Opinion » Bill Cope

How We're Here

A short but relevant history of Homo politicus

by

3 comments

Even before we came down from the trees and shuffled out of Africa, there was always someone who thought he had to act like everyone else's boss. This is not to say having a leader wasn't necessary on occasion. Someone had to decide whether the tribe ought to shuffle this way or that, and someone had to teach the youngsters it was best not to pet a cave bear or drag home a saber-toothed kitten.

Under normal conditions, however, we early humans all knew what needed to be done without being told to do it. Get something to eat, for instance: This is a clearly self-explanatory function and it didn't need a big muscley goon barely out of his ape-dom to tell us 1) we were hungry, and 2) to do something about it. Same with Find a spot out of the rain to sleep. We could figure stuff like that out ourselves.

Of course, within every community, there was that big muscley ape goon who thought his goopoo didn't stink by virtue of how he could lift a heavier rock than anyone else. Over time, he got to believing his heavy rock-lifting talent meant he was better than the rest of us, so he took over. Most of us did what he said because we didn't want him dropping heavy rocks on our heads.

But others in the tribe took his side because 1) they wanted a share of the better cuts of mastodon he always took for himself, and 2) on his own, he couldn't have figured out anything more complicated than how to slurp water. These affiliations between the muscle guys and the back-slapping parasitical sycophants must be considered the Original Political Party (OPP), which led naturally to a second political entity--the Everyone Else Party (EEP).

A few millennia on, and we find the OPP thriving. The alliance of muscle with self-serving, sandal-licking toadies had resulted in almost all of the valuable stuff--from the shiny pebbles to the goats to the most fertile land--under its control. Those on the very top of the arrangement had taken to giving themselves grand titles--e.g., pharaoh, rajah, king, emperor, etc.--and even though the actual muscle had atrophied due to factors like inbreeding and leaving all the heavy rock-lifting to underlings, it was replaced by navies and armies and such. Yet throughout these superficial changes, the underlying principle remained constant: The most powerful were the wealthiest; the wealthiest were the most powerful.

The toady parasitical back-up guys came up with titles of their own--e.g., high council, duke, archbishop, senator, attorney, etc.--and every now and then, one of them got to thinking he could challenge the guy on top for the big cheese seat--often called a "throne." Many early humans suffered horrible deaths because one or more of the insider few got jealous over how much stuff a superior insider had. Essentially, though, these conflicts were between the "Haves" and the other "Haves." For centuries and centuries, all the wars and butchery and inquisitions and invasions were nothing more than internal disputes within the OPP.

As to everyone else--the EEP--they too had titles: e.g., serf, peon, commoner, rabble, parishioner, slave, etc.--and their only significant involvement in the scuffles taking place within the OPP was as foot soldiers and cannon fodder, refugees and corpses rotting on the battlefields. When they weren't out getting themselves corpsified for some rajah or king or usurping duke, they could generally be found squatting in a leaky hovel, wishing they had more to eat.

The unusual notion that run-of-the-mill humans should have a say in their own affairs showed up in a town in Greece some 25 centuries past, but it didn't really take off until a few hundred years ago, when a growing number of rabbley peons decided they'd been kicked around enough and demanded a role in choosing who did the kicking. This unusual notion, what we now call democracy, did not come gently into a world run largely by bosses who were so convinced they'd been made boss by some sort of divine providence that they passed the title off to their first-born son for generation after generation, or until the second-born son decided to plant an ax in his big brother's skull--whichever came first.

The bosses and their attendant lickspittles resisted this unusual notion tooth and nail--or more correctly, with cavalry and cannons, muskets and mass starvation. However, the notion proved too resilient to be squelched. In one time frame or another, it came to root and flourish around the world: e.g., France, India, Mexico, South Africa and, of course, the United States. (I've left out Great Britain because it has a persistent attachment to kings and queens it can't seem to shake.)

Still, we modern humans must be aware that the conflict between the OPP and the EEP goes on, and that the underlying principle remains constant. The most powerful are still the wealthiest, and the wealthiest are still the most powerful. Just because the OPPers often adopt more contemporary sounding titles--e.g., hedge-fund manager, billionaire, chairman of the board, etc.--does not mean they aren't driven by the same instincts that compelled the chiefs and rajahs and emperors.

Many of us suspect that without one little thing--our vote--they would be perfectly happy to go back to the old ways. The dreadful old ways. The OPP has disguised itself under various mantles over the years--e.g., royalty, fascism, the Tea Party, the Republican National Committee, etc.--and it behooves us to remember how that one little thing--our vote--remains all that stands between us and the muscled-up ape king who once and forever haunts our existence.

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment
 

Add a comment

Note: Comments are limited to 200 words.