Sunday, July 2, 2017

John Adams melts oligarchy on game show

[Opening titles roll with soundtrack playing Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band]

"Welcome to Well Actually, the show that melts clichés! I'm your host, Alix Q'beck, sitting next to my trusty melting pot, all ready to melt some clichés! And here with me to fuel the pot with some particuarly leaden ideés reçues well deserving of being returned to a fluid state is John Adams, the second President of the United States, the Founder whose face never made it onto any currency! Welcome, John!"

"Thank you, Alix! I could say I'm happy to be here, but, as an empty platitude, that wouldn't get things off on the right ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"Ah, John, were you going to say 'foot?'"

"Well actually I was just trying to strike the right ..." [Buzzer sounds]

"'Tone'! Way to go, John! That's twice right out of the ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"You were going to say 'gate,' weren't you, Alix! Two can play this ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"'Game?' John? Well actually, not like that you can't. Hahaha! So here we are already with three wonderful clichés ready for the pot. [Sound of conveyor belt rollers] And here they are. [Q'beck holds up three lead-type blocks spelling out the three buzzed phrases and shows them briefly before dropping them into a pot.] What might I say now, John, as they start to melt?"

"I don't know, Alix. Care to give me a clue?"

"The Scottish Play?"

"Keep going."


"Oh! Macbeth! 'Bubble bubble toil and trouble!'" [Buzzer sounds]

"That's it, John! Shakespeare is such a wonderful source of clichés!"

"Right, Alix, but you know, thereby hangs a tale. [Buzzer sounds] Hey wait, there's a method in my madness! [Buzzer sounds] Come on, now, this is setting my teeth on edge." [Buzzer sounds]

"Wow! John Adams! A trifecta of Shakespearean clichés!"


"Those three phrases you just spoke: all were from Shakespeare!"

"Well actually, I did it completely by accident. I'm trying to move the show along to something a little more substantial."

"Oh, you mean like clichés from the Bible?"

"Well actually, I'd like to talk about ideas that have become clichés. It's one thing to use hackneyed, overworked expressions that have lost their metaphorical meaning, but it's quite another to think ideas just because you've inherited them, especially when they're wrong."

"Give us an example."

"Let me try one out on you, Alix. I meet a lot of USA people in the Aftershave who think they know the difference between a republic and a democracy. Can you tell me what the difference is?"

"A democracy is when you make laws by direct vote. A republic is when you elect representatives to make laws. So the USA is a republic, not a democracy."

"Well actually, Alix, that isn't the case--at least not the way we used those words back when we got the ball rolling. [Buzzer sounds] Oh please, may I continue? In the year before the U. S. Constitution was drafted I wrote a study of all the constitutions there had ever been. One of my sources was an Italian named Portenari, who took the usual three types of government--monarchy, aristocracy, and republic--and elaborated them into three good types that were countered by three bad types. Thus the good form of monarchy is countered by tyranny; the good form of aristocracy is countered by oligarchy; and the good form of republic is countered by democracy. A republic no less than a democracy is, to use his words, 'the dominion of the multitude, composed of all sorts of citizens, rich and poor, nobles and plebeians, wise and foolish.' When all the people work together so that everyone has what is necessary to live well and happily, that is a republic. When any group is able to pervert popular government to its own purposes so as to oppress another group, that is democracy."

"With all due respect, John, nobody thinks that now."

"Because a clichéd idea replaced the actual, true one. Have you ever heard the saying 'Bad money drives out good'?" [Buzzer starts to sound, but stops after a blip] Yes, right, thank you, not a cliché, but a fact. The same is true with ideas. Here's another one: I understand in my 2016 conversations in the Aftershave with such luminaries as Glenn Frey, Paul Kanter, Maurice White, Merle Haggard, and Prince that the USA is now an oligarchy. Is that what you would say?"

"I would say that, yes, the USA is an oligarchy ruled by entertainment celebrities and paid political lobbyists."

"Well actually, Alix, thank you for obliging me with your clichéd thinking."

"Dammit, John, why couldn't you say, 'thank you for stepping into the trap.'?" [Buzzer sounds]

"That bleeding buzzer's why! And, well actually, I expected you to say, 'A lot of people say that, but I've never really examined the subject.' So I have to admit that you're a bit of a lazy thinker, Alix, which is okay, because most people are. Par for the course. [Buzzer sounds] We're really getting the lead out here, aren't we? [Buzzer sounds].

