Pay Back

/ Kleptocracy /

If you spill hot coffee all over yourself in your own kitchen, you’re merely burned. If you do it moments after having forked money for the coffee over to MacDonald’s, a jury may compensate you with millions from MacDonald’s well-lined pockets: this despite the fact that the jury gets to share not one penny of the money. The lawyers get a share — boy, do they get a share — but not the jury.

Once upon a time, if you knocked somebody’s eye out and he got the group’s sympathy, the group might make you hold still while they knocked your eye out. An eye for an eye.
If I have a patent and you infringe on it, I can sue you. The court is supposed to make you compensate me.

Now: let’s imagine for a moment that there’s such a thing as Truth. Let’s further imagine for a moment, that there’s such an entity as God. Let’s agree with the Jews and Christians for a moment, and decide that this God has the monopoly on Truth: that his map is the territory, that he cannot be mistaken in his judgments.

Let’s further imagine that we live on Elm Street in Mapletown and attend the First Lutheran Church on Mohican Way. Now there’s only one thing to add: it’s Judgment Day!

God addresses you. You quickly point out that you are and have been a member in good standing of the First Lutheran Church on Mohican Way, Mapletown. Oh, yes, God says, and instantly commands the presence of your minister, the Reverend Hopeworth. The reverend is about to testify that you indeed are a member in good standing when God instantly commands the presence of the last of the Mohicans, then as well, the first of the Mohicans, and all the Mohicans in between. Then God commands a vision of all the Mohicans that never were because your ancestors killed them: and so forth. God says to the last, first, and other Mohicans, Isn’t that Church on your land?

Well, it was our land until they took it away, say the Mohicans. God says, Did they ask your permission to use it? Did they pay rent? … What? No permission? No rent? How much interest does the Church get from its securities?

And right away, every kleptocrat ever schooled is quaking in his boots as she imagines the penalties she’s accrued. Not just genocide – that’s too common to deserve mention – but we might owe


Every year every kleptocracy has a GNP. Every year every kleptocracy spends its GNP. Modern kleptocracies spend more than their bite of the GNP, whatever its size, borrowing from whichever bankers they’re most cozily in league with. How is the kleptocracy going to pay it all back at Judgment Day? And even if we saved every penny of our income, had living expenses of absolutely zero, then we could pay back every penny: but what would we do about the interest? The penalties? And after all the economic considerations are taken care of: how will we address the moral problems?

What if God shows us that the dodo had some substance in its liver, one molecule of which could cure any cancer? What if God then showed us that Mary, no longer a virgin I hope, had cancer that was incurable only because the dodo was extinct. It would be easy for God to show, even someone as stupid as a human being, that the reason dodos are extinct is that kleptocracies competed for new lands without any thought of consequences other than their own immediate surpluses.

Relax. I’m sorry. How silly of me. There’s no reason to imagine either the God or the Jews or the Christians or the idea of Truth or the idea of Judgment. Relax. The judgments are all made by the kleptocracy; not against the kleptocracy.

How are kleptocracies morally accountable? If torture is the only answer, then it’s a good thing time is infinite. It’s a good thing that universes too may be infinite. We may need every last one to hold the necessary torture equipment.

Later the same day: I greatly admire the historical fictions of the late Gary Jennings: Aztec, The Journeyer, Raptor … and am in the midst of his last: Aztec Blood. Two hundred and fifty pages in, the protagonist is dreaming the history of the Mexica people. The Mexica were a small tribe, from inhospitable lands to the north. Their gods depended on blood sacrifice. The Mexica rented themselves as warriors to the strong kleptocracies: and, since they were weak, the kleptocracies cheated them of pay in terms of land and hostages. The Mexica, unable to feed their gods their blood, were unable to buy any luck. The Spaniards fed their God land and blood and gold. The Spaniards fared best of all: for a while.

I know that the God of the kleptocracy I live in rewards those who feed him green currency. Give a million to the Church and you can personally be the one who stuck the spear in Jesus’ side, and it’s OK. Enough money makes anything OK. Until you need clean air to breath. And clean water to drink. Or a clean mate to bed with.

2003 11 18 If I can ever recompose this file the point I’ll consider for first place is this:
If I borrow a dollar and pay back a dollar, we’re “even.” If I don’t have the dollar, it still doesn’t seem so bad. But what if I take a forested continent and reduce it to a toxic waste dump? How can that be repaid? Will knocking my eye out be adequate punishment? Will death? Will torture?

I don’t see how even an eternity of torture is anywhere near adequate.

Then again, what’s the point of punishment if someone or something doesn’t “learn” from it? What’s the point of torturing “me” the destroyer, unless my son, my neighbor, your daughter … learns the lesson? What if our punishment is extinction? Is that adequate? Even if it’s forever?


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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