Goose Harvesting In Post-Industrial America
You of Canadian citizenship in my reading audience are cordially invited to laugh as long as you like, or until exhaustion, or until your asses fall right off, whichever comes first. Then stop. Any other wise guys, snap to. The rest of you? Wake up and smell the slightly-off tea.
The news this week that the highly esteemed Harper Government (it's not just a nation, it's a LEADER) had taken the time and thought to renege on the previous provisions of its own country's legislation regarding gay marriage was a big loud onion fart of a proclamation that the boys in Ottawa are through pretending they believe their own blarney and really do intend to govern by whatever flock of buzzards passes for impulse in their penthouse suite sensoriums, demonstrating once again that Canuckistan has saddled itself with its very own home-grown Shrub. If he didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Mars needs women and C-eh? needs pitbull governance.
I sense a great disturbance in the force, as though millions of left coasties cried out in fear. Oy, Canada.
Back in USA, this sort of thing has been going on for years, centuries even. The string of soiled promises Obama blithely sowed in the last presidential campaign have been circling the White House like his own flock of bald eagles (our National Bird is a carrion-picker, who knew?), noble long-established businesses have shipped jobs offshore, sold enterprises out from under their surprised employees for real estate speculation and piously Chapter 11'd themselves out of their pension obligations, religious leaders have thundered disapproval of sexual deviation in between coke-fueled trysts with hot studs, and the media have stood by and watched disapprovingly while conglomerates casually twist their extremities and CPAs whittle their myriad of shapes down into extremely square pegs, the better to fit into their preconstructed holes.
It's not a case of broken promises, nor of mere institutionalized corruption. Any banana republic can do that. These guys are violating a sacred principle, an ancient law every schoolchild can recite if they're not too busy pledging allegiance to a rag or studying the controversy of exactly how Noah got all those liver flukes into the Ark. They're getting all jiggy with Aesop. No good can come of it.
It ain't pretty, but it's pretty simple: humans cannot live by bread alone. Apart from needing peanut butter and jam, they're obliged to turn to each other to survive. We are a social species. As such, we're big on playing the cooperation card, voluntarily putting off personal gratification for the good of the gang. Evolutionary psychologists display a most unprofessional tendency towards vituperation and fisticuffs when the question of why comes up, but the behavior is confirmed beyond redemption. But right along with all this fair-play bonhomie comes the inevitable joker in the poker game of the individual who takes advantage of this tendency for their equally-human selfish gain.
It's relatively easy (and disingenuous) to come up with perfectly reasonable explanations for human nefarious greed, and lord knows it's been done with a dash and style your humble correspondent couldn't hope to match but sometimes wishes he could, if only for the paydays involved. You'll never go broke kissing up to the wealthy.
On the other hand, the great disparity of power that wealth entails can lead to serious injury to the very structures that make such wealth possible. The ecologist Garrett Hardin's iconic essay from 1968, "The Tragedy Of The Commons," took up this idea in terms of the physical world, and environmental science has since expanded greatly and with dire emphasis on the degree to which our natural interconnection leaves us at each others' mercies as regards habitat destruction.
Worse (yes, it gets worse), our interdependency isn't just physical, it's cultural as well. The social web we swing so confidently about is resilient within its own boundaries, but never so vulnerable as when one or a few malignant jerks set out to chop it up.
But we know all this. We knew it way back before ecologists or social scientists or evolutionary psychologists or, for that matter, economic advisors were a slightly gritty sensation in their respective forebears' respective corneas. A wealth of pious old folk sayings give voice to this wisdom: "Do unto others...""It is better to give than receive." "One bad apple can spoil the barrel.""Don't shit in the stew."
And then there's the fine and venerable parable of the Goose. Good ol' Aesop. Circa, you know, 600 freaking B.C.E. You'd think people would get it after two and a half millennia. Yes, the warm human story of an old couple and their extraordinary bird and the scheming 1%-er impulse that rips their lives (and the goose) apart, all in the heartless pursuit of unbounded wealth. Why? WHHHYYYYYYYYY????!!!
It's a new world, we're told. New technologies, new economics, new politics, new society. All kindsa new. But like the equally fine although not equally antique parable of Four Wheel Drive, permitting the driver to get stuck in even more inaccessible locations, does all this improvement and efficiency only allow us to fuck up in bigger, even grander ways?
Because dig it: that goose that Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers took the knife to? It wasn't just a goose, it was that vaunted Engine Of Prosperity the Randroids keep claiming runs the world. It was us, folks. And always has been. Aesop wasn't so simple after all, nor primitive neither.
Greed: it's not just a sin anymore. It's a crime against humanity.