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The Culture of Cannibalism in US Politics: The Triumph of The Cyclop’s Values Over Democratic Citizenship

{The first essay in this series introduced a model I created to explain the cycle of corruption that plagues US politics. This essay looks into the roots of this corruption. It takes a long time to get to the payoff. Further, the conclusion is somewhat ex nihilo if you have not read the first essay. This said, for those who dare, I hope you find it worth the read.}

Polyphemos the cyclops would have eaten Odysseus, if his survival was dependent on the moral virtues of Silenus’s satyrs. Fortunately for Odysseus, and Silenus and his lot, Odysseus could depend on his fellow citizens. If Polyphemos had the majority of America’s elected representatives depending on him for their survival in his cave, the way that they are presently beholden to lobbyists’ money for their electoral survival, he could have had a ready supply of citizens for his daily meals.

Cyclopean virtues regularly triumph over the virtues of democratic citizenship in the political landscape of the United States. Given that the Declaration of Independence embodies the spirit and principles that ground the virtues of democratic citizenship, why is it that cyclopes, who eat humans, win the day in America? Answering this question requires that we journey back to Attic Greece and her proto-democratic foundations.

Euripides: “The Cyclops” and its Relation to Civic Virtue

The notion of cyclopean virtues comes to us through satyr plays, which are a type of comedic morality play, which were performed with the tragedies and comedies of the Greek dramatic festivals. The play that I shall draw upon is Euripides “Cyclops.” It is worth noting that it is the only surviving satyr play and much of what we know about them, we know from this play.

Satyr plays have three main types of characters, which are satyrs, the citizens of the polis, and monsters, such as cyclopes. Each of these groups personifies, by their acts and deeds, a different weighting of human virtues, which results in significantly different world views.



Satyrs, like Pan, are goat-man hybrids. They worship Dionysos and they love wine. They are social beings, but they are subject to the excesses of their instincts. As a consequence, they lack the self-control/moral foundation that is needed to make the self-sacrifices that are required to create and maintain more than rudimentary degrees of social cooperation. In some instances, they appear by their foibles to be no more than lovable scalliwags. This is somewhat misleading because their actions, besotted or not, often put others in serious jeopardy. Satyrs stand as metaphors for humans who have not yet fully escaped the bonds of nature.

Citizens of the Polis


The citizens of the polis represent civilized humanity: they prefer to live together despite its disadvantages. To be civilized, in this sense, means that citizens control their instincts through reason by adopting a code that more or less embodies The Golden Rule. Effectively, the citizens of the polis recognize that by sharing a system of responsibilities to each other, they gain the benefits of social specialization, which tend to be significant improvements in the quality and productivity of the society in its respective enterprises. For contrast sake, a society without a division of labor is a society of jacks of all trades who are particularly unskilled because there are no trades to be jacks of.

One outcome of being a citizen of the polis is the development of an appreciation for the polis because of the good it brings. Remembering that these ideas are the product of small city states should help to foster the idea that a feeling of shared kinship to one’s community is commonplace among almost all societies, regardless of size, even when the community does not appear to be deserving of that appreciation. It is also common for members of communities to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the community or its values, even when upholding the values mean sacrificing the community.



The cyclopes are relatively lawless, violent, powerful, solitary giants, who tend to limit their mutual interaction to shared defense. They appear to acknowledge each others territorial boundaries. They readily seize what they want from all other creatures, be it their possessions, their freedom, or their lives. They worship riches and they sacrifice to their appetites.

Cyclops: To Odysseus
Ey, little man! Wise men believe in one god and one god only: Wealth! Everything else is just words; fat words, lovely words but that’s all. All these shrines and temples of my father, built on every shore in Greece mean nothing to me. What’s the point of telling me all about them?

As for Earth, whether she wants to or not, she’ll still bring up the grass which will feed all my animals which I, in turn, will feed to the most important divinity in the world, my own belly. No sacrifices, nothing for anyone else, just my own lovely guts! Yum, yum!

Living in a quasi-asocial state, their very loose knit community lacks the benefits of shared enterprises. It was not always this way. Their ancestors were legendary tradespeople. The cyclopes lost these skills as they devolved into an athemistic society.

