We live in an age of terrifying high-definition spectacles, with beheadings and massacres some of the horrors that fill us all with fear and dread.
These gruesome spectacles have profound side effects on our perspective. They obscure the brutality and terror caused by our bombs and drones and they distract our attention from those predators who cause suffering on a far grander scale than any jihadists.
These grander predators wear power suits. They run our largest banks and corporations. They run them recklessly. The financial industry frauds that nearly collapsed the world’s economy left behind, according to the best estimates, at least 5,000 suicides, to say nothing of the millions of people who lost their jobs and homes. We have auto industry execs who value profit over safety, defense contractors who pound the drums for military engagement, private prison company chiefs who lobby to keep their cells full.
I consider all these power suits religious extremists. They worship money.
I know the pain money-worshippers can cause first-hand. I worked as a respiratory therapist for thirty-five years. I’ve witnessed the ravages the tobacco companies wrought in their continuing quest to addict as many people as possible to their deadly products. The memories will haunt me for the rest of my life: the emphysema patients struggling for every breath, the throat-cancer patients in intensive care, undergoing brutal surgery that severely disfigured their necks and faces, that often ripped away their vocal chords.
Tobacco corporation executives hid the truth about their toxic products for as long as they could. They surely rank as among the most murderous terrorists in human history — and they did it all for the money.
But these money-worshipping killers at Big Tobacco may now have to play second fiddle to an even more deadly corporate crew, the executives who run fossil fuel companies, our world’s richest corporations. Their chase after ever greater wealth is disrupting the very fabric of life on Earth. Tobacco executives hid the truth. Fossil fuel executives are sowing doubt and confusion about the scientifically established fact of man-made global warming.
In the meantime, amid the inaction against global climate change, our planetary life support system withers. We face consequences of catastrophic proportion.
Our corporate money worshippers often attend services at churches and synagogues. But they worship during the workweek at the altar of money, and we, the 99 percent, have become their sacrificial lambs. Like a drug addict looking for a fix they spend their lives rigging the system in their never-ending quest for greater and greater wealth — the rest of us be damned.
Addictions can be incredibly powerful. We all know that. But can you imagine being so addicted to money that you would be willing to endanger your planet to get your next fix?
We can’t wait for these addicts to seek help. All of us, the 99 percent, need to force the 1 percent to break their addiction. So let us plan an intervention — and act soon. We cannot wait for the 1 percent to hit bottom. Their bottom would be too disastrous for the rest of us.
In the grand scheme of things, after all, Al Qaeda can’t really compare with Altria, the new moniker for Philip Morris. And ISIS/ISIL can’t hold a candle to the likes of ExxonMobil.
Jeff Vogel is a retired respiratory therapist, New York-based labor activist and a member of the New York City Labor Chorus.