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.’

Why my students love Ayn Rand

I think my Introduction to Ethics class is fairly typical. We start with Epicurus and work our way through Aristotle, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Immanuel Kant. After those heavy hitters, I try to lighten things up with some essays from contemporary philosophers (in the most general interpretation of the term). So, after reading some Kant, I move to an interview with Ayn Rand for a little break.

This may not be such as good tactic. When I first chose the assignment, I did so because the interview reveals Rand’s beliefs in a way that is stark and easily digested. I assumed anyone reading it would agree with me that her philosophy is reprehensible, and I would be serving the greater good of humanity by having them exposed to it. I try not to reveal my biases in class, and I really don’t want to tell them what to believe. I just hope they will hate Rand. I’m less concerned about what they will like.

Nonetheless, I always have a few students who declare that Rand is the first reading they have liked. I ask probing questions hoping to find that maybe they didn’t really get what she was saying, simplistic as it is, but I generally have to concede that they really do like what she says. As a result, I think I have created a small band of ardent Rand supporters over the years. The Tea Party can thank me. And I think I’ve identified the two reasons she is so popular with students:

1. As I mentioned, the assignment is easy to read and digest. After slogging through Mill and Kant, I can certainly understand why they would be relieved to find something they can understand on the first pass, even if the reading completely flies in the face of their supposed religious convictions. But the second point is more meaningful to me.

2. Rand is easy in another sense as well. She really doesn’t demand much of her readers. She tells them they must be selfish and pursue only what is truly gratifying to them. Now, Epicurus said that they should seek a pleasurable life through contemplation and serious examination of the world around them with great respect for their community. Aristotle tells them they must practice constantly to become virtuous in a way that will enable not only their personal flourishing but the success of their society. Mill tells them to seek their own pleasure but that they will derive the greatest satisfaction from pleasures that require much practice and refinement to achieve. And Kant tells them they can’t lie under any circumstances. Furthermore, they must help people who are worse off than they are. To follow Kant or any of the others, they would have to put out a great deal of effort to change how they live, but to follow Rand’s advice they don’t see that much more effort is required. In their minds, at least, they are already living Rand’s ideal life. And, they get to feel pretty self-righteous comparing themselves to recipients of government aid (my students do not consider low community college tuition to be a form of government support).

I suppose I am hopelessly naive to think my students will take my class looking for hints on possible self improvement. They are seeking validation for their current lifestyles, not ideas on how to improve.

Except when they are not seeking the easy way. It is easy for teachers to get discouraged and forget all the talented and hard working students who are in constant search of new information and new challenges. Many of my students have now gone on from the community college to universities and graduate school. They have admirable careers in fields such as law, science, health, and social work. I am humbled by them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9mJpVf4dkc

For further reading:
1. 10 (insane) things I learned about the world reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged
2. How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the US into a Selfish, Greedy Nation

Tea Party Fights Corporate Abuse

The East India Company, chartered in 1600, was the first corporation in the modern sense. Members would invest capital, management would conduct the operations, and investors would receive repayment in proportion to their investments. For the first time, investors and mangers were separate persons. At this time, it was unclear who would be responsible for wrongs committed by the corporation.

As this and similar ventures developed, investors were increasingly separated from the actions of the corporations, and limited liability (investors could only lose the amount they invested in the corporation) became the norm by the end of the nineteenth century. This also made corporate immortality possible as corporations could outlive their owners.

The British East India Company (BEIC) rapidly gained economic power and exerted global influence. It formed the largest standing army in the world at the time, gained control of India and the surrounding islands, controlled the opium trade in China, and managed slave trading out of Madagascar. One-third of British parliament members held stock in BEIC, 10 percent of British tax revenues came from tax on BEIC tea, and the King depended on loans from the company. In exchange for these benefits to the British government, BEIC was granted many favors, including monopoly rights.

The company conscripted thousands of British for forced labor in Jamestown, a colony set up in America by BEIC. Eighty percent of these laborers died before completing their seven-year tenure. Because of its rapid expansion and competition from small colonial business, though, BEIC was almost bankrupt. It was able to overcome this setback with more favors from the British government, which expanded its monopoly and led to the 1773 Tea Act, lifting tariffs on tea and enabling BEIC to flood the market with cheap tea and destroy its competition.

This was the catalyst for the Boston Tea Party. During the Boston Tea Party, protestors dumped more than 90,000 pounds of tea into the harbor, which was then closed for more than a year and a half. This led to the battles of Lexington and Concord; as a result, America’s founders vowed to protect the United States from corporate power and corruption.

The Boston Tea Party is an enduring symbol of America’s popular resistance to the collusion of corporations and government against the interests of the people.

Information for this blog came from:

1. Christopher D. Stone, Where the Law Ends: The Social Control of Corporate Behavior (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).

2. Shelley K. White, “Corporations, Public Health, and the Historical Landscape that Defines Our Challenge,” in The Bottom Line or Public Health: Tactics Corporations Use to Influence Health and Health Policy, and What We Can Do to Counter Them, ed. William H. Wiist (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).