Reading about President Obama’s meeting with banking and finance CEOs from Wall Street, I couldn’t avoid the unbidden urge to schadenfreude, because, as Michael Moore has observed, “Nothing like it has ever happened”. I am so thrilled at the prospect and spectacle of it that I am capable of swallowing the momentary reflexive gorge that comes up with the realization that, as much as the big shots may feel the pinch, it will be nothing alongside the pain their excesses will have inflicted on the rest of us by the time its over, and they will still be capable of entertaining each other lavishly behind their gates, on the proceeds of their systematic looting.
One automaker CEO is ordered to fall on his sword, while the fat cats get a drink of White House water (okay, but was it tap or bottle?) and a slap on the hands. But it’s a start of sorts, and enough to bring me to consider the whole issue of what happens when a few people are brought to account by erstwhile collaborators for the misdeeds of many, when the number of victims is in the millions. What we have seen, for as long as we’ve been paying attention to such things, is a scenario in which those at the pointy end of the spear, the most exposed, exposable and most easily disposed of, are fingered to take the fall for all.
Take the example of wartime atrocities such as those wearing the name tags of Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Guantanamo, et. al. In each case, a handful of low-level (if highly culpable) participants with weak means of defense were sacrificed, leaving their superiors and the evil geniuses who crafted the context within which the outrages occurred (Cheney, Rummy, Rove, Addington, Yoo, et.al.) escaped scot-free, nearly so, to a life of appearances netting them multiples of ten grand in honoraria and a rubber chicken, each case.
This time around, though, and no small thanks to Obama, the cat is losing some fat, and that’s just fine. But it still doesn’t, nor will it ever, go far enough or deep enough, or be driven by practical rationales truthful enough, to diminish the certainty that we will be brought back here again and again, as long as certain givens are not altered. In this case, the Big Given is the notion that the best economic paradigm for a planet stretched at its seams with its human populations and the pressures they exert on space and natural resources, is one of constant material increase and no limits on an individual’s share of them.
So when we rejoice that one or two of these CEOs are brought to ground for their failures and excesses, lets keep in mind that they are, like us, the merest mortals, distinguished only by their ability to perform in the game prepared for us by a dozen times a dozen generations of vested, landed and capitalized interests-the owners of the Big Enterprise. They give us jobs, and we pay taxes to governments that provide for infrastructure that enables Big Enterprise and the profits that cascade uphill to it to continue business as usual. Until we become capable of acknowledging what is unusual about business as usual, we will fail to recognize that these few heads, large and small, that we see srolling around are just so much mulch for the tree that, once pruned in this way, is encouraged to send its foundation-shattering roots even deeper, while the soaring crown captures the sunlight so necessary to any garden.