Vulture Culturalism and other American Traditions

 By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

Living back in the U.S. after traveling to so many different places, I always have a sense of coming home to the open mouth of a band of vultures. They are flying above me, circling and I know they are there; but I keep moving so they don’t circle in on me and start pecking at my flesh.

What is a Vulture Culture

To describe a vulture culture, it is first necessary to define the behaviors of a vulture. Do a search on Google and you will come with this definition:

vul·ture / ˈvəlCHər

1. A large bird of prey (order Accipitriformes) with the head and neck more or less bare of feathers, feeding chiefly on carrion.
2. A contemptible person who preys on or exploits others.

That definition explains if perfectly for me. But the photo to the left explains it even better. It is an animal consuming itself. And in reality, a vulture culture does just that. The vultures prey on everyone else until an entire society has consumed itself into nothing.

In Western culture, vultures are considered unsavory. They pick apart the decaying animals. They are scavengers.

So a culture that exploits the weakest countries around the world; a culture that exploits its own weak; and a country that picks away at the flesh of those who have fallen on hard times could very well be considered a vulture culture.

The vulture is often used as a symbol of opportunistic exploitation ofthe dead and those who profit from death are thought of as vultures.

A group of vultures is called a wake, committee, venue, kettle, or volt. The term kettle refers to vultures in flight, while committee, volt, and venue refer to vultures resting in trees. Wake is reserved for a group of vultures who are feeding. The word Geier (taken from the German language) does not have a precise meaning in ornithology, and it is occasionally used to refer to a vulture in English, as in some poetry.

(Source: Wikipedia Vulture)

When describing vultures, many divide them into two categories: old world vultures and new world vultures. So let’s do that to provide for a better definition

Old World Vultures

In the article, Slavery and the rise of capitalism: The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, Robin Blackburn describes the emergence of the slave trade from existing slavery in Africa to how it changed under the English colonial system — a system that dominated Atlantic trade and the plantations farming.

He describes how the profits of slavery were central to paving the way for English industrialization.

Transportation punished both major and petty crimes in Great Britain and Ireland from the 17th century until well into the 19th century. A sentence could be for life or a specific period. The penal system required the convicts to work on government projects such as road construction, building works and mining, or assigned to free individuals as unpaid labour. Women were expected to work as domestic servants and farm labourers.

A convict who had served part of his time might apply for a ticket of leave permitting some prescribed freedoms. This enabled some convicts to resume a more normal life, to marry and raise a family, and a few to develop the colonies while removing them from the society. Exile was an essential component and thought a major deterrent. Transportation was also seen as a humane and productive alternative to execution, which would most likely have been the sentence to many if transportation had not been introduced.

(Source: Wikipedia Penal_transportation)

Deportations and Culture Vulturis

Luddites were members of a social movement of textile workers in England during the early 1800s. The movement began in the town of Nottingham in 1811. It was formed during the peak of the Industrial Revolution, which the workers felt threatened their jobs through automation. Their concern led them to destroy multiple textile machines and stage widespread protests. The British government reacted harshly, making industrial sabotage a capital crime and sentencing or exiling prominent figures in the movement, which at one point became quite large, with thousands of adherents.

(Source: What is-a luddite)

Penal transportation or deportations of convicted criminals to penal colonies was done to remove those whose trade had been replaced by machinery, and who took to the streets to riot about their loss of employment. Many were shipped to colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the 1770s.

Slavery

Slavery transformed agriculture in the Americas from existence farming, to farming for profit, bringing capitalism to the New World. A new class of people emigrated to the Americas upon discovery…people who were penniless and didn’t own land in their own countries. They had experienced changes in their own country through agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology that changed the social, economic and cultural conditions for them in England.

