Mr. Hyde’s Party

May 11, 2012

In order to understand the lay of the crossroads the U.S. is stalled in —this gridlock of the  right— it occurred to me it might help to start with the premise of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  In his book Stevenson suggests that within even nominally good men an evil twin lurks. I thought that by getting in touch with my personal Mr. Hyde it might help me relate to Republicans.

It was a scary idea, but it seemed like it might be worth a try.

Having convictions about which way to head from this crossroad was not my problem. My problem was in coming to terms with why others in similar economic circumstances, and with the same info available to them, would choose what I see as the road to perdition.

So, I set out to get in touch with this inner Republican, my closet totalitarian, my witch-hunter, my nascent Ayn Rand. I figured, if Stevenson was right, a dark shade must be in here thumping on the dome of my skull looking for a way out in order to hunt, hound and pounce on someone weaker in a hostile take-over.

Maybe this came to mind because our political and economic circumstances in the run-up to a critical election felt to me like Stevenson’s dark take on humanity. The writer’s famous tale opens with a Mr. Enfield telling of an incident that happened during an early morning walk alone in London:

“All at once, I saw two figures: one a little man who was stumping along eastward at a good walk, and the other a girl of maybe eight or ten who was running as hard as she was able down a cross street. Well, sir, the two ran into one another naturally enough at the corner; and then came the horrible part of the thing; for the man trampled calmly over the child’s body and left her screaming on the ground”

It turns out this was Enfield’s first sight of Mr. Hyde, the alter ego of the book’s Dr. Jekyll. Only because Enfield chased and collared Hyde was he forced to even acknowledge that he’d trampled a child —a classic case of a progressive confronting a conservative.

Mr. Hyde’s behavior might be considered emblematic of the way society of a few hundred years past dealt with the children of the poor and the poor in general. As author Bill Bryson wrote of 17th century life in his wonderfully informative book At Home:

“For most human beings, children and adults both, the dominant consideration in life until modern times was purely, unrelievedly economic. In poorer households – and this is what most homes were – every person was, from the earliest possible moment, a unit of production.”

Bryson reminds us that the contemporary 17th century philosopher John Locke suggested that “… the children of the poor should be put to work from the age of three, and (quite remarkable to us —until now) no one thought that unrealistic or unkind.”

Maybe John Locke was his inspiration when Newt Gingrich’s suggested during the GOP primary campaign:

“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child (labor) laws, which are truly stupid. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

So Gingrich (so-called visionary), would return us to the 17th century by simultaneously killing labor and exploiting its children.  After all, as Bryson noted “…every person was, from the earliest possible moment, a unit of production.”

So we can imagine that Gingrich, having pressed elementary school “units of production” into service cleaning urinals, would then be fully John-Locked and loaded, and introduce a bill mandating that “…children of the poor . . . be put to work from the age of three…”

“Ok,” my inner Republican said, “this makes sense —children as units of production. I like it. This will be good for poor children and corporations! Two goods in one fell swoop. Not only would it teach the genetically idle to get off their butts and get a job, but (as another plutocrat, Mitt Romney, noted), the children of the poor would then experience “…the dignity of work.”

The bottom-line beauty of Mitt, Newt and Locke’s vision had my inner Paul Ryan hallucinating the scent of  thousand dollar bills accumulating in executive compensation packages of corporate patrons, and flooding his campaign coffers. A collateral bonus of this bliss was envisioning the justified suffering of all the losers of society —the parasites, the hangers-on, the food-stampers— having to scramble for the crumbs of paragons such as myself.

But wait there’s more!

My personal Mr. Hyde flushed with excitement as he recalled Bryson’s foreshadowing of the Republican state-focused demolition of public education in America’s 21st century by quoting Sir Charles Adderley (England’s 17th century education czar):

“It is clearly wrong to keep ordinary children of the working class at school after the age at which their proper work begins.  To do so would be as arbitrary and improper as it would be to keep the boys at Eton and Harrow at spade labor.”

It was a hideous trip to the brink of the underworld, but it only served to confirm my suspicions about Republican bliss. Their strange pleasure has something in common with the odd satisfaction of bullying suspected gays in high school or pulling the legs off flies.

My short trip riding the mind of a plutocrat through the psychic basment of the GOP taught me that it’s a narcissistic luxury to feel so entitled and to be so shameless that you can  trample the poor and their children while simultaneously greasing the skids for the rich and still be able to sleep at night.

“Republican bliss,” sighed my inner thug, “…thank you Jesus.”

Jim Culleny


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