The Trojan Horses of Our Demise: Reconnecting to the Moral Sense

Equo ne credite, Teucri. / Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.

(“Do not trust the Horse, Trojans. / Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.”)

–Virgil, The Aeneid

The Trojan horses of our demise: ignorance, arrogance, violence and greed. If we seek analogies for our financial collapse, Trojan horses are more instructive than horsemen of the apocalypse. The latter may be useful to the Fundies with their tiresome end-time fantasies. The horsemen externalize evil; they are children’s boogeymen, writ large in adult type, to frighten adult minds that should know better but cling to victimhood. Trojan horses, instead, internalize dangers—from the assassins crouching within their wooden hulls; to the gullible celebrants taking them into their fortress-city. In our blame-game culture, where and how we affix blame now is crucial to any possible restitution, let alone redemption. The glass is neither half-full nor half-empty; it is a looking-glass through which we may know ourselves.

“A deadly fraud is this,” Laocoon warned his fellow Trojans, “devised by the Achaean chiefs.” For “Achaean [Greek] chiefs” read: banksters, Wall Street, K-Street, mealy-mouthed politicoes, media and academic pundits. And the “fraud” is our credit-based economy. Laocoon was a prophet cursed to be heard but ignored; his reward for prescience was strangulation by two of Minerva’s serpents. (And have we not had our Laocoons? Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; John Lennon and Richard Wright; Paine and Thoreau? Artists like Jeffers, Patchen, Millay and London—ignored, dismissed or reviled.)

Ignorance. In 1987 Allan Bloom kicked up dust with The Closing of the American Mind. It wasn’t just our schools that were failing, but our culture. Not simply that Johnny couldn’t read, but that whatever Johnny and Jean saw on TV or heard from their elders—and the music and songs they listened to—lacked context, depth and framing. Not that they didn’t know who had fought the Civil War or what the First Amendment guaranteed, but that they saw no reason to care. In fast-food America it was about getting the next burger-fix, shot of Coke (-a-Cola!); passing quizzes, padding resumes, screwing cheerleaders or jocks– and the hell with the world. When Clinton signed the repeal of Glass Steagall, annulling the reforms that had kept our banks solvent since the 30’s—what did it mean? Who knew? Who cared? When the progeny of Reagan railed against government, we howled with the wolves till our house crashed down. Instead of conceiving government as the intermediary between ourselves and the financial institutions that have dominated human affairs since the Industrial Revolution, instead of sharpening our tools to build a sturdier government attuned to the bottom 90%, we sang the siren song of de-regulation; we transfixed ourselves in our shattered shelters.

Arrogance. Married to arrogance, ignorance can kill. After World War II, we out-produced the world. American “know-how” we said. We forgot we had conquered a continent, committed our own holocaust/genocide, robbed the natives and generations of Blacks. The Brits collapsed in the Middle East and the French pulled out of Indochina and we said, We are “can-do” people; we’ll do it! Nixon went off the gold standard and abrogated the Bretton Woods agreements that had knitted the economic fabric of the post-war world. God’s chosen people, we destroyed Vietnam to save it. Calvin’s God had made us wealthy and Wilson had bequeathed his mission to make the world safe for democracy. We slaughtered a coupla million “gooks,” fertilized the “killing fields” of Kampuchea. We crushed rebellions in Central America and Chile. We killed a million in Iraq and stomped on Palestine. And when the blowback came and the twin towers crumbled like Samson’s pillars, the boy-emperor stood on the rubble and said we would make them pay. And the men who had lost friends and brothers chanted like a deranged Greek chorus: “USA! USA! USA!”

Violence. We drink it with morning coffee. Wedding party bombed in Afghanistan. IED kills two Americans. 1500 killed by Katrina (Cuba lost 4 to Ike!). 100,000 die in our hospitals every year from hospital infections or neglect. 20,000 die every year because they don’t have health insurance. Our kids inhabit a stroboscopic world of high school bullies, gory video games, TV cop shows of rapes, torture, murder. Kids kill kids. TV, that came humbly into our living rooms, now fragments the family, holds each member hostage in his/her room. Pop-tarts for dessert.

