A Brief History of Power

For most of recorded human history, the preferred method of governance was rule by an elite cabal who used either brute force or hereditary rule (backed, to everyone’s surprise, by brute force) to suppress and exploit the masses for personal gain. Then, for reasons unknown to this day, a city-state in Attica said, “Hey, why don’t we allow the people to decide what happens?”

Record scratch

“Okay, just the free male landowners. No need to get crazy with the cheez whiz.”

This form of government proved so popular that it was quickly snuffed-out by a militarist city-state whose entire society was predicated upon the subjugation and enslavement of a neighboring population that outnumbered them 7 to 1.

The world then continued along with more or less natural forms of government as kings fought other kings and some kings put on fancy pants and called themselves Emperors and fought other guys who weren’t going to be out-pantsed and called themselves Emperors, too — well, not exactly. The people who happened to be living in territories claimed by a king often found themselves given pointy sticks and told to run across that field and kill the other people with pointy sticks. Whoever got slaughtered less would find their king declared victor, which meant he got more stuff and power while they got to go home (if it hadn’t been sacked and their family raped and murdered) to continue starving until called upon by their king to murder some other king’s people once again.

The Romans, as always, were the exception as their legions lived for that shit and were quite possibly the most autistic military force in history. They had to build the same exact buildings no matter where they went, and Jove forbid those buildings didn’t incorporate an arch or the whole of the Roman Empire would go into the most spastic Obsessive/Compulsive fit in the history of mankind.

The arch was the Roman answer to everything. How do I build a gate? Arch. How do I transport water from there to here? Arches. How can I build a dome? Arches. I’d like to construct a long, dark tunnel as part of my Bloodatorium? Arches. The Roman obsession with arches was captured in painstakingly laconic detail in one of antiquity’s most celebrated works: Pliny the Elder’s, Fuck Yeah Arches.

But basically, for most of recorded human history, life sucked for everyone but about 400 people.

And once again, for reasons known only to the crones who govern our fates, a group of philosophers just up and decided that government formed by the consent of the governed was the only rational way to organize human affairs.

The powers that be were understandably aghast, as the natural order dictated that a select few men should rule the vast, expendable masses, because a thug in their past had successfully murdered enough people (and bought off a few more) to be considered Chief Thug. Upon his death, the Chief Thug’s power would naturally be transmitted to his eldest thug son. It was obvious to everyone that this was the most common-sense form of governance.

And yet, a cabal of wealthy men in North America who didn’t want to pay their taxes declared themselves independent of their home government and asked themselves, “Hey, what if we let the people decide what’s going to happen?”

Aw, hell naw!

“Okay, okay, just the white, landowning males. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here.”

And so these men, having tossed off the yoke of a hated parliamentary government with a strong executive, formed a revolutionary new parliamentary government with a strong executive.

Instead of having a hereditary monarch, they would have a President chosen by the people, sort of, not really, okay he’s a really a king in all but name and we hope he steps down after a while unless a Great Depression and World War happens and the guy sticks around until he dies.

Instead of a Parliament, they’d have a Congress, except the upper chamber wouldn’t consist of a bunch of wealthy men chosen by the monarch with titles like Duke Lord Chamberlain of Northumbershire, but would be a bunch of wealthy men chosen by other wealthy men in each of the States.

The People of this new country tripped over themselves in adoration of this completely new, unheard-of, totally not like the form of government they had just won their independence from.

The men who’d painstakingly traced over the lines of the British parliamentary government, added a few flourishes to avoid accusations of plagiarism, and declared a new Republic, were now preternatural demigods who had bestowed upon a grateful nation a form of governance never before experienced by Man.

Killing two slaves with one whip, they also answered the question that had occupied the minds of philosophers to the point of madness: just how much of a human was a slave? The Holy Founding Fathers answered: 3/5.

As we all know, into every Paradise a serpent shall slither. Just a couple of years after the blessed Founding Fathers shined their divine favor upon a nation yearning for profit and increased slavery, a few poor farmers decided they didn’t want to pay taxes, either. They led an insurrection to protest paying a portion of their harvest for the privilege of sipping some sweet, sweet hooch.

