The Levers of Human Possibility
Let Them Eat Cake, Let Them Eat Oxycodone, and Let Them Reach Their Possibility
This is a tiny essay about levers of human possibility.
Let me begin with the opposite of a “lever of human possibility”. An abyss of human possibility, a place in which it stumbles, falls, shatters. Here’s an example. I don’t think there’s been a scam as colossal in modern economic history as American healthcare. 300 million people times hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime…only to get in return falling life expectancy. Nothing I can think of even remotely approaches that scale of a textbook scam, which is just something that takes resources from you, but gives no value back to you.
Can you think of a moment in history when a society just…let its citizens die? I can think of many moments when poor societies have made bad choices. But this is not that: this is a rich society choosing not to give its people life, even though it can easily afford to.
I have to go back, way back, in history to find a a parallel, because there simply aren’t any in modern times. The last such moment that I can think of is Marie Antoinette’s infamous “let them eat cake”. Of course, it preceded revolution.
But that revolution was not a simple line from monarchy to democracy. It was a series of revolutions, backward then forward, with a reign of terror in between, where tyranny and summary execution were the law of the land. So revolutions are not what we think they are. Often they take us in exactly the wrong direction, sometimes, like in the case of France, the wheels of revolution threaten to fall off the vehicle of progress entirely.
Today America is already having a kind of revolution. That is what Trumpism is. The establishment has said to the people, “let them eat oxycodone”. In return, a good half of the people have said, “damn the establishment”, even if it costs them their own futures. But that is only reasonable: most of those people don’t have futures as things stand.
So we already live amidst the first inklings of revolution. As in France, this first revolution is not an unalloyed good. To most educated people, it seems to be bad. And should it end in tyranny, should the reign of terror it already seems to portend come to be, it surely will be.
Yet there is much for us to learn. The most important moments of the French Revolution to me were twofold. First, the abolition of feudalism. This was the moment when a social structure, a way of life that seemed to previous generations carved in stone, was shattered forever. Second, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was the first genuinely universal declaration of human rights in history (America’s of course, did not apply to its very own slaves).
Today, if we are to make this revolution we already live in meaningful, better, worthwhile, then we must pursue similar aims. FDR aimed at such with his Second Bill of Rights. The UN, with its various declarations of rights, its development goals, and so on. These might seem like rhetoric to you, but for poor and struggling people worldwide, they have been the levers that have lifted them at least to some degree out of poverty.
But now we are the ones who need such levers, aren’t we? We need those levers more than we need leaders. Because the levers come first, they outlive the leaders, and they are the purpose of the leaders. Such levers all say the same thing, really: not let them eat cake, nor let them eat oxycodone, but let them live up to their fullest potential in this tiny and brief life. That is what justice and love both are, if they are anything at all.
So. Today’s leaders are thinking small. They are bought and sold, mostly, like commodities, to and from laughing oligarchs. That is the ugly truth. It is up to us then, to think big. The oligarchs and their puppets are ignorant of history and blind to possibility. It is up to us then, to open our eyes. To imagine, to share, to create, the levers of human possibility. Which have always lifted human souls up into the light.