The courtiers who use isms like machetes and will grind you to dust.

The courtiers who use isms like machetes

In every city, every town and hamlet, there is a small core of men and women who are drawn to the business of proselytizing to their fellows on how best to think or act. They have sought to join courts with no regard to whether they are monarchical, fascist, authoritarian or democratic. What they desire is the pose that is power, to beat their counterparts competition to the throne. I came to these abstract thoughts recently when I was listening to friends of mine praise the efficacy of free markets and the governmental policies needed to maintain this state of affairs. We spoke of informing, educating and cajoling ordinary people to appreciate ‘how markets work’. We raged (with me contributing a lion’s share) at the ignorance and lack of curiosity among people while generously pledging to help find ‘solutions’. Those of an opposite persuasion, among whom I also count not a few friends, speak of the inefficacy of markets and they too seek to inform and empower by educating and advocating for their point of view. The objects of their responsible attentions mill about, ignorant, disempowered, simple minded, blind to real interests according to their saviours. Yet those billions of people know markets intuitively and intimately. They have been buying, selling, exchanging, possessing and being dispossessed every moment of their lives so that their knowledge resides as much in the instinct and unconscious as it does in their diplomas. To them, the market is not the system their self-appointed betters announce they can view from the eagle’s viewpoint. Rather, it is the millions of transactions they conduct: decisions to act driven by past lessons of painful or pleasurable consequences and sometimes by rights and wrongs that are wholly moral.

The courtiers do not allow their ignorance to stand in the way of their fierce competition among themselves to win the right to be the main proselytizer to the people. Ideas are merely weapons in the race to the throne. This is not to say that they are all equally good or bad, or that they are necessarily harmful to the ordinary person. It is to recognise that those who wield them do it more in the fashion of a machete with which they wish to dismember court rivals. It matters not the historical period or the system of government, the court is where the ideas ‘of the (self) anointed’ are deployed. Our broadest and most opposed political categories after all were born when the deputies of the French National Constituent Assembly ranged themselves to the left and right of Louis XVI during that country’s revolution. Absurdity is always present in court: I am told, for instance, that the arrangement of the ‘conservatives’ to the right of Louis or the Speaker and the ‘radicals’ to the left originated from an old custom of a host seating an honoured guests to his right at formal gatherings. Right versus left, fascist versus communist, social democrat versus libertarian, whatever their roots, are mighty war-clubs called isms used by one group of courtiers against another. The rest, meanwhile, sleep, eat, have sex and die, each individual deeply woven into his own material and emotional markets, some which are regulated by some commandment and others in an unregulated flux of pain or pleasure. Each life is a million contradictions, multiple defeats and victories. There is little that is linear in it, even if its owner tries mightily to think it so. Its layers are multiple, their interaction with time not to mention other lives making for such complexity that it is best described as a universe: a whole. Yet the courtiers would have us believe that their idea du jour must be followed by all of us if we are to better understand the system and live better. Their ambition to possess the throne that they believe allows them to make our lives in their image, blinds them to the fact that each of us is a sun in a solar system with billions of planets. Isn’t this self centring how it should be since we only burn for a short while? The reason so many people love pop music or cliché Hollywood films is that we turn the page and eye the film star through the lens of a dynamic and labyrinthine life. So much so that we can even elevate drying, grey paint into great art provided we filter the experience through us. Alas for the courtiers who hold that learned tomes, with their handy advice or diagnosis, are richer in than the inner life of each person. How little their red or green books or manifestos have that is relevant to the totality of my life. Yet observe how much they threaten it with their conceit and determination to replace me as guardian to myself.

To the court’s aspirants, the mass of people remain ignorant though each one is embroiled in an unending transaction of goods, emotion and sensation. Those who would wear the crown disdain the individual life. They only respect those parts of it that can be loaded onto their ism. They are as the knight who would use the sword to introduce new ideas while clearing the path with a scythe of contempt. The victory of the powerful, which initially must be a victory among courtiers, once it leaves the centre to meet its appointed destiny with ordinary people, is nothing less than the denial of their internal human existence. It should come as no surprise that the communists killed as much as the fascists, they were all projects of the powerful striding out of the court and into the hut or the tenement. The solutions of the court are best considered with suspicion by their ostensible beneficiaries. And the time to fear for your individual life is when one group of ism wielders has beaten another for they then turn to you with your ignorant, unscientific and unintellectual life and if left to it will grind it, and probably you, to dust.

