The Wages of Sin
Posted on Apr 10, 2016 in TruthDig
By Chris Hedges
Camden, one of the poorest U.S. cities, is among New Jersey municipalities suffering a crisis of blight since manufacturing disappeared. (Mel Evans / AP)
When Plato wrote "The Republic," his lament for a lost Athenian democracy, he did not believe democracy could be recovered. The classical world, unlike our own, did not see time as linear. Time was cyclical. It inevitably brought decay and eventually death. This true for both individuals and societies. And in his "Republic," Plato proposed that those who attempted in the future to create the ideal state carry out a series of draconian measures, including banning drama and music, which diverted the citizen from performing civic duties and instilled corruption, and removing children from their parents to provide a proper indoctrination. Plato wanted to slow the process of dissolution. He wanted to stymie change. But that decay and death would come was certain, even in Plato's ideal state.
History has proved the ancient Greeks correct: All cultures decay and die. Dying cultures, even when they cannot fully articulate their reality, begin to deeply fear change. Change, they find, brings with it increasing dysfunction, misery and suffering. This fear of change soon becomes irrational. It compounds decay and accelerates morbidity. To see modern-
Those who promise to miraculously roll back time rise up in decaying cultures to hypnotize a bewildered and confused population. Plastic surgeons who provide the illusion of eternal youth, religious leaders who promise a return to a simplified biblical morality, political demagogues who hold out the promise of a renewed greatness, and charlatans offering techniques for self-
When a society laments the past and dreads the future, when it senses the looming presence of death, it falls down a rabbit hole. And as in the case of Alice -
Jobs are gone. Schools are closed. Neighborhoods and cities are in ruin. Despair and poverty dominate lives. Civil liberties are abolished. War is endless. The society self-
Climate change and the looming financial crisis will transform these emotional short circuits into what anthropologists call "crisis cults." Crisis cults serve up illusions of recovered grandeur and empowerment during times of collapse, anxiety and disempowerment. A mythologized past will magically return. The old social hierarchies and rules will again apply. Prescribed rituals and behaviors, including acts of violence to cleanse the society of evil, will vanquish malevolent forces. These crisis cults -
I spent last weekend in the Second Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, N.J., helping to clear out piles of old books, church records, plastic flowers, worn choir robes and other detritus that were dusty remnants of the white working-
Elizabeth was devastated by the 1982 closure of its Singer plant, which had been built in 1873 and at one time had 10,000 workers. The 1,000 or so African-
The year Singer closed its flagship factory in Elizabeth there were 2,696 plant shutdowns across the United States, resulting in 1,287,000 job losses. Singer workers in Elizabeth under the age of 55 lost all retirement benefits, even if they had worked for the company for decades. Small businesses in the city that depended on the plant went bankrupt.
This sentiment, on display at Donald Trump rallies, will outlive the Trump campaign even should the candidate be, as I expect, deposed by the party elites. It is a very dangerous force. It presages violence against all who appear to have been empowered at the expense of the white working class -
"Generations from the same family worked for Singer," the Rev. Michael Granzen, the senior minister at the Elizabeth church, said of the white workers who lost their jobs. "They suffered, when the plant was closed, not only economic loss but a loss of identity. They were stripped of their daily work routines. They lost social bonds. They no longer had generational goals. They lost hope in the future. They could no longer count on a steady income, health coverage and a secure retirement. Marriages and neighborhoods were torn apart. There was an increase in domestic violence, drug use, alcoholism and crime.
"Many white blue-
Most of these former manufacturing hubs have seen whites flee. Hispanics and blacks, living in terrible poverty, now populate decaying neighborhoods there. Sixty percent of Elizabeth's population today is made up of Latinos, many from Central America.
Elizabeth, like many other cities, has become an internal colony of the poor. It helps provide the bodies that feed the system of mass incarceration. And it, along with other suffering urban centers, has been turned into a toxic dumping ground.
"The environmental hazards multiplied in the years after Singer closed," Granzen said. "As with other cities experiencing industrial decline in New Jersey -
The insidious forms of institutional racism that define America explode as societal death approaches. They express themselves in displays of racial violence. White vigilante groups, desperate to prevent further change, engage in the same use of indiscriminant lethal force practiced by police against unarmed people of color. The continued failure by government to reintegrate the working class back into the economy, to give people hope, dooms us all.
Plato begins "The Republic" by having Socrates go to the port at Piraeus, the most decadent spot in ancient Athens. It was filled with taverns and brothels. It was home to thieves, prostitutes, soldiers and armed gangs. Egyptian, Median, Germanic, Phoenician and Carthaginian sailors and other foreigners -
The port was also where the Athenian war fleet, made up of black trireme ships with bronze-
The Greek polis, or city-
The loss of civic virtue, Plato wrote, left a population hypnotized by the illusions flickering on the wall of a cave. Such distorted images of reality -
At the end, death arrives as a relief.
We are no more immune to the forces of decay and death than were ancient Athens, ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, the Mayans, the Aztecs, Easter Island, Europe's feudal society of lords and serfs, and the monarchal empires in early 20th-
This time, collapse will be planetwide. There will be no new lands to conquer, no new peoples to subjugate, no new natural resources to plunder and exploit. Climate change will teach us a brutal lessen about hubris.
The wages of sin, as Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, is death -
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