Vanishing Points XXXIV © Michael Bristol

 

The terror of the unforeseen – summer, 2019

I am in the passenger seat; my wife is driving at her usual steady pace, heading north on I-91, just outside White River Junction, Vermont. It’s a beautiful late summer morning, the sun is shining, and there is hardly any traffic on the road. As we’re cruising along, I’m thinking about how to start a paper on Shakespeare’s Richard II, which I will be presenting at a conference in Philadelphia the following April. Writing about Shakespeare is fun for me. The scholars who read my books appreciate what I have to say, and sometimes they assign my essays to their graduate students. So when the invitation to contribute something to this conference came up, I was happy to accept. I’m pleasantly daydreaming about discussing the play with colleagues I admire and maybe getting together with an old friend I haven’t seen in years.

Something doesn’t sound right. As I glance over, I see an eighteen-wheeler, so close I can read the fine print on the door: Timber Transport. In that same instant I hear the sickening crunch of an impact. We swerve counter-clockwise and the full weight of the speeding truck slams into the driver’s side, shattering the window. Our car is pushed sideways at high speed for the next half mile. The screech of the tires being ripped off the wheels is deafening. There is no way to steer the car out of trouble or moderate our speed; the two of us are trapped and absolutely helpless. During the 30 or 40 seconds it takes before the truck stops, my only thought is how this will ruin my plans for the weekend.

What follows is a scene we have witnessed many times before, but this time we are not witnesses; we are the scene. Traffic slows down in both directions to have a look. Two men who saw the accident are running up the side of the road. Their t-shirts both say Geek Squad. One of them is on the phone, but the only word I can hear is “elderly.” The other one asks, “Is your wife all right?” And right here is the scar, the focus of the trauma. Did I act quickly enough to get her out of there? She’s climbing over the gearshift lever; broken glass is all over the front seat. There’s blood on her arm. I still have no idea how the accident happened that day, or why our lives were spared.

The first vehicle to arrive at the scene is the fire chief’s car from Norwich, Vermont. He’s kind, concerned about our well-being, and then he tells us he sees a lot of accidents like this. There’s a college nearby and most of the time, people are not so lucky. A few minutes later, two paramedics show up in their van. Their names are Josh, who spends a lot of time in the weight room by the look of him, and Jeremy, the nurturing one. They take our blood pressure and give my wife a Band-Aid for the small laceration on her arm, probably caused by a piece of flying glass. After a few minutes they realize we really are ok, vital signs normal and no sign of any injury. Josh says, “This is a win for us.” I don’t take time to think about what a loss would have looked like.

A few hours later I drive back home over the A-10 in a rented SUV. It’s tense; we don’t talk much. For the next month we’re sitting at home in Montréal without a car. Our street and our front yards have been dug up so that contractors working for the city can replace the old lead pipes that supply our fresh running water with copper tubing. Heat, dust, noise and uncertainty occupy our waking hours. I sleep a lot, and sometimes I wonder if I will ever feel safe in a car again. I have recurring morbid thoughts, sudden episodes of disorientation, constant fatigue, and hours of inexplicable sadness. During this time, I went out of my way to describe the events of that day to everybody I met. The story I told everybody was about resilience and poise and grace under pressure and how it might have been the car’s low centre of gravity that saved our lives. The details were all accurate; the whole narrative was an evasion of the truth. If I showed you the picture I took at the crash site, the side of the car doesn’t look that bad. The crushed and shredded panels on the driver’s side where my wife was sitting don’t show.

 

Vanishing Points XVIV © Michael Bristol

 

Unborn sorrow – winter, 2019 / 2020

Things didn’t really settle down until early November. By then we had a brand-new car paid for by insurance, with digital enhancements I still do not understand. I wasn’t that confident about driving, but managed to get back and forth to the gym and the library without much difficulty. Construction work on the street was finished. The State’s Attorney of Windsor County, Vermont, wrote to advise us that the driver of the truck signed a plea agreement to serve two years’ probation for negligent operation of a vehicle. I thought the sound of the first impact was fading away and I was ready to get my life back to normal. And for me, back to normal meant starting work on Richard II, even though the conference was still a good six months away. Things do not go according to plan.

