Monday, March 29, 2010

The Sad Strange Story of Samuel Patronus

When I was a kid I liked my old Uncle Samuel. He wasn’t actually my uncle, he was an old family friend, an old boy friend of my old maid aunt Irene, my father’s sister. But, as they say, that’s another story.

My Uncle Samuel was someone we liked to have around. He was a relaxed, easy-going guy, living a comfortable suburban life in a town about 25 miles from where we lived. He came to lots of family picnics at 4th of July celebrations and George Washington’s birthday. He was liked and respected—even loved. He was a pillar of his community, a man who worked hard, earned a good living with a comfortable surplus in the bank, paid his bills on time, was interested in education and supported the arts and cultural events, cared about the less fortunate, volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, was civil in his politics and friendly with his neighbors.

Sometime over the years he changed. The change was gradual at first, but he became noticeably worse when he began to hang around with a new gang of friends. He began to act and think like them. That’s when he began to go wrong. It’s a truly sad story.

He started going to a new church. On the surface it sounded pretty much like the same traditional Christian church he had grown up with. But as he got into it more he learned that there were some differences and he bought into those differences. Samuel used to be humble, and he believed that humility was a virtue, but in his new church he learned that humility was for weaklings and he was taught the arrogance of power, that might makes right, that political power is necessary to bring about rule by those who believed as he did, and that with the exercise of power he could dominate others and change the laws to support his religious beliefs and values, and that with perpetual power and control he could destroy all political opposition—he could perpetually dominate others and control their lives. He could tell them what to believe, and what TV programs to watch to get the “right” views. He learned that religion was a tool to be used to obtain and hold on to power and to control the lives of others.

At one time he was compassionate, but his new friends convinced him that compassion was wasted on the poor, that God made the rich and the poor and that he rewards all according to what they deserve—so that the rich are sharing God’s blessing and the poor are such because they have not exerted the energy to lift themselves out of poverty and so they deserve their condition. In God’s wisdom he has made the strong and the weak, and the strong are destined to rule over the weak. That is God’s will. That is God’s way.

He began to work against the institutions of our society that feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, and clothe the poor, and he did all this in the name of his new religion that taught there was no legitimate place in our society for common community effort in support of the weak and powerless in our society because such efforts would place an unfair burden upon the rich, who were ordained in their status and must not be compelled to share their bounty with those who had less.

I remember Sam in the old days before he was converted to the new state religion, when he valued education and supported science and the arts. But his new friends convinced him that education was dangerous unless it was under control of those who believed as he did and that education needed to be managed so that dangerous ideas did not undermine the values of the new religion. So he worked to undermine education, particularly in science. He weakened science programs by requiring mythology to be taught along with evolutionary science, as if they were somehow equals, the mythology masquerading as another version of science. He fought against sex education with the odd argument that knowledge would encourage immoral behavior. He fought against academic programs for the gifted on the grounds that such programs were elitist and he worked to require endless testing of trivia in the schools so that schools did not have the time or the energy to devote to academic performance or to encourage the best students with rigorous work. He fought against programs to educate the best and brightest to the level they could attain and he encouraged mediocrity and teaching to the bottom of the class so that no one would feel left out or left behind and all could be equally mediocre.

Uncle Samuel’s previously gentle nature disappeared and his strangest behavior began when he started to play video games regularly. Quickly he acquired a taste for violent war games. He could not get enough of them. He played them night and day to the exclusion of most everything else in his life. Playing war games made him feel big and powerful and patriotic. To feed his passion for war games he bought bigger and more expensive equipment on which to play his games, and because the games were expensive he borrowed heavily to fund his passion. He used up his line of credit on several credit cards and then he mortgaged his house to fund his games. His friends noticed that he became increasingly irrational. He became unreasonable and crotchety when anyone questioned his passion and his involvement. He got his friends involved in the games, sometimes reluctantly, but he pressured them into playing the games with him. When his friends indicated lack of interest, he became angry and abusive and cut off his contact and his friendship.

He picked fights with his neighbors, even with those with whom he had natural interests that would seem to require him to get along with them.. His neighbors began to dislike, disrespect, fear and avoid him. In the annual neighborhood association meetings they no longer listened to him or took him seriously.

He was deeply in debt and the financial mess he had created for himself led to his eventual bankruptcy. He lost his house. He lost his friends. He lost his respect.

The story of my Uncle Samuel is truly a sad story. We miss the uncle he used to be.

1 comment:

Knight Fork and Spoon said...

That was fun to read and a nice perspective on the current decline of support for the public good.

However I think that Uncle Samuel used to keep slaves and kill Native Americans. He invaded and set up client states throughout Central and South America. He even annexed Hawaii. He spent a decade crushing the native independence revolt of the Phillipines.

Although I don't always like or trust Uncle Samuel, and think that democracy is constantly endangered by monied interests over against the utilitarian public good, I still prefer him to the chaos and anti-government sedition proposed by rightwing political entertainers and some Republicans.