Skip to main content

May 2, 1996: An entry from "A Colossal Wreck"

The following is a passage from the late Alexander Cockburn's last book, A Colossal Wreck. It is available here.

May 2
"A loan-at-interest is the only known thing in the entire universe that does not suffer entropy. It grows with time. All other things, ourselves included, fade and die." Those of you maxed out on your credit cards but still making those monthly payments at some outrageous rate know this as well as I (who have learned by dint of bitter experience not to have credit cards at all).

Those first three sentences came from an informative letter that Stan Lusby of Otago, New Zealand, sent to one of my favorite newspapers, Catholic Worker, a while back. Lusby commenced his discussion of capitalism with some personal disclosures. He had, Lusby confided, known all his life that lending money at interest was intrinsically wrong. "I came late in life to Christianity, and it was a great source of comfort to verify my intuition through scripture, although I am now deeply enmeshed in debt, having listened to my peers and not the word of God."

Lusby then supplied a succinct history of the origins of the very word "capitalism":

The word "capitalism" come from "caput tally" or head-count of the slaves. I followed the line of word discovery further, after reading the New English Bible, for it referred to Nebuchadnezzar "investing" Jerusalem with his troops. "Vestment" means clothing that one puts on, but "in-vestment" implies that one has been cloaked-in. It was the Roman word for a military operation for the taking of slaves. Clearly, such a military operation called for a minimum physical injury to a salable commodity and what we now call siege tactics were deployed.

The Military word "captain" refers to the one who counts the heads of slaves. It is used in both the land and marine branches of military. Out of starvation, the defenders "capitulated" (Latin, caput, head). On the long march back to Rome, the captain carved the daily head-count into a horizontal component of the scaffolding of the tent in which the captives were housed at night. Even today, such a piece of scaffolding is still known as a "ledger." To prevent the slaves breaking away, they were tied with a piece of leather called a "bond" to a lone pole termed a "bank." That word survives to this day in the expression "a bank of oars," coming, as it does, from the galleys which were powered by slaves. 

Lusby should have added that the word also survives as "the bank," to which we are held captive by the long thong of debt.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Against Empire

It seems like no one outside of the “American Conservative” is thinking about the US as a declining empire. Contrary to what some thought, Trump has no interest in scaling back the US to a “normal” country. That wasn’t what MAGA meant. Quite the opposite, Trump and his goons think the post war international order isn’t US-centric enough. This is where Trump and the neoconservatives find common ground. 

What’s more interesting to me is the Democratic Party, and the liberal/left in general. The Dems are historically the war party, and they have renewed that patriotic passion in the Trump era. The shameful treatment of Ilhan Omar is a good example. This charge of her being “anti-Semitic” for questioning Israel’s influence in US foreign policy is disingenuous and disgraceful. (People are acting like we didn’t already go through this silly “debate” when Walt and Mearsheimer’s book came out over a decade ago. It’s infuriating. These are also the same people who can’t go a half an hour witho…
I’m listening to Christopher Hitchens’ fine collection of essays, “arguably.” I’d read many of these years ago, but had forgotten how good of a writer he was. Listening to him take down JFK is pure poetry. However his post 9/11 theme, that fundamentalist Islam is the threat most comparable to 20th century fascism for the enlightenment influenced democracies, stands on even shakier ground today. His realpolitik version of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” had our enlightenment influenced democracy with Puritan characteristics as some sort of revolutionary regime spreading the best we can do to some despotic areas. It’s quite a twist that Iraq ended up being a boon to Iran, which caused the gulf monarchies to freak out. Of course Trump and his goons are now trying to make amends by demonizing Iran to an absurd degree. I wonder if America allying itself with al-Qaeda in Syria would be enough to cause Hitchens to rethink some things? Maybe his weird hatred for the Baathists extended to the…

Austerity Ecology and The Collapse-Porn Addicts

I just finished Leigh Phillip’s left defense of humanity, “Austerity Ecology And The Collapse-Porn Addicts.” I think it’s important to frame it that way, as one of the main point he makes (and I fully agree) is that the earth doesn’t need us to survive. What we should focus on is our species. And not just surviving, but prospering, even conquering (I know people don’t like that word, but we ought not be scared of power). Phillips goes through every argument that I grew up with, from green austerity to that overpopulation nonsense, and convincingly does away with them. (I read Derrick Jensen was I was younger and had completely spaced out how truly terrible his arguments are. Embarrassingly bad. When I tried John Bellamy Foster I luckily found him too dense to get through. Just like George Ciccariello-Maher is a caricature of your “edgy” left wing professor, Foster is a caricature of what a Marxist is, tough to understand but you should know what he’s saying is super important!) 

Phill…