Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ponies, Plato, Plutocracies

Not much prepped this week. I've been too busy drawing ponies.

Also, I've recently started posting comics again.

I've got a bunch of stuff backlogged and will be posting a new one every ten days (roughly), which will amount to about four months of regular updates. If I'm able to draw more comics between now and then (these things are never certain), we'll keep running. If not, we'll just wait another six months, eight months, or however long it takes to build up another queue.

I thought it would be fun to roll out this shindig with a couple of 8 Easy Bits strips, just for old times' sake. I don't know why I figured the Author should have discovered the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic phenomenon since we last saw him; but from there it does seem more predictably within his character that he should be inordinately inspired by his arrival at this brave new continent in his (severely skewed) intellectual world and determine to make it the subject of his latest opus.

I rather like how the scruff (a touch originally added by Mr. Wolff in one of the later strips) and unkempt hair has increasingly become the norm for the character. I like how the bastard is still evolving, even though he's still far from ever getting his shit together. (I think he's somehow becoming even crazier.) And I really like how he's still interesting (at least to me, anyway) even when the subject of his escapades isn't the fact that he inhabits a world where human beings and video game characters rub elbows on the sidewalks and supermarkets.

So yeah, the pony comic took much longer to make than I'll ever admit, and I have nothing but my own OCD to blame for it. The lessons here are that I should a.) estimate realistically how long a project should take, b.) making sure to account for my being batshit crazy about details. (I can point to more than a dozen things about the strip that I don't like, but for the sake of my own sanity I'm letting them be.)

Confession time: Greekdropping gennaion psuedos wasn't actually spontaneous, and was preceded by a Google search for "plato republic lie" and a click on the Wikipedia entry for "Noble Lie." I recalled the basic concept from an early book in the Republic, but needed a memory refresher. The Republic is a pretty dense slab of text, after all.

In the smallest of nutshells: having already established that his ideal state would need to have three basic classes of citizens (rulers, warriors, artisans), Plato (speaking through Socrates) says it will be necessary to foster upon the state's children the idea that, although the Earth fashioned them all, it mixed some of the clay with gold, some with silver, and some with bronze, corresponding to which of the three social strata they are more or less destined to inhabit. It's ordained, it's out of everyone's hands, and each citizen will have to accept his lot in life. It's not true (obviously), but Plato nonetheless asserts that this one "noble lie" will be necessary to preserve the state's cohesion.

A reader has already joked about the bluntness of the strip's "message," and I guess that's fair -- but really, I was less interested in making a point than in taking something absolutely innocent and delightful and warping it into something joyless and awful ("for the lulz," as they say). If I was really serious about preaching, I wouldn't have ended the thing with a sharp veer into a gag about horse assholes.

But yeah, sure -- I did a little thinking about noble lies while shopping the thing, and wondered if it mightn't be the case that every society is constructed atop one fundamental fib or another. So -- what about the United States?

The big American lie (or one of the big ones) is the one about Freedom. America is a free country. Americans are free people. Americans are freer than other people because America is the most free country of all countries. George W. Bush's and the Tea Pary's rhetoric could be pared down to FREEDOM FREEDOM FREEDOM MURICKA and lose little in the abridging. Americans scream and shout and beat their breasts and rub dust in their hair whenever they perceive some politician, law, or court ruling as "threatening our freedom."

First of all: the very concept of freedom is probably bullshit.

Second: off the cuff, I'd say that yes, United States citizens do have fewer sanctions on speaking and expressing themselves in ways that could be construed as offensive, controversial, unpatriotic, etc. than those of many other nations. This is an excellent thing. We are permitted to talk the talk. But many, many citizens are severely constrained to the extent to which they can walk the walk.

We're all of us placed inside the labyrinth of our civilization, and some people are immensely better-equipped to navigate it than others. When the structure of the labyrinth is determined mostly by economic forces, citizens in stronger economic positions can move about it more easily. Perhaps the more accurate metaphor would be to say that these people are capable of walking over or just passing through the same walls restricting the movements of their neighbors.

But I feel this analogy is hackneyed and you already know where we're going. But why not: when you have more money, you have more "freedom." People born into wealth are more likely to retain wealth. Those with a lot of wealth are more likely to acquire more wealth. Those born into poverty are more likely to remain in poverty. The nation's wealth is increasingly concentrating in the upper stratum; the wide majority of citizens is finding more and more walls shooting up out of the ground to block their progress.

Even if we imagine that freedom isn't a fallacy, the American version of it doesn't sound very much like freedom at all. Not when citizens' actions are restricted by their personal wealth; especially not when that factor is usually dependent simply on the economic circumstances into which they were born. But the noble lie of the Land of the Free is accepted as fact, and people in the lower classes rage against legislation that would likely benefit them on the grounds that "it hurts our freedom."

Incidentally, I just read an excellent GQ piece in which the author reports his investigative comparison between six Americans, each representing one of six basic economic blocs (from someone who lives on $200 a week to someone who lives on $625,000 a week). On the fifth rung of six he meets a man named Nick Hanauer, an early investor in Amazon.com whose taxable income is now $10 million on a bad year. Mr. Hanauer speaks of his own conception of the American noble lie:

There's something unusual about Nick. For a multimillionaire, he doesn't have your average multimillionaire view. In fact, he's come to believe that the system he benefits so richly from is built on nonsense — specifically, the idea that "the markets are perfectly efficient and allocate benefits and burdens perfectly efficiently, based on talent and merit. So by that definition, the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor. We believe this because we have an almost insanely powerful need to self-justify."

And the biggest nonsense of all, he says, "is the idea that because the rich are the smartest, and because we're the job creators, the richer we get, the better it is for everyone. So taxes on the rich should be very, very low because we're essentially the center of the economic universe, the font of productivity." Nick pauses. "If there were a shred of truth to the claim that the rich are our nation's job creators, then given how rich the rich have gotten, America should be drowning in jobs!"


To conclude on a cheerier note, my friend Jason is fiercely lobbying to have this made into a T-shirt:

Any creative ponypeople want to give her a name?

EDIT: Spyda K might have nailed it with "Nickie Fits."

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