From cinema to university sport, not to mention the bankster disasters, it is time once again to be against heroes, whether they have the most wins in college football history, a fancy O logo, or strut around pretending to be Gordon Gekko.
In 1840, the arch-conservative historian Thomas Carlyle gave an incredibly influential set of lectures called On Heroes and Hero Worship. You’ve probably never read them but you know his tag line: “Great men make history.” This phallocracy is alive and well, from the 600 page biography that no-one reads but get published anyway, to Aaron Sorkin’s fantasies of liberal heroes, the cult of sport and the worship of the Big Men of Finance.
Carlyle exalted the capacity of the Hero to “visualize” history, something ordinary people were utterly incapable of doing. It was the hero or anarchy. Interesting choice, you might say. Carlyle was disgusted by the French Revolution, appalled by the ending of slavery in Haiti’s revolution and afraid it would spread. His work was read by Hitler and used to justify Mussolini.
As a result no one quotes him any more, but the desire for Big Men, for heroes, who have what it takes is still everywhere. It is literally the patriarchy. And it’s just as much evident in the call for OWS to have leadership and hierarchy as it is in less savory locales, so let’s not assume that somehow we are past all this.
It took the FBI to finally prise Penn State’s fingers off their football heroes. A “sport” that should be banned for all the brain damage it causes to its players has now been thoroughly discredited–or at least it should be. As is the modern university system that lavishes money and facilities on sport, while classrooms are shabby and fees high. Penn State has one of the highest tuition rates of any state university at $15,500 for in-state students and an eye-popping $27,000 for out-of-state. So for all the alumni money that football supposedly generates, students are not seeing much benefit. Except that their Paterno Library is now revealed to be named after a child abuse enabler.
Banker worship was and is rampant in the Anglophone world. In Congress, senators and representatives fawn over Jamie Dimon, head of JP Morgan Chase, who revealed that their credit default swap losses in London were now $5.8 billion and, by his own estimate, criminal. The trader who dug this hole was known as The Whale or Voldemort, a hero to his fellow type-A macho men.
They believe they are unique human beings, capable of alchemy, as one banker characterizes his job:
an investment banker resembles a magician – his greatest trick is the disappearance and reappearance of money, an illusion he aptly executes with nicely designed and immaculate literature and an arsenal of free-flowing industry jargon intelligible mainly to his own circle
How thrilling it apparently is, all the champagne and bonuses awarded to those considered to be “Big Swinging Dicks” (to quote Michael Lewis’s characterization of Goldman Sachs).
How are the mighty falling. After all that “Dude, I’m opening the Bollinger“–the most expensive sort of Champagne–the LIBOR investigation is bringing things down to earth. Here’s a quick calculation by Sandy Chen reported in the Financial Times of the kind of damages a 5 basis points manipulation of LIBOR might entail over four years for one bank:
5bp x £1 trillion of notional contracts x 4 years = £2bn in potential damages. If these were covered by the US Sherman or RICO Acts, the damages/relief could be trebled.
Sherman and RICO are the statutes under which you prosecute organized crime, so the “mafia capitalism” meme has spread to the business papers! Total LIBOR related fines and costs are guess-timated at $22 billion without calculating for multiples under the organized crime legislation. Of course, there’s no calculation yet for what credit card holders, student loan or mortgage borrowers might expect back–but here’s my estimate: $0.00.
This all reinforces how important the anti-patriarchy aspects of Occupy’s strategy are and were to the movement. Whether it makes certain people impatient or not, such measures as circles, progressive stack and mutual respect are a pre-condition to creating an alternative to the phallocracy whose crimes and misdemeanors are becoming more evident on a daily basis.