I remember John Perkins. He was a real jerk. A gold-plated, super-slick lying little butthole shill for corporate gangsters; a snake-oil salesman with a movie-star grin, shiny loafers, a crooked calculator and a tooled leather briefcase full of high-blown bullshit. Greg Palast
Despite Greg Palast’s spleenish dismissal from an earlier time, John Perkins has emerged as a spiritual, intellectual and political authority. He is a path-breaking leader of contemporary neo-shamanism, one of today’s most effective critics of American corporate culture, and a story teller capable of overshadowing Ian Fleming. In recounting tales of imperial adventure, conquest and dark deeds Perkins overshadows the legendary creator of James Bond.
He is working to offer a vision, or a “dream change” as he calls it, designed to rescue America, and the world it dominates, from the destruction of rampant corporate energy. He works to achieve these ends by recounting in a disarmingly honest and sensitive way the personal adventures and dilemmas he has experienced in diverse and exotic parts of the world.
Perkins first gained a reputation in the 1990s for a series of books on shamanic cultures among remote tribes and peoples. Around a decade later and prompted by the events of 9-11, he published Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in 2005. This describes life as part of an elite group trained to “utilise international financial organisations to foment conditions that make other nations subservient to the corporatocracy running our biggest corporations, our government, and our banks”.
After being turned down by 27 publishers, it became an international best seller, about to be made into a Hollywood movie. In a comment on contemporary media, it was on all best-seller lists without receiving any mainstream attention.
Most importantly, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man has provided credibility, authority and celebrity in opening up new areas of thought. These include corporate power, American empire, shaman spirituality and environmental consciousness.
Perkins has become a rallying figure for critics of the American “corporatocracy”. He highlights the harm it inflicts with casual neglect on the environment and local tradition wherever there is the potential to seize cheap resources or some other commercial windfall.
A second book has now been published in this genre.
The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth about Global Corruption again recounts wild, troubling conspiracies to grab resources from vulnerable third world leaders through the peddling of unserviceable loans. This is what makes it tempting, even if it is an injustice, to identify its author as America’s James Bond, with conscience.
Intriguingly, the American hit man is a much more sophisticated and reflective operator than the British secret agent. He never dirties his own hands with an act of execution or termination. That is left to the jackal, a scavenger that cleans up after others and a figure much closer to the persona of James Bond. Yet both Fleming and Perkins leave the sense that they have known a time of transition, as the challenges of empire begin to outweigh its rewards. Each captures readers with the exposure of perverse, mock heroic, excesses in defence of empire.
John Perkins both writes and plays the story of the economic hit man, as he reveals an institutionalised imperial strategy of which few had previously been aware. This exposure may well make a contribution to constraining the role of laissez faire corporate plundering in maintaining empire. It may also help construct a vision for an American future more in tune with the values of its founding fathers and its constitution.
While Perkins is best known today for his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he is best understood in the context of his earlier writing. This explores the wisdom and understanding of shamans in diverse parts of the world. These revelations can be even more startling than his hit man stories. They pose serious questions about perceptions of reality. They leave a sense of new possibilities with an enhanced insight into the nature of life. It is even possible to read in an exchange with an Amazonian shaman an early contribution to the idea of carbon trading.
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