The Economy of Moloch: Human Sacrifice Demanded to Appease the Markets
We live in an age of great possibility. We live in an era parlous collapse. The covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world has been a lens of focus for these matters. At the heart of the dichotomy lies a simple question: which do we value more, capital or human life? How to act on the answer we give may be maddeningly intricate, but the statement of values is clear. Covid-19 is putting these values to the test.
Italy’s dilly dallying on managing the virus put the scope of the humanitarian crisis in stark relief. The problem isn’t that it’s impossible to treat and save many people who contract covid-19; it’s that the infection spreads so rapidly when left unchecked that it will overwhelm even the most robust health care systems. The only way to prevent this is to slow the spread of the virus by enacting strict measures that limit human contact, particularly with those known to be infected. The level of compliance and cooperation needed from the public to contain covid-19 is extremely high.
People whose notions of freedom are rooted in individualistic “I can do whatever I want and no one can stop me” childish selfishness are effective covid-19 vectors. The refusal of many of its citizens to be inconvenienced, to have their lifestyles disrupted, is why the virus rapidly overwhelmed Italy. Italian tourists also exported the virus all over the world. Italians who hadn’t taken covid-19 seriously sent video messages out to the world after the entire nation was locked down. Many nations’ leaders who had also been slow to act took heed after Italy was overwhelmed and ramped up containment measures. There are two notable exceptions: the United Kingdom and the United States. Both nations are on trajectory to have the worst outcomes from covid-19, in spite of having ample warning of the need for countermeasures.
The British government’s arm had to be twisted to breaking, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally implemented some serious measures to try to contain the spread of the virus. This was after floating the idea of having the virus run unchecked through the nation so Britons could develop herd immunity. Johnson and other Tories at least tried to hide behind that nonsense about herd immunity. The American right is saying the quiet part loud: the machinery of capitalism must continue to churn unabated, and people should embrace sacrificing their lives to protect The Economy. The lieutenant governor of Texas, explicitly framed grandparents dying from covid-19 as noble for preserving The Economy for their grandchildren. This is the logic of those who offered human sacrifices to Moloch — a Canaanite god of the Old Testament.
I have no illusions about the violence that undergirds capitalism and settler-colonialism. In addition, I know that the “discovery” and subsequent brutal exploitation of the “New World” has always had religious underpinnings. It was Pope Alexander VI who divided the “newly discovered” lands between Spain and Portugal in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. A similar religious zeal drove Manifest Destiny — the imperialist American push to control the North American continent south of Canada. The notion that certain groups have a divine right to strip mine the planet, commit genocide, and enslave other human beings in order to amass wealth and power isn’t new. The corollary of that belief is the demand for blood, the demand for lives. Capitalism has long been Moloch, and capitalists have been sacrificing us to their god since the beginning. “Die for the Dow!” is the latest grotesque iteration.
Capitalism continues to oppress, but covid-19 containment measures have made it retract its fangs everywhere except the United States. Historian, Conrad Cherry’s notion that “America is a nation called to a special destiny by God” elegantly describes what has come to be known as American Exceptionalism. The destiny of which Cherry spoke is underpinned by capitalism and a white supremacist interpretation of Christianity. That marriage remains alive and robust. It’s not a coincidence that President Trump wants to reopen the American economy on Easter in what has been likened to a “beautiful resurrection.” The mass death the leaders of the American right full well know will result is being exalted, the loss of life framed as the sacrifice of the martyr. This is fascism. This is the insanity of a death cult. This is a call for a passive genocide. This is the logical conclusion of allowing capitalism to become the state religion.
I’ve written before that the United States was collapsing. Covid-19 put the afterburners on. The world is looking on in horrified confusion as the country implodes, all in the service of keeping a handful of people obscenely wealthy and powerful. The most frightening thing is how deluded the notion of keeping the economy open and growing is. Hospitals in major metropolitan areas are already at capacity. There’s already nowhere to put people who are ill. The ravaged health care system will collapse if some of the strain isn’t lifted. The collapse of the health care system and the terror and chaos it creates will crater the economy. The more responsible state governors are doing what they can in response to the pandemic, but the federal government controls the printing presses for the unprecedented sums of money needed to tide American workers over. Trillions of dollars have already been lit on fire to prop up the stock markets. The money is there to tide American workers over for the next few months. So is enough housing, food, etc. The scarcities capitalism forces on people are often artificial. Americans are beginning to see that. They also see that they’re being tossed on a sacrificial pyre. Again. If this crisis isn’t taken in hand soon, and the worst unfolds, everything may be on the table for the United States, perhaps even partition. Rational people can allow themselves to be held hostage by fanatics demanding blood for Moloch for only so long.