Shakespeare’s play tells the story of King Richard’s overthrow and murder by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV. Richard is the central character in the drama; his suffering and death are the source of its greatest poetry. When I suggested to a friend that Richard is the role I would really like to perform, his response was, “Yes, but don’t we all think Bolingbroke will be a better king?” Despite the absurdity of the idea I was a little offended, so I replied by quoting Richard to show him how great the King’s speeches are.

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court […] 2.3.155-163

What was it about a hollow crown where death keeps his court that stuck in my mind, and for that matter, why would I want to play the part of the sad, defeated king?

The suggestion that Bolingbroke would be a better king is a standard line of interpretation in Shakespeare scholarship. It appealed to me when I first heard lectures on the play in college. Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States then, and we were beginning to hear great things about the junior senator from Massachusetts who was already campaigning for that office. A few years later Jack Kennedy gave the commencement speech at my graduation. It seemed the hope for a better king was about to be realized. Eighteen months later he was shot to death by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Many people look for a better king in Richard II, but others are more deeply moved by the passion and death of the sad king. In La Leçon de Rosalinde, Mustapha Fahmi has this to say about King Richard: “Selon lui, il n’y a pas de bon ou de mauvais leader. Il y a seulement des rois légitimes et des usurpateurs.” Fahmi’s point here is that the idea of “a better king” is simply not a meaningful expression. You don’t get to be king by doing something; it’s not something you deserve or achieve by your actions, and you are not answerable to anybody else. Richard gets to be king by being born to the right parents, and nothing further can be said. At the beginning of the play Richard says, “I was not born to sue, but to command.” You and I might find this sentiment odious – my students absolutely hated him – but in the story, Richard is the only character who can truthfully say this. If we’re offended by the idea, it might help to realize that what he is articulating here is a claim to self-sufficiency. And maybe that’s why the crazy idea I had of playing the King was attractive, even though I know he comes to grief in the end.

Richard II is a grief-stricken play. Grief is mentioned dozens of times, along with sorrow, weeping, tears, mourning and lament. Everybody comes to grief sooner or later. Grief is a complex word. It comes from old French grever, to bear a burden, which derives in turn from Latin gravis, heavy. It has links with grave and gravity and also Latin gravitas, which we use for ideas of dignity and seriousness. Shakespeare’s play is like a dictionary of grief, using the word to express harm, injury, pain, hardship, frustration, along with more familiar notions of loss and emotional distress. It also has the derivative sense of grievance, a sense of bitterness felt by a person of mediocre talents towards someone perceived as undeserving of their privilege. All this sadness is not a good fit with a political success story. Instead of cheering for Bolingbroke, maybe we’re supposed to be weeping for the overthrow and death of Richard.

I saw the beauty of the sad king for the first time in a performance of Richard II at The Stratford Festival, directed by Martha Henry, in 1999. The actor who played Richard was literally head and shoulders above every other man in the cast.  But it was the performance of the young Queen Isabel that showed me what I had missed about Richard. The role of the Queen was played by a sixteen-year-old woman named Maggie Blake. It’s a small part, with just over 100 lines, yet she was the emotional centre of the play, not only in the passion she brought to the poetry but even more in the sensuality of her presence.

In Shakespeare’s plays, women often experience grief with concrete, sensuous immediacy. The beauty of the sad king becomes visible for us in the eyes of the Queen. She has just learned that her husband has been defeated in a critical battle and she may never see him again. Confronted with the finality of a death foretold, the young queen turns her mind to the shared passion of their intimate life together. This is where grief takes up residence.

Queen:  . . . I know no cause
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief,
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard: yet again, methinks,
Some unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb,
Is coming towards me, and my inward soul
With nothing trembles: at something it grieves,
More than with parting from my lord the king. 2.2.5-13

Maggie Blake’s performance showed us that the Queen knows what is beautiful about him. And what she knows about him invites us to love the sad king ourselves. The unborn sorrow, ripe in fortune’s womb, could be a child Bolingbroke cannot afford to let her bear. But in a larger sense, her unborn sorrow is foreboding about the unanticipated and the uncontrolled, reminding us that our existential condition does not allow space for self-sufficiency. They say there’s no escape from the past, but the Queen understands there’s no escape from the future either. No consideration will be given for their love.

Shakespeare’s historical plays are populated by men who cannot hear the voices of women, choosing instead to seek esteem and validation from other men. More often than not they come to grief, generally after inflicting considerable damage on the lives of other people. Bolingbroke is surrounded by men like this. In Martha Henry’s production, these men

were all heavy-bodied, all about the same height, similarly dressed in military gear, and when they would crowd together on the stage, it was sometimes hard to tell which one was Bolingbroke. The idea that he would make a better king disappeared in the gray banality of their ambition.