Greed. It’s good, Gecko said in “Wall Street.” Greed for knowledge, wealth, power. How easily we were seduced, judgment suspended. Isn’t it hunger for knowledge? And how much wealth do we need, how much power?

In Tolstoy’s story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?,” a peasant is allowed to claim as much land as he can circumambulate in a day. He must return to his starting point by sunset. He starts out measuring his paces, but soon realizes he has tried to cover too much ground. He runs at the end to reach his starting point again; then drops dead from exhaustion. He’s buried in a six-foot long grave.

How much do we need? Isn’t that the moral question? Do we really want a world of billionaires and paupers? Is there no ceiling to our lusts? Must we celebrate these killer-thieves, earth-rapists? We devised a system of checks and balances to rein in political power and the foxes raided the henhouse and stole the golden eggs. We must realize now: we cannot separate political and economic power. We have a moral imperative to make judgments; we evince our humanity according to the judgments we make.

What is a fair differential between the “average” worker and his/her “boss”? Can we replace “bosses” with “facilitators”? If $40,000 a year is average, isn’t $400,000 enough? (That’s what we pay the president we vote for!)

Ignorance, arrogance, violence, greed—we opened the gates, let them into our minds, our hearts, our children’s dreams. Is it too late to heed Laocoon? The snakes are coiling around our legs.

Poet-playwright-journalist-fictionist-editor-professor, Dr. Gary Corseri has published work in Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, CommonDreams and hundreds of other publications and websites worldwide. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. Gary can be reached at Read other articles by Gary.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 9th, 2008 at 9:41am #

    since we r, or i suggest, of one seed and made by one maker (to me, nature) amers r no different than any other people.
    but they r rich in comparison to many other people and they want not only to maintain their riches but wd like to augment them.
    and, my dear readers, rich people everywhere will stop at nothing to keep their wealth.
    what is different in US is the fact that its ruling class was not busy fighting wars, socialism, and communism, etc., as was the case in europe for a cent or so.
    thus US elite cld misteach and disinform amers to their heart’s content w. just few scattered protesting voices.
    absolute dictatorship was set up even as far back as penning of the constitution.
    that constitution is dead; w. dead words; interpreted be dead men.
    today it is interpreted by live people.
    and we all know, or shld espy, that only ruling class’ interpretation will always prevail.
    no, amers r not arrogant, ignorant; not more greedy than the rest of us; they have been rendered semanticly blind.
    and one doesn’t flog a blind horse for eating some dung along some weeds and a few straws.
    amers, like no other people have bean eating dung along some veggies and tad of meat for at least 2 cent’s.
    i blame the perps and not the victims. thnx

  2. David said on October 9th, 2008 at 10:46am #

    Mr. Balkas has hit upon the effect of America’s cause, that being this great piece of real estate upon which our nation was founded.

    Fertile land, timber, iron ore, crude oil and all the other goodies coveted by other nations were ours to keep, safe from invading armies by 3000 miles of ocean and nearly continual conflict on the continent.

    Contrary to the pop culture referents of many, we did not build this country on rock and roll but instead created, over 200 years, what could have been a path to a better future for humans and out planet.

    That great piece of real estate came with a great price however. Its isolation from European high culture and the attendant realization that there is more to life than money and power and conflict was lost to us. We became the shipwrecked children in William Golding’s Lord of The Flies, unable to achieve more than our culture immaturity would let us.

    Perhaps what Gary’s piece reflects is the terrible sense of loss many of us now are experiencing as a result of having come face to face with our shortcomings and the death of the American dream.

