Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Murder by mammonolatry

When Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez went to work in the vineyards of West Coast Grape Farming, near Stockton, California, early in the morning of Wednesday, 14 May 2008, she was seventeen. Pregnant and happily engaged to coworker Florentino Bautista, she looked ahead to all the joys and trials of marriage and motherhood, and to all the incalculable web of possibilities that lay in the decades to come.

Maria Isabel, victim of economic pathocracy

Maria Isabel, victim of economic pathocracy, died of heatstroke because her employers denied her water.
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By Friday, Maria was dead, killed by the heatstroke that felled her at 3:40 Wednesday afternoon.

At that fateful minute, Maria had been working for over nine hours. Like those working around her, she had gone without water all morning. And, when water did arrive at 10:30, it was a ten-minute walk from where Maria toiled; it might as well have been on the moon, for Maria’s foreman denied her the break needed to get to it. Shade, too, was refused her: Her employer wanted a full day’s labor.

In this corrupt calculus lies the supreme horror of our economic system. Ultimately, capitalism as we know it must perish, not because it is unsustainable, but because it is morally leprous: From a thousand million throats its victims cry out; their anguish rings from the mountaintops, and their despair darkens the skies. Such cries could drag to hell a spirit from on high, and surely they shall not go unheard forever: If we go on as we are, our nation must one day reap a bitter harvest and mere perdition.

For Maria’s death was no accident. The cause of her death may be listed as heatstroke, but what really killed her was the lethal snobbery of the employer, the landlord, the prosperous and the powerful. Pathocratic capitalism’s debauched ethos encourages each of these to imagine himself separate from, superior to, the worker, the tenant, the penurious and the powerless; these “lesser beings” cease to be human, become mere units of work or revenue, or obstacles to be removed.

According to this obscene mammonolatry, money in hand is all. Deaf to entreaty, to reason and to justice, the greed-possessed also cannot see that tomorrows await: To gain or save a few more dollars, the employer will keep the laborer toiling to the point of collapse; the landlord will evict the tenant who complains of his failure to maintain a habitable home; the corporate executive will order the poisoning of a whole town.

That such barbarities can drag on so long is also no accident: It is a necessary consequence of systemic structures older than our republic. If the elite were made to pay the full costs of its misdeeds, its power would soon wane; thus the courts, the press and the other institutions that shape our lives, controlled as they are by that elite, exist to perpetuate its ascendancy by absolution. As long as its riches can purchase indemnity, it has nothing to fear, knows no real pain. Debauched by a lying mythos manufactured to sweeten a feculent kleptoplutocratic ethos, the courts will deny justice to its victims while the press slyly sustains the underlying dogma: that capitalism represents a perfectly valid meritocracy in which all are equal participants and advance or fall behind solely as a consequence of their own choices, and that it is only by their own failure of “personal responsibility” that the victims have suffered or died. And a great many Americans of the middle classes, never having labored in the field or rented from a slumlord, imagine themselves immune from a similar fate and fail to see the farmworker, the slum-dweller and the denizen of a chemical-tainted town as their peers.

Thus, it is no surprise that those who denied Maria rest, shade and water are now expected to pay for her life with forty hours of community service. It is the impunity of the elite, and we have begun to resent it. We know that Maria’s employers have murdered her for gain, and that prison, not community service, should be their fate. But we also suspect that we have no voice in this, that the employer must win this rigged game — and for that we are enraged.

A hemisphere away, the people of Tunisia and Egypt have thrown off cruel elites to which their lives meant only money to be made. In Wisconsin, state employees fight to keep the right to bargain with their bosses, and myriads march in solidarity with them — fed at times on pizza ordered for them from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In California, farmworkers and their sympathizers demand justice for Maria.

Surely not even the most exalted among the Elect can fail to see the pattern in this.

Originally published as a review of a change.org petition seeking redress for Maria and an end to impunity for her killers.

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