The Golden Snowplow

Posted by WiredSisters on February 12th, 2014 filed in Uncategorized

Some of our better-read politicians like to brag about reading Machiavelli or Lord Acton (“all vodka corrupts, but Absolut Vodka corrupts absolutely…” ). These days, they would be better advised to read James Frazer. Never mind whether climate change is “real”‘ or just some liberal hoax (the alleged purpose of which I have not yet managed to figure out.) What is definitely real is a whole lot of really awful weather. Weather is to climate what news is to history. Nobody votes based on history (sorry, no, I’m wrong about that. In places like the Balkans, the Middle East, and a lot of Africa, almost everybody who votes votes based on history. But not here in the good old USA.) A lot of people, everywhere, vote based on news. And a lot MORE people these days vote based on weather.

We here in Chicago have a head start on this situation.  Back in 1979, which some of us still call the Year of the Big Snows, the Wired Family’s VW bug got buried under a snowdrift in December and we didn’t bother digging it out until March.  Somewhere in the middle of the storms, our mayor, an undistinguished but not especially noxious character named Michael Bilandic, had the poor judgment to go on the evening news to tell us that the streets had been sucessfully plowed and we could all go back to our regular business.  In fact, the streets were hip-deep, and so were the city parking lots whither we had been advised to move our cars so the plowing could proceed more efficiently.

That ill-omened broadcast occurred shortly before the Democratic primary election (never mind the Republican primary–local pundit Walter Jacobson once compared the Chicago Republican party to the Vatican Presbyterian Church), and Bilandic was soon replaced by the previously-obscure Director of the Mayor’s Office of Consumer Complaints, Jane Byrne.  From Bilandic’s point of view, it could have been worse.  He ended up as Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, after all.  And he can hardly be blamed for not having read Frazer, when politicians in general were not accustomed to being ousted by weather.

Today, on the other hand, the Prime Minister of the UK, the Governor of Georgia, the Mayor of Atlanta, and numerous other mostly-Southern politicians are dodging rotten produce without the faintest idea what to do about the Winter of their Discontent.  If they had spent their college years reading The Golden Bough instead of The Prince, they might have a clue.

James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough, was pretty much the first cultural anthropologist.  He took us back to the Good-ish Old Days when religion, law, politics, and science all pretty much overlapped, when The Chief was also The Priest and The Medicine Man and The Judge.  And when, if the crops failed, or the fishing bottomed out, or the rains didn’t come on time, the appropriate remedy was to take The Chief out and stone him, on the theory that he had somehow offended the gods and needed to be replaced by a better emissary.

We don’t exactly do that any more.  If The Chief (or the Mayor of Toronto, or whoever) wants to get stoned, he has to do it himself.  But a politician interested in staying in office during a spell of spectacularly bad weather (whether you call it “climate change” or just plain bad weather) would be well-advised to read Frazer.  Among Frazer’s better suggested alternatives is the designation of a substitute victim, such as the “scapegoat” of Leviticus, or the “pharmakon” of classical Greece.   In some cultures, the substitute victim gets to spend a year living really well (“living like a king,” in fact, so that the gods might mistake him for actual royalty), before finally meeting his fate.  For more on this scenario, see Margaret Murray’s God of the Witches.

These days we probably wouldn’t actually kill the victim, just dis-elect him, or maybe indict him or impeach him.  The victim could be the Vice President or Lieutenant Governor, or the leader’s Chief of Staff, or some other Designated Celebrity who could perhaps suffer a fatal drug overdose (speaking of being stoned to death.)  Or perhaps we could create an office of Chief Meteorologist/Director of FEMA, in charge of predicting the weather and mitigating its consequences as much as possible.  Among that official’s  responsibilities would be deciding when to shut down schools, transportation systems, and public and private businesses, while revving up emergency and relief systems.  All of these rituals would have to be established in law or at least in some sort of official document, so as to cause minimal disruption to social and economic functioning.  If they failed, the official would be appointed Ambassador to Kazakhstan for Life.

Anyway, voters of Atlanta, Louisiana, and California, give it a thought.  Next week we’ll consider the economic weather and its effect on local and national politics.

Red  Emma


One Response to “The Golden Snowplow”

  1. Lynn Gazis-Sax (Sappho) Says:

    Re: “In places like the Balkans, the Middle East, and a lot of Africa, almost everybody who votes votes based on history.” One of my more surreal experiences was being in a town in Serbia, in 1992, at a time when Yugoslavia had fallen apart into warring countries, and hearing this song start to play: “Don’t know much about history ….”

    Re: Scapegoats: Being Designated Scapegoat could be a plum bit of political patronage, if the Designated Scapegoat salary were high enough for the little bit of time you got to occupy the office.