogma on the great mass of humanity.  It was sold as a means–the only one–to generate prosperity which would benefit all justly, according to their contributions to its success.  That was the mantra, endlessly repeated and affirmed by the power of the state, that allowed it to assume the magical character of a religion.

In Marx’s day, Capitalism evolved in an atmosphere of violent, unregulated blood and guts competition, and enterprises stood or fell, throve of failed, on the basis of “to the victor belong the spoils”.  Many great fortunes in the 19th and early 20th centuries saw their massive success and consolidation built of the bones and blood of their out-hustled, out-maneuvered rivals.

That kind of open warfare, so damaging to so many Capitalist entities, went out through the brokered collusion of industry and government by World War I.  Socialism, ever its bete noir, saw its central tenets appropriated to change Capitalism’s rules, to diminish raw competition, and to shore up the howling fraud of private enterprise.  By the Great Depression Capitalism had become a welfare client of nations and a bad joke for cognoscenti.

Keynes said it: “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of motives, will somehow work for the benefit of all.”

Though both critics and oligarchs knew its falsity, and though its ruinous, catastrophic crashes had repeatedly rocked the world, violently battering working people, its propaganda prevailed.  That humanity is ignorant and gullible is not news, witness America today, and recovery from the fully metastasized systemic disease of the Capitalist catechism is glacial in this nation of baffled, deluded people, in spite of their long suffering under it.

J.K. Galbraith nailed its hucksters to the wall: “The modern Conservative is engaged in one of mankind’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy: the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

But that, too, is outdated.  They no longer search.  They make no effort to justify themselves and their crime.  Their power, entrenched and buttressed by rented governments, permits them to gloat openly and flaunt their piracy.  They truly believe, in the face of the mortal chaos they’ve created, that–as the Harpy, Maggie Thatcher, once boasted–there is no alternative.

It’s not so.  There is today no continuity of what was called Capitalism.  It’s dead.  It doesn’t exist.  The phony artifact of classic Capitalism long since ceased to be about initiative, cunning, and independent rapacity, and is now a sick racket on life support, relying on government welfare with no need to function efficiently or even adequately.  Trillions are funneled into it by the government it owns to fuel the Imperial War Machine and fade the global crap game of debt and derivatives it runs as a casino.  When bets go bust the state manufactures more fiat money with less and less real value, jeopardizing the dollar hegemony that is Welfare Capitalisms only support.

The Imperial State, borrowing from itself, and peddling cheapened money to financially captive foreign governments to fund its militarist follies and further enrich its billionaire owners, having raped its own country’s natural resources, fouled the whole world’s air, land, and oceans, murdered many millions of the guiltless poor and helpless, and stolen its citizens birthright and future, teeters perilously at the brink of implosion and meltdown.

Capital punishment, indeed…

When hope fails, magical thinking begins.  A miracle of human evolution is needed for life to continue.  There is no time left, and there are no options, no escapes, no dodges.  Life forms must adapt, evolve, or die.  Contrary to our central myth, we are not an exception.  We must act now, and choose life or extinction.  This will be our finest hour.  Or, very soon, our last.

Paul Edwards is a writer and film-maker in Montana. He can be reached at: hgmnude@bresnan.net