The cyclopes stand for humans who see citizenship, social interrelations, and laws as impediments to their liberty by nature and where they do acquiesce to such impartments, they do with the idea that it is a necessary evil. Accordingly, their political focus is upon limiting the scope of citizenship, social interrelations, and laws, especially with respect to any of these that compromise their lust for riches. Cyclopes do not have a sense of working together for mutual advancement, beyond that of mutual protection. Those who exist outside their community are prey, such as Silenus and his satyrs and Odysseus and his compatriots.

It is likely, though I am unaware as to whether or not it has been hypothesized, that the Greeks knew full well that the loss, or coverage, of an eye causes one’s perspective to lack depth. In Greek, and kin societies, to be described as a cyclops was an insult of some force. Antigonus, one of the Macedonian Diadochi who succeeded Alexander, slew a man for calling him a cyclopes.

Other Monsters

How does one speak to a void, such as our lack of knowledge about the other types of monsters that inhabited satyr plays? I am too unversed in this area of study to hypothesize about which imbalances of character other creatures would likely represent.

Cyclops: The Tale

“Cyclops” itself involves Odysseus taking a small party ashore the Isle of the Cyclopes in an attempt to get some provisions. He encounters Silenus and his satyrs, who have been captured by Polyphemos, who has made them into his slaves. The satyrs are miserable and “dry,” because there is no wine on the island because wine is a fruit of a socially organized society.

Silenus is introduced to Odysseus’s “bottomless” wineskin, which is literally a godsend to a satyr. Silenus, emboldened and stupefied by his increasing drunkenness, offers Odysseus more and more some of Polyphemos’s goods, which brings them to his cave, and their subsequent capture by Polyphemos.

In the short time of capture, Silenus lies and betrays Odysseus to get out of trouble and Polyphemos eats 6 of Odysseus’s men. Odysseus hatches a plan. He uses the wineskin to get Polyphemos debilitatingly drunk, which is not difficult because he is not used to drink, which is a social product. Once he’s passed out, Odysseus and his soldiers use Polyphemos’ sharpened staff as a spear and blind him. Importantly, the satyrs do not involve themselves in this enterprise, even though their freedom is at stake, due to cowardice and a lack of the notion of shared sacrifice.

The moral of the story is that a group of people who work together and use their reason can overcome a malevolent, overpowering force. What does this moral, story, and its characters have to do with politics in the USA?

The Vision of the Declaration of Independence: Citizens of the Polis

Earlier, I noted that the Declaration of Independence embodies the spirit and principles that ground the virtues of democratic citizenship. It is a statement of a code of conduct to regulate exchanges in the moral marketplace of the state.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In, “The Dignity of No”, I demonstrated that the principle of Creator endowed, unalienable Rights is a statement of the duty that each citizen owes to each other to balance their claims of rights standing with how those claims impact the rights standing of others. In other words, the Declaration of Independence demands that YOU care as much for the rights of others as you do for your own.

Anthropophagy: The Love of Money is the Route of all Meals

Fundamentally, the cyclopean vision is founded on a will to power with an avaristic bent. Equal others are looked to for mutual security, so their property rights are recognized, but everyone else is a potential source of riches or food. Their interests are only relevant to the extent they enable the interests of the cyclopes.

John Adams was aware of the cyclopean vision in America, though he did not name it as such, and the potential problems it could cause the republic. He stated:

“Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.” Adams insisted, “There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society.”


Adams worried that a businessman might have financial interests that conflicted with republican duty; indeed, he was especially suspicious of banks. He decided that history taught that “the Spirit of Commerce . . . is incompatible with that purity of Heart, and Greatness of soul which is necessary for a happy Republic.” But so much of that spirit of commerce had infected America. In New England, Adams noted, “even the Farmers and Tradesmen are addicted to Commerce.” As a result, there was “a great Danger that a Republican Government would be very factious and turbulent there.”

It is worth noting that Adams identifies the problem as an “addiction” to commerce. Much the same as the root of all evil is the love of money, not money itself, it is the addiction to commerce that is the problem, not commerce. When one is beholden of either of these, their duties to the others that make it possible for them to pursue their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, disappear from the field of their vision.

