Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Politics of Consumption, Part I

The Politics of Consumption, Part I

By Adam Wasserman

In a large, fortified building on the outskirts of one of their most prestigious cities, the three most important personages of Oceania would come together and make their decisions. Yes, that's right, three. It was a rather dull building, or so it would appear from the outside, the color of concrete and the occasional darkened window. As far as anyone could tell it was a single complex, although it was huge, massive, and sprawled chaotically across the cement lot on which it was perched. The entire place was surrounded by menacing electrified fencing and there were gateposts manned by creatures that appeared to be human, although it was difficult to say for sure. They all wore thick dark clothing and helmets and sunglasses and did not speak unless it was to roughly bark an order. The consumers of Oceania were hardly permitted a glimpse of this building, although occasionally they saw pictures of it in the news, and always in the far distance.

Inside the bowels of this building, buried far below the ground-level and protected by the most recent advancements in computer, mechanical, and material science, there was a large empty chamber. Empty? Well, almost. At its very center there was a simple metallic table, round, and three chairs parked unceremoniously about it. The chairs were all plainly similar, very sturdy, and probably of the same material as the table. There was light, too, that came from illuminated panes on the ceiling, and there were large air vents craftily disgused here and there in the walls. 



No one was allowed in the room except the three men who used it. Very few people even knew it existed. But it did. Deep down in the earth so as to afford the greatest protection from air or biological attack, this was where the Gang of Three would meet - sometimes daily - to hammer out the policies by which Oceania, its government and its daily life, would be driven.

It had, of course, always been like this. In countries and nations and states all across the world, since as long as there have been buildings to house them, there were like rooms with a like table and chairs. The number of the players in the Gang had not been and was not always the same, but if they were present their particular characters and natures were more or less similar. There was the Politican, the Holy Man, and - a more or less recent addition - there was the Capitalist.

The Politician was the oldest of the three, having his roots in the days when people had not yet found it necessary to dwell in large, permanent settlements, but none the less found it practical and natural to choose leaders to decide for themselves on the most important military and organizational matters. But once the building had been built and the room with its table and chairs put in place, he found it convenient to bring in the Holy Man and let him in on the secret. The Politician was a lopsided man. He had a lean, smallish body and was usually dressed in the most conservative garb of the day. The most curious thing about him was that his head was so large in comparison with the rest of his body. This was a natural and somewhat convenient development for the Politician, his head being the part of his body he devoted the most attention to. The strands of his greasy hair were always neatly and primly tucked into place, and the large surface area of his face provided the ideal setting for the constant smile that perturbed it. The Politician was almost always smiling, and if you ask me he looked absurd doing it, if only because he rarely stopped. But the people seemed to be very much attached to that perverse smile, and would remonstrate him if ever it went away, so that with time the Politician learned to extend it to virtually the lobes of his ears and to use various aids and devices to enhance its effect.

Now, as I said before, the Politician found it expedient to invite the Holy Man into his chamber for consultation. For the Holy Man was found to be extremely useful in the Politician's dealings with the people, as they were called in those days, and the Politician had found that the protection of the building's walls provided ample opportunity for stockpiling the various articles of leisure and pleasure which a person can enjoy, both physical and spiritual. So from a very early time the Holy Man was more than happy to support the position of the Politician, and the two were quite happy with themselves and their room with the table and chairs. The Holy Man was a bit more aged than the Politician, grey haired and silvery, a fact which lent him the appearance of wisdom, and a bit more stocky, too. Sometimes he had a beard and sometimes he was wont to shave, and his body had the usual proportions, but his dress was a bit too ornamental for my taste, and bulky and needlessly expensive at that. Long, heavy robes that others often had to help him around in, following after him in a train holding the ends of his garmets. He was wont to wear various hats, too, of the most unusual shapes and sizes, some of which didn't fit his head too well and so slid down over his eyes if he moved suddenly. The people feared the Politician, but in general they trusted the Holy Man, which is why the Politician courted his friendship.

Now, together for a long time the Politician and the Holy Man arranged the affairs of their countries and states. At times, for some reason or another, the people grew restless and would clamor, or the Gang of Two (as it was then called) of some other land would assault their interests, and the building would be stormed and the Politician and the Holy man would be put to the test. Sometimes they were done away with, sometimes one would find himself with a new partner, and sometimes they did not allow the room to be penetrated and were able to repulse the attack, but in the end it was always a Politician and it was always a Holy Man who met in the room in the building, the room with the table and the chairs, and it was always they who were making the decisions that so much affected the lives of the people. It is true that at times they were at odds with each other. Such discord tended to arise later on in their relationship, and there was even a time when the Holy Man was no mere support for the Politician, but when he actually had the Politician subdued in the folds of his magnificent robe, so to speak, and had the final say on matters. The people found after a time they did not like this situation, however, for the Holy Man was noted to be rather excitable, and even if the people trusted him he was grumpy and not very dynamic as a person. They found the scope of his imagination limited and his mind resistant to human persuasion, and so after a time and with great effort they were able to restore the Politician to his dominant place at the table.

Later on came the Capitalist. He was never really invited. In fact, no one is quite sure how he even got there. At first he found his way beyond the fences and the gates and wandered around a bit outside, talking privately and quickly to anyone he could meet coming out, and later on he was even seen inside the building. The Capitalist was not a very good talker, like the Politician, nor was he in any way attractive, and he did not really believe in anything in particular and so could not inspire respect in those he met, but he did have one import thing: capital, and that means Money. The Capitalist had lots and lots of Money, and because of it he was able to acquire all the luxurious items and articles of enjoyment that the Politician and the Holy Man had already had at their disposal inside the building for years on end. So when the Politician and the Holy Man met the Capitalist in the darkened hallways, they were disappointed to see that their displays of ostentation - which they considered a special treat reserved for only their closest intimates - had no effect on the Capitalist, who snorted with contempt and bit scornfully into a hotdog.