The wealthy tax dodgers, who now ruled the government that they themselves had created, told the poor tax protestors: “Drop your weapons. You have 30 seconds to comply.”

The revolting farmers briefly considered pressing forward, until word reached them that Thomas Jefferson had emptied his nail factory and was at that very moment whipping and beating his army of slave children north to harvest the farmers’ wheat and secure their land holdings for himself, as permitted by the “I’m a Founding Father and I Can Do Whatever I Want” clause of the Constitution.

And so the pattern was set for the rest of the country’s history. But things weren’t all that bad. There was a massive war pitting wealthy industrialists who employed cheap labor against wealthy plantation owners who used slave labor, resulting in the liberation of millions of people within a region that saw them as sub-human animals. In a surprising turn of events, the enlightened denizens of this region used violence and terror to socially isolate and impoverish the freedmen and their descendants for another century.

Meanwhile, the victorious northern industrialists engaged in a deadly game of beardly oneupmanship and finally bought properly-fitted suits made from the skins of workers who’d died in the daily accidents that regularly took place within their foundries and factories.

Seriously, check out photographs from the 1800s. Everyone wore clothes that look like they were swiped from slightly larger people. Even Abraham Lincoln, who was 10 feet tall and swung a double-bladed axe to clear-cut most of what is now Wyoming, couldn’t find a suit that fit him. One can only assume this state of affairs was due to the lack of cheap, foreign tailors.

As the years passed and we cleared the natives off our mines and prime farmland, the nation held true to its core principle of using cheap, often foreign, labor to make a tiny coterie of men very wealthy. Most other people didn’t really care, because they were busy farming or killing indians or getting rich in Western mines every day and blowing it all on whores every night.

But then something happened that the elite did not expect. Some poor people asked if maybe they could work a few hours less or maybe make a little bit more money or maybe not run the risk of death or dismemberment in the performance of their jobs.

They were promptly shot or beaten to death by police or the local militia, which usually settled matters, but then more people stepped forward to make…I can barely type the word…demands.

Most of these pitifully poor commoners were inspired by the book, I Can’t Fit Through The Gears No More, written by a 12 year old boy who’d been employed since the age of three to lubricate the fast-spinning gears of a local machining plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania for the princely sum of .03 cents a day.

Shortly after completing his memoir, the boy found himself stuck within the teeth of two massive gears, bringing the entire operation to a screeching halt. After a few moments, steam pressure increased and the boy dutifully greased the gearing with his innards and production continued apace.

The boy’s parents, who also worked at the plant, were each docked a month’s pay, forbidden from shopping at the company store, and forced to sell most of their children to wealthy cattlemen out West to cover the lost profit brought about by the brief cessation of plant production.

Andrew Carnegie called the slap-on-the-wrist a “sign of the weakening fortitude of this great nation” and “proof of the corrupting influence of the swarthy Eastern European oaf and his Papist superstitions.”

What’s more, these ne’er-do-wells banded together for common cause to effect social and economic change for their own benefit. Now, it should be said that these lazy scofflaws who only worked 86 hours a week — with a 30 minute break for church on Sundays, mind you! — were promptly beaten or shot to death until Teddy Roosevelt realized that if the wealthy elite didn’t lose a little bit of money by granting some of these requests, they would most assuredly lose all of it after the impending Communist revolution and resulting purges murdered them all.

Sickened by the thought of soot-covered ragamuffins diving into the mountains of treasure stored deep within their vaults under the earth, the robber barons reluctantly relented and allowed the enactment of nation-destroying reforms.

So, for a brief aberration in our nation’s history, working hours were reduced, wages increased, workplace safety was regulated, and more people collectively prospered than during any previous period of American history. The dystopian future imagined by J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller had finally come to pass.

Luckily, this abhorrent state of affairs was merely a passing fancy, as rapid globalization and the collapse of Communism meant that cheap, foreign labor could again be exploited (this time in actual foreign countries!), allowing the elite to pursue their birthright of increasing their vast wealth whilst impoverishing their fellow countrymen as commanded by their god.