What then is the larger shape of this play? Is it a story of the triumph of a better king, or have we been witnessing a scapegoating ritual? Antonin Artaud might stage this play as theatre of cruelty:

“il ne s’agit pas de cette cruauté que nous pouvons exercer les uns contre les autres en nous dépeçant mutuellement les corps, en sciant nos anatomies personnelles . . . mais de celle beaucoup plus terrible et nécessaire que les choses peuvent exercer contre nous. Nous ne sommes pas libres. Et le ciel peut encore nous tomber sur la tête. Et le théâtre est fait pour nous apprendre d’abord cela.”

One last question then: What does it say about us that we resist the grief expressed in this play, displacing it into wishful thinking about a better king?

 

Vanishing Points XXXIV © Michael Bristol

 

The weight of this sad time – spring, 2020 

In the middle of February, one of the panelists for my session at the Shakespeare conference was in a car accident and suffered multiple injuries, which required emergency surgery. This was followed by three weeks of rehabilitation in a local hospital. Her husband advised me she would not be able to travel to Philadelphia in April.

A few weeks later, the conference was cancelled in response to the spread of SAR-CoV-2. About this time, Mustapha Fahmi was hospitalized with a severe case of COVID 19. He now writes to say he has been declared “healed” by public health. The worst is over, but he still faces a lengthy recovery. His wife and his two sons were also infected but did not require hospitalization.

On Friday, March 13, I celebrated my eightieth birthday with a group of close friends. As planned, we spent our time discussing Richard II.  We dispensed with our customary hugs of greeting. In hindsight I wonder if we were taking a greater risk than we realized. The next day I learned that my cousin Ted had passed away.

Teddy was a little boy when I was already married, with two children, getting started with my career. I never knew Ted as a man; he was not part of my adult life and I can’t say we were close friends. And yet I wept, surprised by the tears. I remember the day I showed him how to throw a baseball. It was a beautiful late summer morning, the sun was shining, and he wasn’t too sure about the baseball, which was pretty big for his four-year-old hand. He trusted me to show him how, and then he tried it himself. After a few attempts he got it and he laughed the way kids do when they accomplish something new for the first time.

I have an old picture of the twelve cousins, taken when the oldest of us were teenagers. If I showed you the picture, you would see an image of happy family life. We’re all smiling at our beloved uncle from Texas, standing just to the right of the camera, getting us to laugh. Teddy is standing between his big sister Veronica and his little brother Benjy. The picture doesn’t show everything. You can’t see the unpleasant racist jokes the beloved uncle from Texas has been telling all afternoon about the Latino citizens of Corpus Christi. You can’t see the legacy of alcoholism that’s going to destroy the life of the pretty fourteen-year-old girl over there on the far left. You can’t see how Teddy’s parents are struggling to pay the bills and keep food on the table. And you simply cannot imagine the fabulous wealth Teddy and Ben and Veronica are going to acquire in their adult life or how generous they will be in sharing it. All those things happened. But those things are only part of the story. Better to contemplate the simple joy of a happy childhood because that’s just as real as anything else I could tell you about.

My sister says, “You have to grieve; you need to grieve. Otherwise there is something crucial and unfinished in your life.” I think a lot of people would agree with her. For me it’s not the whole story. We’re never self-contained; we’re always incomplete. There are things that come from outside us that are essential to the self, like the language we speak, the things we learn and the stories we read. In that way we have never been self-sufficient. Everything you or I do is surrounded and shaped by things that are not you or me, an eighteen-wheeler that comes out of nowhere, destroys the car and almost ends my life.  My story is a mingled yarn, just like yours; this one is made out of personal memories braided together with strands from Shakespeare’s poetry, my sister’s email and letters from my editor.

Grief is not so much a task to be completed; it’s a burden you carry all the time for the value of everything that’s been lost, for sins of omissions, missed chances, and roads not taken. In that way grief is feeling the accumulated weight of all our losses and disappointments and all our regrets. It exists in our souls to challenge any vain hopes for self-determination. Grief compels us to understand what really matters, over against the irresistible power of contingency in our lives. And by acknowledging the cruelty of what the world can do to us, we are at the beginning of resistance to the unnecessary cruelty we habitually inflict on one another.

