Everyone knows the story, or myth, of Pandora (etymologically meaning ‘all-gifted’ or perhaps ‘all-giving’), who was ancient Greek mythology’s counterpart to Eve of the Old Testament — that is, the first woman created by the gods (out of earth, or clay), all of whom gave her a gift of some kind. Her notoriety derives from the fact that, after Zeus gave her to Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus (‘Afterthought’), to exact indirect vengeance for Prometheus’s hubris (stealing fire from the gods to give to pitiful, suffering humans), Pandora opened a large storage jar (later translated as ‘box’) left in Epimetheus’s care, inadvertently releasing all the evils (death, illness, misfortune) that had been kept in it. The legend has it that she hastened to close the lid, but only managed to keep ‘hope’ (sometimes translated as ‘deceptive expectation’) inside. Lest the myth be read one-sidedly as misogynistic (that is, as indicative that woman is the source of all misfortune), according to another version of the myth it was Epimetheus himself who opened the jar. (See these artistic depictions of Pandora and her jar)


So what is the relevance of the Pandora myth for us today? Not merely in an individual sense — we all have experiences from time to time of a ‘can of worms’ (colloquial for Pandora’s box) being opened in our lives, from something being said inadvertently about our reckless youthful romances in front of a jealous lover, to an impulsive suggestion about fixing a neglected property that needs more (expensive) work than initially thought. But I mean something different, on a collective, national, or even international, global scale. And I can think of quite a few nasty things that have escaped when the lid of Pandora’s jar was lifted, from about a 100 years ago to today.

Think of the rise of national socialism in Germany after the First World War, for instance. What initially seemed like a movement that gave Germans a sense of cultural pride, which they desperately needed at the time, given the (economic) price they paid, particularly after the war, turned into a nightmare that brought with it the nameless suffering and death of millions of people, including about 6-million Jews during the ‘Holocaust’ or ‘Shoah’. The Pandora ‘evil’ in this case could perhaps be (partly) described as the hubris or conceit of racial purity and supremacy — something that repeated itself not much later in South Africa in the guise of the ideology of apartheid, which was a milder version of the conceit of racial supremacy, and was accompanied by severe suffering on the part of black people.

One could add to these Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia, the totally superfluous Vietnam war, waged because of ideological blindness, the unnecessary war in Iraq, initiated more out of economic expediency than the need to locate and destroy ‘weapons of mass destruction’, and many more – all indicative of the fact that the lid of that infamous jar or box is still being lifted from time to time.

Probably one of the most lamentable things to have escaped from it goes by the name of Donald Trump, who is like a massive political and economic wrecking ball on a gigantic scale, despite the fact that he claims credit for US unemployment numbers being at their lowest levels in years. From what I have been able to gather, however, this is less because of the ‘tax breaks’ that his so-called tax reforms have brought ordinary people; all indications are that corporations, who benefitted much more handsomely from these changes to the tax law than ordinary people, did not even pass their good fortune on to workers in the form of new jobs, but used the tax relief to their own advantage. Here is Alix Langone of TIME magazine on the matter:

“We’re starting to learn what America’s biggest companies are doing with the huge windfalls from President Donald Trump’s tax cuts. And the answer is great for investors – but not so great for workers.

“That’s because many companies are returning huge portions of their billions in tax savings to shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividend increases — not necessarily new hiring and investment.

“Companies are on track to plow a record $1-trillion into boosting dividends and buying back their own stock this year, says Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst S&P Dow Jones Indices.

“Buybacks are a strategy to boost stock prices — by reducing the number of shares outstanding, which artificially increases a company’s earning per share. But they do little to improve the economy.

“Companies in the S&P 500 have also increased dividend payments to shareholders 182 times so far this year, giving investors greater incentive to buy and hold their shares, according to Silverblatt.

“The Trump tax cuts, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, boosted corporate profits overnight for many big firms. Combined with the new provision that caused U.S. companies to repatriate billions in overseas earnings, many companies are awash in cash.

“’But,’ says Michael Patcher, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, ‘The tax law didn’t do anything to provide an incentive to employers to create jobs. There’s nothing in there that would suggest that employers have a particular incentive to hire more people or pay the ones that they have more money.’”

This is but the tip of the iceberg as far as Trump’s Pandora effect is concerned. Most egregious, perhaps, is his total disregard for the preservation of natural ecologies which are vital to the survival of life, manifested in his claim that climate change is a hoax. Yet, the recent fires raging in the Northern hemisphere are an irrefutable sign of global warming. Just think of the effect that his ill-considered directives have had on the attempts, many of them initiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to combat the worst effects of global warming and other manifestations of deleterious human impact on nature. Just yesterday I read about his reversal of Obama’s ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in industrial agriculture, which was aimed (by Obama) at safeguarding particularly honey bees, which are vital to the survival of plants because of their cross-pollination function in nature.

Here in South Africa the EFF and the ANC have also allowed some ill winds to escape from Pandora’s box in recent times, particularly in the shape of their stated intention to change the constitution and pass a law legitimising ‘expropriation without compensation’ — which is just another name for legalised theft. I recall a time, not too long ago, when the ANC government assured South Africans that South Africa would not ‘become another Zimbabwe’ (under Mugabe, who specialised in land grabs from white farmers for his cronies). Now they have put us firmly on that path.

Don’t get me wrong. As often stated in this blogspot, I believe drastic economic measures are needed to reduce inequality in this country, BUT expropriating productive farms owned by whites, and needed for food security at a time when SA is already importing food, is not the way to do it. Taxing billionaires at a higher rate than others, and curbing corruption (and retrieving sums like the R19-billion stolen from Eskom), using that money to create employment, are much more viable options. I recently saw a statistic (the reliability of which I cannot guarantee) indicating that 70% of the farms given to black farmers under the previous dispensation of ‘willing buyer willing seller’ are lying fallow, that is, are not producing food. Yet the governing party, in its blind quest for votes in 2019, is forging ahead with a measure that could sink this beautiful country.

Indications are that state ownership of land is extensive — the obvious thing to do then, is to use that land to give to aspiring black farmers. Moreover, if bonded farms which belong to banks are expropriated, will the new owners be able to take over these bonds? Which points to another possible Pandora source of ruin; and if the financial institutions in the country collapse, the scenario sketched by novelist Eben Venter in his novel, Horrelpoot (Clubfoot) is but a stone’s throw away. Unless the ANC abandons the expropriation bill, some more evils could escape from Pandora’s box.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


Bert Olivier

As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it...

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