[Marxism] Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies - Chris Hedges - Truthdig

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jan 27 06:03:38 MST 2014

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly 
aware that the wealth of industrialized societies was stolen by force 
from the wretched of the earth. All the authority figures on the ship 
are white men—Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, 
from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of 
the poor, mostly men of color. Melville saw how European plundering of 
indigenous cultures from the 16th to the 19th centuries, coupled with 
the use of African slaves as a workforce to replace the natives, was the 
engine that enriched Europe and the United States. The Spaniards’ easy 
seizure of the Aztec and Inca gold following the massive die-off from 
smallpox and [other diseases] among native populations set in motion 
five centuries of unchecked economic and environmental plunder. Karl 
Marx and Adam Smith pointed to the huge influx of wealth from the 
Americas as having made possible the Industrial Revolution and modern 
capitalism. The Industrial Revolution also equipped the industrialized 
state with technologically advanced weapons systems, turning us into the 
most efficient killers on the planet.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin 
for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an 
extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first 
spots the white whale. He knows that “the permanent constitutional 
condition of the manufactured man … is sordidness.” And he plays to this 
sordidness. The whale becomes like everything in the capitalist world a 
commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that 
Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, denounces as “blasphemous,” grips the crew. 
Ahab’s obsession infects the ship.

“I see in [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice 
sinewing it,” Ahab tells Starbuck. “That inscrutable thing is chiefly 
what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale 
principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, 
man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”


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