Sunday, June 03, 2007

Too Menny

The San Antonio Express reports the story of a woman who, depressed and struggling to raise four small children, hanged herself and her children in a mobile home closet. Poignantly, the story adds, "An infant was rescued from a makeshift noose."

The detail is worthy of Thomas Hardy. His 1895 novel Jude the Obscure, which shocked Victorian sensibilities none too soon with the reality of the industrial revolution, contains precisely such a scene.

Without involving ourselves in the novel's entire plot, allow me to paint the scene in question. An impoverished tradesman and his common law wife return to their rooms from a fair, an oasis of happiness, only to find that their precocious older son has murdered his three siblings and hung himself, leaving the note in childish script, "Done because we were too menny" [sic].

It is a child's misunderstanding of his parents' misfortunes, in part stemming from Victorian hypocrisy, in part rooted in the sheer cruelty with which the rural poor of England were expelled from the land and thrown into hovels for the gritty work of the industrial revolution.

A century and more since Hardy's imagined events and the real ones that inspired them were cast into words, the richest society in history seems to be reliving tragedies seemingly long past buried. How can this be?

Such developments cast my mind back to a classic analysis I read decades ago, The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, a study of the Speenhamland Law that sets on its head the notion popular among conservatives and their acolytes that markets evolved naturally. "Laissez-faire was planned," Polanyi argues in his nearly encyclopedic treatment of the transformation of England from agricultural and cottage industry to the factory system and the famously "satanic" mills.

Our grandchildren will one day learn that the vast impoverishment in our midst today is planned, executed with the economic levers of government, by individuals hellbent on enshrining what to their minds is the sacred right to exploit others, just as it existed in 1907.

2 comments:

Anne said...

I was sick when I read the news of this tragedy. On the one hand I blackly thought it was another no good thing to come out of Texas (but I know it can happen in my yard, too) and on the other I was appalled that there was such poverty, on all counts, in the woman's life that there was not one spark of hope to keep them alive.

thailandchani said...

Very good. I think your predictions are correct.


~Chani