Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Moneylenders in the Temple

I first learned about Hugo Chávez' abrupt cessation of the construction of a shopping mall in Caracas (for which I gave Chávez this week's Chutzpah of the Week award) through Truthdig; and I was not surprised to see that this report attracted so many Comments from Truthdig readers. What I had not anticipated was the way in which many of these Comments have shifted attention from addressing an authoritarian action against the construction of one mall in a highly congested area of Caracas to the more general issue of the proliferation of malls, particularly since this proliferation is on a global scale. Whatever the religious values of the host country may be, a mall is fundamentally (adverb chosen deliberately) a "high temple" of capitalism, from which it follows that the rituals practiced within that temple are those of consumerism. From this point of view, I found it interesting that the primary analysis of holiday shopping (which, through a well-placed pun, we may regard as the "holiest" of those rituals) comes from SpendingPulse, which is the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors.

Needless to say, MasterCard is interested in this analysis not so much for their revenue from transaction fees as for their revenue from interest on debt. In other words MasterCard is trying to measure the extent to which they will gain from those practices that have so much to do with our current economic crisis. Chávez may subscribe to socialism grounded in atheism; but one way to view his action, particularly at this time of year, is through the Gospels. However, rather than expel the (MasterCard) moneylenders from the temple, he chose to defy the building of the temple itself! Then, again in the spirit of the Gospels, he proposed that the structure be repurposed for healing the sick! My guess is that, if he has no other apostles, the Reverend Billy will be prepared to embrace his action as the sign of a Second Coming! Reverend Billy was one of the first to recognize consumerism as the addictive behavior it really is, which is why I think it is fair to view Chávez, for better or worse, as an agent of rehabilitation.

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