Eat my shorts. Quintessentially Bart Simpson and a brilliant encapsulation of all that makes absolute power so delicious and such a worthwhile goal to pursue. Telling somebody to “eat my shorts” is sweet, because it is such a succinct way of telling someone You can whine all you want, but I can pretty much do whatever I want. Deal with it.
No normal person would deny ever fantasizing about the day she could verbally deliver those words (whether it be Bart’s or the latter) to her boss (if not the present one, one of those in the past). Most Manila drivers will probably have at one time or another dreamed of driving a tank through a jeepney-infested thoroughfare while gleefully listening to the sound of one of those national eyesores — or, better yet, ten of them — crunching underneath its treads. And most certain of all, the average Microsoft Windows user will have visualised, at least once in a day, his HP laptop in pieces on the floor after having smashed it against the wall.
The thing about having power is that you don’t have to treat people or stuff nice. You can use, abuse, then discard as convenient. It is usually those who don’t have power who wax poetic about democratic ideals, fairness, egalitarian values, justice, peace, universal prosperity, and all things green. Those who have power simply pander enough to those loser sentiments to ensure that the natives they rule over don’t get restless — or, worse, cluey enough to realise what a pathetic bunch of chumps they are.
The funny and ironic thing is that everyone thinks they are “empowered”. That perception of empowerment comes from a number of things unique to this age of unprecedented civil “rights” and purchasing “power”.
There is, for one, the illusion that “due process” is guaranteed for all and that the past scourge of absolute power routinely held by a few men has now been curtailed by modern approaches to governance.
Another is the consumerisation of technology. Computing power that was once limited to the pursuit of solutions to big complex problems is now routinely used for “liking” photos of two-year olds celebrating their birthdays in $20,000 parties thrown by their parents.
A third is an abundance of “choice”. At no previous time in history have people been faced with so much choice across so few options. In supermarkets today, there are, for example, entire aisles stocked with hundreds of varieties of what is essentially a handful of sorts of food — corn chips, sweetened carbonated water, and dehydrated “instant” noodles.
Perhaps then the perception of empowerment “enjoyed” by 21st Century humans is really no more than an illusion of power afforded them by people who hold real power — much like how a collection of fish swim around none the wise about how their “natural” environment is actually the handiwork of a skilled aquarium enthusiast. Due process made complicated that it requires expensive lawyers to navigate, computing power made so cheap that we are compelled to “upgrade” every 12 months, and such vast choice that makes us believe we acquire “value” with every purchase does not make the average schmoe any more powerful than those tropical fish in a well-laid-out fish tank. Power has not really shifted. Modern governance, technology, and commerce just made the powerful more likeable.
The Norman (French) warlord William the Conqueror, subdued his English subjects by slaughtering peasants and laying waste to their villages, because he can — to show the fortunate survivors (who he perhaps spared lest he runs out of serfs to till his fields) who’s the new boss. Suffice to say, he wasn’t a very nice guy, and certainly not likeable by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, democracy is as rare as it is recent. For most of human history, it was the sword that ruled and it was cruel greedy men who wielded said sword and wore the crown.
Modern “civilisation” has not blunted this sword. It has merely sugarcoated and anaesthetised its blade — packaged it in such a way that its essentially powerless “practitioners” now gladly assume the position and invite it to be thrust in. All the while modern politicians have the bonus benefit of being “liked” by their constituents. It makes their job of screwing their subjects a bit more, shall we say, “civilised” — so much so that while we laugh with Bart Simpson, the irony in his philosophy remains so lost in us.
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