The Capitalist was a man who dressed entirely in black and white. He wore an old-fashioned, black suit with a black bowtie and an off-white, buttondown shirt that was almost always rumpled and splattered with the remains of his latest meal. His shoes, too, were a shiny, almost unreal looking shade of night, and his pants - which should have been neatly pressed - were creased from abuse and neglect and showed alarming signs of structural weakness. On the top of his wide, balding head there was a black bowler hat, like they used to wear long ago when photography was only recently no longer a technology to wonder at. Invariably, the hat was too small for his head. A few strands of sickly looking, brownish-grey hair protruded from under it, amazed and desperately thankful to see the light of day. These were, in fact, the only signs of humanity to be seen about him, aside from the pasty white skin of his bloated face and his pudgy hands which couldn't quite close properly, and his beady eyes, constantly blinking and flicking quickly and incessantly from this point to that, in search of more wealth or his next meal. The coat that he wore was made of a dark velvety material and had a long tail that came just to his ankles. The tail actually consisted of two parts, two long extensions of material that descended from the nape of his back and tapered off by his heels. Yes, he was a man dressed in black and white and yes, silver buttons - and did I forget to mention the thick gold chains that hung from his neck? No, those were not black or white, of course not, and the Capitalist was often to be seen fingering them. In those days he had on at least three of four gold chains, some thicker than others, and at least one large golden ring on the index finger of each hand. He believed the presence of the rings made it more impressive when he pointed at something he wanted. The Capitalist was often to be seen eating. In fact, if he wasn't fingering his chains he was either smoking a cigar or holding a bag of french fries drenched in mayonaise, or fried chicken, or a greasy hamburger, or all three in some wonderful orgy of delight that only could have appealed to this man, such as he was. The Capitalist was to be seen licking his fingers, or wiping his hands on his pants. He wasn't too keen on hygiene, he loathed bathing, and many a person who shook his hand came away a bit disconcerted about what they imagined they felt on his fingers. But few people ever said anything to him about it; he was usually in a position where he had something that they wanted, and they didn't want to jeopardize their already fragile position as supplicants. It would have to be considered the height of diplomacy to have said that the Capitalist was fat, or even that he was an insult to the beauty of the human body. His stomach was like a fifty-pound bag of cement that hung suspended from breasts as large as an amply endowed woman's, if an elderly one. Several chins protruded from the mass of gold under his face, trying desperately to escape their imprisonment between one of his necks and his jaw. When he walked it was slowly and anyway he appeared more to wobble than stroll along like any other descent human being. He never went up stairs and always took the elevator, even if it was far out of the way and only to go down a single floor. The Capitalist was always sweating, that is true, and his pockets were stuffed with handkerchiefs which, between puffs from his cigar or while he was chewing, he was constantly in search of to wipe the drips of urine-smelling liquid off his brow. All in all, the Capitalist was a thoroughly disgusting man, plagued with bad breath and rotting teeth, and people who didn't know him or had no interest in what he had to offer (in those days, there were still some of those around), if they happened to see him on the street, would quickly hurry by, or if they had children with them, they would shield their innocent eyes and with a sharp intake of breath turn back the way they had come.

Now, even if many people tried to get as quickly away from the Capitalist as possible when they saw him coming, he somehow managed to make his arrival at the building behind the gates and the guards more and more welcome. Once the Politician came close enough to listen to what he had to say, he would come more often. You see, the Politician had much wealth stored up in that building, but the Capitalist made it plain and clear right from the beginning that no matter how much wealth a person had, it was never enough and could always be amply augmented. The Capitalist was willing to help with this eternal problem. And after a time, the Politician was only more than happy to cooperate with what the Capitalist had in mind. For the Capitalist knew what his negotiating position was, although he was always very careful never to state it outright. He needed the Politician to pass laws that were favorable to his enterprises, and that would enable him to hoard more and more wealth in his own private accounts, so that he could by more estates, more boys and more women, more rings, more gold chains, more cars, more influence - more of everything, in fact, that Money can buy, which even in those days was pretty much everything. The Capitalist, too, needed the Politician because the Politician controlled the police and the army, and the people, especially when they did not want to cooperate with the Capitalist, often had be coerced by this means.

The Holy Man, on the other hand, was - much to the surprise of the Capitalist - not so quickly to be won over. In fact, he put up quite a resistance to the spreading influence of the Capitalist both inside and outside the building with the gates and the guards. Late at night the Politician and the Holy Man could be heard to be arguing violently, and one or the other would inevitably storm away in a rage. Other people weren't entirely sure what was going on, but they were vaguely aware of a disconcerting feeling that the long standing alliance between the Holy Man and the Politician - the alliance which had led humanity pretty much since they had emerged from the wild and built themselves cities which had to be defended - was under the most severe strain, a most dangerous strain indeed. Alone in their room with the table and the chairs, the Politician frankly told the Holy Man that even the gods couldn't stop the steady march of progress, that they could either profit by the change and move forward along with everyone else or instead be left behind in the dusty bins they call temples, entirely overlooked and forgotten. There are all sorts of elaborations that could be made on the point, which I will shortly explore with you, but what it all boiled down to is that even though in the past the Holy Man was known to confuse his own exploitation of the people with the necessities of duty, if someone else were to exploit them he could come up with tens of pretty sounding arguments as to why it was a terrible thing.

Where to begin? Perhaps I ought first to tell you about what it was like for the people before the Captalist hauled them into the cities and installed them in cattle stalls and set task masters over them. I have neglected to tell you about the people before, telling you instead about their masters, because I didn't expect that you will believe me, and I imagine you still won't. You will think me overly romantic or simply full of shit, which is understandable considering how far estranged the workers of today are from their nature and the Universe that fostered it. But, yes, the people once existed as such. They were not machines, they were animals, raised by the earth and with senses and reason and instincts that were especially attuned to the various groanings and murmurings of the world around them, so that even if they couldn't explain it they were envigorated by it. Yes, and the people were once the fertile springboard from which the privileged minority drew its numbers, the same privileged minority whose interests the Politician used to serve, and like him the Holy Man, too.

