Benjamin Franklin may or may not have said it, but it's a suggestive metaphor for a dilemma of democracy, as well as for our present predicament in the U.S.: "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch."
We see Bush and the big corporations as wolves -- strong, sharp-toothed, predatory and scheming; we see the people as lambs -- weak, dependent, aimless and confused (and call them, derisively, "sheeple"). It's easy to see the rich and powerful wolves deliberating our economic crisis, our Iraq crisis, our oil crisis, and easier still to predict who they'll have for lunch.
The rest of the aphorism, "Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote," also has attractive resonances. Indeed, both wolves and sheeple -- and our boy-warrior Dubya -- tend to accept without question the notion of "arms" as necessary defensive and aggressive tools, and "liberty" as the right to use them against any of our neighbors we decide to define as wolves.
In the meantime, our media -- newspapers, TV, blogosphere -- bring us daily news of the state of the real world:
"Wall Street Shows Optimism That Crisis Is Fading" (New York Times, 4/2/08); the article suggests that investors are confident that they will continue to make money and therefore all is well.
I don't see much of that confidence here in Portage County. My friend, Bonny, proprietor of Bonny's Bread, writes "I'm feeling a tad panicked at things I have no control of. Namely the economy, prices on my flour up a sudden 50%. ... The thought of asking $7.50 (per one-pound loaf) ... has me just frozen with frustration."
Debby Missimi, director of food pantries and hot-meals programs for Family & Community Services, notes that higher prices at the grocery stores are bringing in more low-income families needing food while reducing the amounts of money and food middle-income families can donate for them. "We're squeezed," she says, "I don't know where it will end."
My son, faced with spending $40 per week for gasoline to get to his job in Akron, has turned to a motorcycle for commuting, a choice his wife (and his mother) would rather he didn't have to make. But selling his house and moving to Akron is not a choice, nor is quitting a good job and expecting to find another in Portage County.
The news article tells us how we should think and talk about reality. The grass-roots stories tell us about the reality people live in. None of these stories fit easily into a Wolves & Lamb metaphor of democracy.
But these metaphors and figures of speech still have a powerful influence in our society. Arming the lambs is a favorite, and I doubt there is any hope of persuading a substantial constituency that they can be forbidden to own guns. We might be able to agree to regulate ammunition -- licensing individuals to buy ammunition the way we license drivers, or requiring "prescriptions" for ammunition the way we require them for drugs. But that seems only a little less absurd and unlikely than expecting thousands of free and righteous gun-owning lambs to form a militia, storm the White House and deliver Bush and Cheney to the International Court of Justice.
Then there's "Enhanced interrogation techniques." Given that waterboarding is now too commonplace, too conflicted and too comic (McCain, Guiliani and Huckabee made jokes about it) to deter terrorists, perhaps Bush should consider some more abhorrent, more cruel and prolonged techniques that might be more persuasive. Impalement worked well for the ancient Assyrians as well as Vlad III Dracula. The Roman Empire found crucifixion useful in "neutralizing" threats to state security, though with the unintended consequence of providing the centerpiece for a religion that swept the world. However, Christianity redeemed its reputation for brutality with burning at the stake during the Inquisition.
How about the gobbledegook about not wanting our soldiers to die in vain? Here's another take on that reality: 4,000 American soldiers have not died in vain -- they died to bring pain, humiliation and death to thousands of Iraqis: they died to make Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison possible, to destroy Fallujah, to bring bombs down on the heads and homes of peasant families, to secure profits for multinational corporations, to command oil supplies, to spread fear, and to gratify one man's stunted imagination.
Whatever are we thinking? Somehow I am reminded of Milton Drake's 1943 jingle:
Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey
The glib phrases of the media and popular culture betray us; we let foolish metaphors -- or arrant fictions -- drive our actions. We need more plain speech; less media and mediafication of public information systems.
Last week Cheney dismissed all the lambs' concerns about Bush's war and policies with a "So?"
We-the-sheeple have to take up that challenge. If we don't like Bush's war, don't want our nation to practice individual and collective violence on other humans, what are we going to do about it?
We are all humans, not wolves and lambs; guns and torture are not adequate to secure democracy or protect us from one another. Democracy cannot function under torture, secrecy, spying and fear. Soldiers in modern wars all die in vain.
"Democracy is ... voting on what to have for lunch." Woovsied lamms unless they own handguns. Lamzy divey. So? A kiddley divey. too. Wouldn't you?