The Rise of the Cyclopean Vision in the US

The institutions of the land were intended to be places where budding monarchs were nipped. Why is it that the institutions that were intended to practise republican banzai are engaged in greenhousing oligarchs, plutocrats, their minions, and their progeny? How did it come to happen that the citizens of the polis are being prepared as meals for the cyclopes by the satyrs?

Cyclopeans undermined the values of the Declaration of Independence by playing upon the ironies of liberty and regulatory malfeasence. The first play involved denuding Liberty of its societal context. The second play involved acting upon a justified fear that cyclopean interests could gain influence over the government and steal liberty.

The Irony of Liberty

The irony of liberty is that, in practical terms, one has to sacrifice liberty to gain liberty. The irony of liberty is not a contradiction, however. It merely is a statement about how within a limited marketplace of liberty exchange, cooperative action can create positive synergies wherein one gets more liberty back than one invests. One need only think about the liberty to pursue one’s happiness that is gained by accepting a set of laws that uphold personal and property rights as compared to the liberties one enjoys when no such laws whatsoever are not employed, as an example of the value of the liberty exchange.

Denuding liberty from its social context involved getting people to “forget” that the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness is something no individual can guarantee or is guaranteed by virtue of being an individual. It is something that can only be realized by the sacrifices of others (of their liberty) to make it so.

To undermine the social context of liberty, the cyclopeans had to undermine the system of government that was created to defend and develop the citizen’s independence from the cyclopean vision. Cyclopeans needed to get the citizens to distrust their means of guaranteeing their independence. To do this they played upon the Irony of Regulatory Malfeasance.

The Irony of Regulatory Malfeasance

The irony of regulatory malfeasance is that the very mechanism that is used to prevent malfeasance is prone to being manipulated to promote malfeasance. The irony of regulatory malfeasance is not a contradiction. The irony plays out when people mistake the cause of the malfeasance to be regulations themselves, and not the people who manipulate the system.

This is an easy mistake to make, both, because it contains a kernel of logic and because humans, as a practical matter, are prone to manipulation. The logic has a number of trails, some of which are follows:

Regulations are prone to manipulation.

The more regulations that exist, the greater the likelihood that regulations will be manipulated.

Economies of scale are emergent.

The more regulations that are manipulated, the greater the likelihood of synergies of manipulation.

If the regulations don’t exist, then they can’t be manipulated.

If one wants to avoid regulatory malfeasance, avoid regulating.

Cyclopeans have been very successful in cultivating a deep distrust in government and regulations. This is not difficult in a land where so many of the populace have migrated from countries where cyclopeans use government as a means of repression, rather than emancipation. It is fascinating to observe how people who espouse limited government have set themselves up as the default option, when the government makes mistakes, even if that mistake is a failure to regulate.

Those who share the cyclopean perspective on limited governance, which does not mean they ascribe to its’ other aspects nor its reasons, incorrectly identify problems caused by a lack of governance to be problems caused by too much governance.

The problem with this view of government, as noted above, is that regulations are at the heart of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Regulations make rights happen. Accordingly, it is right to be concerned about the negative effects of too much governance, but one must also be aware that too little governance also undermines a society. Finding the right ratio between freedom and constraint is key to good regulation “Ratio” is the root of rationality, so the notion of finding the right ratio is a good place to conclude.

The cyclopean perspective lacks depth, which is why it lacks balance, which is why it was perceived by the Greeks to be less than fully rational. Those aspects of the current economic problems that are tied to the imbalance of influence between citizens, corporate interests, and elected representatives are the product of a well-entrenched cyclopean culture preying upon a reasonable apprehension citizens hold about government overreach. By not effectively regulating the relationship between corporate interests and elected representatives, corporate interests have overreached into the lives of the citizens. It is not rational to maintain this structure, if the aim of the society is to promote the values of the Declaration of Independence. This being so, citizens must end the practise where cyclopean corporate interests provide wineskins to the satyric elected representatives as trade bait to allow the cyclopeans to pillage the nation in the name of Polyphemos’ god, “Wealth”, and the filling of their bellies.