At any rate - and whether you believe me or not - before the Capitalist lured the people into his stench-ridden lair, the people lived as peasants and tradesmen in the country or in smaller, more manageable towns that were easily escaped. Their lives in those days were by no means pleasant. They lived in huts and crumbling houses, with cracks in the walls and holes in the roofs and in constant fear of reprisals from soldiers. Long hours they worked with their bare hands, it is true, but it was useful work, work the fruit of which they could understand and respect. Some were fishermen who went out in boats at dawn and returned after nightfall. Still others moulded metal into useful tools like horseshoes and, of course, swords and the like. But most of them were simple peasants, and worked the farms, raising vegetables and cattle and poultry and weaving cloth. The animals they raised and killed, but they did not raise them simply in order to kill them, for some small use after which they would throw the vast remainder of the body to collect flies somewhere unseen. No, that would be cruel indeed. In those days the people honored the beasts, some of which could perform useful work, and which even after death could satisfy a variety of wants, so that almost nothing was left to waste.

In those days, the lives of the people were intimately tied to the seasons. In the spring they planted, in the summer they performed other useful work (or marched to war), in the fall they reaped their harvest, and in the winter they slept. They had their festivals, too. Not empty, meaningless repetitions, no, these had actual meaning and relevance to their lives, and they would not have wanted to do without them. For as I said before the lives of the people were synchronized with the manifold and subtle forces of the earth. The people knew when the sun would rise and when it would set, and they could point out how the stars appeared to move in the sky. Everyone had seen a sheep giving birth, a pair of ragged dogs mating, and cocks fighting each other to the death. Even if these behaviors were not their own, the people at the same time felt something familiar in their proximity. They could name the various kinds of trees that grew around them and identify the birds that lived in them and what sounds they made and what their habits were. Never did it cease to amaze them how beautiful the world was, how delicate, that it fit together so neatly and succinctly that it was often hard to perceive the individual parts. And their lives being so influenced by the weather and the other natural forces, it was much easier for them to envision and accept the gods that the Holy Man cajolled them so emphatically to placate. It was so much so, in fact, that aside from the usual harrassment they expected from their masters, they were able to subsist on their own. For, when one's work is so mingled with the stuff of life, with the food that they ate and the clothes that they wore and the bricks that made up their dwellings, and united by a certain spirit of brotherhood, the spite and wrath of the master could not prevent them from exercising a certain amount of personal freedom. And although the conditions of this kind of life were most often cruel, despite the fact that floods or drought would occasionally descend upon them without warning, it was a cycle that they could accept, because it seemed natural.

Later on, of course, the Capitalist built large, smelly factories for them in great, sprawling, cavernous places unfriendly to the light of the sun, and all that changed. The people were lured there in part by promises of a better life, duly encouraged by the Politician, but also - it must be admitted - in part because they could not bear any longer the heavy web of often needlessly repressive social rules spun for them over the centuries by the Holy Man. Yes, on the one hand they were choked by them and yearned to divest themselves of their own personal prisons, and yet on the other they identified a certain amount of pride with these rules, and believed somehow that they had contributed to whatever success their particular country had ever had. So the people thought to find some refuge in the anonymity of the city. Instead they found that they had exchanged their drafty huts for unsanitary rooms in huge, poorly constructed complexes with dank air laden with fearful diseases. Granted, they had been cold in their own huts on the farm, but at least the light of the day had shown in through the cracks, and no one profited by the death of their children. Here, in the city, there were no trees and no sunrise or sunset, but there was instead this infernal buzzing. When it buzzed they had to be in the factory, and when it buzzed they were allowed a few moments' rest, and when it buzzed again they could stumble home, weary, exhausted, for the few hours permitted them. The thing was, it always buzzed at the same times every day, relentlessly, unchanging. And the factories, too, were always there, squatting like fat tempermental people that can't stand up on their own anymore, and every day they had to report to the same posts where they were forced to perform the same, few tasks which involved the same, laborious movements. Time dragged on. The monotony broke down their spirit in a very subtle but dangerous way. Imagination died. And what was worse, whereas in the country each had known his tasks and had been merely responsible for carrying them out in the way he thought best, the Capitalist had clear ideas about exactly how one should perform the various tasks he had defined for them, and did not allow anyone's individual personality to interfere with his notions. No, tens and tens of shallow souls walked up and down the aisles just to supervise the people, shouting at them, humiliating them, and making sure that every scrap of work was squeezed out of them as was humanly possible without actually killing them. For, as all managers knew, a dead worker was not useful for procuring wealth. These men were called "managers" and performed very little useful work, and yet at the same time they thought very highly of themselves.

Now, there was a more important difference between their former manner of life and this new one. As I said before, nature disappeared as the predominant force in their lives. The fortunes of this new, more modern kind of life were governed by a mysterious and far more fickle thing. This thing was innocently called the "business cycle" by those whom it favored. And although the people did not at first understand what this thing was, they could very well perceive that it was far harsher, far more arbitrary, and served no useful part of a far greater whole. But if they weren't able to understand it exactly, they were very well able to observe that this business cycle was a man-made phenomenon, one that benefited the Capitalist and his cronies, and that was perhaps the most unbearable part of it all. When the wheat crop had suddenly failed or their fields been covered in locusts, or when an unexpected storm smashed up their fishing boats in the harbor, they might have been angry, but they had accepted the event as part of the natural order of things. No so this business cycle.

