We met Power in my last blog. The Wolf, The Lamb, you know it isn’t going to end well. Here’s Power again, in slightly different guise, but up to its usual antics in this next fable of Jean de LaFontaine’s.
The animals were sickening and dying … A blight terrorized the world, a blight the heavens invented to punish the earth’s crimes. The plague (because we ought to call it by its name), so virulent it was capable of enriching the River Styx in one day, had declared war on the animals. They weren’t all dying, but all were touched. They could hardly be bothered to try to save themselves anymore. Food was no longer of interest. The wolves, the foxes—they couldn’t find the energy to hunt their gentle and innocent prey. The turtledoves fled, and with them love, quickly followed by joy.
The Lion called a council meeting.
My dear friends, The Lion said, I think that the heavens invented this misfortune as punishment for our sins. The most culpable among us ought to sacrifice themselves to appease this celestial wrath. Maybe then we can obtain a communal pardon. History has shown that we must perform such acts of devotion. So, let’s not be gentle, let us not resort to self-flattery; rather let each of us examine the state of our conscience with a rigorous eye. For my part, to satisfy my gluttony, I have eaten quite a few sheep. And what did they ever do to me? Nothing. And, it is true that a few times I did eat a shepherd. I will sacrifice myself, if necessary; but first … I think that each of you ought to look inside your hearts, as I have done. After all, we want what is right, and that is, of course, that the most guilty among us should perish.
Your Highness, said The Fox, you are too good a king. The delicacy of your scruples is an example to all. And really! To eat a few sheep, ducks, silly species. Is that a crime? No. No. When you eat them, my Liege, you do them an honour. As for the shepherd, we can agree that he deserves anything bad that befalls him, given that he belongs to that species that thinks it has dominion over animals.
So said The Fox and the rest of the flatterers piled on. No one dared to look too deeply into the tiger or the bear, or indeed any of the others among the power elite. In fact, all of the brutish, down to the most insignificant thug … well, one would have thought they were little saints.
Came The Donkey’s turn, and he said, I have a memory of passing the meadow of a monastery, I was hungry, the opportunity presented, the tender grass and, I think, maybe also a nudge from the devil, I took a little bite from the meadow, nothing bigger than my tongue. But still, I had no right, since I am to speak truly here.
The Donkey hadn’t even finished speaking before a deafening hullabaloo arose in the crowd. A Wolf, some petty clerk-type, proved by the volume of his harangue alone that the cursed donkey must be sacrificed; despicable, balding beast, the source of all their woes.
The Donkey’s peccadillos were judged a hang-able offense. Eating someone else’s grass! Abominable crime. Nothing short of death could pay the price. All helped The Donkey see the error of his ways.
No matter whether you are powerful or miserable, the court decides: guilty or innocent.
And who is the court?—Power, of course, preserving itself, as usual. Guilty and innocent have more to do with who is making the judgments (and where the money comes from) than with the content of a person’s actions, the intentions of their soul.
How else could the police be shooting black men with impunity? How else can the government throw immigrants out of the house and slam the door behind them? How else can Wall Street steal billions and dine on sheep (and even the occasional shepherd), when the slightest snack of grass for a minority will land them in jail?
The Second Amendment, in particular, puts Power on a pedestal, by giving citizens the right to anoint themselves their own court. Amazing. The Constitution had so little faith in democracy, justice and the rule of law, that it thought that citizens, in all their individual subjectivity, ought to have a constitutional right to determine when they wanted to start shooting. The psychological condition of American Democracy enshrines violence as the ultimate means of conflict resolution.
Power’s favorite tool — Might makes right.
Fables describe our “animal” nature. [Never mind that I think animals, in general, behave much better than we do.] But we have the ability to reason and rise above our base instincts, isn’t that our great gift as humans? We can choose to de-institutionalize violence, if we are willing to pull it up by its roots. Yes, better gun laws are essential, but ultimately, the Second Amendment must be repealed. Let’s press reset on the psychological foundations of American democracy.