"Anyway, Alix, to explain: it's really quite simple. If oligarchy is the bad form of aristocracy, as Portenari avers, that can't be the US, now can it? What the US is actually experiencing right now, given the definitions above, is that it is becoming a democracy of the wealthy: the wealthy are using the popular will to oppress the poor and middling sort. They are not acting like good republicans--working for the good of all--but are using the popular vote to aggrandize the rich at the expense of everyone else. What is surprising about this is that we--meaning my fellow Founders--only thought the vilest vulgar poor would be capable of this, but now we are seeing the vilest vulgar rich do it!"

"John, I must say: no one in the 21st century will understand things this way."

"Well actually I think they will, once we've melted the cliché. Especially since the imputation that the US is an oligarchy is nothing new. John Locke himself, who had a more benign view of oligarchy than Portenari, might have looked at the form the Federal government took and called it thus. The British radical Cobbett railed against America as an oligarchy of lawyers in 1802: "oppression such as despotism never dreamt of, to all which the people submit like spaniels," I think his words were. Ah, the cliché that could have been! Even in the US, senators early on felt that allowing Federal judges to remain on the bench except for malfeasance--that is, not subject to removal by Congress--created an oligarchy. But all those unsystematic opinions don't make it a fact."

"The Aftershave certainly has not mellowed you, John!"

"Ah, but it is astringent, Alix! It is indeed good not to shrink from death, because death certainly will shrink you! Haha!"

"If only we could buzz that one! Wouldn't you say, though, that the ability of a small number to enact public policies that diverge from the opinions of the majority, as divined in surveys and polls?"

"Well actually I would say that the reality of voting and actual, organized political effort should be preferred to the fantasy of surveys and polls. What you are seeing is a symptom of the disease of democracy that the republic appears to be succumbing to. I noticed in my study of constitutions that basing a government on broad public participation has certain, er, pathological tendencies. In San Marino, for example, where the constitution required citizens to attend the law-making assembly or pay a penalty, it developed that many preferred to pay the penalty rather than attend. Allow me to quote myself: 'A general or too common disinclination to attend leaves room for persons and parties more active to carry points by faction and intrigue, which the majority, if all were present, would not approve.' What people are calling an oligarchy is actually a tendency within a republic to, shall we say, shoot itself in the foot." [Buzzer sounds]

"Which causes it to bleed to death?"

"Well actually, Alix, I'd say the republic stanches the flow of blood by wrapping its foot in a filthy rag. It then develops gangrene: the skin changes from red to brown to black, pus-filled blisters form, a fever comes on, and crackling comes from the affected area when you press it. When that happens, you can pretty well bet that your poor little republic has come down with democracy. And in the 21st century it appears to be a democracy of the vulgar rich."

"Crackling? Do you hear crackling now, John?"

"Oh, very clearly, Alix. Mostly on Independence Day."

"You mean July 4th?"

"Well actually, Alix, it's supposed to be July 2, when the Memorable Epocha was actually achieved. Back then I called for it to be celebrated with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, but now I'm not so sure. Now all I can think of is those poor, frightened dogs cowering in the basement and barking in fear like the world is coming to an end as the benighted vulgar delight in the sound of exploding gunpowder without a thought to the duties that every one of us, as individuals, owes to the commonwealth, among which are civic participation through informed voting, jury duty, and service in the citizen militia."

[Alix laughs uproariously] "A citizen militia? In the 21st century? You are a relic, John Adams! Besides, July 4th is all about being free!"

"Well actually, Alix, as I've tried to demonstrate, freedom isn't free. [Buzzer sounds again and again and again] Freedom isn't even freedom unless everybody pays."

"Very good, John! We've generated a bunch of clichés today on Well Actually! Time for the final meltdown! [Sound of conveyor belt rollers; Q'Beck drops lead stereotype into a pot; sound of bubbling; Q'Beck pours melted lead into bullet molds; Adams freshens himself with aftershave; closing titles roll with soundtrack playing Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band.]

No comments:

Post a Comment