The business cycle was the result of the fact that the Capitalist lent his Money to those who were not satisfied to be merely persons, but who wanted to be important persons. Such entrepeneurs, as they were called, would use the Money to set up their own enterprises, which would usually require the employment of the people to perform the work that actually needed to be done while the entrepreneurs were at dinner parties. Now the people simply wanted to live and enjoy their lives, as they always have tried to do, even if they had little such desire to be important. Work is a single element of a person's existence, one of several, and even an important one. It gives a human a sense of worth and responsibility. But it was fairly obvious that these entrepreneurs were not interested in any of that. All they were interested in was paying the Capitalist back as quickly as possible and puffing themselves up like peacocks. As far as the people could tell, seeming important usually meant laughing when one didn't really think something was funny, or otherwise demeaning oneself in order to obtain something that other people would be jealous of. Now, unfortunately for everyone involved, the Capitalist's mood was very succeptible to change. There were times when he would just throw his Money in the air for whomever could catch it, and then all of a sudden he would decide that he had gone too far, and all at once he would call in his loans. When the Capitalist did such a thing, the entrepreneurs found themselves in a terrible position, and were often forced to mangle their enterprises or even close down outright. For the people that meant no work, and because they were no longer in the country, it also meant no food.

The Holy Man saw this, too, and he was distressed. He was distressed because the Capitalist was willing and capable of selling anything, and no moral scruple or human consideration was sufficient enough to prevent him from making use of every last avenue of exploitation that he could, however small and insignificant the profit was in comparison to the human loss suffered. The Holy Man could also see that the more the Capitalist succeeded in reaping profits, the greater was his influence with the Politician. The Holy Man was a man of ideas and elegant justifications. The Capitalist, however, now had an answer for every argument and remonstration, no matter how carefully prepared, and would toss it in the face of the Holy Man and draw the Politician to some private corner where he would further poison their relationship. And, of course, this answer was Money.

The meetings of the Gang of Two became more and more strained. They hardly sat, the Holy Man standing like an defeated avatar in the corner, watching the movements of the Politician as he paced awkwardly and intensely around the table, plotting his next move, grinning madly. Every once in a while his face would twitch, usually if he was referring to his own share of the cut. Outside the people groaned and grew more resentful, and inside the Politician made more and more frequently meetings with the Capitalist from which the Holy Man was excluded.

"We have known each other for a long time." The Holy Man had spoken up suddenly, and a bit sentimentally it must be admitted.

The Politician looked up as if startled from some reverie that was bubbling inaudibly on his lips. He did not cease his pacing. "What? A long time?" He snorted. "Too long."

The Holy Man felt a bit like an aging lover thrown aside. He sighed and cast his eyes for a moment to the floor, running over in his mind all the thoughts and emotions he had been feeling since the day the Capitalist first drew the Politician away from him. "It's not right and you know it."

The Politician seemed to be annoyed that the Holy Man was talking so much. "You're interrupting my calculations," he spat bitterly, scarcely pausing in his fevered step. He was still smiling. He shook his head wildly. "Times change," he reported, looking the Holy Man for a moment in the eye. "Anyway, nothing is ever about right and wrong. You should know."

In those days, the chamber was not exactly empty. There were uncreative but colorful paintings on the walls and a few fake plants in the corners with stiff, overly green leaves that never sagged. On the table itself there lay a few scattered leaflets and writing quills, and every once in a while one of them had been known to call for a typewriter. There was even a carpet in the room then, a rust colored carpet with a simple criss-cross pattern, concocted in one of the Capitalist's factories.

"We've been set against each other before, neither of us can deny that." The voice of the Holy Man was strangely calm, even musical. "It's been worse than this." He laughed then, probably at some small and distant memory. "But this is different." The tone in his voice toughened. "The people are losing sight of God."

Now the Politician stopped. He was standing at the other end of the table. For a moment he looked the Holy Man squarely in the face, a hard look, an uncomfortable look. Finally, he smiled again, and before a word came out of his mouth, the Holy Man knew it would be frothing with sarcasm. "God is dying, and with it you, too. You're antiquated and you're not needed anymore. A stepping stone is what it was, nothing more. Something to help people get by when they didn't have enough to be who they wanted. A rationalization of social dependence. 'Do unto others as you would have done unto you.' Bah! We have something better now. The people sense it. The people know it. They know who their master is, and it's not that " - a vague, frustrated gesture somewhere beyond the ceiling - "implacable ghost you've been threatening us with ever since time immemorial! They don't care anymore if it doesn't rain, you imbicile. They care if they are out of a job."

The Holy Man's reponse was swift. "Their jobs aren't very fulfiling now, are they?"

"Fulfilling," repeated the Politician distantly, his eyes unfocused. "Fulfilling." He seemed, in fact, to be trying out the word for the first time. And suddenly, stabbing the air in front of him with a threatening finger, the smile was swallowed, the face clenched in a terrible rage, and all the blood rushed to the convulsing muscles, and the Politician hissed, "Let me tell you about fulfilling! Long ago you had me on my knees slobering over that ridiculous robe of yours, carrying it for you, trailing along behind you like a dog! And not just in the privacy of this room, but you paraded it before the people! Fulfilling, was it? Oh, I remember, I remember it well, and now, finally, you're the one who'll be crawling on the rostra in front of me, and it will be my foot on your back. And I'll be damned if I don't go and pick up an axe. Oh yes, you just wait and see." The Politician's eyes bugged dangerously out of his head. "Just wait and see."

The Holy Man, for his part, felt strengthened when he saw the Politician talking like that. It wasn't really he, he thought to himself. He was sick. Yes, sick, he's caught a disease, something has taken control of him.

But the Politician wasn't finished yet. He had resumed his pacing. He was talking to the carpet. His voice was calm again, the smile had reappeared, and that sudden change, that sudden contrast, did more to disturb the Holy Man than anything the Politician had said yet. "You're being replaced," he murmured. It was as if he were under a spell, and the words he spoke were those of another. "Soon the Capitalist will be in here with me. He'll be a much more reasonable fellow than you've ever been. I know what he's about. You, you raise the silliest objections to the most important of matters! I don't know how I've got along with you even this far. Honestly, I don't."

