The Melting Empire

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Recently by Thomas Luongo: The Myotonic Economy

The Emperor of Ice Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

~ Wallace Stevens (1922)

To follow up on Karen Kwiatkowski’s recent article on the manifest differences between Jonah Goldberg and Julian Assange, I would like to remind everyone of the still-relevant words of the great Wallace Stevens and his portrayal of a poor family’s funeral preparations written during the depression of 1920—21, the one no one remembers. Though the subject matters could not be farther apart in scope, the dynamics portrayed are inextricably linked. Both speak to the horrors of detached, authoritarian rule and the corruption it spawns. While the violence of Stevens’ poem is implied, the violence advocated by people such as Goldberg is real. How real? We can thank Julian Assange and his staff at Wikileaks for telling us.

The numbers are horrifying.

Rather than face the magnitude of the violence unleashed by our collective insanity, it is better to scramble around, doing the bidding of the Emperor in his chair, barking irrelevant orders. If there is one thing I have come to accept about humans, it is their near infinite capacity for absolving themselves and those they identify with of blame for that which they have done. Complain about the Emperor and his insanity and you will likely hear some riff on, "He may be a bad u2018king’ but he’s our king." Press the issue with facts and reason and the response will likely be, "My country, right or wrong." Lastly, when you remind them of the immorality of it all their last response is usually, "If you don’t like it here, leave." Interspersed with these proclamations of group loyalty will be ad hominem attacks on those that are the victims, as if name-calling and xenophobia will wash away the culpability. I am reminded of the great scene at the end of Clint Eastwood’s "Unforgiven" where The Kid tries to console himself with the horror of killing a man he didn’t know and had no claim to press by saying, "Well, I guess he had it comin’." To which Bill Munny replies, "We’ve all got it comin’, Kid."

Given the magnitude of the slaughter performed with our personal capital, if not with the blessing of many, we, as Americans, are going to have to come to terms with the fact that we do, indeed, have it coming to us. Our victims will not treat us kindly. I am not just talking about Iraq here, but of the cumulative effect of all of the myriad agencies’ actions throughout our history. All of the wars, be they overt or covert, have created generations of enemies; altered the course of innumerable lives spanning dozens of cultures for no other reason than because we could. While a people and their government may not be the same thing, it is our actions or lack thereof, especially in a democratic system that enables those in government to do these things. They are, therefore, our responsibility, whether we approve of them or not.

I just recently re-watched the entire run of Babylon 5 and the fate of the Centauri as a race and the character of Londo in particular is an apt metaphor for what may be coming our way when our empire of violence and theft begins to truly unravel. By embracing powers he did not understand, Londo allowed his people to rampage across the landscape, reveling in the power and fame it brought him and them. It unleashed a cycle of violence that culminates in those most affected by their slaughter to slaughter them in return. The only way to stop wholesale destruction of his culture and race is for Londo to give up his humanity; making him a slave to the very power that he so craved at the beginning of the story; a slave, ultimately, to his own choices. His is the story of what would have happened to Boromir had he wrested the Ring from Frodo at the Ford of Rauros and taken it back to Gondor, even if his motives were less noble than Boromir’s.

Ours was supposedly a society founded on the liberal principles of self-ownership and self-governance and yet we have morphed into a gigantic, fascist police state whose chief exports are debt and violence. Moreover, those most entrusted with shedding light on the truth turn their eyes inward, looking only at and serving those issuing the edicts as opposed to the effects of those edicts; cheerleading the empire, or worse, making excuses for it, while everyone else suffers.

And now, here we stand after our supposed bi-annual peaceful revolution via the ballot box faced with a Congress which has been given a clear message to change our course; take us back from the brink of disaster. But, within 24 hours of that the body which greases the wheels of our empire, the Fed, announced a plan to inject so much grease into the engine so that it can spin out of control even faster than it already is. And the cheerleaders say it was necessary.

So, with the Repuglicans in charge the violence abroad will not end and with the Fed ramping up the printing press the debt will continue, so what, if anything has changed by this little drama? If elections are a morality play then we are definitely on course for a grisly end come Act V. At least Londo had the decency to be horrified by what he unleashed and attempted to make amends even with the foreknowledge that it would be the death of him. It makes his story poignant and sad, maybe even forgivable. Is there anyone recently (re)elected to Congress who is willing to go that far to save us? Can we, at this point, even be saved even if this mythical person existed? Looking at the debt numbers and their context I would have to say no. Did we wake up to the magnitude of our depravity just in time to see the source of the light be a train as opposed to the way out?

Our empire of violence and debt is melting like the ice cream ordered by the "roller of big cigars" in Stevens’ poem in the light of the truth of its corruption. As a libertarian I know that the heart of this corruption is the monetary system and degradation of individual property rights. As an Austrian Economist I know that the "center cannot hold," to quote W.B. Yeats, and that there will be a reckoning, "mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world." I also know that when it falls, no matter who we were beforehand, unfortunately, none of us will be spared the outcome. Do we deserve it? I don’t know. I do know, as Bill Munny knew that "deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it." Let be truly be finale of seem. The past is, as they say, prologue. What you do in the meantime is between you and your conscience.

Thomas Luongo [send him email] is a professional chemist, amateur economist and obstreperous recovering Yankee residing in North Florida.

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