 

Vanishing Points IX © Michael Bristol

 

 

“Coming apart” by Mike Tewkesbury. From flickr under creative commons license: Attribution, NoDerivatives.

 

 

. . . if virtue, as being subject to such various and uncertain accidents, were but the slave of fortune, and were not of sufficient ability to support herself; I am afraid that it would seem desirable rather to offer up prayers than to rely on our own confidence in virtue, as the foundation for our hope of a happy life. [Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, Book 5.] You could look up the Tusculan Disputations in a few seconds on your smart phone right now, and that simple fact alone could give you the impression that you were better off than Cicero or any of his friends. I wouldn’t blame you for feeling that way. You can even use your smart phone to lock your front door just in case you forgot in your hurry to get to work, so you’re not leaving anything to chance – or fortune as Cicero would have it. We don’t have to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune the way they did in Ancient Rome. There are times, however – usually at around 4:00 a.m. – when I find myself wondering if fortune has become more outrageous than it ever was.

 

“. . . when a child is born in Ghana . . . “

 

When I started graduate school in 1962, one of the men in my cohort was from Ghana. At the time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, a baby girl born on the day of the Cuban Missile Crisis. A few days later I told Sam about the new arrival. He shook my hand and said, “and you will have other children.” I wasn’t sure if it was a prediction or a piece of advice, but in any event I said we might have one more, but we weren’t planning a big family. “My wife and I have five children,” he said, and he went on to add, “when a child is born in Ghana, we cannot take for granted that it will live – we have many children, hoping that some of them will survive.” It’s not that the thought had never crossed my mind; every parent is acquainted with that fear. What I had not considered up to that moment was the certainty of uncertainty. They understand these things better in less wealthy countries.

 

Manuel Valadaõ

At the age of fourteen, Manuel Valadão signed on to a whaling ship in Flores, a small island in the Açores, roughly in the year 1855. Of his experience at sea nothing is known. At the end of a three-year voyage his ship made port in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Now seventeen years old, Manuel Valadão abandoned the sea-faring life and walked from New Bedford to a small town in Maine, where he found work with a local farmer. A year later he enlisted in the 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry as the only foreign-born soldier in the Regiment, which saw combat for the first time at the battle of Fredericksburg. He wrote to a friend back home: “the soldier’s life is not as good as I thought. I was in battle at Fredericksburg and I don’t think much of it.” During the Battle of the Wilderness, Manuel Valadão sustained a bullet wound in the leg. He survived the war.

At about the time Manuel Valadão was making his way up to Maine, another young man named John Davison Rockefeller took his first job as an assistant bookkeeper for a produce firm called Hewitt & Tuttle. He and his wife would have five children, including a daughter who died in infancy. A number of his descendants have become well-known public figures in the United States, but that’s another story.

When Manuel Valadão mustered out of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1865, he married and bought a farm along the Presumpscot River where he grew corn and kept sheep, along with a few dairy cows. Between what they could grow for themselves, a military pension of $12.00 monthly, some cash income from selling milk to the local dairy and corn to a nearby processing plant, the family were able to satisfy their modest needs. A small subsistence farm might not make you rich, but then you are not relying on a single commodity to sustain your family. You maintain a vegetable garden, keep chickens and maybe a hog, you exchange services with your neighbours. There are berries to pick in the summer. In late spring, the women and children shell peas, serve them up with butter, and that’s your supper. You get by. Manuel Valadão drove the hearse for funerals in the local community, he helped his neighbours in cutting timber, and his sons worked at the local barrel factory after school, hacking and hauling barrel staves. Judging from the account in a diary kept by his twelve-year-old son, the family did not suffer from economic hardship, although it could hardly be said they were prosperous. Sickness was a more pressing concern.

At the age of twenty, John D. Rockefeller went into the business of refining kerosene, competing with whale oil to provide cheap fuel for lamps he liked to call “the poor man’s light.” He eventually became the richest man in the world. Rockefeller’s success in supplying kerosene was not destined to continue for very long; his principal market was about to be obliterated by Thomas Edison and the emerging technology of electric lighting. Fortunately for Rockefeller the internal combustion engine was developed at about this time, creating an even more lucrative market for gasoline than there ever was for kerosene. And thus are great fortunes made. The confluence of Rockefeller and Henry Ford would eventually have a damaging effect on horse trading, carriage manufacturing, livery stables and in the long run on the future of the entire human population of planet Earth.

