Tea Party and the “Mask of Anarchy”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Alfred Clint (died 18...
Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Alfred Clint (died 1883). See source website for additional information. This set of images was gathered by User:Dcoetzee from the National Portrait Gallery, London website using a special tool. All images in this batch have been confirmed as author died before 1939 according to the official death date listed by the NPG. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think I’m the only one to notice that Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s “Mask of Anarchy” seems amazingly relevant to current efforts to suppress the voices and will of workers around the world. So, I’ve taken the poem almost verbatim, made a few textual changes, and changed the names of the politicians to the names of Tea Party members and others in the Republican party. For more info on the poem, see The Guardian‘s partial explication.

Here is my take:

As I lay asleep in Houston, Texas
I heard a voice declare war on us,
And with great power it led me
To walk in visions of Poetry.
I met Murder as the widows began crying—

He had a mask like Paul Ryan—
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:
All were fat in the savage crew,

For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
Next came Fraud, and he had on,

Like John Boehner, an ermined gown;

Official portrait of United States House Speak...
Official portrait of United States House Speaker (R-Ohio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.
And the little children, who

Believed him to be true,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.
Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night.

Like Perry, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.
And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,

Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, and spies.
Last came Anarchy : he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw—
‘I AM CRUZ, GOD, KING, AND LAW!’

With a pace stately and fast,
Over Texas land he passed,
Trampling to a mire of blood
The adoring multitude.

And with a mighty troop around
With their trampling shook the ground,
Waving each a bloody sword,
For the service of their Lord.

And with glorious triumph they
Rode through Texas proud and gay,
Drunk as with intoxication
Of wine of wanton destruction.

And each dweller, panic-stricken,
Felt his heart with terror sicken
Hearing the tempestuous cry
Of the triumph of Anarchy.

For from pomp to meet him came,
Clothed in arms like blood and flame,
The hired murderers, who did sing
‘Thou art God, and Law, and King.

‘We have waited weak and lone
For thy coming, Mighty One!
Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,
Give us glory, and blood, and gold.’

And Anarchy, the Skeleton,
Bowed and grinned to every one,
As well as if his education
Had cost billions to the nation.

When one fled past, a maniac maid,
And her name was Hope, she said:
But she looked more like Despair,
And she cried out in the air:

‘My father Time is weak and gray
With waiting for a Change this day;
So long as Anarchy rages on still,
The world awaits a reborn will!

‘He has had child after child,
And the dust of death is piled
Over every one but me—
Misery, oh, Misery!’

Then she lay down in the street,
Right before the horses feet,
Expecting, with a patient eye,
Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy.

And the prostrate multitude
Looked—and ankle-deep in blood,
Hope, that maiden most serene,
Was walking with a quiet mien:

To an accent unwithstood,—
As if her heart cried out aloud:
‘People of conscience, heirs of Glory,
Heroes of unwritten story,

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number.
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—

You are many—they are few.
‘What is Freedom?—you can tell
That which slavery is, too well—
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.

But change rose as a two-headed monster
Each head struggling to devour the other
But Hope nourishes the stricken half
And leaves Gold with a dark epitaph

“Let not this monster rise again.
Squelch the greed that lies within.”
We are not, as impostors say,
A shadow soon to pass away.

We ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number—
Shake our chains to earth like dew
We are many—they are few.’

Nussbaum and Rand on the Politics of Love

I’m currently reading Martha Nussbaum’s Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. Love is an important focus of the book, but it is certainly not the only emotion that Nussbaum considers important to a minimally decent society. Still, love (and its relevant associate, compassion) is an integral part of a stable and humane democratic society.

English: Photograph of Martha C. Nussbaum take...

Nussbaum suggests that it is entirely appropriate for governments to encourage the development of political emotions that are absolutely necessary for a functioning society. Of course, totalitarian, repressive regimes often rise to power on waves of extreme patriotism coupled with xenophobia and violent anger. This is a risk of the state cultivating emotions, but it is also likely that inappropriate emotions arise because we shirk our duty to cultivate the correct emotions. Who decides which emotions are correct? Why, we political liberals, of course. Nussbaum is more optimistic than I about the ability to create a state that will encourage the appropriate arts and literature to cultivate emotions that will engender empathy and promote democratic feeling. Still, we are obligated to make every effort to counter those who would work to destroy both compassion and democracy.

Nussbaum recognizes the potential for paradox in her claim, but she defends her position with depth and detail. The fact that I agree with both her goals and method make it quite easy for me to follow along and hope, against all odds, that is possible to create a more decent society than what I currently see around me, even if I feel we must go it alone without the full support of government.

Ayn Rand

But all this talk of love got me thinking of Ayn Rand, of course, as many things these days get me thinking of Ayn Rand. She said that we should be selfish and never sacrifice ourselves to others. In contrast, many of us have foolishly believed that to love someone was, in fact, to be willing to sacrifice ourselves for his or her well-being. On this point, I think Ayn Rand was able to explain herself quite clearly. When asked whether we shouldn’t be selfless in our romantic relationships, she said,

When you are in love, it means that the person you love is of great personal, selfish importance to you and to your life. If you were selfless, it would have to mean that you derive no personal pleasure or happiness from the company and the existence of the person you love, and that you are motivated only by self-sacrificial pity for that person’s need of you.

She makes a good point. We sacrifice for those we love because we value them so much that their loss is a personal loss to us, and their suffering is a suffering we share. We do not love out of duty; we love for the pleasure it brings us.

For Rand, altruistic concern for strangers entails a denial of self-satisfaction and an indenture to others. By living for the needs of others, we deny our responsibility to determine and seek our own needs. It does not occur to Rand, as it does to Nussbaum, that is possible to value other humans with a love that extends beyond our realm of personal contact. It is possible that I want to preserve the lives of strangers thousands of miles away because I value them, even if abstractly, to the point that their suffering causes me suffering.

I don’t want to live in a world where millions of people starve to death each year, and I do not believe they are starving because of the poor choices they have made. I believe they are starving because of structural economic violence against them. In many cases, the world’s resources have been stolen by brute force (did farmers and fishers in Africa foolishly give their land to oil companies?). Poverty, addiction, and disease are largely a result of violence against people who are not recognized as being fully human, fully deserving of respect.

We don’t have to accept this reality. As Nussbaum says, “We should surely not assume that the form emotions take in the corporate culture of the United States reveals a universal and timeless truth about how things must be.” No, we can work to ensure that our moral imagination can perceive other human beings as beings worthy of respect, dignity, and, yes, love. If we seek to respect ourselves, we must demand respect for all.

Love is possible.

Patients’ Rights Survey

Patients’ Rights Survey

Please take my patients’ rights survey. I am trying to learn about how patients (and potential patients: everyone) feel about informed consent, financial disclosure, medical research, and end-of-life decisions. There are only 20 questions and it is anonymous.

I will be most appreciative of all responses.