When the Holy Man left the room with the table and the chairs (and the other things that were as yet still present), he was pensive. He strolled slowly but determinedly through the shadowy passageways and the twisting hallways of the building with the gates and the guards, his fingertips pressed tightly together in front of his chest, head to the floor. People fluttered about on either side, taking trouble not to tread on his beautifully embroidered robes. There seemed to be no particular order or sense to their comings and goings, but no matter. All the Holy Man saw were shoes, large, dark shoes appended to large, dark trousers, and he saw shadows. He was thinking.

He was thinking about the people. Not because he loved them, no, although he liked to think that he did. He was thinking about them because he knew they were already taking steps to defend themselves, as creatures will do when they feel themelves to be under attack. Even without his support, even without his encouragement, the people had realized one very important point: if trinkets and gadgets weren't being produced, or not being produced faster than they were the year before, the Capitalist was reduced to temper tantrums and tears. So, with that in mind, they were banding together and forming loosely knit organizations called unions. For they knew that individually they could not stand up to the alliance of the Capitalist and the Politician, but with greater numbers they reckoned themselves a force that had to be taken seriously.

And take them seriously they did. For when the people weren't working and the Capitalist was sulking, the Politician wasn't getting any richer. Anyway, internal discord in a country is a state of affairs much feared by the Politician, because anything could happen, suddenly, as if on a whim. The fact made the Politician grouchy, because it meant he had to pay attention to what was going on and expend a great effort merely to keep from losing what he was already enjoying. So, on that note, the Politician, in fulfillment of his part of the alliance, struck back at the people and their unions as hard as he could. For he understood that if the unions could be broken, the will of the people would be broken, and they would start obeying the Capitalist without question like they used to in days gone by, and the Capitalist himself wouldn't be hanging around the building with the gates and the guards so often, pestering everyone with his disgusting habits and his woes.

It was this exchange that the Holy Man was now pondering. For although at first he believed that the people could not stand up to such weapons, he saw that their determination made them formidable. He wondered how much better they would fare if he tried to help them. Naturally he could not openly come to their aid. His position was weak enough as it was. But there were other ways of making himself useful to their cause, other avenues of...

A dark shadow blocked his path. It did not move. Instinctually, the Holy Man halted. A cloak of annoyance descended over him as he lifted his head and was greeted by the gruesome sight of the Capitalist, standing in the middle of the corridor, gnawing on a huge turkey bone. And hadn't he got fatter? If it were possible, it would seem that he had. Trails of grease flowed out of the corners of his mouth and disappeared among his chins and his gold chains. His girth bridged the breadth of the corridor almost completely, leaving barely enough room on either side for those who had to pass to squeeze by. The Capitalist seemed unaware that he was an obstruction, and the Holy Man, in a moment of rare intuition, realized that most certainly he was aware of it.

The Capitalist was sneering at the Holy Man. He was not a happy man. "How's God today?" he bellowed far too loudly for the confines of the dim, carpeted hallway. The large belly encased in the rumpled, black tuxedo heaved.

The Holy Man shuddered. The Capitalist licked his fingers and somehow twisted his face into a most remarkable and certainly uncomfortable expression of loathing and contempt.

The Holy Man - with a mind for his expensive clothing and his fancy hat - decided it was best to turn around and pick another way. Without a word, he turned on his heels and began to retrace his steps. He found, though, that he was unable to focus his thoughts, and couldn't keep the image of the Capitalist whom he knew was standing behind him, leering at him, the cruel, cold face of a viper, out of his head.

"Hey!" shouted the Capitalist. "I've a message for you!"

The Holy Man, despite himself, halted. Why didn't he just continue? But he turned his head to the side. He waited.

The Capitalist sucked for a long moment on his turkey bone before he finally belched. "Tell God that if he doesn't come clean on his obligations, I'm going to have to foreclose on heaven." And at that, the Capitalist exploded with a vile, obese sounding laughter, as if it were too much for his crippled body. Out of the corner of his eye, the Holy Man saw him double over. Between the wheezing and the gurgling and the grunting the Capitalist could be heard repeating the words, as if to the others who had gathered on the far side of him, not really daring to try and pass. He seemed to be quite pleased with his witicism, and I'm sure that later on he repeated it to the Politician. Who, we can be sure, chuckled along with him out of a keen sense of his own interest.

For quite some time the Politician's army of police and soldiers fought the people, who in turn elected leaders for themselves. These weren't the kind of sham elections that kept the Politician in power, no, these were the real thing, and the persons who were elected after serving for a time in their capacity were often content to retire into the background and let someone else with a fresher mind continue in his place. The battle raged for years and years, for the people proved willing to suffer greatly for the little gain that they envisioned for themselves. The Holy Man offered what clandestine support he could to the people, mostly in the form of words and encouragement and occassionally even a place of hiding in their times of most dire need. And every so often the Politician would catch the Holy Man in the act, as it were, and they were argue, but there really wasn't much the Politician could do as long as the Holy Man would never open declare himself for the people.

But even so, it seemed that slowly but surely the Politician and the Capitalist were managing to gain the upper hand, and the exhaustion and desperation of the people were growing unbearable. It was then, at the last minute, before it seemed that the people would be doomed to exploitation forever, that a strange thing happened in a land far away. No one could have predicted the event, nor that its consequences would have such reach and such magnitude. In the end, the Politician and the Capitalist were forced to back down because of it. This is what happened.

Back in those days, the world was divided into far more regions and nations than it is today. Our familiar Gang or Two, for example, with the Capitalist trying to pull them into orbit, was not the Gang of Two of Oceania, because Oceania didn't exist yet. They were the Gang of Two of the leading nation in the region, the nation that eventually adopted National Capitalism and conquered the surrounding countries. They called the result a free trade zone, but what it really was, was an empire based on economics. This was the foundation of Oceania, and it was a region that was dominated by our familiar Gang and exclusively served its interests. But I am getting ahead of myself. Far away across the oceans, then, in what was later to become Eurasia, there were also a multitude of nations, each with its own culture and language and way of life. In one of these countries -

What? Excuse me? Yes, yes, I know, you don't believe me, what I'm saying sounds ridiculous, but I beg of you, humor me for a while. After all, this is only a story.