  3. Donald Hawkins said on October 9th, 2008 at 10:46am #

    The ad that didn’t run

    The solution to our climate crisis seems simple.
    Repower America with wind and solar.
    End our dependence on foreign oil. A stronger economy.
    So why are we still stuck with dirty and expensive energy?
    Because big oil spends hundreds of millions of dollars to block clean energy.
    Lobbyists, ads, even scandals.
    All to increase their profits, while America suffers.
    Breaking big oil’s lock on our government …
    Now that’s change.
    We’re the American people and we approve this message.

    We can’t get there from here and I am very sure the word adapt will be used. You know adapt to our way of thinking.

    That case and others like it prompted Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to protect renters who have done nothing wrong.

    “They’re playing by the rules, then they show up and their stuff is out on the street, and that’s just wrong,” Dart said.

    People who don’t pay their rent can still be evicted, so can homeowners who don’t pay their mortgage. The sheriff is trying to help innocent renters. But the Illinois Bankers Association is angry. The group accuses him of ignoring the law and carrying out vigilantism.

    This bankers association what a vision. “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Hint hint

    thus US elite cld misteach and disinform amers to their heart’s content w. just few scattered protesting voices.

    That few scattered protesting voices is getting louder and the real fight is about to start. “Think of this as kind of a war”

  4. Giorgio said on October 9th, 2008 at 5:14pm #

    Brilliant piece of prose!
    Hey, Gary, you forgot to mention my pet Laocoon: Ron Paul !!!
    He’s been lashing out at these goons for years and treated like a lunatic…and now even Fox News has him on their shows…
    Moron GW Bush after 9/11 threatened the world with preemptive ‘Shock and Awe’ attacks and now
    Paulson is calling for global co-operation to contain this crisis…
    The HYPOCRISY of it all just amazes me!

  5. ddjango said on October 9th, 2008 at 5:57pm #

    Gary, all I can muster is “Hear! Hear!” and “Perfect!!”

    As for David’s “i blame the perps and not the victims.” . . . u r both, and blind, to bat

  6. john andrews said on October 10th, 2008 at 4:07am #

    I don’t agree that we cannot separate political and economic power. Sure it won’t be easy, but it can be done. Furthermore, we have to believe it can be done because that is our only hope.

    I think the simplest starting point is to disconnect the link between election campaigns and big business. Sure this would place the burden of election campaigns onto the taxpayer, but at least that would serve to focus the attention of election candidates in the right direction – the taxpayer.

    I don’t suggest this will totally cure the problem (corruption will always be a possibility), but once our elected administrators are no longer dependent on big business they might actually spend a little time doing what’s right for their new employer – the taxpayer.

    Free Democracy is a solution

  7. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 10th, 2008 at 6:28am #

    john andrews,
    i do not think one can separate economic power from politics.
    eg, to be a politician or to run for office one either has to be a multimilionaire or obtain money from people.
    the moment a politico accepts money, he/she acquires some obligations; ie, serves donors mostly or wholy.
    i also affirm that one can separate church from state.
    warfare, holliwood, media, schooling, advertising, tv aslo cannot be separated from one another.

    “i blame the perps and not the victims” is mine not davd’s.
    what’s ur problem?

  8. brs said on October 10th, 2008 at 8:19am #

    >>Can we replace “bosses” with “facilitators”? <<
    That is part of the problem, todays bosses are facilitators. Most are MBA’s and/or salesmen with no grounding in real skills. It is said real knowledge and skills are not important, they can be learned; only people skills are important. Bullshit, this has lead to a generation of managers who are shallow and self indulgent, unaware how things are made and the limits of the real world. They believe in the power of positive thinking and Covey’s seven habits. They look down on skills, craftsmen and engineers as people who do things. Networking, HR, buzzwords, that is the ticket as well as financial manipulation. Well folks, rebuilding America is going to be a long hard stretch at best. That is assuming that it is even possible. The pipeline is broken. A huge percentage of the skilled machinists, toolmakers, welders, fabricators, engineers who built up industry after WWII are dead or retired. There are some in the next generation but not nearly enough and the rewards are not there to attract people. Even if wages and benefits rose tomorrow it would take years to build up the skills base and people would be suspicious that it would not last. By all means wages need to be brought back into balance but the imbalance is just a symptom. Respect needs to be returned to productive occupations. Enough with the facititators and other phony schemes developed by the Total Quality Management crowd to bullshit the workers into doing more for less.