35 Responses

  1. I first became aware of regulatory manipulation in the form of a “grandfather clause.”

    A friend tried to open an auto body repair shop. There were strict local ordinances in place that made it too expensive – but the existing businesses didn’t have to worry about them because they were all “grandfathered” in.

    The net effect was to restrict competition.

    • A “grandfather clause” in itself isn’t a bad thing.
      How and why it was enacted may be.

      • I concur. For example, emeritus coaches on national teams were exempt from mandatory coaching certification exams because they’d already proven their expertise.

        • I’m thinking along the lines of development.
          When I moved into my garage 30 some years ago corn fields abutted the property one one side and mobile homes on the other, now it’s residential back yards.

          • I think I understand.

            My city, and the surrounding communities, are much worse than simply sad examples of urban sprawl.

  2. myiq,

    It sustains a first mover advantage.


  3. d,

    How fun it is to be able to say “Yup.” to you.


      • Wonk the Vote i disagree with you

        did you read the artical??

        • I did read the article, but I think politico is kinda tone-deaf to women’s issues and the work that Hillary is trying to do as SecState. I don’t think it’s about running for president.

          Hillary is blooming where she’s planted…I doubt running in 2012 is even on her radar. Just my two.

          • Maybe in 2016, but no way she’s running in 2012

          • i think shes setting herself up for 2012
            the way to tell is see what she dose on nthe next year or so… if she steps down from beinng SOS . then she can let BO crash & burn & she wont

          • myiq2xu, if bambi dose not run in 2012 do you still think wont run ??

          • Obama is a narcissist. He’s not going to step down. There’s no way in the world he can spin stepping down as anything but a colossal failure. Tge only way he would do it would be if he gave a rat’s ass about this party. He doesn’t. He’ll crank up tge slime machine and try to win by any means necessary.

  4. Where Obama supporters come from:

  5. Fabulous illustrations SM, and a really readable fable.

    I don’t know why but I’ve never been able to get into reading the Odyssey, however much I enjoyed the Andrew Lang books when young.

  6. This is way, way OT, but it had to be mentioned.

    Obama has just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    No, this is not a joke.


  7. Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize
    US President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his calls to reduce the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons and working for world peace.

    The first African American to hold the country’s highest office, Obama has called for disarmament and worked to restart the stalled Middle East peace process since taking office in January.

  8. i cannot believe this!! what for??? i mean how did he pull this off?

  9. The award has been permanently devalued. It is like giving the Nobel Prize for Literature to some third-tier scriptwriter for Marvel Comics.

    Obama is indefinitely continuing one war he promised to end in Iraq. He is escalating a second war in Afghanistan. And he’s ramping up the possibility of a third in Iran.

    He is grossly incompetent as a diplomat, as can be seen by his clueless behavior in alienating Britain and France at the most recent U.N. summit.

    Leaders around the world must be laughing their asses off at this.

    It’s a sad day. The Nobel Peace Prize was long considered one of the highest honors a person could receive in this world. Not anymore.

    • well put – i am way too agitated to think coherently! who the hell can seriously vote for zero – have they done any fact checking?

    • I agree, well put. Words escape me at the moment. The kool aid enduced stupidness continues.

  10. “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as (Mr) Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future,” the committee said.


    • capturing attention – yup, he’s good at that.

      giving people hope – just more people not doing their homework, I guess.

  11. IIRC, when Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Gore Vidal remarked, “One must never underestimate the Scandinavian wit.” :mrgreen:

  12. Now, I believe corruption has completely overtaken the Nobel. I will never have faith in it again. How completely outrageous! Perhaps it is for Hillary’s work?? If so, it is even more outrageous for him to be named.

  13. soon the chemistry nobel prize is handed to a first year student who intends to develop the world formula – real satire out of sweden!

  14. I think the “Obama Wins The NPP WTF?” needs a thread of its own.

  15. s, I let the news of the morning distract me from your post. Sorry. I am intrigued and grateful for your tackling this topic.

  16. he WON listen to him crow

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