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The Bank of Anne Boleyn

In this scene from The Tudors, Henry VIII confers on the Lady Anne Boleyn the noble title of Marquess of Pembroke and a little something to keep her self-esteem up:

Lucky girl, especially considering that up to this point, no one was getting f^&*ed except the Marquess’s new subjects.

Thursday: Lords, Serfs and Change!

By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to an overnight camping trip with 100 7th graders.  I know your prayers will be with me that I will survive the night.  I’m just not sure prayers will be enough.  Needless to say, I won’t be posting tomorrow morning.

Now, to follow up on the post from yesterday about misinterpretation of Darwin.  The feudal system derives its power from violent struggle and getting the other guy before he gets you. And many of our fronteir ancestors had an opportunity to practice a sort of fedalism in isolation as they scooped up resources.  As James Burke pointed out, those pioneers turned out to be the forerunners of our modern business culture where there is a wild west, anything goes brutality about the way things are done.  But feudal, stratified societies have been toppled before.  Let’s take a look at medieval Europe for example.

Back in the middle ages, the population was divided into three basic food groups: the aristocracy, the clergy and everybody else.  The lords owned everything that wasn’t owned by the church.  Everyone else was left to scrabble over what was left.  If you were a serf back then, you couldn’t leave the manor without permission.  Even free born people could be expected to put in a certain amount of work for the lord, with a meager pay.  If you did manage to end up in town on business and remain there for a year and a day, theoretically, the lord couldn’t force you back on the farm.  But the grim reality was that the lords could get away with a lot.  The clergy’s role was to maintain the status quo and keep everyone’s eyes on the prize- the afterlife.  That kept the peasants in their place and the monasteries fat and happy.

Back then, Aristotle was king.  The clergy prevented a lot of scientific discovery because they tended to revere the old classics.  Besides, why ruin a good thing?  The status quo was working out so well.  Back then, a craftsman or someone with a smidgeon of book learning who had a good idea based on direct experience was the butt of ridicule and a menace to society.  Change happened very slowly because there was no need to change.  Everyone in the aristocracy and the clergy were perfectly content to keep things as they were.  It was all tickety boo.

Then the bubonic plague hit and wiped out a great big chunk of the population.  Oh, how the worm had turned.  Suddenly, there weren’t enough people to till the lord’s land and the damn serfs started to get all uppity.  They demanded higher wages.  Well, the nerve!  But it was to get worse for the clergy and academicians.  All of the sudden, there were craftsmen all over the place doing things their way and experimenting.  Well, who was going to stop them?  Before you knew it, the seeds of the Renaissance had been planted and a century later, great works of art and architecture were all over Europe.

So, a catastrophe does have the potential to work in our favor, at least in one case.  But were there other examples?  Yep.  In the 18th century, in France, the aristocracy got a little careless.  There was also a major financial catastrophe as well.  I can’t remember all of the details but it involved some CFO that France hired who got them way over their heads in debt.  The end result was higher taxes for the working guy, followed by bad weather, that lead to the average French literally starving for bread. The bourgeousie started to get restless.  It all came to a head when they directed their frustration on the Bastille, symbol of the state’s power over them.  Before they knew it, they were marching on Versailles and dragging their monarchs out of their silk stockings.  It got very nasty for several years as the sans coulottes purged the countryside of their aristocracy.  And there was a second revolution about 50 years later to adjust for the failures of the first.

The Great Depression was a  catastrophe of sorts.  It also transformed society but in our case, the government stepped in to reform itself.  This is somewhat unusual.  We had Hoovervilles and protests and life was grim.  But there wasn’t a revolution.  Roosevelt just barely nipped that in the bud.  We came very close though.  But what FDR demonstrated was that it was possible to make adjustments to the system that would dampen the disparities in income and social stratum and prosperity followed for many decades.

Um, that’s not what we have with the Obama administration.  No, these guys seem to be focussed on keeping the aristocracy fat and happy, at your expense.  We are very much back to the feudal model.  The bankers get all of the taxpayer money.  You, the taxpayer, get nothing.  And Obama is coddling the religious right as well, making sure that entrenched attitudes regarding gender and sexuality remain firmly in place, limiting the ability of women and the gay community from making contributions to society, and focussing our attention once again on the afterlife.  As we have seen from Dakinikat’s earlier post, Obama and his finance guys are getting failing grades from economists.   They have failed to get tough with our lords and make demands of them.  Therefore, the recession/depression is expected to last longer and have a significant impact on employment levels and GDP for an extended period of time.  And THAT is going to have an effect on Social Security, which is dependent on a growing economy to keep the system solvent.

Now, some of you may wonder if this is by design.  Maybe the lords have unlimited power to keep us all in a state of serfdom.  The loot at will and terrorize us with lack of income while they plunder the world’s human resources looking for the next cheap source of labor.  Well, yeah!  Of course they would- if they could get away with it.  And so far, our society has told them that such a thing is not only possible, it is desirable.  We reward these people lavishly and are vulnerable to the propaganda that if they don’t have their taxbreaks and perks, they won’t be able to create jobs.  The newest propaganda is a doozy.  See, if you are laid off, don’t despair.  You are being sacrificed for the greater good!  The company/corporation wouldn’t be able to grow if you were still employed.  If you still want your job, you are just being selfish and depriving one of your still employed colleagues from having a paycheck.  You are a martyr for the cause!  Feel good about your joblessness.  Embrace it.  Think of it like a wildfire in the forest, restoring the environment with new life.  You will find another job in the new economy.  Oh, it doesn’t pay as much?  Well, we never promised you a rose garden.  Loooooser.

The bad part of that model is that we will probably plunge ourselves into a new Dark Ages.  If all of the resources belong to the corporations and new aristocracy and the consultant class continues to drive research, we can look forward to a long period of stagnation.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be discoveries.  It’s just that the only ones that will be developed are the ones the owners decide they want and their stinginess can afford.  We’ll start to resemble those countries where there are a lot of very creative people who are kept in their places by the people who do not desire change because it might upset their way of life.  Come to think of it, the Villagers are the most visible representation of this class of people and they were gung-ho over Obama.

I would just caution Obama and his team to be careful how they handle this crisis.  Those French bakers had no idea that storming the Bastille would turn into a rout. It’s just that irresistable force met immovable object and something had to give.  It’s the nature of Change!™  and there are more serfs than there are lords.