Others chose to emigrate to the United States colonies and the Caribbean, ending up on huge plantations as indentured servants. Blackburn explains what happened:

Initially, it was wage labour which worked the new plantations in Barbados and elsewhere. British emigrants would be contracted to work as indentured servants for three, five or seven years for the plantation after which they would be free to pursue other employment. In 1638 Barbados had 2,000 indentured servants and only 200 African slaves. By 1653 there were 20,000 slaves and only 8,000 indentured servants.
White indentured servants faced enormous hardships on the estates. The work was extremely hard, conditions appalling and life expectancy was short. Escaped servants were made to serve double time for their master. A repeated escape could lead to branding. Like slaves, the servant was regarded as a piece of property and was valued according to the amount of tobacco or sugar which could be expected to be produced before the indenture expired.

The plantation owners faced two problems. As the demand for the plantation exports rose rapidly they needed more and more labour. As emigration from Britain was, by and large, voluntary it could not guarantee to meet the needs of the system. At the same time, stories drifted back of life in the colonies which tended to discourage volunteers for the indenture system. Thus it was the growing demand for secure supplies of labour which produced the shift towards African slavery. In this context, the mid-seventeenth century saw the rapid growth of the slave plantation in the English Caribbean.

The extremely hard conditions of the plantation colonies meant that the owners, and the colonial authorities, always faced the possibility of revolt. Increasingly, laws were passed to enforce racial segregation. Such laws helped to create a form of racial solidarity among the white colonists. Increasingly whites, even poor whites, could identify themselves as a part of the privileged race. The privilege of their colour exempted them from slavery and granted them certain civil rights. The plantation owners’ fear of resistance and rebellion evolved into a more general white fear of black rebellion. In these ways slavery was crucial to forming the new racial identities in the American colonies.

From the dawn of the Industrial Revolution the world’s average per capita income increased tenfold. The living standards of many ordinary people grew. The machine age demonstrated progress and the impact of this change on society was enormous.

A Period of Balance

After World War II ended and we looked back upon the mass death it caused, including the Holocaust and the only use of nuclear weapons in warfare, we reconsidered our values. With over 50 million to over 70 million fatalities from that event, we glanced upon the most damning conflict in human history with disgust.

We became curious about how it happened, investigated our motives, rounded up the survivors and begged them for information about what we had done. We couldn’t believe the answers and it was those answers that shocked us into our next phase of human existence.

For a period of time, the ideals of culture vulturalism seemed to fall aside. It was replaced by a new consciousness, where man took an interest in his fellow man. The post- World War II baby boom changed our view of ourselves and where we fit into the world.

A generation emerged that questioned the need for man to consume his weak. A sense of ethics emerged, considering mankind as a whole, a community, something larger than the individual. And with that came a need to question behaviors that caused exploitation. Accept responsibility and enact change.

Civil rights gained importance. Personal freedoms were challenged. The conscious man emerged who questioned why mankind felt comfortable making fortunes off the backs of others was acceptable and we settled into a period of humanism — the responsibility to lead ethical lives both as individuals and for humanity.

With the dawning of industrialism came the covert tactics of CIA operatives. Their aim was removing the ideals for humanitarianism and replacing it with something much more sinister. Something that helped the wealthy exploit people once again.

Campaigns of political repression by right-wing dictatorships throughout the world involved CIA tactics and relationships. Covert operations involving terror and assassination attempts became the mission through campaigns like Operation Condor. These took place throughout the word after a meeting between the leaders of right-wing dictatorships from the Southern cone of the Americas took place:

A few well-known victims of Operation Condor:

Martín Almada, educator in Paraguay, arrested in 1974 and tortured for three years

Víctor Olea Alegría, member of the Socialist Party, arrested on 11 September, 1974 and “disappeared” (head of DINA Manuel Contreras was convicted in 2002 for this crime)

General Carlos Prats, who immediately preceded Pinochet at the head of the Chilean army, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1974

William Beausire, businessman with dual British and Chilean nationality, abducted in transit in Buenos Aires airport in November 1974, taken to the Villa Grimaldi torture centre in Chile and never seen since.

