Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Wars of the Roses

Dark clouds bring waters
When the bright bring none.
Yea, dark or bright,
If they their silver drops
Cause to descend, the earth,
By yielding crops,
Gives praise to both,
and carpeth not at either,
But treasures up the fruit
they yield together.

It was a dry winter and now that spring is here, the rains have arrived. And yet hardly a day goes by that we don't see the sun for a space. When the wind whips up the clouds will scatter, and with any luck will herald a spell of warmth and sun. The seasons roll by paying no heed whatsoever to our plans.
And we pursue our plans without much regard for the weather of a day, sometimes to our cost. The example that springs to mind is a pair of global warming zealots who embarked on a trek to the South Pole to document in words and pictures the truth of their convictions. Alas, their lifeless bodies were found frozen solid in their tents. Discovered by chance sighting by a pilot taking an unusual route to his destination, it is speculated that they didn't realize that when it's summer in the northern hemisphere it is winter in the south. In our warm and cozy civilized existence it's entirely possible to spend a lifetime being stupid without suffering any inconvenience, but outside of that protective cocoon stupidity is often fatal.
I have just finished reading a book called Malory, a sort of biography of the author of the perennially popular Le Morte D'Arthur. I say sort of because very little is known of this Thomas Malory. The biographer, Christina Hardyment, fleshes out the story with a great deal of imagination. Normally, I would find this approach to border on the dishonest, but she does a very good job. Still, it is more of a history of Malory's times than anything else, but framed in the context of the kind of circumstances in which he lived. This was the era of the Wars of the Roses in 1400's England. A very confused time of contention between the Yorks and the Lancastrians for the kingship of England. It must have been a time of deep divisions among the English people, as well. The merchants of London were gaining importance compared to the feudal agrarianism of the past, and the political climate was intense.
Strangely, it reminds me in some ways of our present political situation. Henry VI inherited the throne from his father Henry V who is famous for his conquests in France. Under his leadership half of France came under English rule. Henry VI married the strong willed Margaret of Anjou who became Queen of England, and the real ruler of the country. This is where the similarities begin. She was opposed to the war in France and gathered around the throne powerful interests who were also against the war. In addition, she greatly expanded the size of government, and raising taxes. The general population was not too happy about about either policy. They wanted to keep the English possessions in France, and they wanted the number of people enriching themselves at the taxpayers expense to be reduced.
You can only carry these things so far. History never quite repeats itself. Yet there does seem to be something cyclical about it. Periods of peace alternate with periods of war. The divisions in American society are very deep, and have been growing deeper for most of my life. One side believes all problems can be solved by government. Health care is the flashpoint. Putting medical services under the control of a huge bureaucracy effectively turns the US into a Marxist Lite communist state and diminishes the autonomy of every individual citizen. Power is concentrated in fewer hands, most of them invisible to the citizenry. A free press should make this impossible to happen, but it seems the media has been largely taken over by the bureaucratic class. The Democratic Party is the public face of this faction in a somewhat similar way that Henry IV was the public face of the government party. Curiously, his queen disdained her adopted country and did everything she could to undermine England's prospects in France. For all intents and purposes she was a French agent who lacked any concern for English history and institutions at the very least. Knowing that she and her henchmen were growing unpopular, she resorted to increasingly despotic policies. Her enemies, real or imagined, were quite likely to lose their heads.
It hasn't reached that stage yet in the US, but I don't expect the Democrats to easily relinquish their grip on power, even if they lose the coming elections in November. The government party's hatred of Sarah Palin is truly illuminating. It is not so much Sarah they hate, but all the Joe the Plumbers and all the soccer moms, and just about anyone who isn't part of their clique. Sarah Palin is just a proxy for the rest of us. It is us that Keith Olberman, Bill Maher, Sean Penn and all the rest hate. That's why they see nothing wrong with having union goons beat up a man in a wheelchair, or why they think a Down's syndrome child is a joke.
Right now, Americans are just beginning to figure this stuff out. So far there is no Edward IV to rally round- unless Sarah Palin is the one. The two personalities have characteristics in common. Edward was a magnanimous man who tried to reconcile his foes by issuing them pardons and promoting them to important positions. Sarah Palin has that generosity of spirit. However, reconciliation didn't work then. Old foes bided their time until they were strong enough to go on the attack. First one side then the other gained the upper hand, and as it went on the struggle grew bloodier. Will something like that happen in our future? Will Americans settle their differences peacefully, or is a new civil war in store?
If so none of us will be unaffected. The same divisions plaguing the US are visible in every Western society. It feels to me like we are in for a change of seasons.

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