In Parliament’s Majestic Equality

18 Oct 2013 [BART strikes & AC Transit bus queues – good for reading]: Capital (Ch. 28, “Bloody Legislation against the Expropriated since the End of the Fifteenth Century. The Forcing Down of Wages by Act of Parliament,” 1867, Karl Marx)

With all of these impoverished expropriated ex-farmers flooding the towns and villages, what can be done to clean things up and get them back to work? This is the obvious question staring the lawmakers of England in the face as rapid enclosures proceed, and it is answered, as with much of the poor (descendants of ex-farmers, many of them, no doubt) of the modern era, by severe punishment, marginalization and outright slavery. Vagrants, rogues and beggars, quantities of all of which bloom sunflower-like upon these enclosures and expropriations, are to be legally punished by Zorro-like markings of flesh (with a “V” or an “R,” though Marx doesn’t quite enumerate the particulars of each category), imprisoned, mutilated, enslaved (by their accusers) or often on the third offense (three strikes, you’re out) executed. Children of offenders are in many cases taken as “apprentices” by townspeople and enslaved if they attempt to escape. Lengthy footnotes detail work-prisons proposed by local legislatures and businessmen. Reading this segment of the text reasserts the immense value of reading detailed, analytical texts, even if from the “distant past,” over the ad hoc news articles of the present: the facts, examples and ideologies are shockingly perennial, and in the texts they are put into coherent frameworks that contribute to some semblance of understanding rather than a moment-to-moment despair. For these old punitive measures are wholly consonant with the justice system today, which reserves its harshest and most brutal punishments for those outgrown from the worst economic and emotional privations, without ever a thought for the processes that produced such terrible conditions or those who stand to benefit from those processes.

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