Here I am at Central Jury, sitting among the many here from everywhere in the city. I look up to the front and see the seal of the State of New York looming official above the officials far less than official in their business and duties. To do your duty is the requirement of every citizen, I assume. The Golden Seal of the State of New York above the rulers of desks less than golden in their rule–those who lead are lead.
Here in court with others here not wanting to be with the others around them here. There are those who would like to do this duty, who relish the idea of being on a jury, and it is not so much the idea of serving the state in some small way as a temporary member of the public that I object to, but what masquerades as authority and how that authority parades itself here before us–I do miss the old pomp, the old circumstance. The state says, Do your duty, and I recall in passing a friend when I was a boy whose grandmother used to say the same thing to him, sitting, as he would, not exactly as I do today.
The State of New York, through the masks of its officials–an ancient comedy, perhaps, tragedy others see; there is no mask for the Theater of the Absurd except the human face. Comedy would have to be our persona here today, though, otherwise I’d cry; and yet, at the end of the day long tedium, I laugh. There is something from Wilde I remember, something about the Devil and having to laugh when you saw him because only a man with a heart of stone could not laugh at the Devil himself in hell.
With irony seized, I know I face only the absurd here at Central Jury. Again, when I do laugh, although not openly, and not in mocking derision, I do so, so as not to do otherwise and worse. This is a closet play, one we keep in our heads, for safety, mostly. There is nothing quite so dangerous as half-intelligent authority; and here again I see working for the State, those I have become sure would never work for the state in France or England or even Russia, but grass has always been greener everywhere but in my own backyard? Sometimes.
Yes, I do laugh when the State of New York says to everyone in the meeting/waiting hall that this is our duty, that this is our privilege, that we should be honored that we are called here not exactly like cattle–I have been to the meat packing district; we look nothing at all like the sides of beef hanging in the wholesale butcher markets. All existence is a reductio ad absurdum, unless we delude ourselves, which is what we do when we suspend our disbelief concerning the stagecraft of statecraft.
Honor–we always do everything for honor whenever we do anything for the state, as the United States of America is mostly and persistently a government of the state, for the state, and by the state. That will certainly never perish, I’m sure. I used to tell friends of mine who had immigrated to the United States that they firstly and foremostly immigrated to the federal government and not America, that what they saw first was the state and not the country. I believed this then of them, and can continue this arguemnt effectively; the difference today is that this is increasingly becoming true for me as well, a native born citizen, whereby I live in the state more often and more encroachingly than I do in my country, a place where we are expected daily to increase our devotion to the state and to the Public while abandoning all hope of ever recovering the people, a people of the people, by the people and for the people without fear of perishing except through abdicating our responsiblity to the people.
Love of country cannot be equal to love of state; that is, no more than the public can ever entirely be the people. In the America I had been raised to love, the government was never your friend, and that was something I was taught by an ex-Marine father who was yet always faithful. He had taught me that in America, the government is just a little bit less the enemy of the people than in other countries, and reminded me, of course, that I would not want to be living in Red China or the Soviet Union, where bureaucracy administered proctol exams take place more often and without vaseline.
But as I set myself the task of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, amid the many yawning faces here at Central Jury, I wonder how any of the officials I have so far herein seen can expect any one of the people to have respect for the State, seeing how inarticulate these very officials are, ineffective, for sure, as they show–another mumbled roll call, and another garbled announcement, and another non-native speaker murdering my mother tongue.
All my time in Paris I did not meet one non-native speaker of French working for the government of France or the City of Paris, or in any capacity we would call official. I don’t want to be seen as one of America’s reactionaries becasue I have as much fear of them as I do many of my friends and acquaitences among the educated liberal elite, and there are certainly liberals who are elites in America. But there is something preferable in officials of government speaking clear articulate English.
Ameican politics moreover has been a match of policy ping-pong between entrenched liberal and conservative elites, both sides serving up as an ideal, one or another version of Publius as Populus, nevertheless, Publius first and last and always present beneath the veneer of Populus.
These less than official officials are flippant too, and in the buffoonery I see . . . waiting as I do, poor players strutting and fretting their hour on the stage of state–Publius is today a poor actor who is less than organic in his role. Waiting as I do again, waiting as I do some more, longer, longer, longer–and then an old woman smiles and erases the time I have spent. Populus beams and I have hope mostly becasue I know that this woman is We the People of the United States for if she is not, then I am not, and if I am not, then no one is. Each of us is We the People; each of us must be for it to mean anything. But I’ve been saying this for a long time already, how many years into how many decades I don’t care to count. I’ll say it again because it is a truth I hold to be self-evident, but the self-evidencies of one mind need not transfer to another or any other. Yet, I do not offer this as a rebuttal for the truth of what I say concerning our democracy and what we need to believe to hold it. Democracy is as much faith as it is empiricism, perhaps more so. We do have to believe in freedom.