Da Prince: There Will Be Rabble
by Peter Zelchenko March 20, 2009
(Excerpt from Mike Iovelli's Da Prince)
ON MANAGING ASSORTED RABBLE IN AN URBAN REPUBLIC WHOSE EXISTING SOCIAL VALUES PRESUME MENTAL HEALTH TO BE A HUMAN RIGHT TO ALL, EVEN THE VERY POOREST
"It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver." --M. Gandhi, From Dangerous Rumblings of the People
Your Highness, if you would remain prince of this great inland city, as your loyal subject I feel it incumbent upon myself to recall to your esteemed mind the words, There Will Be Rabble. I account it superfluous to remind you that it is thus inscribed, with gold-leaf inlay no less, on your honorable father's headstone, but I feel it is my humble duty as your teacher to do so. To manage the rabble accordingly is the great undertaking of great leaders, and you are expected to cultivate this illusion of being great, as this is essential to the peaceful maintenance of the state -- to borrow your father's phrase, to "preserve disorder."
In a principality, individuals are free to die in the streets or on the heath; it makes no difference whatsoever to the lord of the land. If they should through their own folly fall prey to the moon and become mentally retarded, it is likewise of no more concern to king than to duke. In a republic, however, there is an irksome tendency to consider the physical and even mental well-being of all people, even poor people, as valued so highly that the prince must be compelled to expend certain modest public sums to maintain these things. It is presumed, convolutedly, to be for the greater public good that all citizens be guaranteed mental health care regardless of income, race, or other peculiarities of birth.
However absurd this proposition may seem, it is a theme throughout the history of weak empires. It began in madness 762 years ago with the creation of Bedlam Hospital in London. Then in 1838 that rabble-rouser Jean-Etienne Esquirol, a psychologist still addled by bygone revolutionary fervor, institued asylums for the poor throughout France. These senseless acts encouraged the insane New England Gaelics of your father's time (whose accursed arms feature a bleeding heart across a bend sinister) to enact laws outside of your family's direct control. These laws, later strengthened further by these same bleeding hearts, created a nationwide boom in community mental health centers, bringing the total number of these to 22 in the Chicago kingdom at the dawn of your illustrious reign in the Year of Our Lord 1989. There will be rabble.
And so, Your Highness, let us assume you inherit these community mental health centers spread throughout your dominions, serving as many as 10,000 retarded rabble, and the cost to maintain them all is perhaps under $10 million per year. This may seem like a modest sum (there are, after all, much more obviously sprawling budgets in a clout kingdom), but you would prefer to invest in wrought-iron fences and this seems like a quiet little corner of the budget to trim. Not so, my esteemed lord. There will be rabble. Rabble will rise up if you close these lunatic asylums, for each one of them may support 500 or more needy and retarded rabble and, alas, wherever there is rabble, there are sure to be a few rousers. You may get away with closing 10 of them over the years, but then you still would be left with 12. There will be rabble.
So, let us assume the economy slackens, and you must choose: wrought-iron fences or rabble sanity? You choose wrought-iron fences. They are black and beautiful, yet they never complain. They keep the rabble in line, yet require no feeding and diapering like the police. They are, you reason, your generous legacy to this great city. So, wave the hand: away with five more CMHC's, and you are left with only seven!
But then there is rabble. There is an outcry. You agree to keep one open on the North Side, hoping to quiet and divide out the first, loudest, wealthiest, or whitest opposition, as you have been taught so well to do. But it is a slow news day and you have no media diversions prepared. Furthermore, alerting the Media Rabble would call into question the Olympics gamble and why you can afford hundreds of millions for that, but not a few million for retarded poor people. You must avoid tying two rabble factions together! There are additional outcries from well-organized rabble, and what is more there is not some single rebellion to quell, but four at once. You should have shuttered one at a time. It sucks to be you right now.
Eventually, you may need to give in, but even in giving in a prince must always endeavor to do so with a mind to coming out on top. Do not acknowledge the problem yourself, and stay away from the press. Ignore any alternatives from pesky opposition leaders. They must not score on this. Plant one of your minion dukes with a rescue plan, and permit him to announce it. You have saved the day from yourself.
The lessons, my voluptuous, rosy-jowled, omnipotent lord, are several, and to wit: (1) Always consult the omens for the most propitious media moment. (2) Isolated uprisings are easier to ignore than diffuse ones are to crush. (3) Hastily bribe the loudest, wealthiest, whitest opposition. (4) If riots are imminent, reward only loyal courtiers with the solution.
But, above all these, precious lord, there is one overarching admonition. You must remember always to beware: There will be rabble.
[Thanks to Badonna Reingold of the Community Mental Health Board, Matt Ginsburg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power, and Suzanne Andriukaitis of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Greater Chicago. You like? Please e-mail.]
(c) 2003-2009, Peter Zelchenko and Gapers Block