Bernardo Leighton, Christian-Democrat who narrowly escaped murder in Rome in 1975 organized by Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie

Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, targeted for murder by Pinochet in 1975

Attempted assassination against Emilio Aragonés, the Cuban ambassador in Buenos Aires, in 1975, organized by leader of the CORU, Orlando Bosch

Sheila Cassidy, British physician, arrested in Chile in 1975 and tortured for medical treatment to an opponent of the regime.

Volodia Teitelboim, member of the Communist Party of Chile, targeted for murder alongside Carlos Altamirano, in Mexico in 1976

“Disappearance” of two Cuban diplomats in Argentina, Crecencio Galañega Hernández and Jesús Cejas Arias who transited through Orletti detention center in Buenos Aires (9 August, 1976 – see Lista de centros clandestinos de detención (Argentina)); both were questioned by the SIDE and the DINA, with the knowledge of the FBI and the CIA

Andrés Pascal Allende, nephew of Salvador Allende and president of the MIR, escaped assassination attempt in Costa Rica in March 1976

Orlando Letelier, murdered in 1976 in Washington, D.C. with his assistant Ronni Moffitt

Christian-Democrat and president of Chile from 1964 to 1970 Eduardo Frei Montalva, who may have been poisoned in the early 1980s according to current investigations

former Bolivian president Juan José Torres, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, former Uruguayan deputy, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Zelmar Michelini, former Uruguayan deputy, assassinated in Buenos Aires in 1976

Carmelo Soria, Spanish diplomat, civil servant of the CEPAL (a UN organism), assassinated on 21 July 1976

Jorge Zaffaroni and Maria Emilia Islas de Zaffaroni, maybe members of the Tupamaros, “disappeared” in Buenos Aires on 29 September, 1976, kidnapped by the Batallón de Inteligencia 601, who handed them out to the Uruguayan OCOAS (Organismo Coordinador de Operaciones Anti-Subversivas)

Dagmar Ingrid Hagelin, 17-year-old Swedish girl shot in the back by Alfredo Astiz in 1977 and later murdered

Poet Juan Gelman‘s son and daughter-in-law (whose baby was stolen by the Uruguayan military)

US Congressman Edward Koch, who became aware in 2001 of relations between 1970s threats on his life and Operation Condor

(Source: Wikipedia Operation_Condor)

After a period of social enlightenment many of the idealistic youth who promoted humanism grew up and created families. Education opened up to more than just the wealthy elite during the humanitarian decades. Those who graduated into careers in technology became intrigued with the concept of wealth building and opted into opening dot.com businesses that built quick wealth in ways they had never seen.

Suddenly, the concept of humanism fell onto a back burner. The flavor of the day was investment, wealth building, and consumerism. The brand became important and brands like Nike and Apple took a stronghold.

At the same time, many who had graduated from the drug induced lives of their Hippie youths evolved into drug addiction. And their lives degraded into problematic episodes of criminal activity, or lifestyles revolved around the selling of flesh.

After this phase, many of these people turned to treatment centers cloaked in religious values to promote healing. The birth of the reborn Christian took over the world and Christianity grew. Along with this the idea to promote the staunch conservative Christian moray took hold.

Capitalists and Christians

Between the capitalists and the Christians, a new type of right-winged thinking became a popular movement…the Neo Conservative. He was convinced his values should be mandated for everyone.

In many countries, leaders who hinged on neo conservative values became popular and were voted in to control their countries. They fed into the Christian and capitalistic ideas of the ex humanists. Suddenly, things like human rights became secondary to Christian and Capitalist rights.

New World Vultures

A Christian’s right to pray and force everyone else to endure their need to pray became more important than considering other religions. The concept of using symbolism, like crosses, to promote Christianity in government places became a battle, instead of allowing the separation of church and state. And this moral deterioration continued. No longer did a woman have a right to be an individual who chose her own medical care. Not when Christians felt they had to dictate it to her. No longer did a mother and father have the right to educate their children the way they wanted, not if Christians disagreed with it.

