Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ahab on the Quarter Deck-Melville and the American Savage

At the very least, the former United States of America is a grandiose place, once a veritable paradise of natural wilderness and beckoning opportunity, slumbering in the primeval dream of world history, mutely awaiting its eventual blood-soaked despoiling by the forward colonization of Western European chauvinistic imperialism which, after washing back and forth from sea to shining sea in a veritable orgy of unparalleled sanguinary fury of greed and rapacious opportunism, creative of the most singular territorial expansion and prodigious elaboration of the scientific technological imperative, seems to have finally drained from its immense and potentially infinite promise the last vestiges of such an enormous bounty and, more importantly, the unquenchable spirit of pioneering adventure which had come to represent at once the immense and unforgivable excesses of a piratical, unyielding triumphalism and yet also an unprecedented development immeasurably advancing our present civilization and now reigning as its supreme, though rapidly fading, world empire.

One has to ask whether this unparalleled and extraordinary revolution in human history
embodies an evolution of civilization as a distinct entity or merely embodies "an advanced state of barbarism" as Louis Leary points out in his introduction to Herman Melville's "His Fifty Years Of Exile-Israel Potter". Indeed, Georges Cemenceau expands upon this observation in his pithy and pejorative assessment- "America has gone from barbarism to degeneracy without the usual interim of civilization". Melville himself, in "Israel Potter", gives voice to this singular dichotomy in the portrait he paints of the legendary revolutionary war hero John Paul Jones.
"Sharing the same blood with England, and yet her proved foe in two wars-not wholly inclined at bottom to forget an old grudge-intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart, America is, or may yet be the Paul Jones of nations."

Of course one of the most rarely mentioned facts regarding the implosion of the national economy is the staggering and unsustainable military expenditures which have for decades drained the public coffers at an exponential and alarming rate as the American military juggernaut rampages across an ever widening international landscape. Little mention is ever made of the absolute dependence of so-called defense spending upon the unabated issuance of US Treasury debt. (see Scarcely Surprising Correlation on Kushmonster). There is no little irony in the fact that the holder of some $2 trillion of that debt, the People's Republic of China, is also now emerging as the most significant challenge to US military dominance since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. (see The Precipice and the Abyss on Kushmonster) Indeed, such a precarious economic and geopolitical arrangement has led some commentators to question just how long China will exchange the rapidly diminishing economic advantages once inherent in such a relationship for its ongoing geopolitical containment and encirclement by the West.

John Paul Jones' incredible forays into British territorial waters and shipping lanes and even the English mainland during the revolutionary war presaged the maritime supremacy with which the nascent United States Navy came to assume from its former sovereign. Jones' attack on the English coal exporting port of Whitehaven and the legendary battle of the Bon Homme Richard with the British warship Serapis mark the advent of the more that a century of dominance by US Navy on the high seas, laying the groundwork for unchallenged ascendancy of the American imperialism and empire.

As such an ascendancy has become increasingly challenged by the sustained growth in China's naval and air power and its expanding footprint especially throughout South Asia and into the African continent, the US has sought to reinforce its own presence with Japanese and South Korean allies in the South China and Yellow Seas. Of course this geopolitical stratagem only attempts to seal the encirclement of the Middle Kingdom already underway by the massive US military presence across the Middle East and through Central Asia as outlined in Zbigniev Brzezinski's "The Grand Chessboard"

Ahab on the Quarterdeck

Melville's most notable anti-hero is a figure who has come to symbolize the maniacal obsessions which wrack the American psyche. Captain Ahab's pursuit of the monster Moby Dick is a latter day parable which exposes the lengths to which the dark nether worlds of our collective unconscious can compell our actions. The paranoid and Puritanical pursuit of evil leads inexorably to the cathartic cataclysm which consumes the Pequod and its crew as the corpse of their captain lashed to the Whale beckons them to their doom. Melville's prophetic vision prefigured the ultimate fate of the United States now being realized as the nation, awash in a deluge of massive social dislocation and burdened with unsustainable debt, pitches blindly across a darkening and swelling sea like a rudderless vessel driven to inevitable shipwreck.