Manuel Valadão refused to countenance the very idea of the automobile. Of course by the time any motorcars would have been seen on the roads anywhere near Manuel Valadaõ’s farm, he would have been a man in his sixties. For him, cars weren’t progress, they were just a nuisance and possibly a threat to the only kind of life he ever knew. Rockefeller and Ford did not seek out Manuel Valadão’s opinion about this, and it probably would not have made any difference if they had.

 

A Thousand Natural Shocks

Manuel Valadão and his family existed in a form of life that had grown old. That life possessed its own kind of dignity but there is no way to know what he thought about it or whether he would have considered himself to be thriving. It would be dishonest to wax nostalgic about family farms or to idealize the social existence of a small close-knit rural community. If you asked him if his life was perilous, he might show you the graves of the four children he buried. By the time he died in 1919, the year after the First World War ended, his oldest son had moved on, attending college and then settling in the suburbs of Boston where he taught science in a high school. His surviving daughter and her husband kept the farm going but they ploughed their fields with a tractor instead of having it pulled by a horse. The small close-knit rural community they lived in persisted for many years, but in a new kind of world created by John Davison Rockefeller and Henry Ford. The owl of Minerva takes flight only with the falling of dusk.

A man who has watched his young comrades die in a war likely understands that he is living against a background of uncertainty. And then there are uncertainties in running a farm. You could think of it as playing a game, where the opponent is “nature,” or fortune if you prefer, playing by its own rules. We all know this game in its simplest form whenever we have to decide whether or not to take along an umbrella on a cloudy day. In farming there are many “natural shocks” to consider, mostly in the form of unforeseen weather conditions. A strategy of maintaining a small scale, low overhead and modest ambitions might be a good way to buffer yourself against another kind of uncertainty, namely fluctuations in the market price of corn or dairy products.

In June, 1911, Manuel Valadão presented a claim to the federal government to have his military pension increased from $12.00 a month to $15.00. About a month earlier the U. S. Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of Standard Oil Company, ruling it was a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust act. This was a shock to John D. Rockefeller, but thanks to astute legal counsel, he was able to hang on to most of his capital. In building up Standard Oil, Rockefeller created a more precarious structure than he apparently realized. Uncertainty for most people basically had always meant the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. But in large-scale economies there is, in addition to risks such as catastrophic illness or planes crashes, a further structural uncertainty that can’t be eliminated because it is one of the necessary conditions for accumulating capital. Uncertainty is precisely what’s driving the market economy or, as my nephew once put it, businessmen are gamblers. You don’t work hard because you love stress and tension and feeling exhausted at the end of your day. You work hard because you’re worried about losing your job.

 

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head . . .

It has become commonplace in election campaigns to say “people need jobs.” In one recent election the winning candidate was the one who promised people they would be able to have jobs working in coal mines. Let that one sink in for a minute. So let’s set aside the various job-creating proposals and whether or not any of them has even minimal validity, because I want to raise a more fundamental question. Is it not preposterous to say that people need jobs? The preposterous is a rhetorical figure of reversal, putting first things last and last things first, or in other words doing things ass-backwards. To suggest that a person “needs” a job is to suggest that a person is incomplete without one.

What people actually need is sustenance, physical well-being, peace of mind, a pathway (not just a purely abstract “opportunity,” mind you) to the full realization of their capabilities and their gifts. People need skilled world engagement. People need to work in reasonable conditions. Instead of asking how to satisfy a “need” for jobs, why are we not asking how a job can satisfy the needs of a person? I would agree that people benefit from doing work that satisfies their deeper aspirations. Unfortunately, the existential costs of holding many jobs –in the form of stress, chronic anxiety and burnout – have become prohibitively high.

When I first came to Montréal I used to see a dentist who would hum the first eight bars of “raindrops keep fallin’ on my head” over and over and over again as he performed the arts of dentistry. And then one day, apropos of nothing in particular, Marty suddenly stood up, looked out the window and announced, “The Canada Health Care Act was the greatest thing that ever happened here. For the first time in my life I had real peace of mind.” He stared off into space for a minute, nodded and went back to humming. It has taken me a long time to see the connection between the humming and the peace of mind. Even with Québec Medicare, raindrops keep fallin’ on my head, children die of untreatable illnesses, young adults at the peak of their creativity get a diagnosis of terminal cancer, cyclists are run over and killed by motorists. You can’t stop the raindrops from falling, and you can’t even accomplish the more modest task of getting your dentist to stop humming that annoying tune.

