THUS SPAKE CASSANDRA
February 22, 2009
THUS SPAKE CASSANDRA
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action. -George Washington
A dear learned colleague of mine whom I respect highly recently sent me a link to an article entitled “The Growing Anger in the Heartland” (http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009020819/growing-anger-heartland). In it, the author brings to light the growing consensus that “that we live in a country whose ruling class is deeply insane. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see sociopathy packaged as Serious Opinion.” The commentary includes the clip of a passionate tirade of Lansing, Michigan Mayor Virg Bernero that “exemplifies a level of rage out in the country that isn’t being fully appreciated in Washington, D.C.”
This led me to reply to my friend with a story that my wife told me that I just do not know what to do with. I recount it to you here:
We were watching the news one day several months ago, listening to reports of the hundreds of billions of dollars that were going to AIG, BOA, Citicorp, etc with apparently no fixed and clear standards, and of the heads of the Big Three automakers whose team few into Washington on separate private jets to state their case for receiving more tens of billions of dollars so they could continue their incompetent policies.
My wife looked up at me in disbelief and said “Well, I know what my grandfather Ellsworth would have said about all this. He used to say it all the time.”
Ellsworth Brown, whom I regrettably did not have the pleasure of knowing, was a proud immigrant from Sweden who worked hard to care for his family. A deeply religious man, he had no prejudices except against Catholics, and that was only based on his prescient belief that they permitted their clergy sexually to abuse children. (He accordingly reveled in the knowledge that his granddaughter—my wife—was born on Orangeman’s Day.) Ellsworth imparted his lack of prejudices to my wife who, for example, as a child in school did not raise her had when the teacher asked her class, as part of a discussion about civil rights, if anyone in their all white school had any black friends. When recounting the days’ events later at dinner, my wife’s mother laughed at having to remind her daughter about one of her best friends who was an African American. My wife’s response: “She’s black? Oh, yeah; I guess she is black.” She had just never been trained to notice.
Ellsworth was an imposing figure and carried himself as one would imagine of a quintessential patriarch. Standing at around six-foot-four, Ellsworth had “muscles on top of muscles” (as the inimitable Johnny Most used to describe the Celtics’ enforcer “Jungle” Jim Luscotoff). Coming from hard-scrabble beginnings, he once found himself seeking a living in his youth as a punishing, bare-knuckle boxer of some ability, reportedly even having killed a man in the ring. He also had a passion for the virtues of Freemasonry where he rose to the status of a thirty-second degree Mason and became a long time Worshipful Master of his Lodge.
Any way, my wife continued. “My grandfather often said that what happens next in times like these is obvious. The same thing has happened over and over again for thousands of years and there is no reason why this wouldn’t happen again now. When the leaders of a nation, both industrial and political, become so corrupt and so incompetent, the solution is easy. He people rise up, take them outside, line them up and shoot them. Done.” I could not help but laugh, although it was a suppressed one; for the thought was indeed delicious and elegantly simple. “Ockham’s razor,” I thought.
But that is not the story that perplexes me. The one that I am having trouble with is this: Since chuckling over my wife’s tale, I have probably a score or two of times, when the same topic about the bailout has since come up, repeated it to professionals, professors, C-suite occupants, workers in the line, and so forth. Without exception, everyone laughed; no one disagreed, tried to say what an absurd idea it was or objected in any way. Indeed, the usual response was, “I wish I could disagree with that; but I just can’t”
So what the hell does this mean?