As I was saying, one of the countries in that region was a particularly large but landlocked nation that for centuries had lagged behind the other states in Eurasia both technologically and politically. It, too, was led by a Gang of Two, but the biggest difference between that Gang of Two and our familiar Gang of Two is that there was no Capitalist anywhere to be seen near their building with its gates and guards. The Politician and the Holy Man still ruled together in harmony from the seat of their room with its table and chairs.

In fact, they hadn't been outside in quite a long time. They had tired of the world outside and its problems and miseries, and were loathe to leave the confines of the little paradise of comfort and luxury they had created for themselves inside. Outside the people still worked the land, but they hardly had food for themselves and their lives were stolen from them quite pitifully by the agents of their Politician. The agents of their Holy Man rebuffed them when they complained, and carried away whatever had been left to the people by the Politician for his own use. Their lot truly was despicable, especially when they heard the stories of what the Politician and the Holy Man were eating inside the building where they weren't allowed to approach. In the past it had been the lot of the people the world over to suffer this fate, and they had been content, but now there were whispers and rumors of a better life not very far away, and the people of this nation grew jealous.

Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened. Well, perhaps you can't, at that. An amazing thing, of course, and a dangerous one, too: the people rose up out of anger and stormed the building and murdered everyone they could find in it. They even managed to locate the inner sanctum with the table and the chairs, and in it the trembling Gang of Two. These, too, they murdered without pity and without a public display. In their place they set a single and lonely character. This was the Communist, of course, and he was a man - more so, even than the Holy Man had been - who acted out of a firm belief in the way things should be, without any regard to the way they actually were. The Communist was a gruff man with a beard who never smiled and who dressed in grey. It was always winter in his country. As a result, he was usually to be seen in a long, thick, grey overcoat lined with furs. The frown on his face was stern and permanent. For the Communist was a man consumed by anger, and that was, of course, the greatest contributor to his downfall. Because once a human being begins to act out of a hatred, even if the reasons are legitimate and worthy of the cause, the worst that can befall him is that he succeed in his endeavor. For once he obtained power, the Communist showed himself capable of the greatest cruelty. He did not allow individuals to develop as they naturally would, but refused to allow them to be individuals altogether. But he was no barbarian, no. That was plain to see in his methods. Cruel they were, yes, and cold, but they also embodied a certain understanding of the human mind and how it best could be manipulated. The Capitalist, for his part, was able to learn a lot just watching him. But for all his severity, the Communist did make some attempt to care for his people, or tried to as best he could while still maintaining his rage and his privileged position in a society that precluded privilege. He educated them and ensured that they all had proper recourse to medicines and the other necessities of life, such as warmth and food and clothing. For the Communist maintained that even if the people were put on this earth to serve his regime, at least there was a social contract that required something in return on his part.

Perhaps you can imagine the reaction of the Politician and the Holy Man in our own, familiar land. When the news of the happening had first been brought to them, they hadn't thought much of it, but later on there was a rather serious downturn in the business cycle, worse than had ever been seen before, and the people became more sensitive than ever to their exploitation and the other half of the social contract that the Capitalist seemed to be neglecting. For the Capitalist believed that the people were put on this earth to serve in his regime and that was all there was to it.

Inside their little chamber buried far inside their building with their gates and their guards, the Gang of Two sat conferring. The Holy Man in all his refinery sat with his legs on the table and his chair pushed back, and the Politician was trying to support his huge, heavy head and its greasy hair and its weighty smile with two hands and the arms attached to them, finding support like a seldom lover on the tabletop. He seemed glum, the Holy Man pensive.

"If they came in here, we could lose all our stuff," complained the Politician.

"Forget about our stuff. That we can always take back. But they would take God away from the people because they want to be the only authority in their lives," the Holy Man told him.

"Actually, we would lose all our stuff for sure." The Politician bit petulantly at one of his huge, flapping lips. "And then they would take us into some basement and shoot us and hang our uniforms in a museum."

"I think we can both agree this evil must be eradicated. There's no doubt about that."

The Politician snorted and pushed back a prodigal lock of hair that wouldn't keep out of his overly handsome face. "This is all your fault," he snapped, his eyes rolled to the top of his sockets. "Your promised the people that they could have their own lives." Another snort. "Provided they kept buying God's favor."

The Holy Man clicked his tongue distastefully and went on. "We've sent messengers and he won't respond, and if you listen to what he has to say when he's not haranguing the people or throwing a temper tantrum, it all adds up pretty bad for us. Don't you agree?"

"Do you think he allows the people any hair-care products in his country?"

The Holy Man smiled knowingly. "Don't get your hopes up. If he comes here, you're not going to get to make a deal with him."

The Politician sat up suddenly and stared angrily at the Holy Man. "Well, then, I hope you have a plan because the people outside are pretty taken up by this people's power nonsense. What arrogance, to think that they could just sweep us aside and get along better than they had before! If we don't watch out, they'll just invite this Communist fellow -"

"Shut up. You're making me nervous. All we have to do is keep our heads."

"Fine. You stay busy keeping your head. I just got mine exactly the way I want it so now I'd like to turn my attention to other things, like my survival."

"Our survival."

"Yes, yes, whatever."

"Well, I think we have no other choice."

The Politician's mouth almost slid off his face. "Choice?"

"Who owns the newspapers?"

The Politician was silent.

"Who is the one with the flashy car and the young girlfriend that the people hate to admire?"

The Politician snickered.

"Who do the people think gives them choice?"

The Politician smiled.

Now it was the Holy Man's turn to smile. "Exactly. And when we are done using him, we will cast him aside like the sack of garbage that he is and life will go on as it always has."

At that the Politician lifted an eyebrow. "As it always has, eh?" He sounded doubtful.

"Yes, friend. As it has for thousands and thousands of years, and still thousands more on top of that!"

