Othello’s Wife Was a Welfare Queen, and Other Lessons from English Literature

As students return to school this week, their backpacks will soon fill with Hamlet, Moby Dick, and a myriad other tomes no teenager would willingly touch.

Frankly, the fall semester could not have come sooner. With eight months of fake news and alternative facts, our youth must turn to the classics if they wish to understand the present.

Inside those well-worn pages of English literature are universal lessons just as relevant today as when they were written - stories that reveal our character and our humanity. These timeless truths can help us to distinguish political lies from propaganda, and morality from myth.

So ignore that naked Snapchat, save that status update, and pop a pill of Adderall so you can stay seated for seven consecutive seconds. From this day forward, those heavy hardbacks are no longer just headrests in history class - think of them as your guide to the future.

First up is Charles Dickens, who famously chronicled the relationship between the working poor and the upper class.

Remember that famous Dickens story that helped people see how the mooching poor routinely rob the business class of their hard-earned money?

Which book was that? Oliver Twist?

No, I think that’s the one about an orphan boy forced to live a life of crime on the streets because he was born into poverty.

Maybe it was A Christmas Carol?

No, I think that’s the one where a rich industrialist is scared to death in order to give his employee enough money for healthcare so the youngest kid won’t die before the new year.

Perhaps it was A Tale of Two Cities.

No, that’s the one where inequality is so great, the poor revolt against the ruling class, starting the French Revolution.

Hmm, I guess eating their cake wasn’t enough for les miserables.

Maybe I’m thinking of a Shakespeare play.

Which of the bard’s classics was about the welfare queen sucking on the teat of the aristocracy?

Was it Macbeth?

No, I think that was about how the desire for political power corrupts your soul.

Maybe it was King Lear.

No, also about how the desire for power corrupts your soul.

Maybe Julius Cesar?

No, that’s also about how power corrupts your soul.

Well, maybe it wasn’t a Shakespeare play after all. But it was definitely a story about poor people.

Was it John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath?

That was about the Great Depression, and the impact it had on the poor, who were too powerless to do anything but move across country in search of work, food, and a future.

Maybe it was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird?

Nope, that was about prejudiced white people wrongfully criminalizing an innocent black man.

Which reminds me… What about Othello? Maybe it was Shakespeare play after all. Wasn’t his wife a welfare queen?

Nope, wrong again. That too was about white people manufacturing lies about a black person.

Hmm, it kinda sounds like the wealthy white power structure is the cause of poverty and injustice in literally every story ever told.

And since books only resonate when speaking human truths, then we must all know on some level this is true. Because if these stories were reversed, and the wealthy actually were victims of the poor, we would see it represented in all forms of art across the globe.

Which means…all stories that demonize the Lower Class must be manufactured by the Upper Class in order to manipulate the Middle Class. Otherwise, the Upper Class would have to share their portion of the economic pie, i.e., equal opportunity.

It’s no wonder these types of myths appear in politics. As long as everyone thinks ill of those beneath them, then everyone above them is financially secure.

Associating poverty with a defect of character, instead of random misfortune, not only absolves us from having to do anything about it, but can be exposed for what it truly is: propaganda.

And to think how many people believe this propaganda because of its simplistic message!

Like a wise white supremacist once said:

“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”

From Hitler’s lips to American political strategists’ ears.

It’s no wonder a contingent of white supremacists have risen – the rightwing has been borrowing from Hitler’s playbook since the Civil Rights Movement.

I guess if it worked for Germany, why ruin a good thing?

As long as the wealthy elites convince the masses to hate all social programs that could help them, then they are removing any opportunity for their own economic growth – which means the rich get richer, and the Rust Belt corrodes.

And the more it corrodes, the madder the Red States get. Which means the wealthy politicians can direct their constituents’ anger into acts of violence and aggression –inhumanity they’d be incapable of if politicians appealed to their better natures.

Not unlike Hitler in Nazi Germany. Like he said:

“To whom has propaganda to appeal? To the scientific intelligentsia, or to the less educated masses? It has to appeal forever and only to the masses!”

I’m pretty sure he’s talking about the party that routinely cuts education funding and dismisses smart people as “elites” and “intellectuals.” (Take that, scientist-trying-to-cure-cancer!)

The entire reason we read classic literature is to teach us these truths – things we know in our heart to be true, but have trouble seeing through all the noise.

Stories move us emotionally to care about people in the way facts and information cannot:

  • Those born in poverty cannot escape a life of crime. (Oliver Twist)
  • Nor can 1 in 15 black men escape a prison sentence, even if they are innocent. (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • The business class sells the idea that healthcare is a privilege, not a right, thereby sentencing the poor to die before their time. (A Christmas Carol)
  • Instead of attributing our economic problems to the real culprits, politicians manufacture lies about the black man (Othello).
  • These lies allow them to redistribute all economic gains to their own upper echelon of power brokers, who grow more corrupt the more money and power they accumulate. (Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Cesar)
  • And most of us are either too busy with distractions (A Brave New World), dangerously doing as we’re instructed (Fahrenheit 451), or too clueless to see through the bullshit (1984).

But it’s history lovers who can look forward to the inevitable climax:

  • Just watch as the power class’s propaganda creates a monster they can no longer control (Frankenstein).
  • Meanwhile, climate change makes resources like food and water more rare (The Grapes of Wrath), so people must fight amongst themselves for survival. (Lord of the Flies)
  • Inequality will get so bad that the poor will plot their revolution. (Animal Farm)
  • Or the poor will plot their revenge (Hamlet, The Count of Monte Cristo).

Either way, the poor have nothing to lose.

  • If they can’t find a better world somewhere for their families (Watership Down) ...
  • The poor will have to take it from the wealthy. (A Tale of Two Cities, The Time Machine)

And we all know who wins revolutions – the masses.

Viva les miserables!

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