In the Billings zoo, there is a small, Plexiglas enclosure housing a family of pygmy marmosets. When you approach the glass, they dash back to cower against the trunk of their artificial tree. But if you stand there long enough, the lead marmoset will venture back out on a branch at head height. Once he is eye to eye with you, he will yawn and blink, flashing his teeth and upper lids in threat. Primates held captive by other primates, the marmosets persist in behaviors towards us which appear a little silly in their current situation with its artificial constraints and artificial accommodations. However, it is the best that they can do, as their alternatives are battering themselves to death against the glass or succumbing to madness. I consider my own situation to be no different, and I don’t consider myself special.
If we are really being honest, we must admit that the move to agriculture has been a disaster. Since our domestication, we’ve tried to make the best of it. Most of our efforts to spiff up domestic existence have gone into building transparent boxes for ourselves – titles, cubicles, buildings, polities – and equipping them with life-like accommodations. The remainder of our efforts have gone into building boxes for others, (our little cousins in the zoo for example), to make us feel more comfortable with our own enclosures.
Political organizations have been no small part of our attempt to settle in to domestication. They have been a great tool, as they incorporate lots of toothy yawns and exaggerated blinks in their proceedings, and those gestures are as natural and comforting for us as they are for the marmosets. However, political organizations sometimes take themselves too seriously. Most seriously, they sometimes propose that they can offer a final reconciliation and teach us to love the box. Europe and Asia have endured the stewardship of such true believers and, perhaps excepting the Russians, have learned to revile it.
Over here, in the terrarium tagged “U.S. of A.”, we have been slightly more fortunate. Our politicians have flirted with Great Societies and Shining Cities, but have been good players and hypocrites, rather than true believers. Right now, the Republicans are flirting with – something? – that they say will constitute the ideal box. I can’t quite make out the lines of their sketch. It’s either a homogenous, industrious God-and-Country, or a socioeconomic free-range game park. It doesn’t matter. When it’s time to commit to their vision, they won’t. To do so would mean the beginning of stewardship and the end of all the yawning and blinking, and the latter is what’s made them as happy as they can be in their own little box. We should be glad to be ruled by the foolish and the weak, considering the alternative. It is the best that we can do, even if it is a little sad. As a proud pessimist, I am hopeful and confident that the new Republican congress will live up to my expectations.