Sometimes, not-so-memorable movies contain scenes that, for reasons of your own, you never forget.
In 1988, The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel, enjoyed its little strut upon the screen. The film proved once again that whenever Hollywood wants some free publicity, all they have to do is aggravate the Religious Right (Fox News has perfected this technique vis-à-vis what’s left of the American Left, but that’s another megillah). The film featured a “dream sequence” of Jesus with a topless Mary Magdalene. The evangelicals were delighted to be not amused. But that’s not what remains with me today.
It was Pontius Pilate’s arrogant monologue before a silent Jesus, explaining why he must die. The essence of it:
You want to change things. We don’t want things changed. Not even for the better.
A quarter-century later, it grows ever more obvious that both Israel and the United States are controlled by interlocking oligarchies and their accomplices, enablers and gophers who don’t want things changed. Not even for the better.
In America, these interlocking oligarchies are known as the “One Percent.” Many amongst of the rest of us, aka The Lower Ninety-Nine, and our putative defenders, scream about rising “income inequality” and the “mal-distribution of wealth.” Unfortunate phrases. They suggest that everybody should be basically the same, or dwell economically within a rather modest spread, and that the “excess” of others should be “redistributed.” Can’t happen. Winners and losers and all that. The real issue isn’t who has too much. The real issues are what the rich are doing with their wealth, and whether that enhances or hinders – or steals from – the rest of us.
I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that the really wealthy and the mega-corporations have written off the American people. Globalization, after all, means that anything can be made and sold pretty much anywhere, and that money is free to chase after pretty much anything, around the globe in nano-seconds.
Once, the American corporate world needed Americans as workers. No more. Not really. Whatever else you can say about America’s 19th century Robber Barons, they didn’t export millions of jobs.
Once, the American corporate world needed Americans as consumers. No more. Not really. Cut their credit, take away their houses, let them die before their time. What of it? The promising markets are elsewhere.
Once, the American corporate world invested in America. No more. Not really. They’ve also decreed public investment – protecting and enhancing the physical and human infrastructure, from roads to schools to medical care – as “socialism” (except when we do it in other countries; then it’s called “nation-building”). And those who vote for the One Percent’s political flunkeys of both parties, those Americans who fear losing what little they have left, who want easy answers and who gorge on the cultural resentment the right-wing media are happy to manufacture – they . . . let’s put it this way.
U.S. Census Bureau and other sources suggest that the fastest-growing economic segment of the population is now the “near-poor.” This trend shows no serious signs of reversing.
And once, America needed bodies for its Armed Forces. Millions of bodies. No more. Not really. The MICE, the Military-Industrial-Congressional Empire, has fixed that, too.
As for the condition of the American political system, writ large: Consider a gardener who held that no attention need be given to the roots and trunks and stems of trees and plants. All that mattered was how the top leaves were doing.
Is Israel that different?
In some ways, yes. But the fundamental problem’s the same. The country is controlled by a set of interlocking oligarchies who don’t want things changed, not even for the better. Even a short list of the dilemmas becomes daunting.
The high cost of living, kept that way deliberately by oligarchs private and public, leading to the slow strangulation of the vital middle classes.
An unbalanced economy. Big, domineering corporations, banks and governmental entities. Lots of little stuff. But in the middle? One of the great dilemmas with the Start-Up Lottery is that far too many companies are birthed to be sold to foreigners. Nice cash, if you win. But where’s the middle tier of companies? They can’t get capital. They fail.
The domination of the Rabbanut in vital areas of public and private life.
The endless drain of the Territories, physical, financial and moral, upon the nation.
A political system that creates and intensifies the problems it ought to be solving, whilst hiding behind all-purpose invocations of anti-Semitism, Islamist peril, and a variety of other invectives.
A steadily growing isolation in and from the world. Is there a danger that Israel might become, not an apartheid state but a new kind of shtetl: a nuclear-armed, high-tech ghetto that the world uses when convenient and despises non-stop?
We’ve been there before. And it matters to remember that in the shtetls of centuries past, there were also those who didn’t want things changed. Not even for the better.
Next: Part 2. What else?