Of Metaphors and Men… or A Tale of Two Metaphors

Part 1: “IT, the Creature That Dismantled My Country!”

For my recent weeklong trip to Arizona, I packed just two books: one was Lawrence Lessig’s (non-fiction, political) Republic, Lost, and the other was a Theodore Sturgeon short story collection titled Not Without Sorcery — a mélange of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.  Although I’m as impressed as ever with Lessig’s excellent book, it is Sturgeon’s opening short story, “It”, that has my blogging-wheels churning, of late.  Aside from being the first tale in the tome, “It” is the lone HORROR story in Not Without Sorcery, providing a blood-curdling prelude to an otherwise light and whimsical series.  But make no mistake: “It” is OOZINGLY horrific. 

How “oozingly horrific” is IT?  Why, it’s so unutterably ghastly that IT reminded me of WHAT’S HAPPENING TO AMERICA RIGHT NOW… 

[WARNING: This blog contains some Sturgeon story SPOILERS.]

Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” features an unliving-yet-animate confederation of muck, mold, and, yes, the long-neglected remains of a person (including some bones and a metal skull plate) — basically a “boogeyman” on the prowl. 

…I just caught myself about to describe It as a creature of “pure malevolence,” but such a description (aside from being a hackneyed cliché) would be inaccurate.  Its acts are terrible indeed, but Sturgeon’s creation is explicitly not a creature of malice.  When It snatches up small plants and field creatures — rending, smashing, and grinding them against itself — the monster is merely following an irresistible instinct to do whatever it can to increase its understanding of the world.  Lacking knowledge, it is ultimately naïve (amoral, insatiable, and pitiless… but naïve). 

But I do not wish to dwell overlong on the character of It, which is only tangentially related to my point.  [Though I welcome you to think of Sturgeon’s It as a metaphor for, say, the Corporatocracy that’s basically running the planet (into the ground): a soulless conglomeration of crud that knows little more than how to destroy things outside of itself (usually outside of itself, anyway) in order to grow by accretion... of knowledge, raw materials, bailout trillions, homes, human beings -- any(every)thing it can absorb.  Think Wal-Mart, Monsanto, or Goldman Sachs.]  

What I found so devastating in Sturgeon’s short story was his gruesome description of the muck-monster’s dismantling of a dog.  The author does not linger overlong on details, nor does he need to — the thought is sufficiently revolting.  I grew up with dogs, and I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve loved some of the dogs I’ve known — it would be fair to say that I found this part of the story fairly wrenching…

AND YET, IN THIS GRUESOME SCENE, I CANNOT HELP BUT SEE A METAPHOR FOR WHAT’S HAPPENING TO AMERICA, RIGHT NOW:  THE NATION IS BEING DISMANTLED. 

Long-standing public institutions — from the U.S. Postal Service to the national parks and public school systems to bona fide ENTITLEMENTS — are under assault (with Republicans and Democrats, including the president, leading the charge toward MORONIC AUSTERITY and permanent economic contraction).  AS SURE AS THE “SHOCK DOCTRINE” (Neoliberal economics) and CHICKENS COMING HOME TO ROOST, America is being surgically vivisected by Wall Street and the “Fix the Debt” crew, all the way down to our backbone and major organs (with corporations waiting in the wings to privatize what’s left and hook us up to their life support machines, charging us to breathe “their” air, eat “their” food, etc.).  

In previous blogs I’ve tried to impress readers with the significance of the political moment in which we find ourselves.  Americans have every reason to believe that the considerable harm that George W. Bush and Barack Obama have done to America’s economy and institutions (and to the nation’s fundamental character) may be lasting.  As things currently stand, Nixon, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and John Yoo all stand vindicated by President Obama’s wholesale embrace of their most radical legal arguments — and the .01% is celebrating the fruition of the Reagan Revolution and the end of the social compact (and the end of laws, or even consequences, for elite criminals). 

If I may repeat myself, consider what is being undone:

1. The United States Postal Service (victim of Congressional-federal sabotage);

2. The public school system (ditto);

3. Elected government (city councils, mayors, etc. replaced with appointees);

4. The wealth of African-Americans and Hispanics (plundered by Wall Street);

5. The Bill of Rights;

6. Posse comitatus;

7. Constitutional governance;

8. The Rule of Law;

9. America’s infrastructure;

10. Social Security and Medicare;

11. Voting rights; and

12. The Earth’s climate

So, the next time you see me walking around with an expression like someone just killed my dog — well, now you’ll know why.  (Come back, Yeller!)

Part 2: Robert Kuttner’s Got a Nifty Metaphor, Too!

And now, here’s an excerpt from Robert Kuttner’s excellent blog today, featuring his metaphor for the sorry state of America’s political leadership (his metaphor is less ooky than mine, it’s true, but he’s not describing the dismantling of something he loves):

“The economy faces a persistent budget crisis. Pushback from Wall Street has gutted most of the banking reforms, unemployment is stuck around 8 percent, corporate profits have been soaring while there is no wage growth — and the newest White House proposal is… a free trade zone with Europe. This idea of a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area was tossed in, reportedly at the last moment, to President Obama’s State of the Union, and is being promoted in the government’s latest report on trade. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“This is a classic case of changing the subject to a cause that will not address any of the economy’s deeper ills and could well worsen them. It recalls the very old joke about the drunk looking for his keys under a lamp post. He mentions to a cop that he lost the keys somewhere else, but ‘this is where the light is.’”

And there you have a fine metaphor for our leaders in Washington: so buffoonishly inept that one would suspect they are blind drunk – for what have trade pacts done but ELIMINATE American jobs?  Both sides in this Beltway debate should be wearing mile-high dunce caps for ignoring all of Keynesian economics, the entire presidency of FDR, widespread fraud, austerity’s path of destruction in Europe, and the FACT that the U.S. once SPENT OUR WAY out of a considerably deeper fiscal hole (with a far worse debt-to-GDP ratio) than the one we’re in today. 

And yet conservatives today are demanding $2.2 trillion in austerity, while the “Left” — allegedly represented by President Obama and the Dems — is proposing $1.5 trillion of austerityand cuts to entitlements!  (Would you like a full pitcher of arsenic-tea today — or just two-thirds full?  Some choice!)  Neither major political party is proposing anything like putting Americans back to work by rebuilding — and greening – our crumbling infrastructure.  Neither party has begun to address climate change or ending Too Big Too Fail (confronting the REAL “moral hazards” of the world, those big, parasitic babies on Wall Street).  Neither party has discussed ending the Global War of Terror that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and endangers millions more… 

America is being dismantled, our future frittered away — and yet we have NO LEADERS (just two packs of corrupt derelicts, searching for solutions where they know none exist).

It’s true: one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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