Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Body Politic, or Why I Like Extended Metaphors

The other day, when reading recent news of the crises in Spain and Greece, I thought to myself, "Austerity is like recommending anorexia to a sick person."  The parallel drawn between economic and physical health got me thinking, and I began to realize that the extended metaphor of the body politic can be quite telling.

Think of the different governing philosophies as different views of physical well-being and fitness for the body politic, or Lady Government (if we are to anthropomorphize and gender).

Let me begin this extended metaphor by comparing the idea of a "tax and spend liberal" to that of someone in fitness training--an acknowledgement that, to boost health, one must both take in enough (not too much, but a solid amount) of food and must then exercise to expend the energy gained.
The problem with Communism, then, becomes the fetishiziation of government as the uber-muscular figure, which takes in ridiculously large quantities of food and expends large quantities of energy, but in doing so, because of the repetition of the process to the extreme, the body ends up looking  malformed if not deformed.  And rather than achieving the dream of the perfectly-functioning body, one is left with ill health.

The Green would differ from the liberal in attitude to the source of the food being ingested.  Although both agree that the Body Politic should ingest and expend, the Green sees the need for an organic, vegan, or local diet for achieving physical well-being.  To the Green, the liberal's agreement to consume food produced through oppression or exploitation  shows a weakness of principle and a refusal to question the underlying motive and values that dominate attitudes toward health, diet, and the whole working of the system of food production.

Conservatism, on the opposite side of the spectrum, looks at the government and always sees it as too fat--perhaps even morbidly obese. "You know, Government, you could afford to lose a few pounds. Do you really need to take in those extra taxes--you are looking pretty bloated today?" Then, when Lady Government starts eating less, the conservative continues the same refrain, for Lady Government in the eyes of the Republican will always be fat. She can always afford to lose a few pounds--or the equivalent of a person. The fit or figured shape of the "tax-and-spend liberal" ideal of Lady Government might have a few extra pounds (because you need some extra weight when you get sick) but is overall obviously in good health. However, the Marilyn Monroe (let's say) of the "tax-and-spend liberal" is always too fat to the conservative.

And even when Lady Government gets ill--or when the cancer that is inevitable financial crisis goes out of remission, the solution of the Republican is still to tell Lady Government to lose weight. The conservative might see Lady Government's newfound difficulty with ingesting and then begin to praise how lovely she now looks, how she has never been better, and that she should start ingesting even less not just involuntarily out of diseaseAnorexia is still the solution to the sick--no matter how illogical that may be and no matter how weak it puts the body to defense against disease. And, now that Lady Government is sick and cannot ingest as much as she could before, the Republican begins to praise the reduced consumption and champion that Lady Government should continue to consume less--not out of ill health but out of will. The conservative might even succeed in altering the whole societal ideal of beauty--pushing the gaunt image of Lady Government that it has championed into the mainstream and forcing liberals to begin to think that their ideal could really shed a few pounds, that its curves are misshapen.

However, the conservative ideal is not just thin--the ideal of the conservative is to get the government to be so thin, so gaunt, so anorexic that it can no longer function.  The body, no more than a mess of bones and organs, becomes no more than a blunt weapon with which to batter down enemies.

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