plutocracy

In the most recent news cycle, much of our attention has been ruled by a distant object, a body entirely beyond the reach of the simple citizens of Earth, cold, presenting a surface with an odd combination of smoothness and roughness but undented by the usual expected projectiles, a body that might appear to have a heart but of course we know it is just an icy illusion, a body drawn to our attention by a fantastically expensive endeavour…

But enough about Donald Trump and his presidential bid. I’d rather read about the Pluto formerly known as a planet. It truly is amazing to me that while we have all learned about the “ninth planet” since our childhoods, only now is it being seen in any surface detail at all. And it is fascinating – see for yourself.

We can, of course, go about our lives quite happily without directly concerning ourselves with Pluto, fascinating as it may be to at least some of us. But we cannot go through our lives without being affected by plutocracy: rule by the rich.

Donald Trump is slightly unusual in the openness of his plutocratic philosophy. Most US presidential candidates are rich, but even the rich ones try to pretend to have the view of a common person, at least when talking to general audiences (some of them have been caught making more plutocratic comments to audiences they assumed were entirely well moneyed – hey, who let the help have recording devices?). But there is a common assumption, often followed even when overtly denied, that people with money are more virtuous or at least more worth listening to. After all, we learned in our youth that you get money by working, so those who have more money have worked harder and smarter and must thus be worth following (and perhaps one of these stars will throw some money our way as they pass nearby too, no?).

This turns out not to be altogether reliably the case. The way you get to have a lot of money is by finding the most efficient means of accumulating more of it. Once you come to have a certain amount (by work, cunning, luck, or inheritance), you can use that to give you a considerable advantage in further accumulation. Those of us who play poker know that if you have a big stack of chips you can make big bets that will bully many of the people with shorter stacks off the table, and even if you lose one or two hands a stack advantage tends to compound itself unless you get reckless and fritter it away. And many of us in the working world have noticed that a company with a big bottom line can use it to squeeze out smaller companies. Beyond that, though, the way they get all that money is simply by extracting value disproportionate to their investment of time, money, and effort.

This is true for everything at root: the sun constantly sends us energy that drives a renewing cycle of growth; without it we would not have plant life, which gives us food (and the food that eats that food, i.e., meat) and, over much longer periods, such things as petroleum, which we are currently extracting faster than it is being made (see above about reckless gamblers). We would be as cold and lifeless as Pluto if we did not have the abundant free heat and light of our nearby star. Similarly, in the world of business, you as a company owner are able to increase your wealth by taking a share of the value created by your employees. A person like Donald Trump does not have billions because he works a million times as hard as a person who has thousands. He has billions because he has found ways to take a goodly cut of the value created by millions of people. Those people have thousands because they do not get the full value of their own efforts, and they don’t get all that much of a cut of the value of anyone else’s efforts either.

Well, that’s how the system works. It has been popular, too, and not without reason. We have created laws to help keep the most egregious ways of extracting values from others from happening too much. People such as Donald Trump manage to keep their businesses generally legal, or anyway not to get caught and punished for doing illegal things. But in the eyes of many, there is only an artificial line between a plutocrat such as Trump and some lord of the underworld.

Hmm. Pluto was the lord of the Underworld. So why would not plutocrats be lords of the underworld?

Ha ha. That pun works in English because we don’t have contrastive vowel length between the two roots. It keeps us from telling two things apart that seem similar but actually have nothing in common other than coincidence. On the one hand is classical Latin Plūtō (they didn’t write the macrons, but we do to keep track of which vowels are long), which comes from ancient Greek Πλούτων. He’s the brother of Jupiter and Neptune and is the god of the underworld (by the way, to fill in the planets, Uranus was a Titan, but Titan is a moon of Saturn, who was a god; the gods are descended from the Titans, but… oh, never mind). On the other hand is πλοῦτος, Greek for ‘wealth’. Note the difference between ω, which is omega (meaning ‘big o’), and ο, which is omicron (meaning ‘small o’). The former is long; the latter, short. Also note that the accent mark is different between ού and οῦ – an intonation difference that is made now only by classicists, and not them always either.

So there is no more connection between Pluto and plutocrats, really, than between people who gain political influence by being able to pay to look like they care and those who gain it by actually caring (I think there are some), or between government of the people by the rich people for the rich people and government of the people by representatives of all the people for all the people. Or between the planet Pluto and the Disney dog Pluto. Or, for that matter, between the dog Pluto and that other dog, Goofy.

