For wit and power; their last endeavours bend
To outshine each other, waste their time and health
In search of honour, and pursuit of wealth.
Inclosed with dangers and with noisy strife,
He spends his little span; and overfeeds
His crammed desires, with more than nature needs!
It is a bleak and grey morning after the 2014 midterm elections, brought to you by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. Released from statutory limitations and any apparent sense of civic restraint, a handful of obscenely wealthy old men have bought themselves a Senate.1
Welcome to the new American dystopia, a replay of medieval feudalism where the many are once again doomed to spend their lives impoverished and constrained in service to the few. At this early stage, the cheery bunting of democracy still remains draped on the castles that are under construction for the elites. The populace is working hard at the projects, readily carrying blocks up the scaffolding without an armed guard in sight.
No force is needed, yet. These poor folk were skillfully persuaded to work against their own interests, by a swarm of well-paid hucksters who stood shouting at the windows of their little cottages with lies and promises. Those have been effective with religions, too, for thousands of years.
When the shocks of discontent arise from us modern-day serfs, when we inevitably get jaded to the propaganda on our telescreens, the state security apparatus will be well prepared to fend off whatever pitchforks we might want to rustle up. Even as I write this and you read it, a shadowy network of automated surveillance follows our activities.2
At present, few people can be bothered to care. One of the senators who fought most vocally against it has now lost his office. The state security network will prove to be a convenient amenity for the oligarchs who, with a few billion more in installment payments, finally complete their purchase of our government.
It is time for a good loud lamentation, following an old biblical tradition. This one was pointed out to me, in an entirely different context having nothing to do with politics, by my new acquaintance, the gracious Daniel N. Gulotta. I’ve taken the King James text of Jeremiah 20:7-9 and 13-18 and (presumptious of me, yes) edited it to be more engaging for modern readers.
I omitted the middle part of the lamentation because it deals with specific enemies and vengeance. Our problems, I think, are more with who and what we have evolved to be. “As society invented more abstract ways to represent food, land, and labor with money and credit logs,” says Deirdre Barret in her insightful book Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose (Norton, 2010),
one individual could amass personal property worth a hundred or thousand times that of another. There is also, obviously, a compelling instinct to provide for one’s offspring; this is practically synonymous with whose genes will survive. However, people previously provided for their offspring mostly until maturity, with occasional provisioning for them and for grandchildren if the family remained together. Now the powerful and rich can direct these instincts at supernormal family estates, trust funds that endure for generations, and, in the case of monarchies, permanent rulership for the family.
This “may even apply within a democracy,” adds Barrett. Yes, it may indeed, and that is what we are now seeing.
O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived.
You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.
I am in derision daily. Everyone mocks me.
For since I spoke, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil,
because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me,
and a derision, daily.
Then I said,
“I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name.”
But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones,
and I was weary with forbearing,
and I could not stay.
Cursed be the day in which I was born:
Let not the day when my mother bore me be blessed.
Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A boy is born unto you,” making him very glad.
And let that man be like the cities that the LORD
overthrew and did not repent of it.
Let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb,
so that my mother might have been my grave,
and her womb always pregnant with me.
For what purpose did I come forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow?
That my days should be consumed with shame? 3
Old Jeremiah sure knew how to vent. At least for the moment, with the First Amendment mostly intact (no thanks to President Obama’s harrassment of reporters like the courageous James Risen), we in the United States still can enjoy that remnant of our liberty.
The last part of this sentence is after a tweet by “T Gard” (@Michiganborn58): “Well it looks like the #KochBrothers bought themselves a Senate.” It wasn’t just them–Sheldon Adelson is another obscenely wealthy old man who unfortunately comes to mind. And the corporations have been busily investing in politicians for their own purposes, too. ↩
All blatantly unconstitutional, of course: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Thankfully, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has recently re-affirmed the relevance of the Fourth Amendment in Riley v. California (June 25, 2014, slip op. 13-132), holding that a warrant is indeed necessary to rummage through the contents of a person’s smartphone. ↩