Empire Burlesque 
June 22, 2011
Do you want to know what the future looks like? Ed Vulliamy can show you.  Just follow him down to Ciudad Juarez, where the witless, heedless, heartless machinery of “market fundamentalism” (or “late capitalism,” or whatever other name you’d like to give to the unrestrained greed of our elites) has come to its logical, horrific culmination.
Vulliamy notes, rightly, that the vast profits which the “upperworld” of the financial and political elite earns from the murderous drug trade is at the core of the nihilistic hellmouth that has opened up in Mexico. This same upperworld is also adamant in continuing the immeasurably corrosive and corrupting of criminalizing — rather than regulating, mitigating and taxing — the innate human desire to disorder the senses, for whatever reason: pleasure, escape, comfort, despair.
But as Vulliamy also observes, the “drug war” and its discontents are just mirrors of the wider reality of a world ruled by zealots given over to the worship of money and its trappings to the exclusion of every other understanding of human worth. Below are some excerpts, but you should read the whole, harrowing piece:
….But this is not just a war between narco-cartels. Juarez has imploded into a state of criminal anarchy – the cartels, acting like any corporation, have outsourced violence to gangs affiliated or unaffiliated with them, who compete for tenders with corrupt police officers. The army plays its own mercurial role. … Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free. Now, the corporations can do it cheaper in Asia, casually shedding their Mexican workers, and Juarez has become a teeming recruitment pool for the cartels and killers. It is a city that follows religiously the philosophy of a free market.
“It’s a city based on markets and on trash,” says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion. “Killing and drug addiction are activities in the economy, and the economy is based on what happens when you treat people like trash.” Very much, then, a war for the 21st century.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
…Mexico’s war does not only belong to the postpolitical, postmoral world. It belongs to the world of belligerent hyper-materialism, in which the only ideology left – which the leaders of “legitimate” politics, business and banking preach by example – is greed.
…People often ask: why the savagery of Mexico’s war? It is infamous for such inventive perversions as sewing one victim’s flayed face to a soccer ball or hanging decapitated corpses from bridges by the ankles; and innovative torture, such as dipping people into vats of acid so that their limbs evaporate while doctors keep the victim conscious.
I answer tentatively that I think there is a correlation between the causelessness of Mexico’s war and the savagery. The cruelty is in and of the nihilism, the greed for violence reflects the greed for brands, and becomes a brand in itself.
Vulliamy notes that there are simple steps that could be taken immediately to curtail and quell this downward spiral. (Parenthetically, I think he downplays the potent effect that decriminalization would have, draining the swamp of inordinate profit that a black market always brings.) But he is absolutely right in observing that none of these steps will be taken — because they would affect the bottom line of our great and good. His words on this point are harsh, sharp, and true:
People also ask: what can be done? There is endless debate over military tactics, US aid to Mexico, the war on drugs, and whether narcotics should be decriminalised. I answer: these are largely of tangential importance; what can the authorities do? Simple: Go After the Money. But they won’t.
Narco-cartels are not pastiches of global corporations, nor are they errant bastards of the global economy – they are pioneers of it. They point, in their business logic and modus operandi, to how the legal economy will arrange itself next. The Mexican cartels epitomised the North American free trade agreement long before it was dreamed up, and they thrive upon it.
Mexico’s carnage is that of the age of effective global government by multinational banks – banks that, according to Antonio Maria Costa, the former head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, have been for years kept afloat by laundering drug and criminal profits. Cartel bosses and street gangbangers cannot go around in trucks full of cash. They have to bank it – and politicians could throttle this river of money, as they have with actions against terrorist funding. But they choose not to, for obvious reasons: the good burgers of capitalism and their political quislings depend on this money, while bleating about the evils of drugs cooked in the ghetto and snorted up the noses of the rich.
And so here we are. The Drug War long ago merged with the Terror War, which in turn has merged with the long-running war of the elites against the ordinary people of their own countries. We live in the midst of a perfect storm of elitist terror (and its offshoots) raining down on us from every side. As Vulliamy bleakly concludes:
So Mexico’s war is how the future will look, because it belongs not in the 19th century with wars of empire, or the 20th with wars of ideology, race and religion – but utterly in a present to which the global economy is committed, and to a zeitgeist of frenzied materialism we adamantly refuse to temper: it is the inevitable war of capitalism gone mad. Twelve years ago Cardona and the writer Charles Bowden curated a book called Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future. They could not have known how prescient their title was. In a recent book, Murder City, Bowden puts it another way: “Juarez is not a breakdown of the social order. Juarez is the new order.”