In an old book of moral tales there is a story about a band of emigrants is camped by a mountain. Their leader hears a bodiless voice calling him up the mountain so he goes up there. Several times actually. The voice promises the band special treatment if they will obey its rules. One of which is no more idols that leadership is found in words not precious objects.

The tribe is good with that. It seems fairer as people are not being valued by the expense of their idols. And more open, where the dos and don’ts are not as obscured by priestly, bureaucratic, or legal mumbo jumbo.

But when the leader has been up the mountain for a couple of weeks the gang gets worried; they ask the leader’s assistant/brother left in charge what to do. He says let’s toss all our jewelry in to a fire and make an idol, to pray to, making things better. He later denies his role in the affair; he says it was the people’s idea.

The leader finally returns and sees the idol and is royally pissed off. He smashes it to bits, makes the tribe consume it, then orders everyone kill each other. A slaughter ensues, and, on top of all that, the survivors get sick.

A bit later the leader—repeating the voice, he says—to the survivors of the slaughter and plague, let us invade a nearby country, don’t worry the current inhabitants have been driven off—by the voice command, he says. He asks if the voice is going to come along. The voice says no, but it orders the tribe take off their jewelry and leave it all behind. What jewelry is this? Wasn’t it all melted done and consumed in the previous chapter?

The leader is getting suspicious now. He questions the voice’s truthiness. The voice says it will parade goodness and glory past the leader, but will hide it from him as it passes only letting him see it when it is past, out of reach. Was this goodness and glory the discarded jewelry mentioned before? Could be, the tale doesn’t say.

After some more wandering, the tribe is griping again, complaining about the food and drink provided by the leader. Fiery serpents appear and begin killing the complainers, who quickly apologize and plead with the leader to stop this. The leader makes a metal version of a fiery snake and the bitten people are cured just by looking at it. No irony here; metal animals have many uses, some good, some bad.


OK, so enough with ancient “history.” What this picture shows is a modern version of the above tales. It shows that leaders today— historical and mythological, too—are all the same. Be they tablet-bearing digital charismatics from Silicon Valley or idol-making gold- worshipers from Wall Street, these “leaders” will demand that you “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” their private voices will urge them to order you to “take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you,” and in return they promise to be “an enemy to your enemy,” to “take sickness away from the midst of you,” give you a “land flowing with milk and honey” and so on.

But what is actually happening to you is what the old tale says the leader’s private voice secretly told him. And the leader is now in the role of the voice. It/he says to “put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.” “Pass by” to an off-shore tax-haven with your golden earrings and ornaments in hand, that is. “Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” Nor your treasures, ever again.

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false,
and by the rulers as useful.” (L. A. Seneca, ca. 50 AD)

So let’s move forward a couple of millennia to these reflections from another “rock god.” Pete Townshend, in his 1971 song “Won’t get fooled again,” says he’ll go with the flow, leave several options open, “I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution / Take a bow for the new revolution,” he’ll keep on making art, “Smile and grin at the change all around me / Pick up my guitar and play / Just like yesterday” but he’ll hedge his bets per Pascal, “And I’ll get on my knees and pray / We don’t get fooled again / Don’t get fooled again,” then immediately regret that naivety or illogic, “No, no! / YAAAAAA AAAAA AAAAA AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAH!” and state the obvious, “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

Hedge your bets, make art, and pass on religion, all good advice, Pete. In his blog Townshend said, “The song was meant to let politicians and revolutionaries alike know that what lay in the centre of my life was not for sale, and could not be co-opted into any obvious cause.”

But he sold the song for a car commercial! Was he a then traitor to his g-g-g-generation? Nope, he was just he hedging his bets, smiling, grinning, playing even, all the way to the bank. He’s not harming or fooling anyone, so I can’t blame him, really. As opposed to the prophets for profit … “the morals that they worship will be gone” “They decide and the shotgun sings the song” “And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye” … pretending to be leaders today.

Sources considered, reviewed and quoted: