Monday, February 1, 2010

Emanuel Derman: The Great Wall of Ungovernable America

The commander-in-chief—so you’ve heard—has begun a mission to fix the system, directly from his office, for us, the citizens in all the states. He ordered his chief of staff, his aides and his secretaries to come to the oval room and attend a meeting, a meeting so important that only they were informed of it. They listened to his plan for eliminating war, bringing healthcare to everyone, ensuring a good education for all children, smoothing the grosser inequalities in pay, fixing the financial system, harnessing corporations, removing conflicts of interest, returning to a volunteer army of citizens, building infrastructure. Then he sent them off to write bills and take them to the people. They head out at once, tireless, making their way through the visiting crowds and reporters, intending to speak to congressman and senators, governors and state legislators, town halls and citizens. If any of them run into resistance, they point to the flag on their lapel pin. They move forward easily, appointments set up with the powerful first and the citizens later. But the number of people they must persuade is so huge; their dwelling places are infinite. If the commander liked action more than words, if the capitol were an open field, if the lobbyists weren’t being sent to harass and dissuade them, if money weren’t power, if officials weren’t worried about their next election and the jobs they might get if they were voted out of office, if they weren’t appearing on talk shows, then soon all the commander-in-chief’s men and women would be moving for the common good. But instead, how futile are the efforts. The aides are still dealing with the inhabitants of the capital, lunching and being lunched, seeking and denying power. Never will they win their way out of the capitol. And if they did, they would have to battle past meetings with lobbyists and ceo’s, thousands upon thousands, filled to bursting with food and liquor. And if they finally reached the outskirts of the capital city—but that can never, never happen— the capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of them, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a mission from a talkative man. But you sit at your screen and dream of that mission when the channels go silent.

(adapted from The Great Wall of China, Franz Kafka)

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