The Politician shrugged. "Whatever you say." His expression sank into a vague, troubled thought. The Holy Man played with the tassles that hung from his robe and pondered how he would play his hand. Suddenly, a gleam of malice alighted in the Politician's eye, and looking up he addressed the Holy Man, warmly, as if he were imparting some much sought-after advice. "You realize what that means, of course?"

But, of course, the Holy Man knew quite well what that meant. He scowled, but said nothing. It was a situation he would have to live with.

The Politician snickered and nodded his head. After a moment, he began to whistle.

It was not many days later that the Capitalist made his triumphant entry. He had to turn sideways to squeeze through the already ample doorway, but in a matter of moments he was within the confines of the inner sanctum with the table and the chairs where no one aside from the Holy Man and the Politician had been allowed since anyone could remember (and that was quite a long time indeed). The Politician had come to greet him at the door, smiling impishly, but the Holy Man remained seated at the far end, his legs stretched out comfortably and resting on the surface of the table. His hands were folded in his lap. He was watching.

The Capitalist was alternately taking bites out of a hotdog smeared with sauerkraut and mustard and wiping his hands on his great, black pants. As he lurched around the room, the great grin spreading across his face threatened to grow wider. The Politician trotted next to him during his brief tour of inspection, chattering frivolously away, jealous of the genuineness of the smile, but he was largely ignored. Every once in a while, the Capitalist would smack his great, heaving belly with his free hand and belch his satisfaction. He had no questions. He had no comments. He had no sense of taste, so we couldn't really expect an opinion from him about anything that had nothing to do with Money. I imagine he was just so enthralled, so amazed, to be standing in that room with them then that he wasn't able to adequately order his thoughts. He did say one thing, however, and that was merely under his breath and to no one in particular, and that was: "We'll have to do something about all this decoration, won't we?" At a certain point, he arrived close to where the Holy Man was sitting, stretched out at the far end of the table, and he could proceed no further, because there wasn't enough room between the Holy Man's chair and the far wall for him to pass.

"Why don't you take a seat and we can get started?" suggested the Holy Man. There was not the slightest quiver of emotion in his voice, or the suggestion that he even cared about why he had finally been invited among them.

The Capitalist looked at the Holy Man for a moment, his eyes a bit wide and bugging out of his head, like a small child being given permission for the first time to ride off on his bicycle alone. No, at a moment like this not even the Holy Man could ruin the sense of triumph, not even he could tarnish the sweetness of the taste of power like a nectar running down his face in a rain, clinging to his skin, making him stronger.

The Capitalist gurgled. It may have been as close to a good-natured laugh as he was capable. Carefully, he maneuvered himself around and began to instinctively lurch back towards the opposite end of the table. One tiny step followed by another. The movements were sporatic, as if he were highly unstable with only one foot on the ground. "Well," he sputtered as he moved. A foot scrambled panick-stricken towards the safety of the floor. "I know why you've asked me here. And about damned time, I'd say! I could have helped prevent this whole mess in the first place. But at least I'm here now. Everything will be alright now. I can assure you of that! You boys finally made the right decision." The Capitalist was now out of breath. He had finally reached the chair at the other end of the table where the Politician usually sat. Looking down, he saw a tiny, metal stool with arms and legs and there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to safely squeeze himself into it.

Looking up, he saw that the Politician had remained standing by the Holy Man. He was watching the Capitalist with grotesque interest. Certainly, he had never seen a man so fat. Really, he hadn't seen the Capitalist in a while, that was true, but the image presenting itself to him now was beyond even what his imagination had conjured up in the meantime. The man, like the Universe, was constantly expanding. "I'll stand," the Capitalist announced finally, smiling uncomfortably.

The Holy Man did not react. The Politician snickered and slithered quickly over to where the Capitalist stood panting, grabbed the chair, and yanked it back towards the Holy Man. He placed it at his right side and collapsed into it.

"Well," managed the Capitalist. "As I was saying, you boys have made the right decision. Just listen to me and we'll be safely through this mess in no time. I mean, who ever heard of it? Price setting? Government monopolies? An even distribution of wealth? We should take 'em out back and hang them like they did their royalty. No offence, of course. But it was the only good thing they've done. Now, like I was saying, just leave everything to me -"

The Holy Man tossed an impatient look at the Politician next to him. The Politician's giant head lolled. Two tiny words issued from his mouth like darts. "Shut up."

The Capitalist wasn't sure if he had heard correctly. "Excuse me?"

The Politician cleared his throat. "I said, 'shut up'".

The Capitalist stared at the Politician in disbelief.

At that, a crude, timid smile crept across the Politician's bloated face. Yes, that face, it was the perfect home for a smile. "Well what did you expect?" he finally demanded. "I'm a master of duplicity. I do and I say what will keep me exactly where I am, and at the moment that adds up to telling you to shut up."

"But you are under attack," murmured the Politician. "You need me."

"No," thundered the Holy Man. He shot forward in his chair and glared at the Capitalist. "YOU are under attack." An insistent hand struck the table. The eyes flashed. "This -" the Holy Man's mouth twitched as he searched for the right word - "avatar of the people, this Communist, he may want to get rid of me, but the reality of power will sink in quick enough! People are spiritual by nature, and that spirituality needs to be guided and channeled to proper use." A quick look in the direction of the Politician. "My old friend, here, too, although perhaps not immediately useful, would certainly find his way back in here after this Communist is around long enough. People are, after all, people, and if they meet any success at all he will have wealth enough to covet. But you! You perform no useful work. Others perform the work for you and you take it from them and all the market says it is worth and leave them just enough to live on. You satisfy no social requirement. No one would miss you if you suddenly disappeared. You are a leech. You devour everything you can get your hands on and you are bloated out of proportion and you are the most thoroughly disgusting man I have ever met. Your stink permeates this room, and I tell you it requires the greatest mental control to withstand the urge to vomit. But you don't care! The wish or thought or opinion of no other person could phase you. That's why the Communist wants you dead, and frankly I wonder if he isn't right." The Holy Man had stood up and was leaning against the table with balled up fists. His face was crunched in a scowl of disdain and the veins were clearly visible in their encasings on his forhead.

