As it turns out, failure was an option after all.
And, in point of fact, it turns out that failure was the only option.
Failure, it seems, was hardwired into the plan right from the very start.
Try to imagine my surprise.
Back in the early 70’s, writing under the penname James Tiptree Jr., the haunted writer Alice Bradley Sheldon penned a sad and chilling story.
It was intended, this story, as a cautionary tale, a terrible example of instinct and biology over reason and intelligence.
Now, there is nothing particularly unusual about that per se, given that Dr. Sheldon wrote many subtly chilling stories in the 70’s, arguably some of the most chilling and subtle tales ever put down on paper (seriously, read The Screwfly Solution sometime, that goddamned thing still gives me the willies, especially when you realize what Sheldon was really getting at). Sheldon herself was a deeply troubled and tragic figure whose life ended in a manner right out of one of her dark and terrible nightmares, but in spite of – or maybe because of – her demons she was also a complex and fascinating storyteller and an absolute master of disturbing cautionary tales – unsurprising given that her docorate was in psychology and that she had been many things in her strange life, from a wealthy Hyde Park socialite on safari in darkest Africa to WWII soldier to Cold War CIA spook to chicken farmer to award winning writer and finally to cunning murderer and a suicide (the noun, not the verb).
In Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death, Sheldon told the story of a spider-like creature doomed by inexorable biology to first a gradual loss of its intelligence and self awareness, and then ultimately to violent death – squint your eyes and think Alzheimer’s victim crossed with a praying mantis’ sex life dropped into the middle of a war zone and you’re in something resembling roughly the right ballpark. Imagine how terrible a life-cycle that would be for any sentient being. Self destruction is hardwired into the creature’s genes. In the story, the pitiful protagonist is fully aware of what is happening and struggles heroically against its fate, having come to believe that love can indeed conquer all – even genes.
Sheldon wasn’t a happy person and her stories rarely, if ever, had a happy ending. At the end of Plan, the poor creature succumbs to the mindless unthinking individual tragedy of its species’ fate – for in Sheldon’s world brutal biology cannot be denied, even by love (and here there is a truly horrible parallel to Alice Sheldon’s own fate, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader*).
I couldn’t help but be reminded of Love Is The Plan The Plan Is Death last week when the so-called Congressional Super-Committee emerged at last from its spider hole and announced triumphantly that they had succeeded in failing – exactly as planned.
Like most Americans, I suspect, I was disgusted but not surprised.
As I wrote in the previous post, the committee’s failure to reach any kind of agreement on debt reduction is a surprise to absolutely nobody, except perhaps the aforementioned lovesick spider.
The committee itself was born of failure on the part of Congress – failure to do the job that Congress was elected to do in the first place, failure to keep their oath so help me God, failure to place their duty to country above their personal agendas and politics, failure to listen to all of their constituents and not just the ones with the open checkbooks, failure to perform their Constitutionally and legally mandated function, failure of leadership, failure of reason and intellect, failure of democratic government, and a complete and utter failure of moral courage.
The Super-Committee was designed to fail by a Congress that is itself an utter failure. It was stocked with men and women who swore to fail – how different would our situation be today if only these same disingenuous sons of bitches had fought as steadfastly for their oath to the people and the country and the Constitution as they do for their non-binding promise of allegiance to a rich lobbyist?
Sadly, the creation and ultimate inevitable failure of the super-committee is itself not the disease, it’s a symptom of a much deeper malady.
Because, see, ultimately the mere existence of such a congressional super-committee is an expression of abject failure on the part of Americans to maintain and operate their democracy in any but the most mindless and instinctual manner.
Failure, it would seem, was hardwired into the committee’s genes right from the day of its birth.
I’ve written about the inexorability of fate before.
But here’s the thing: as I said in The Inexorable White Whale, the simple truth of the matter is that I don’t, in fact, believe in fate or destiny or pre-ordination. You can change your fate. You can. There are a thousand places, more, where we can change the course of our history.
We know what has to be done.
We are not Sheldon’s alien spider.
Failure is not hardwired into our genes.
The super-committee didn’t have to fail. It could have worked. It could have worked if its members had placed the nation above their own childish politics. It could have worked if those who formed the committee and selected its members actually wanted it to succeed. It could have worked if Americans demanded that it succeed and held its members responsible for failure.
But of course, the very same thing could be said of Congress itself – and should be. Every single day.
The super-committee is an admission by Congress that they, both the House and Senate, are unable and unwilling to avoid descent into mindless savagery.
Every single member of congress knows what has to be done. We must cut spending. We must raise taxes. We must do both. It’s like losing weight, the only way to take it off and keep it off is diet and exercise. There is no other solution. Everything else is just window dressing. You know it. I know it. And every single member of the government knows it. The solution is painful, just as losing weight is painful and difficult and hard, but ultimately if you don’t do it, it will kill you.
Unlike Sheldon’s poor alien, Congress has a choice.
And they choose this path. The path of moral cowardice. The path of failure.
As I have said on numerous occasions, I spent my entire life in the military and despite now being retired from active service I continue to hold my oath to the county and Constitution dear. I am opposed to violent revolution. I am opposed to smashing windows and lighting the country on fire. I’ve been to war, I know what it looks like and I don’t think it’s necessary here. Yet. I believe that the system is damaged, bent and battered and sore used, but I still have faith in the country and the system our forefathers designed.
I believe in America.
I believe that unlike Sheldon’s unhappy alien spiders our fate can be changed.
I don’t believe that we must be victims of our political biology.
But I will say this: while I would neither condone nor encourage it, and would likely actively fight against it, if the members of Congress are ultimately dragged from their ivory towers and hung from the nearest lampposts I’ll be neither surprised nor will I shed a tear for their fate – for they have well and truly earned it.
Hopefully such won’t be necessary to change our destiny.
I read with sour amusement political analyst Charlie Cook’s comment this morning,
“Voters hardly seem inclined to reward either party, instead, we may well see many incumbents – those wearing blue Democratic jerseys as well as those wearing red Republican ones – thrown out the window, not so much because of their uniforms but because of their proximity to windows…”
I certainly hope so.
* If you want to learn more about the fascinating and tragic life of Dr. Alice Bradley Sheldon, AKA James Tiptree Jr., AKA Racoona Sheldon, an excellent place to start is Julie Phillips’ meticulously researched and gripping James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. Highly recommended, even if you’re not a fan of science fiction and have never heard of Tiptree before. Printed versions are available from the usual sources, and it’s now apparently available on the web.