Opening the Jar of Pandora

A person playing a music boxDescription automatically generated

Pandora by John William Waterhouse, 1896. Modern artists made the Jar (Pithos) of Pandora into a box. Public Domain

Prologue

Zeus had the ungodly notion of making men miserable with his ploy of an artificial woman with a Jar (Pithos) full of poisons. Zeus asked the metallurgist god Hephaistos to engineer the first woman in order to revenge the noble action of Prometheus of giving men the fire of knowledge. Zeus knew that Pandora (Πανδώρα, gift from all the gods, all-endowed, all-gifted) would eventually open her beautiful Jar, only to discover too late to her misfortune that the Jar was full of diseases, wars, and a variety of other calamities. The other name of Pandora was Anesidora (Ανησίδωρα, sending gifts from the Earth). The rest of the gods gave Pandora virtues and beauty. Athena taught her skills and spinning. Aphrodite gave her the graces of beauty and limb-gnawing passion. Hermes incorporated in her the mind and behavior that made her a scourge to men. Ironically, Pandora married Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus, who had warned him never to accept a gift from Zeus.

The Pandora myth / story comes to us from Hesiod,[1] the greatest epic poet after Homer. Hesiod built the narrative he saw fit for the first woman. The story is symbolic of the the ups and downs of Greek society and humanity, from flourishing to the brink of extermination and extinction. Pandora survives, her Jar releasing all the more nasty weapons, pandemics, and other esoteric poisons. Each society has its own version of the Pandora myth. The American Pandora is largely unknown, so much have Americans been drugged by her gifts, one of which is forgetfulness of history. This pathology is striking to anthropogenic catastrophes like climate change and genocides.

What happened to climate change?

In February 2024, the daily headlines were discouraging. Suddenly, the bad news about climate change all but disappeared. The capture of the media by the fossil fuel companies emptied the newspapers and television stations from the sporadic reporting and reflection on the state of our civilization. Even if the temperature of the planet did not rise, how’s is it possible for the workings of the entire planet to be so dependent on petroleum, natural gas, and coal? No one created these products. They are the consequence of millions of years of geological activities and forces in nature. If they are beneficial to humanity, and that is problematic, they cannot possibly become private property. Just because a company extracts petroleum, it does not mean that company has ownership rights over something it never created. Besides, the Earth owns us. We don’t and cannot own our Mother Earth.

However, the Europeans who inherited Greek science and technology during the Renaissance, in the 15th and `6th centuries, turned Greek wisdom upside down. They used Greek mathematics, mathematical physics, mathematical astronomy, metallurgy, and engineering to attack and control the natural world, not to live in harmony within its endless riches. No, they wanted everything, including the right to enslave other humans. Greek democracy, science and philosophy were against such aggression. They were too complicated and demanding. In the hands of monarchical Europeans and, eventually Americans, democracy, for example, became representative and monarchical. This brought into being and strengthened empires and endless wars. Petroleum and coal became the linchpin of such political and strategic violence. Eventually, wars became mechanized and global. World Wars I and II probably killed more than 100 million humans and caused unfathomable destruction in the natural world: mountains, forests, wetlands, farmland, drinking water, seas, oceans, and the atmosphere. The two world conflagrations also intensified the rising planetary temperature, making it a permanent warning that human civilization was becoming a celestial bomb.

Yet, climate change / chaos has been eclipsed in the public consciousness by wars and ceaseless propaganda by fossil fuel industries and business as usual.

The American empire of billionaires

America, a giant of a country that so many people, including me, had so many hopes for an alternative to the European monarchical model, has failed to sustain its original idea of a Greek democracy. Instead the 50 states making up its Constitution and the rule of law, are behaving like independent countries. They have been attracting, and repulsing citizens of divergent ideologies, religious superstitions, and extraordinary class biases and differences. One percent of the richest Americans controls practically everything – something like 39 trillion dollars or about a third of the country’s wealth. The so-called Supreme Court has been contributing to America’s decline with its unjust and divisive rulings on religion, abortion, climate change, and former President Trump. Such discord has been a fertile ground for billionaires. Like enemies of democracy and Western civilization, these extremely wealthy people are denying climate change. They fund plutocracy. That is, they support academics and other experts to argue for a minimum role of government. No regulation, businessmen know best. The federal government is only good for funding the military and promote perpetual wars. Unregulated capitalism, factory farming on gigantic pieces of land, and Artificial Intelligence serve America.

