Margrum: Enslaved by the sheer quantity of people

(A crime fighting duo, kind of like Magnum PI and Thomas Higgins, but concerned with issues of grammar and philosophy . . .  Margrum & Higgs)

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Margrum wondered if the founders of this democracy had ever contemplated the possibility that one day the citizens of the Great Republic they had initiated with such gusto and had organized with such passionate care would be one day walking around with their wallets and purses and key chains bulging and stuffed with what were called bonus cards in order to get what were called bonuses.

Margrum was older now and it was difficult for him to say exactly if the word itself had changed or if it was merely his attitude toward the word that had, but he had begun to feel that he had started life as one of the free and proud and privileged of the world, one to whom “much had been given and from whom much would be expected,” and but who now felt surely and squarely and without too much in the way of hyperbole or self-pity that he was what had in former times been called a slave. A slave! (And perhaps one deserving of a handout.)

Not a slave bound with chains always so literal as handcuffs, nor so visible as bonus cards; but from every side, — legally, economically, physically, politically — he had come to feel constrained, and “slave” did not seem a word too melodramatic to describe the intensity of his feelings about this constraint — his sure feelings of the impossibility of making what a reasonable person might call progress. (And he didn’t feel like a slave — in fact, he often didn’t feel that way — but felt that he was a slave: felt there had been this dramatic palpable change in his societal status.)

He had been raised with the thought that slavery had been abolished some while ago; he was now of an experience that told him such things go away only to return again in more familiar, less imposing forms. To a degree, Margrum felt defeated and enslaved by the mere fact of the sheer quantity of people that were alive with him now (and these people had to be organized somehow after all; slavery, he supposed, would do just fine!) (When there are so many people all about maybe that just naturally results in there being one Pharaoh over all the slaves. Maybe the population size was itself a sort of Pharaoh.) He who had always thought of himself as nothing special but no redundancy or duplicate, now did very much indeed question the grounds for making such a distinction, with all these people grown up around him.

Or maybe it was not that he had become a slave (he didn’t for example think he belonged to anyone else). Maybe he had only become (without having fully realized it was happening) kind of poor. And a lot of people with him too, a whole class of people made poor without their quite having known. As if he and everyone else he knew, the whole middle class of the country even, or a chunk of it, like a giant ice shelf calved from the polar cap, had been barreling along having a good time, having the feeling they were making progress, only gradually the times became less good, the road more rocky with more traffic, with less space in the overhead compartment, no leg room, with food that didn’t taste right –you had to go to unaffordable stores to get the decent food– until finally they came to understand that they were in the middle class no longer. They still had cars, houses, college educations, children, in many cases, the trappings of the middle class, but now none of it was paid for, none of it was any good. They had cars and homes and educations, but they were shoddy and imbued with cheapness, pieces of paper, and the sense was there was to be no future.

But what most pisses him off at the moment is his can of beer. He’s looking at it and it really pisses him off to the extent that he completely forgets the issue of his enslavement. They have altered the shape of the can to save money and increase profit. It isn’t a comely shape. Anyhow, he’s passed out.

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