The ancient Greeks believed that their world was shaped by the Gods, wielders of immense power. A separate race of superior beings. So they worshipped them, passing down tales of their incredible exploits and sacrificing their own wellbeing to maintain their favour. The Greeks had no direct contact with their Gods – instead oracles served as conduits for the Gods will and city magistrates organised their veneration.
Little has changed in the years since. We still worship at the altar. The Greeks imagined that their Gods could move Heaven and Earth, striking down those who displeased them. That the Gods’ standing was a result of their might and power. Today we have new titans. The billionaire class.
Greek myth explained the world by weaving a fantastic tapestry of tall tales. Although the Gods lived on a different plane from mere humans, they could and did exercise their power in the world of man. Elaborate rituals and sacrifices were made to appease the Gods, for divine retribution was an existant threat.
Our titans of industry are just as untouchable in their gated communities, penthouses and alpine retreats. They still occasionally grace us with their presence, particularly when they want to exercise their power over our affairs. Unlike the Olympians, our titans are quite clear about what steps must be taken to appease them. Instead of goats and incense, the billionaires demand privatisations and tax cuts.
Each Olympian God had their own apocryphal origin story, full of symbolism and advice for the Greeks. Although reputedly of divine origin, the people who wrote and spread these stories were ordinary men, followers of the Gods. The stories dictated how one should behave, what behaviours were acceptable and which would meet with divine retribution.
Our billionaries each have their own tale of risk taking and derring-do. The ghostwriters are today’s oracles. Filling the racks of airport bookstores and television, we too trade in the biographical myths of our titans. They tell us how to behave, providing a guide for success as they simultaneously justify their subject’s glory.
It was only through the benevolence of the Gods that men could achieve great things. Athena lent her power to Jason, Heracles and Perseus, aiding them to reach heroic heights in their own stories. Following the directions of the Gods offers the potential for greatness. Such greatness however, always carried the imprimatur of the God who granted it, and could be used for their own ends.
Today, we have the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. With the help of our titans, the young people of today will all learn to code and STEM like none before. Such schemes do offer chances for their recipients, but only in the service of the billionaires themselves and their own interests.
The Olympians were reputed to wield tremendous power over their own area of expertise. Poseidon mastered the sea and Hades the underworld. Individuals and cities would worship a particular patron over the others. Although their domains were narrow, within them they were absolute. When faced with serious threats, the Gods of the Greeks united to form an implacable force against any foe who dared challenge them.
Our titans wield tremendous power. Although their companies may only operate within certain areas, within their company they have absolute control. They are reshaping the planet to meet their whims. There are some who follow the cult of Musk and others who venerate Jobs. But for all their feigned animosity and squabbles, the billionaire class will unite against any foe who dares to face them (as happened with the Panama Papers).
For ordinary Greeks, the Gods could not be challenged. Beings of such power could only be appeased, not resisted. Men were mere playthings of the Gods, relying on the protection of their local deity.
The power of our billionaires is the natural order of things, or so their myths say. We cannot resist the power of the markets, nor their heroic masters. We must appease the Bezos, the Koch or the Rinehart – whichever deity can deliver us jobs.
Eventually, the myths of Olympian power were shattered by the philosophy and rationalism of Plato. They retained their positions as stories and traditions, but the Gods’ power was irredeemably sullied.
Our titans will not be so easily slain. Their power rests in the material world as well as the figurative. Though the myths tell of the brave titans slaying dragons singlehandedly, the projection of their power into the real world is only accomplished through their workers.
Just like the Greek Gods, the billionaires’ power over us depends on us believing their myths. Without us worshiping at the altar of the Great Man and the cubicle, they are nothing. The real power rests in the hands of every worker. Individually we are weak. Together we are strong.