The Capitalist was shaking his head. His eyes flickered about more quickly and more frequently than they usually did, and he was still breathing heavily. What was left of the hotdog he held under the table. "I wasn't even over there," he exclaimed, panting, trying to order his thoughts. "You were, he was! I never was!"

"Enough of this childishness!" Another slap of the table. "Don't try and tell me whose fault this is!"

And then the Capitalist began to cry. Huge, renting sobs suddenly burst from his mouth and sprayed from his nose. He was staring at the Holy Man with wide, child-like eyes, eyes that couldn't believe he was being spoken to like this, eyes set in a face whose brain couldn't quite believe that his Money wouldn't be enough, and then suddenly like a geizer his face convulsed and he appeared to cough violently and he collapsed to the floor and now his head was resting between his flabby arms on the tabletop and he was oozing tears and uncomfortable noises and shuddering uncontrolably. The table appeared to be having difficulty holding up under the demands he was imposing on it.

The Holy Man sat back in his chair, a disgusted look on his face, but also one mingled with satisfaction. After a moment or two of this outburst he threw a subtle but demanding glance in the direction of the Politician. "You can jump in at any time, you know," he purred coldly.

The Politician considered that for a moment before he moved to speak. Sitting next to the Holy Man, he avoided looking at the Capitalist's weeping hulk directly. "Now listen here," he began, his voice a bit trepid and slow. And who knows, maybe the Politician genuinely felt sorry to see the Capitalist in such a state, because even if he was a Capitalist, somewhere inside of him he was also a human being. "It's not so bad as all that. No one is telling you you have to give up all your stuff and go away. I know the Holy Man speaks hard, but you can't take him at face value, either. Sure, he doesn't like you, I know that, you know that, but it doesn't change the fact we are in this together." The Capitalist lifted his head and stared at the Politician with bleeding eyes framed in the silvery remains of his tears. The look on his face showed that he was vulnerable. The Politician was encouraged. "Now what it comes down to is this," he continued. "You can hang out in here with us and help bury this Communist person. You can still skim off the top like you have been. The only difference is that there will be limits. That's all. You won't be able to pile up wealth beyond all measure, because right now we need the people's support in our fight, and if there is one thing that is easy to assault about you it is your - well, the fact that it appears that you never have enough, which is especially, well, bad when there are so many who don't have anything."

"I get to keep my factories?" murmured the Capitalist.

"Yes," the Politician quickly assured him. "You get to keep your factories. Most of them, that is," he added after a quick glance from the Holy Man. "But don't worry, as soon as this situation is cleared up you'll get them back."

Now the Holy Man spoke up. "We are convinced that we cannot defeat this Communist fellow with the traditional kind of war. There's more behind him than an army. We figure we have to wage a different kind of war, one we'll need you for. We'll need to outproduce them. It's as clear and simple as that."

The Capitalist looked suspiciously from one to the other. "And you will still take your cut?"

"Naturally," responded the Politician. His voice turned hard, icy even. "The Holy Man, too."

The Capitalist thought for a moment, but really, it isn't hard for an empty man to choose between nothing and less than what he had. "Agreed," he said finally. He sniffled and moved to wipe away some of his tears.

"Double," clarified the Holy Man.

The Capitalist's mouth dropped open. He began to stammer. But when the Politician and the Holy Man only glared at him coldly, he finally agreed to that, too.

When the Capitalist squeezed out of the room with the table and chairs, he was pouting. He did not bid anyone a proper goodbye. He did, however, have the presence of mind to order himself his own chair on the way out, albeit one a bit more accommodating than the others. For even in his miserable state of mind the magnitude of this particular victory did not escape him. The Politician and the Holy Man watched him slink away and were busy with their own thoughts. The Holy Man, although you would never have known it from his cool (if overdressed) exterior, was ecstatic, and was wondering how much he could abuse the man before he should be dumped altogether. The Politician was hoping that the Capitalist wasn't irreparably offended.

Believe it or not, in the short term things actually got worse for the Capitalist. For one thing, the Communist's regime seemed to be achieving some early successes, and did not collapse upon itself as the Gang of Three (as it was now unofficially called) had hoped. It even managed to spread. But, as I said before, the Communist was a cruel and angry man, and everything he achieved or tried to achieve was marred by his private bitterness and his inestimable suspicion. In the end, he discovered the necessity of moderating himself, but by then his regime had been irreversibly stained by the habit of repression and severity, and that was that. But all this came later on.

And, as I have already mentioned, somewhere nestled among the new wars of global proportions that sprang up about this time, the business cycle betrayed them all. Sure, there had been crashes before, and the people were tossed out of their jobs and homes (it was only to be expected), but the magnitude of this particular crash had previously been unimaginable, and the people in their despair came very close to doing away with the Capitalist altogether. In the end, it was the Politician that saved him, the Politician that hid him away when the mob came searching for him with torches in their hands and fire in their eyes, the Politician that gave in to all of their demands except the most important one of all. In that way, the Capitalist remained, and continued to attend meetings in the inner sanctum, even if he wasn't consulted very often about anything.

I know, I know, it is difficult to imagine anyone with power and stature enough to ignore the presence of the Capitalist, or disregard him altogether, but believe it or not human beings were once permitted the use of all of their faculties and they did not simply assume that they were made to serve. In fact, people were born then. The rules and responsibilities that governed the peaceful coexistence of human beings all living together on more or less equal terms was called a "society". But, alas, if the things I have already said appear strange to you, no doubt this concept is utterly confusing. Anyway, it is dangerous for me to be telling you these things now, yes I know, and it might even be dangerous for you to listen. But deep down inside you know it to be true. So perhaps it is best to leave this era and enter into one that will seem more familiar, the telling of which will involve considerably less risk of being suddenly grabbed off the street, dragged behind the nearest building, and shot for being a terrorist. All hail Oceania, the mother of the National Capitalistic state. There, that ought to buy us some time.

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