Trump opened the Jar of Pandora

The rise of the billionaire class transformed America from a potential democracy to an outright money oligarchy entirely devoted to war, fake multiculturalism, and unfathomable inequality. This drastic decline and gun mayhems at home and abroad brought Donald Trump out of obscurity and placed him in the White House from 2017 to January 2021. It was as if a man born into wealth and business was catapulted into a royal throne of enormous political power. Trump loved his exclusive position, being the elected emperor of an empire fighting ceaseless wars. He left the wars to his generals. But he had to do something. He used his position to enrich himself and his family. He crippled the federal government, especially the US Environmental Protection Agency. He opened the Pandora’s Box. The country was afflicted by a deadly pandemic whose viruses most likely escaped from animal farms. These animal prisons of filth and disease have been torturing and slaughtering some nine billion animals every year. The pandemic killed millions of people all over the world. Trump made things worse by incompetence, delusion, and ceaseless thirst of taking advantage of the deadly crisis. But more than the pandemic chaos, he dreamt of making the collapsing giant country “great again.” That is, great in pushing the agenda of the billionaires of finally dividing America formally into their own satrapies. But Trump lost the 2020 election. He did not want to leave the lavish White House. He became hysterical and invented the canard of a stolen election. He encouraged his followers to launch a coup. They listened to him. They invaded and wrecked the US Capitol. A bipartisan House Committee investigated Trump’s effort to overthrow the government. They interviewed Trump’s closest associates, and the conclusion was that Trump was behind the state coup. The new administration of Joe Biden promised to follow up and punish Trump, who had also taken home to Florida secret government papers about nuclear weapons. But nothing happened to Trump, save for paying heavy fines for his misconduct with his business in New York and his rape of a woman decades ago.

My explanation for the paralysis of the Biden Justice Department is no more than speculation. President Biden is afraid to really pursue his Trump Nemesis, lest the same things happen to him after he is out of the protective Cyclopean walls of White House. Or there may be a secret law protecting presidents, active and retired, from any persecution.

The Biden wars

I voted for Biden. He promised to act against climate change, a cause I consider life and death threat. However, Biden misled the American people. He acted like his predecessors in favoring the fossil fuel industry. Moreover, Biden became the promoter of war. He brought the NATO countries and funded a terribly dangerous war against nuclear superpower Russia. The proxy country for this misguided war is Ukraine, which was part of Russia for centuries. The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, had repeatedly warned America and Europe not to encroach his country by enlisting Ukraine to NATO. But Biden ignored Putin. He knew that the Obama administration had overthrown the President of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych. So, when Putin sent his armies against Ukraine in February 2022, Biden ordered the 27 countries of NATO to arm and support Ukraine in its war against Russia. Biden naively thought that Ukraine should have no trouble in defeating Russia.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and an experienced economist and diplomat is certain that Biden is doing the bidding of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). President Dwight Eisenhauer warned future presidents and the country not to succumb to the warmongering of the merchants of bombs. But Biden did. He liked the siren song of the manufacturers of munitions. “Biden doesn’t have any realistic plans for Ukraine,” Sachs says, “Ukraine is big business for the MIC—tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of arms contracts, manufacturing facilities across the U.S,, the opportunity to develop and test new weapons systems—so Biden keeps the war going despite the destruction of Ukraine on the battlefield, and the tragic and needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. The MIC, and hence Biden, continue to shun negotiations.”[2]

The second war Biden embraced is the Israeli-Hamas extermination campaign. Hamas is a secret army of the oppressed Palestinians living in the state of Israel. Like the Greeks and Turks, who are unlikely to forgive and forget their hostility for each other, the Palestinians and Israelis are enemies of long standing. The Hamas atrocity (of October 7, 2023) against Jewish citizens of Israel sparked a war of extermination against largely innocent Palestinian civilians by Israel armed and funded by America. The world is stunned by the sheer brutality of ceaseless bombing of Gaza, home to more than two million Palestinians. The UN observers of this World War II-like war find it difficult to remain diplomatic. They describe the atrocities they observe for what they are – atrocities. For example, Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned of an impending slaughter in Rafah, Gaza. On February 13, 2024, he said that “More than half of Gaza’s population – well over 1 million people – are crammed in Rafah, staring death in the face: They have little to eat, hardly any access to medical care, nowhere to sleep, nowhere safe to go.”[3] Another UN diplomat, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on February 22, 2024, that he saw “No end in the trauma [of the war in Gaza].” The humanitarian situation was “shocking, unsustainable and desperate.”[4]

