Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Wheel of Fortune -- America's Spin

About two chapters in to John Kennedy Toole's novel, "A Confederacy of Dunces", the character, Ignatius, cites De Consolatione Philosophiae, considered a cornerstone of thinking following the collapse of the Roman Empire. I had little working knowledge of this manuscript. When I attended school, the Dark Ages were referred to simply as "now." So, I may have forgotten whatever I originally learned.

As a refresher, I turned to my trusted literary authorities: Google and Wikipedia. Quickly, I learned that Consolation was written by the Roman patrician, Boethius, while on house arrest awaiting his execution by axe or clubbing -- the usual stuff of the sixth century. The book is related as a conversation between Boethius and Lady Philosophy. The Lady contends, among other assertions, that "...happiness comes from within." How Un-American... everyone knows that happiness comes from expensive shoes (lots of them), fast cars, rigorous practice of transcendental meditation, the South Beach Diet, and Dr. Ruth.

Another lady friend of Boethius is Rota Fortuna, the wheel spun by the Goddess, Fortuna, to determine fate of an individual -- of course, better known in modern times as the Wheel of Fortune. At the time of his writing, Boethius was imprisoned and awaiting execution... I guess he should have bought a vowel.

The fatalism implied by Fortuna as the arbeiter of destiny appears to have led, through circuitous logic, to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings. This doctrine is hard to argue -- kings rule because they are divinly anointed by God to rule. How do we know this? Because the King says so -- and he must be right, because God anointed him. The King is not subject to the will of the people; the Pope is infallible; it is blasphemy to question the Pope or the King, or even the doctrine that makes it blasphemy to question the doctrine. Some o' them ol' Kings and Popes must have had a good laugh over that one, huh?

All this, of course, is old news... several centuries old. However, this philosophy has found its way into the current political dialog. Why are some folks rich, others poor. Why are there haves and have-nots? Well... it's got to be good old Fortuna spinning her wheel. The rich occupy their position by divine right... or by simple dumb luck. The rest of us should just accept our place and vicariously enjoy the lavish excesses of the divine ruling class.

So... how do these divinly anointed folks keep from getting their heads impaled on sticks by torch bearing have-nots? Is it because the have-nots think somehow that Rota Fortuna is going to land on their lucky number? Or is it because after carefully examining the implications of Boethius' treatise, the have-nots have concluded that they just surrender -- if a divinely appoited one asks for your liver, give him also your spleen, for it was meant to be.

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