How does that happen, now, that they’re both dogs, but Goofy gets a voice while Pluto just barks? Hm. Well, I’d rather listen to someone who makes some kind of sense, however goofy, than someone who just makes noises for attention.

9 responses to “plutocracy

  1. Very clever, entertaining and informative – love your wordplay!

  2. Interesting. I had always thought that ‘plutocrat’ came about because Pluto was lord of all the metal and gems under the earth too… Is that just an old wives’ tale?

  3. Well put! Put is a word that can be mined from the word Pluto, yes? I agree with your sentiments exactly. Can’t stand the guy either! Thanks for the post and your politics.

  4. Really?? Trite political musings? I thought I had subscribed to a blog with more academic pursuits. How disappointing!

  5. I stumbled upon your blog while researching synonyms and slang for the noun/adjective “drunk.” Thanks to you, I found a wealth of them. I am a happily mediocre poet* in the midst of writing a poem (tongue firmly in cheek), that purports to correct all the typos made by Lewis Carroll in his poem “Jabberwocky.” He was quite squiffy when typing his advice, and became more so as the poem progressed. Should I ever be able to properly translate, or achieve a work that meets with my own liberal approval, I shall send you a copy.

    In any event, I want to thank you for that article, as well as for the many other articles of yours I was hijacked by your wit into reading, in your many other blogs, and also your excellent recommendations via your blogroll.

    *I do occasionally make an effort to improve, but at my age, hopes are growing dim in that respect. On the other hand, I might be that person already born, who will be the first to live 200 years. In that case, perhaps I will make an effort to improve, but if I do, I will be depriving the world of more poetic gems like the following, which is appropriately titled “Getting to Know Me:”

    I string my poetry’s words together –
    run-on sentences, italics, dashes,
    a parenthetical phrase that clashes
    with the thought that I began with,
    so if, at last, you find the pith
    it’s as tough to chew as old-shoe leather.

    And such stretches I take to the limit
    just to save a rhyme and shim it
    up, to stand alone, make sense–
    that even I can scarce commence
    to write what I had thought profound,
    knowing really, it should be
    both literally and figuratively
    used for litter at the town dog pound.

    In fact, as you can plainly see
    this poem has the best of me.
    (Not sure exactly where it took it–
    apparently it just mistook it
    for what it thought was even worse–
    my efforts at poetry are often perverse!)

    And now I’ve lost the thread I started
    some random thing that has departed
    to find a poem whose rhymes don’t peter
    out, and lose the form or meter
    that was originally my plan.
    (See how the lines in this poem scan?)

    If you but knew how often I change,
    start poems anew or rearrange,
    the words in order to fit the schemes,
    (As if there were any! Sure, in my dreams!)
    you’d know now why I have insomnia
    thinking of ways that I can con ya
    into thinking I’m some great poet –
    (Even I won’t rhyme this line with “know it.”)

    So relax now, this poem’s a nightmare
    for all of you, but not for me! See
    I’m writing this at midnight in my night-wear–
    you’re lucky you don’t have to read and see me!

    Though reading my poetry might be tough,
    wading through piles of junk can be rough–
    Don’t stop reading all my stuff!
    I’ll quit (maybe) when you’ve had enough. . .
    ##########
    I look forward to being educated by you in the coming days.

    Paula Tohline Calhoun

  6. Pingback: Two Great Finds! | Reflections From a Cloudy Mirror

  7. Alas, my dear Sesquiotic, even though brimming with the best of intentensions and what I felt were well wrought ideas, I have become stuck. . .somwhere between “jub” and “jub” and “bander” and “snatch.” However, I am not one to hold tenuosly to ideas, and I feel certain that with the help of my flighty muse, she shall return some day to see me through to an illustrious end to my cogent version of “Jabberwocky.”

    By the way, it might interest you to know that the full name of my muse, who is nick-named “Poly,” is “Polymethpoterliamnia,” having a rather checkered and perhaps incestuous path. She is also a drunk, which can be quite helpful at times, even if only as an excuse.

    I’m certain to have more questions in the future. My life-long love of words and language I trace back to my fater, an extraordinary man who never lost sight of his desire to speak clearly in an effort to be fully understood.

    Kind regards,
    Paula Tohline Calhoun

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