Manuel Valadão left things more or less as he found them. Eventually farming on his land came to an end; the forest took over and a rare wildflower was discovered growing where he once grazed sheep. Rockefeller and Ford created the technological eco-system we inhabit today. The implied promise in this transformation was that our lives would be cushioned against the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, and unburdened from debilitating labour. Better technology was supposed to create greater abundance and more leisure time to enjoy it. And yet, a funny thing happened on the way to achieving this. Instead of widespread peace of mind and time to think, there seems to be a pandemic of generalized anxiety. Many kinds of work have disappeared, leaving people whose work has been taken over by a device without a reasonable way to earn a livelihood. Has this now become a form of life that has grown old in its turn?

 

 

A Rock and A Hard Place

After my last check-up, my doctor told me I was doing everything right. “If the fates are kind you could have 20 more good years.” I did not have to ask him what would happen if the fates weren’t kind. Even with significant advances in medical care it seems that just living is ontologically precarious. A piece of building on Peel Street might fall on your head from a great height and kill you while you’re enjoying lunch with your boyfriend, a bizarre event that happened right here in Montréal. Even if no bad things happen, you are constantly being reminded, thanks to the pharmaceutical industry, of the myriad diseases that might afflict you, assuming they are not afflicting you already. The good news is that drug companies will have a cure for whatever ails you. The bad news is that the cure might be just as bad as the ailment it is supposed to remedy. Beyond that, however, we have to recognize that ontological uncertainty is not the only thing that ails us.

In Latin, precarius is something given to you as a favour by somebody else, or in other words it describes a bond of dependency. In that sense a job where you work for wages is already precarious by its very nature. It is an imbalance in the allocation of power defined by persistent insecurity on one side of the relationship. Whenever I think about a job, the first thing that comes to mind is a clock radio. You can’t take your time getting up, because the industrial economy has already taken your time. And as if the clock radio wasn’t bad enough, waking you up at 6:00 a.m. so you can drag yourself to work, now, thanks to your portable device, you’re still on the job wherever you go. People even boast of their ability to stay connected, forsooth. But this attitude is preposterous. If electronic media makes things easier for you, they make it even easier for employers to enforce a higher standard of industrial discipline – productivity they like to call it. We end up acquiescing in the condition of our own alienation, and accept that alienation is the best available possibility for living a good life.

So that’s the rock. You might just be inclined to say “no thank you” or “please don’t do me any favours.” But just consider the alternative.

The hard place is where you are when your job doesn’t provide you with sufficient compensation to keep body and soul together, or you don’t have a job at all. In that case you might feel envious of people who have gainful employment because they probably are better off than you are, notwithstanding their submission to the rigors of industrial discipline. Governments have begun to abandon their role in promoting the welfare of its citizens, dismantling programs that support activities taken to be unprofitable and limiting the scope of emergency protections, in order to create a more favourable environment for businesses. This then serves as an incentive for the rest who are getting paid for the work they do, motivating them to adapt to ever more exacting standards of hyper-productivity until technology advances far enough to render whatever job they might be doing obsolete.

There is a connection between the rock and the hard place, because taken together they represent the structure of the precarius, an overarching strategy of domination that prevails everywhere in our present economic reality. We are always faced with ontological uncertainty. In our present circumstances we’re facing something even more ominous. The new kind of uncertainty that’s keeping us awake at 4:00 a.m. is both intentional and artificial, an artefact of uncontrolled capital accumulation. If my nephew is right and businessmen are gamblers, then we’re all of us hostages to the risks in whatever game they are playing. Do any of the big players addicted to this pursuit really understand the rules of their game or what’s at stake for them and for everybody else in continuing to play it? Are there any rules? And why do the rest of us let them get away with it? Ontological uncertainly cannot be eliminated from our lives, but its effects can be mitigated. Artificial uncertainty created in the service of power is in fact unnecessary uncertainty. It’s time we put a stop to it. Because if we allow our own governments to persist in giving ever greater sovereignty to the gamblers, disguising what they’re doing by calling them “job-creators,” then our economic uncertainty is never going to end. If not now, when?