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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 17, 2011

by John Wilcock


“The recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.”
Cornel West in the New York Times


THE YEAR OF THE GREAT HOAX is when millions of otherwise sensible people get the crazy notion that they are able to do something to shape the society they live in; when dupes are told, and being dupes believe, that they are electing a president. Nobody tells the dupes that they’re pawns; in fact, they’re called voters and they’re flattered and bribed, excited and entertained. Everybody joins in the game — newspapers, television, movie stars, wealthy novelists, even your friends. They all refer to the robot who’s going to be president by different names and even pretend that he’s different people!

In the year of The Great Hoax [ ran my argument in 1972 when I wrote this ], it was hard to find anything else to play because the people who ran the game were trying to make sure nobody dropped out and all the others wouldn’t even talk about it.

The best place from which to watch the game is from the top of the nearby hillside. That’s where all the important people sit — the ones who don’t care which way it comes out, because whoever ‘wins’ will still maintain the important things of life: oil depletion allowances, bank rates, germ warfare research, agribusiness, imperialism, the space race.

From this hill, there’s rather an amusing view of the valley below. It’s much like the medieval battles that kings used to watch: dozens of knights on grey horses (a trick of the light makes them appear white close up) rushing around with banners waving, some with a handful of camp followers, others with countless throngs.

From time to time what at first had seemed like a minor rally on the sidelines suddenly surges forward, sweeping hundreds of foot soldiers with it. The crowd twists and turns as all try to see if one of the mounted men has a clear advantage and can make a run up the valley. Which is a dead end, of course.

In the year of the Great Hoax, there’s a role in the game for everybody, each according to his naiveté or cynicism. Some declare outright that one cipher is superior to another or else maintain that there’s no difference between them (true) until the last moments of the game when they suddenly discover that more virtue resides in one quarter than the others (false).

The all-important rule of the game is that it be confined to personalities: concepts and specifics are taboo. ‘Ending’ something (such as war or poverty) or ‘increasing’ something (the size of the Pentagon or welfare) may be advocated but the rules are insistent that as promises cannot — and will not — subsequently be kept, that they must not be identifiable.

Mainly though, it’s important that the players keep their eyes on the board and don’t start thinking in terms of ‘ideas’ which might distract attention from the game itself or, heaven forbid, to the people atop the hill who are running it. Welcome to the Year of the Great Hoax.

[ This column appeared in Other Scenes in 1972 ]



FAITH NO MORE is the title of a recent New Statesman feature in which 24 atheists were asked why they don’t believe in God. Some portions of their replies follow.


“Every living thing on this planet evolved by processes that require no designer, no plans, no guidance and no foresight. We need no God to do this work. Where would he fit in? What would he do and why? If he did have any role in our creation, he would have to be immensely devious, finicky, deceitful and mind-bogglingly cruel, which would be a very odd kind of God to believe in.”
Susan Blackmore, psychologist and author


“We can prove that books such as the Bible and the Quran bear no trace of divine authorship. We know far too much about the history of these texts to accept what they say about their own origins…the notion that any ancient book could be an infallible guide to living in the present gets my vote for being the most dangerously stupid idea on earth.”
Sam Harris, neuroscientist


“The more science learns about the world, the less room there is for God… There’s not only an absence of evidence for God, but good evidence against him. To the open-minded, religions were clearly invented by human beings to support their fervent wishes for what they wanted to be true.”
Jerry Coyne, biologist


“There is no good reason to believe that anything that could coherently be called God exists. A rational person does not waste time believing or even being agnostic about things there are no good reasons to accept.”
John Harris, bioethicist


“We are just insignificant lumps of carbon flying through a tiny section of the universe. Our destiny is totally in our own hands, and it is up to each of us to make the best of our life. Let’s stop worrying about mythical entities and start living.”
Richard Wiseman, psychologist


GEORGE MCGOVERN, who lost his 1972 bid for the presidency because he wanted to end the Vietnam War, has asked Obama to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. “Even if it were desirable for us to stay a decade more,” he addresses the president, “we simply cannot afford to do so.” For the same reason, he suggests in his letter, (published in the Atlantic) “a few bold steps President Obama might consider for the good of his soul and that of the nation.”

  • We should close all US bases in the Arab world (which) incite rather than prevent terrorist attacks against us.
  • We should evaluate whether it is necessary to continue other
    American troop consignments in Europe, South Korea, and elsewhere. When the US Army was sent to Korea in 1950, the deployment was described as a brief police action but sixty years later our troops are still there… in Europe 80,000 have been there for half a century.
  • Reduce the current military budget of $700 billion — a figure that
    accounts for almost half the world’s military expenditures — to $500bn next year, and then…to $200bn.


Finally, the former senator suggests, Medicare should be expanded to cover everybody. “We could reduce the impenetrable legislation to a single sentence: ‘Congress hereby extends Medicare to all Americans.’”

THE WILCOCK WEB: If the US Treasury can print as many dollars as it likes, with nothing to back them up beyond a government heavily in debt, who decides when the currency will become worthless?….If Texas governor Rick Perry is such a strong advocate of states’ rights, presumably he supports legal marihuana smokers in California…. Freshly limited from ripping off credit card customers, banks — it’s reported — “need to make it up” from somewhere. Why is that? Sometimes you win and sometimes to lose, a concept unfamiliar to banks which, when things turn really bad, expect the government to pay….The old fallacy that humongous salaries have to be paid to Wall Street execs because nobody else could do the job, took something of a jolt with the verdict that Hewlett-Packard’s $$multi-million fired boss Mark Hurd was declared “dispensable….Ah, if only 10 million small taxpayers would agree not to pay their taxes until the big companies pay theirs……..Maybe Amazon could argue that if offshore companies can get away with not paying taxes, why not off-state companies?….TaskRabbit has registered 1,500 “runners” who can be hired to run any errand or do any task you’re willing to pay for, a service operating in SF, Boston, and LA. Similar services are Agent Anything and Fancy Hands….The LA TimesGeorge Skelton, among the latest advocates of repealing the death penalty, says it costs $308million for every execution. Obviously this (questionable) figure would drop precipitously if repetitive appeals didn’t continue for 20 years…. Renting 20ft shipping containers from big companies such as Maersk, the Pentagon has to pay a late fee for not returning them on time and its recent late-fee bill was $720million according to NationofChange. Does the Pentagon care? Of course not, it’s your money, not theirs…..”…“Ask not what your country can do for you,” quipped Orson Welles. “Ask what’s for lunch”…. North Korea’s Kim Jong-il ordered waitresses in all that country’s chain of restaurants across Asia to undergo double eyelid surgery to give them a more Western appearance… Lowered rental rates and added luxuries such as hot tubs, waterslides, and satellite TV on the larger boats are contributing to a boom in the boating business, reports Smart Money…..Between 2007 and last year, more than 30% of the trips made by jet planes operated by public companies, were to or from resorts, says the Wall Street Journal….The United States, once first in the world in the percentage of its young adults with college degrees, is now tenth and slipping, reports Washington Monthly….Here’s a book title that tells it all: Intern Nation — How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. “Mass exploitation that saves firms $600 million a year,” explains author Ross Perlin…. When we finally get out of Afghanistan, and the country resumes its civil war — after hundreds of thousands of deaths and $$billions spent — will somebody explain what was the point of it all…“Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others.” — Socrates (469BC-399BC)