They formed strong financial lobbies that helped fight against an individual’s right to decide for themselves. They organized in their churches to explain to one another how they should feel politically. This movement was financed by the capitalists who also felt they needed to remove humanism, in order to gain the right to exploit people once again and maximize profit.

And Neo Conservatism grew to a point where it now became acceptable to round up immigrants (like the English had done with those who had lost their trade during the Industrial Era) and deport them somewhere else. Not just somewhere, but in many cases, anywhere, as is regularly done in asylum cases in the U.S. Then, the Capitalists found their right to buy up businesses (such as Romney did with Bain & Company ) and strip mine them for every possible asset they could take for profit and walk away with, before they sold them off and left entire communities unemployed…like the craftsmen during the Industrial Era.

This wasn’t good enough though. So the Neo-Conservatives took this one step further. They brought slavery back. Not slavery as we once knew it, where a person had no freedom and was indebted to the person that took care of them. No.

Today’s slavery is veiled. Instead, the Neo-Conservatives brought slavery back through removing unions and any employee representation in the work place. Once that was gone, they systematically removed employee benefits, such as health care, pensions and implemented employment practices such as “at will employment.
At-will employment is a doctrine of American law that defines an employment relationship in which either party can break the relationship with no liability, provided there was no express contract for a definite term governing the employment relationship and that the employer does not belong to a collective bargaining group (i.e., has not recognized a union). Under this legal doctrine:

any hiring is presumed to be “at will”; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals “for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,” and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work.

The doctrine of at-will employment has been criticized as predicated upon flawed assumptions about the inherent distribution of power and information in the employee-employer relationship and for its brutal harshness upon employees.Regardless, the doctrine is widely credited as one of the major factors behind the strength of the U.S. economy; this thesis has been advanced by leading scholars in the field of law and economics such as Professors Richard A. Epstein and Richard Posner. In particular, at-will employment has been credited with making possible the success of Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur-friendly environment.

(Source: Wikipedia At-will_employment)

Today’s vultures are still picking off the carcass of those they can exploit through other practices. Through Neo-Conservatism, we’ve now accepted the practices of torture. Things like water boarding, pissing on your murdered opponent, holding people in prisons for decades without charging them…all of these things are now acceptable.

We’ve brought back lengthy work hours, many of which rival the hours people worked before unions were created. We’ve enabled the right of the wealthy to steal our 401K plans and watch us on camera. We’ve even allowed them to invade our bodies through testing processes that tell them more about our chemical make-up than we know about ourselves. We’ve destroyed the economy until employees are at the mercy of employers, and begging for work so they can feed their families. And we’ve allowed them to discriminate once again, based on age, race, you name it…only now it’s hidden under rhetoric.

Celebrities, politicians and the well-to-do now have a separate set of laws that they follow than the laws of the land. They are held to more lenient standards when they are caught stealing, driving drunk, killing or any other crime you can imagine.

Repeating our Patterns

Marx outlined many ways in which capitalism reproduces the conditions for capitalism to continue to exist.

“The accumulation of capital pre-supposes surplus-value; surplus-value pre-supposes capitalistic production;

capitalistic production pre-supposes the pre-existence of considerable masses of capital and of labour-power

The whole movement, therefore, seems to turn in a vicious circle, out of which we can only get by supposing a primitive accumulation

An accumulation not the result of the capitalist mode of production, but its starting point”.

(Source: Slavery33, Socialism Today.org)

Marx was well aware that the history of capitalism provided a number of possible sources for the original funds for capitalist investment.

“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, the enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black skins, signalized the rosy dawn of the era of capitalistic production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation.”

Today’s culture vultures have no less guilt than those of yesterday. They are brazen about their lack of morals and ethics which makes me wonder…

Is another Holocaust on the horizon? A holocaust of a new kind…where maybe the poorest of the poor are considered for extermination? Or, will the most impoverished become today’s Luddites, fighting back and being deported out of sight?

Once again:

Vultures prey on everyone else until an entire society has consumed itself into nothing.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though!