Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hobbes Will Never Be Lord of the Flies

Hobbesian ideology is one of those things. It's mentioned at a mutter, accompanied by nodding grunts of yes-of-course wisdom by sychophants. Of course mankind is a vicious brutal species. Of course mankind will degenerate into violent in-fighting in absence of a strong leader to keep the lot of us in line. Of course we're all just one civilizing step away from some savage version of might makes right. We've all read Lord of the Flies. We know what happens when people are suddenly isolated from the confines of rules and an enforcement body.

That particular bill of goods is made entirely of iron pyrite. What do politicians sell? Fear, of course. If you believe them, the world is a pack of snarling dogs ready to rip the corpse of America into shreds. Our neighbors are rabid with teenaged deliquency, recreational drug manufacture and distribution, sexual predators, serial killers, and insurance salesmen. Watch out, they might get you. No one is safe. The only ones that can make us safe are the people who legislate tough on crime stanes, and enforce them. The people who legislate security measures that stop terrorists in their tracks---you can tell that it's successful, no terrorists on airplanes, though some lovely shots of people viewed with x-ray vision are now internet fodder.

Most of these things are manufactured terrors. Most kids aren't molested by strangers. They're molested by someone they know, someone the parents let into the house, usually a relative. Sexual predator laws? Pointless overkill. There's only one way to stop sexual recidivism and that's not by making registries and treating people as evil long after they've paid their debt to society. Castrate them. Whoops. Can't do that, violation of civil rights! But we'll make it so you have no place to live, have no means of supporting yourself, and so that everyone, everywhere, whether they meet your or not, knows that you're a social outcast.

It's stupid, really. A poor person steals 1,000 dollars or a mid-priced automobile and gets 5 to 10 in prison. Stockbrokers in Brooks Brothers or Armani steal millions of dollars, put large numbers of people back into the work force---bye bye retirement fund, you'll never get it back, they jetted to Monaco for a weekend and drank three sips of champagne that would have paid your mortgage for three months---and what do they get? 5 years, minimum security country club, eligible for parole in 1 year with good behavior, and some legal wrangling that shunts whatever is left over from the fraud and theft into lawyer pockets.

Ideology is interesting. The poor kid in a hoodie and baggy jeans is a threat to society. He's already got one foot in Lord of the Flies and the only thing keeping him from total savagery are reality cop shows. The rich kid, though, he's civilized. Why should anyone fear him? He's well groomed and polite. Laws are one way for the dominant ideology to reproduce itself over and over, generation after generation, enshrining the savage poor and genteel rich into fact. And with that newly minted fact, we agree that those no-account hoodlums should get five times the punishment for a millionth of the crime.

Social contract theory, the very ideals that our democracy is founded on, contradicts Hobbes, even though he's one of the first people to write about it. People agree to be led. They agree to follow the rules. They agree that this is the way things are. Wealthy people only have wealth because everyone agrees that all of their stuff means they're wealthy. Laws only work because everyone agrees there are laws and, for those that break them, everyone else agrees that some people have the right to enforce those laws. We don't have a Leviathan in office, we have a meek man that can't lead. Yet here we are, still agreeing that he's the president anyway and that he's got the right to exercise the power of that office. We haven't turned on our neighbors and ripped them to pieces. Life is not "nasty, brutish, and short" until a real Leviathan rises to keep the lot of us in line. We all pretty much agree that unless Trump or Palin get the GOP nom, Obama has almost no chance at a second term.

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