President Lula of Brazil accused Israel with genocide. However, the United States continues to fund Israel’s abhorrent war against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. President Biden likes to have it both ways. He is calling the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu names but dares not order him to stop his war. Jeffrey Sachs explains: “Biden needs to take back U.S. policy from the Israel lobby. The U.S. should stop backing Israel’s extremist and utterly illegal policies. Nor should the U.S. spend any more funds on Israel unless and until Israel lives within international law, including the Genocide Convention, and 21st century ethics. Biden should side with the UN Security Council in calling for an immediate ceasefire and indeed in calling for an immediate move to the two-state solution, including recognition of Palestine as the 194th UN member state, a move that is more than a decade overdue since Palestine requested UN membership in 2011. Israeli leaders have shown not the slightest compunction in killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians, displacing 2 million Gazans, and calling for ethnic cleansing. The International Court of Justice has determined that Israel may well be committing genocide, and the ICJ could make a definitive determination of genocide in the next year or two. Biden would enter history as an enabler of genocide. Yet he still has the chance to be the U.S. president who prevented genocide.”[5]

Sachs is right and I agree with him. But is Biden capable of saying no to the Israel Lobby and the Military Industrial Complex? I don’t think so. He made enticing promises to the country to fight the war against climate change but did not do what he said he would do. Biden, unfortunately for America, is not a reliable or ethical or visionary leader the country needs so desperately now during this perilous time.

After all, Trump opened Pandora’s Jar, releasing uncivil, unpatriotic, contemptuous, even crusading falsehoods among Americans. Democracy and the rule of law suffered from his camouflaged tyranny. He even launched a coup to overthrow the government. And despite these crimes, he is running for president, again. This is why the defects of Biden, his embrace of war and fossil fuels, push him down to the level of Republicans who deny climate change and embrace the Military Industrial Complex.

God politics

The electorate in the United States is confused. Young people are disheartened. They see that the Republicans and the Biden Democrats are not about to phase out fossil fuels, much less abolish war. Forces of conflict, especially those among Evangelicals, are spilling to the streets. The god of the Bible is, once again, back into American politics. The Supreme Court ruled abortion can be regulated by states. Offending women in such a blatant fashion should have led them into the streets, but it did not make a political difference. God and Christianity became political. In fact, the god war in Israel is probably boosting the entirely undemocratic and dangerous falsehood that god ordered the Jews to exterminate their enemies in the promised land (Seventh century BCE Book of Joshua). No god would have done such a crime. The Greeks thought the gods were perfect beings for the good of humanity and the Cosmos. Herodotos says the Greeks called their divinities gods because they believed those divinities had set all things in order and assigned a place to everything.[6] In other words, the gods opened the path of organized knowledge, order, and reflection. According to Aristotle, those cultivating reason and doing science were dear to the gods.[7]

However, the religious leaders of the Israeli government in 2024 cite that Biblical injunction for genocide in explaining and justifying their pitiless war against the Palestinians. “Netanyahu,” says Sachs, “pursues the religious ideology of 7th century BC in the 21st century.”

In this volatile political context of near American civil war, ostracism (exile) of Trump might lessen the dangers for an honest presidential election. The Athenians used to ostracize politicians who threatened their democracy for 10 years. But is America ready and capable of protecting its fragile democracy?

NOTES

1. Hesiod, Theogony 558-612 and Works and Days 60-105.

2. Jeffrey Sachs, “Why Joe Biden is a Foreign Policy Failure,” Common Dreams, January 15, 2024.

3. “Rafah slaughter fears,” UN News, February 13, 2024.

4. UN News, February 22, 2024.

5. Sachs, “Will Netanyahu Bring Down Biden? Common Dreams, February 20, 2024.

6. Herodotos, The Histories 2.52.

7. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1177b31–1179a33.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.