Before this happens though, let me turn again to the game at court which is initially one of poses. Power over the mass of people is pretended to exist at all times over all when the house on the hill can scarcely keep up with the goings on in the bush and bed of the peasants’ life. Most courts rarely emerge from their rivalries except to use a public action to consolidate their place in the only contest that matters to them. The ones that manage to win the throne comprehensively, if only for a short time, will be impelled by the momentum from their contest to try and expand the throne to fit into all the public spaces. When that is done, and they have won even that contest, which is no mean feat, they shall clutch at their bloody ism and wield it at the insides of individual lives. They will be for Life and a life, for The Market and not the individual’s varied transactions. The courtier, unable to peer inside the pleb to see how his ism slices and dices, and intent on his own inner voices, shall desire simplification. That is they shall attempt to match their ism with the inner life of most people or at least ensure that it meets no resistance. But people are unable to switch off, to follow the dictates of any ism and so they slip up, and are judged ignorant, unconscious, counter revolutionary or rebellious. Many are killed to ensure the success of this engineering attempt; it is the ultimate simplification. The courtier’s ambitions pursued to their logical extreme require that his life be the only one left on earth. They are driven ultimately by the little voice that never stops promising the sun that it shall become cold and dead soon, no matter how hot it burns now.


About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

5 Responses to The courtiers who use isms like machetes and will grind you to dust.

  1. Hoots says:

    Good post. I am reminded of the saying that if men were angels there would be no need for governments. Articulated another way, if we all agree that one way is correct then that way is sure to work and others will surely fail.

    What history has yet to provide is a workable mechanism allowing ongoing, unresolved conflict without anyone’s paying too dear a price. We run into problems whenever any group or individual seeks to make any system normative for everyone else. The operative word here is “make.” To the extent that others agree, then all is smooth. Only when force is used do problems arise.

    Persuasive arguments, in the end, are more effective than external forces.

  2. ozymandiaz says:

    A few thoughts come to mind…
    Quote, “We are all equal; it’s just that some of us are more equal than others”
    All those who go to the market are part of the market
    All power corrupts and all security is an illusion

    Interesting post. I too find I often shine a pessimistic light upon the doings of man.

  3. Keguro says:

    I am entertained by the post, though would argue with its underlying premise that all contemporary political positions emanate from a Franco-European position.

    I think of T.S. Eliot’s disavowal in “Prufrock,” where he claims to be a jester, to “swell an act or two,” but not to be a principal player. Strategic disavowal, perhaps. Looking at Kenya, I see more jesters than courtiers, which does not mitigate their power or will to power.

    I *do* think there have been, and continue to be, alternative economic and political strategies–witness South American protests at neoliberal initiatives. Isn’t your courtier not the apostle of neoliberal policies? Or, with Foucault, do you suggest that we have not yet cut of the King’s head–looking at Blair and Museveni at the Commonwealth meeting, this might well be the case.

    Thought-provoking. I wonder if there’s a specifically African version, rooted in the chief and his advisors, one that speaks more immediately to fractitious ethnic/tribal politics.

    I’ll stop blogging on your blog.

  4. MMK says:

    Keguro – Blog away on my blog please! Thanks for commenting. Could not agree more with the opinion that most people around power behave more like jesters or court idiots. Just read the post and think it is quite jumbled. I have recently been thinking that there is much the Chiracs, Bushes and Kibakis have in common. Once the curtains are pulled back for any reason, what we see is a stumbling, reactive management. It is more a management of the cloak of power than of any actual real world process. If anything, I am not advocating different strategies of addressing neoliberalism or socialism or whatever. I am probably just feeling sceptical in the classic sense of it as a stressing of knowledge’s uncertainty as a guard against dogmatism, especially the dogmatism of the ‘powerful’

  5. Anonymous says:


    Good thinking.

    Consider then the alternative.

    True freedom where you and I are masters of our own destiny.
    Where gorvernments are answerable to their citizenry.
    Where equal opportunities are open to one and all.

    In short a perfect utopia.
    A total elimination of political, social and economic castes.

    Instead we have a world where from the earliest of our years we are introduced to power through the “powerful prefects” whose effect on your entire school life can be in short devastating think…a daily regimen of panos.

    Then enter the real world and here you have the boss you can’t stand, but pretend to love with your life.
    Reason being he/she can make or destroy your life with a stroke of a pen.

    Such is the role power plays in our lives.
    Hence our obessession with celebrities and their lives.
    Forbes 100 most powerful under 40 list.
    Rich Dad, Poor Dad being one of the most powerful and successful publications since the Bible.
    The stress of turning 30 and having not yet scored that big job, house as it should be in this time and age.

    We are power crazed generation and so have those generations before us.
    Our symbiotic relationships with the utlimate power “gorvernment” relies greatly on us remaining us we are awed by power and relentlessly seeking it.

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