The Lords and Owners of Their Faces

photo by Jeremy Vandel

Today I read another “Privatization is good” piece in our local paper.  It is claimed there that selling our public roads is a brilliant maneuver in managing budget shortfalls.  As this isn’t argued, detailed or proven in any way by appeal to facts or outcomes, it is clearly only rhetoric.  The rhetoric is only intended to “sell” privatization.  As if the citizens created the budget short fall and it somehow serves them right that the governor sold their roads to foreign corporations.

I can hardly think of anything more public than our roads–our idea of free movement.  Yet, this was sold to the highest bidder.  We are no longer owners of the roads we paid to build.

I spent about 1200 more words trying to explain to myself how it is that so many among us not only support this kind of action but believe it is actually a beneficial course for all of us.  Into the trash bin they went.  I will not convince anyone.  But I will try to say something regarding the belief that the private, selfish human is a natural state to so many of us.  So much so that they believe any thought otherwise is a clear “liberal” delusion.  The belief that individuals should be free is absolutely untenable in a market economy (how is one free if one is a slave of selfish desires?).  It is a paradox.  Individualism in a market economy is an absolute chimera; as is freedom.  All actions of the market are coercive.  All actions in service of this are manipulative.  A consumer does not act out of individual freedom and desire; he is a managed impulse to consume.  Zero freedom, zero liberty.  Except for the “strongest” manipulator; the strongest coercion; the mightiest in weaponry or net worth.  Though someone has said the man who owns a lion is owned by a lion.

Implicit in this regard for markets is a commitment to hierarchy as a natural state and that the dominant performers in the abstraction that is financial “nature” are justified rulers.  The wealth and success of the few is right.  The poverty of the many is natural.  Only one ape, one wolf, one lion, is alpha.  We must ignore other possibilities because this is the truest social cognate to nature.  Capitalism and Markets are just like nature to this way of thinking.

It is an interesting kind of corruption of an anarchist tenet: freedom from state control.  The corruption is that the anarchist does not wish to rely on a biological narrative to impose a “natural” order of dominance and hierarchy; the anarchist disavows hierarchy of any kind.  “Anarchism began to take shape wherever people demanded to govern themselves in the face of power-seeking minorities–whether magicians, priests, conquerors, soldiers, chiefs, or rulers.” (Marshall, “Demanding the Impossible,” p 4.)

I would almost want to see the imagined natural order of the corporate and political masters given a chance to be proven correct.  That is, I would like there to be a reset switch wherein the whole world is begun again with no one born into wealth, power or property but with our financial systems already in place; that we might all be “mind-wiped” so that we don’t have an accrual of financial knowledge or any kind of education in the operations of markets and simply see what happens if we all start out with equal sums and equal resources (equal food, equal water, etc.).

Of course, there is no fear of this happening and no fear that these attestations to the naturalness of financial markets and masters of humanity can be contested or challenged in an experimental way; and likewise there is no evidence to show that billionaires are “naturally” billionaires…but there are good stories about why they are!

Those in power, and proponents of the idea of natural power via market freedom, do not believe in freedom and liberty.  They believe it is natural to be dominated.  They are promoting and creating that reality.  This is why so many promote the righteousness of a religious faith.  Religions maintain their own power abstraction.  True freedom in a religion is being dominated by a hierarchy.  Most heavens are conceived as a hierarchy; how many orders of angels are there?  And even in you are a strict Jesus-is-my-co-pilot kind of religionist, you still come after Yahweh and Jesus.  You are always fallen and secondary in this conception.  Easily mastered.

As our age continues to offer continual reductionism, finding new ways to say something socially biased and privileged using scientific language–surely the free market has been compared to quarks and quantum relativity–most of us simply cannot keep up with all the reasons justifying our being dominated and impoverished and used.

I don’t know where I wanted to go with this…I get lost too.  I just can’t figure praising the loss of public roads and public education to the “quantum” whims of the natural order of markets.  I know that these are just words in the service of the “power-seeking minorities.”

Billy S. addressed our confusion in Sonnet 94:

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

Helen Vendler comments on this: Aristocrats take, they do not give; “an aristocratic social order is based not upon mutuality but upon a system of asymmetrical relations” (“The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 403).

Kropotkin has said that “throughout the history of our civilization, two traditions, two opposing tendencies have confronted each other: the Roman and the Popular; the imperial and the federalist; the authoritarian and the libertarian.”

What we have in the US, and what is in evidence in every piece that comes out of the mouths of the Right-wing think tanks (and even the “podunk” tanks like Indiana Policy Review) is an authoritarian ideology dressed in libertarian philosophy.

It is a nifty trick; but easy enough to see through if you just follow the money that flows into the hands of the “power-seeking” minority from the honestly natural springs of public wealth.

It’s a confusing rationale for a simple calculus of power.  It is festering lilies and sour deeds.

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