The thirty sixth chapter of "Moby Dick" entitled The Quarterdeck bears witness to the critical moment when, nailing an ounce of gold to the mainmast, Ahab reveals the nature of his monomaniacal quest to which each member of the crew has unwittingly committed. In a druidical incantation of mesmerizing intensity, Ahab, with a preternatural vehemence, elicits from his crew a sacerdotal oath sealed with draughts of an infernal grog to hunt Moby Dick to the death.

"It seemed as though, by some nameless interior volition he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated with the Leyden Jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong sustained and mystic aspect..."

"Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made partners to this indissoluble league Ha! Starbuck, the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it.Drink ye harpooners! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboats bow-Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death"

It takes little imagination to discern the obvious parallels that can be drawn between Melville's creative evocations and similar strain of malignant and obsessive preoccupation with projected evil which has haunted this nation since its inception. From the early days of Puritanism to the tent house revivalism of modern neo-conservative politics, the idée fixe of american consciousness has been the projection of an unacknowledged subjective evil into a monolithic, implacable force to be hunted down at all costs and exterminated. In keeping with the ritualistic conjurations of Ahab's mediumistic exhortations to the crew of the Pequod, the resultant crusades have invariably assumed the transports of a religious fervor leavened with a toxic admixture of jingoism, xenophobia, and overt racism. Carl Jung referred to this collective aberration as a psychological phenomenon which overwhelms and ultimately effaces individual responsibility and conscience in a devastating flood of unconscious contents. This "participation mystique" he suggests was responsible for the collective psychosis which gripped the 80 millions of German peoples in their fatal fascination with their Führer.

The Princes of This World

Our own present elaborate stage-managed foreign policy misadventure has a multiplicity of Ahabs something like the army of Agent Smiths in the film, The Matrix. With the subliminal manipulations of their Bernaysian propaganda combine piggybacked on the pulsating waves of the electronic media and disseminated through controlled organs of print media, a bewitching and incantatory spell is cast, enlisting millions of "partners to this indissoluble league" mutely and obediently manning the levers, wheels and cogs of the diabolic machinery carrying them to the inevitable looming cataclysm of destruction. While we acknowledge that greed and the lust for absolute power are productive of the greatest ills that have befallen humanity, it is also proverbial that the ordinary mortal is often quickly ensnared by the duplicitous schemes these madmen have concocted for the attainment of their nefarious aims. Yet Ahab's vendetta against Leviathan partakes of a more profound metaphysical reality and wars not only against the vast and undecipherable natural world which imprisons and torments his spirit but against God Himself much as does Milton's Lucifer rebel against his heavenly confines in the epic "Paradise Lost".

Yet, far from transpiring in what might be thought by many to be some airy realm of
imaginative flights and quaint myths and the like, this human tragedy partakes of our own flesh and blood and ultimately determines the eternal destiny of the incorporeal spirit. It was not without supreme and ultimate cogency that the biblical narrative presents us with the ironic tableau of Lucifer, the Prince of this world tempting the Prince of Peace with the kingdoms of the world if He only bow down and worship him. Obviously the lord of the temporal realm, he lays rightful claim to the principalities which constitute it. The immediate and undeniable inference is that those who inhabit the thrones and halls of power have been bestowed with such passing and ephemeral glories by he whose it is to grant it to them on condition of their absolute fealty to no one less than he, the fallen angel of light, Lucifer, the prince of darkness. When one considers the infernal stench of the surpassing rank corruption which attends and indeed emanates from the princes of this world and the death and destruction which they unyieldingly sow at the behest of their master, it becomes evident that all those high grand councils of such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergs, The Council of Thirty, The Round Table and all their requisite foundations, think tanks, and institutes ad nauseam are but the infestations and habitations of demonic power lurking treacherously behind the trappings of governance as invested in the various congresses, parliaments, and tortuously complex and nightmarish bureaucratic institutions which by dint of law concoct ever new feral madnesses and devilish brews in their "murderous chalices". (continued)

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