Monday, December 13, 2010

Great House

Something happened in the Nile valley around 3000 B.C. - something that had been gathering steam for a thousand years.  The ancient Egyptians called their land Kmt, "the Black Land"; their fertile fields were annually renewed with fertilized black silt from the river floods, in great contrast to the nearly sterile red dirt soil of the neighboring hills.

This fertility, when controlled by irrigation canals, led to a massive food surplus and population boom.  The Old Kingdom was blessed, but that blessing came via the controls needed to ensure the maintenance of the irrigation works.  That came from the kings, who were gods.

Pharaoh is the modern transliteration of the ancient Egyptian word pr-aa.  It was a term used when referring to the terrible God Kings, and terrible they were.  The Great King would take wive from their husbands as he fancied; men approached trembling, kissing the dust from his feet.  Only the most favored were allowed to rise to his knees.  His name was death, and so Great House - pr-aa - was the term of address, very like today's Majesty.

Most terrible of all was when the God King died, and went to join his fellow deities.  The first two dynasties of the Old Kingdom pre-dated the pyramids; the preferred burial crypt was a Mastaba, a low, rectangular funerary temple.  The greatest collection of these is in the city of Abydos, where the Old Kingdom Pharaohs made their terrible final ends.  The entire Royal Court, or at least a very large part of it, entered the Mastaba with the body of the dead God.  The Mastaba was then sealed up, entombing them.

The charnel house was full in the First Dynasty:
  • King Zet's tomb had 174 subsidiary graves.
  • King Den-Setui had only 136, but in a very elegant new style.
  • King Azab-Merpaba had a very small tomb with only 64 subsidiary graves.  Perhaps he had a financial crisis to deal with.
  • King Mersekha-Semempses had a single, massive Mastaba with one great substructure (as opposed to different wings and annexes).
  • King Qa, the last of his line, whose tomb was built in haste.  The whole structure collapsed on all the court, in the haste with which it was made.  A sad end to the line of Menes.
But the irrigation projects continued, and later dynasties left even greater legacies, including the Pyramids - to this day, the largest sculptures on the planet.  Organizing the people under the conditions of the day led to a massive surplus that the ruling class could spend as they wished.  They used it to make Wonders of the World, at least until the climate changed.

The divine pr'aa brought the floods.  Irrigation and fertilization from the regular, predictable, annual floods was the seat of his power.  When the floods stopped around 2150 B.C., the God Kings found that their hold on power was merely mortal.

Something happened in the West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - something that had been building for hundreds of years.  The Industrial Revolution lifted millions out of poverty, and created wealth undreamed of.  It created so much wealth, that the Ruling Class was entirely overthrown, and Napoleon's despised "nation of shopkeepers" came to dominate much of the globe.

The new Political Class thought on what it might do if it directed itself to the effort, rather than riding the wave by accident.  The Progressive Age was born.

If "society" could make such a wealth of products - cheap clothes, cheap steel, railroads, great steamships - could it not make a wealth of human capital?  The Progressives thought that it could, and began a program aiming to enrich people's non-material lives.

In many ways, they succeeded:  Women's suffrage, the end of child labor, and (plausibly) full voting rights for racial minorities are properly credited to the Progressive Movement.  We wouldn't want to live in a world without these.

But the great Progressive Leaders were sometimes as terrible as their Old Kingdom precursors.  Stalin and Hitler were entirely Progressive, and killed millions chasing their empty philosophies.  Closer to home, we have sad, sorry spectacles like Eugenics, which impoverished the lives of countless unfortunates.  The Mastabas of modern political philosophy have their own set of mass graves.

But the whole edifice was constructed on the premise that "progress" would keep the People fed, housed, and safe, and that the People's children would partake of those benefits, or even more.
In the old system, both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing ‘social dividend’ being paid out in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on.  Graduate from high school and you were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that gave you a comfortable lower middle class lifestyle; graduate from college and you would be better paid and equally secure.
Like the Nile floods of 2150 B.C., that's drying up.  The priestly political class sees that the floods have not come, but doesn't know what to do.  They stick to the old script:
"Nebensi, the lord of reverence, saith: 'I am Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, (and I have) the power to be born a second time."
Of course, they wouldn't dream of using anything so out of touch as the Book Of The Dead.  Instead, they use a century old Progressive dogma that would be recognizable by Teddy Roosevelt.

The People don't care (mostly) about the many dead from the Progressive Era, any more than the people of the Nile valley cared about the ancient courts, entombed with their God Kings.  What they care about - like the ancient Egyptian people cared about - is their prosperity, and that of their children.  They don't see it on the horizon.

The rains do not come.  You can't redistribute what isn't produced.  For a group of people who claim to be as educated as the Progressives, you'd think they'd realize that.  History speaks plainly, if you listen.

Barack Obama is playing the part of King Qa, last of the First Dynasty.  His agenda is turning out to be his Mastaba, completed in haste, and looking to collapse.  He looks like he very well may be buried with a court of Democrat Congressmen and Senators, following The One to the bitter end.  The sands may cover all traces of this age, and rather than a monument worthy of the Seven Wonders, leave simply the sound of the wind.

The People won't notice, or remember.  They just want the floods to come.  When the dam holding back creative endeavors - created by legions of Progressive Era bureaucrats - is swept away, new leadership will lead this land to new heights, just as Ramses did.  But Ramses was the heir to a line that had learned a valuable lesson.  You don't need to build any more Pyramids.


Paladin said...


Anonymous said...

If that doesn't count as well put, I don't know what does.


Midwest Chick said...

Wonderful post and appropos use of that clip, which never fails to affect me.

doubletrouble said...

Just... masterful, maybe?

Words fail me.