  9. Brant Lyon said on October 10th, 2008 at 1:30pm #

    The beginning of wisdom begins with calling things by their right names, Confucius said. Yet it’s all about the abuse of language and the Trojan horse of labeling: one thing is called another, when it’s indeed its opposite.

    In our credit-based economy, conservatives decry regulation an abomination of liberalism. But is extending credit (never mind the fantastic grotesqueness it has reached since the dissolution of the gold standard), in essence, a conservative impulse in the first place? No, by definition, its opposite. Just as regulation (that means control) is by definition, not a liberal action, but its opposite. But more than that switcheroo, in so many ways we are bullied, hoodwinked, or just plain b.s.ed into accepting the idea that opposites cannot and do not balance each other, but must forever engage in mortal combat, where neither sees the yin in the other’s yang and vice versa. Conservatism/liberalism: the dynamic between them is the very sine qua non of their continual relationship. Now, with the bail-out (where the poor taxpayer is duped into believing that it is to his ultimate benefit to save the skin of the rich–who made their money off the backs of the poor by predatory lending practices/extensions of credit in bad faith), the bete-noire of conservatives–government intervention (in their eyes practically the very definition of liberalism) –is now deemed the prudent, fail-safe (that means conservative) means, in fact, the only way to re-establish order.

    I’m not thinking of horses so much as pigs in lipstick. Or rather, the silk purse they’re trying to make out of the sow’s ear.

    Gary’s right: it all comes down to those vices that get turned around to appear as virtues. And there is no separation between political and economic power: politics is about who gets what, and money is about what is of value. Nobody wants something that’s worthless, which is what it all eventually becomes when there’s nothing left of what you’ve gobbled up in insatiable greed.

  10. john andrews said on October 11th, 2008 at 12:16am #

    I know that’s the way we do things now – but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.

    After all, we can sequence every single piece of DNA and redesign it to suit ourselves – so why shouldn’t we be able to come up with another way of funding election campaigns?

  11. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 11th, 2008 at 7:16am #

    john andrews,
    u need to clarify the statement that there r other ways than thru money to campaign for election.
    so i await to read ab other ways to get elcted.
    meanwhile, may i make some observations anent ‘campaign’, ‘election’ , ‘questions’ put to politicos, ‘answers’ given, ‘promises’ made, etc.
    my best label for a US ‘campaign’ wld be a “show”; a show one won’t find anywhere else.
    the show is well scripted; learned by actors. ‘questions’ too r learned.
    ‘answers’ r also learned and not only during oneparty show but thruout lifetime.
    parameters of what ‘questions’ one dare ask is rigidly set.
    the labels under single quotes may be evaluated as having no symbolic values.
    in short, there is no questions, answers, election; two, three parties campaining, media, etc.
    i also conclude firmly that the funni uncle will not ever (or as long as u have him) allow any other campaign than the one in use for over 2 cent’s. thnx. PS, this reads pessimistic; however, i see what i see!

  12. john andrews said on October 11th, 2008 at 9:37am #


    If the state media provided equal resources to election candidates it would be a reasonable start.

    As someone who has stood in two previous elections, paid for out of my own unemployed pocket, I can tell you the job can be done with a pretty small budget, but if I’d simply had free access to the state media, and been given the same amount of time and space as other candidates, my campaigns would have been considerably more effective.

    Another possibility is a sort of cash for votes deal – where the government rights out a check for however many votes you win. No votes = no cash; fifty k votes = fifty k bucks, say.

    I know the taxpayer picks up the tab – but if the taxpayer wants to control her government, as is her right, and duty even, she shouldn’t mind too much if the government spent a buck on the person she voted for.

    That’s just a couple of possibilities – there must be others.