When I first saw on television in 2003 that the United States was invading Iraq, I grabbed the remote and muttered what I usually do whenever we use military force in the world; “Where are those Get Smart re-runs?”
It is true, the more you watch Get Smart the more you understand KAOS and its affect on the planet. You learn KAOS is omnipresent and CONTROL a myth, at least as far as human activity is concerned. The universe, however, and universes beyond, all the way to Univers Zero, experience chaos and control simultaneously. In other words, they exist in objective order. You could say that Maxwell Smart, part bumbling, part crime solving government agent, embodies in human form how the universe operates, manifesting chaos and order in the same instant.
The more the U.S. tries to CONTROL the Middle East, the more KAOS ensues. We ought to be able to see the damage this suffocation produces. The ideology any powerful nation uses to protect and advance their interests, essentially can be interpreted as, “Those little children over there won’t play ball with us, so they must be spanked.” Or, “That tiny country over there, you know, the one you can barely see on a map, is threatening our illusory ideas of freedom, and must be taught a lesson no matter the cost.”
This isn’t an essay about the brutality of American foreign policy, Mr. and Mrs. Patriot, so don’t click me off just yet. I won’t go on about how our leaders purposely choose intelligence supporting their greedy ambitions overseas, while ignoring opposing intelligence entirely without debate.
What I will do instead, is let a progressive rock album very near and dear to my heart, Gentle Giant’s, The Power and the Glory, do it for me.
The best vantage point to view the problems that beset humanity is from satellite distance. Gentle Giant accomplishes this superbly with the album’s theme; despotic rulers and the people blindly following them. By stretching the view to encompass every person, all are complicit. At the time the album was released (1974), corrupt kingdoms and the evils of war were becoming a tired concept running through progressive music, and to look at the cover you might think you were getting more of the same. Not from GG. There’s much more going on here.
The ideology of political rule, represented on the cover as a slightly altered rendition of a king of spades, suggests this charade between ruler and subservient is nothing but a game. The king has shifty eyes and a worrisome look, however, ready to draw his paranoid sword. This is not an interplay for the faint of heart. Throughout his rule (the analogy of course applies to the queen as well), the king knows he must have his head on a swivel, lest it be chopped off.
The game is the conquest of power and glory, never for money. Money is a prerequisite for holding an elevated position enabling the pursuit. The poor can never seek high rank in government. Additionally, there can’t be absolute power and glory if there is not the desire to conquer other nations. Very little power and glory is found by enriching citizen’s lives with well-thought domestic policies. No, it’s usually found in expansionism, confiscating as many natural resources, pillaging as much freedom and ending however many lives as necessary so the mighty can stand as tall as they need.
In the song So Sincere, we see how a leader deceives the population with false pretenses and empty rhetoric. The goal is to maintain the status quo by fulfilling a mission of exploitation. These missions vary from politician to politician, century to century. The bewildered herd is only given enough consideration to prevent the collapse of society, never enough of it to noticeably improve the quality of their lives. So, an aggressive government’s quest for power and glory is fought on two fronts; with weaker nations it knows it can defeat, and with its own people.
Aspirations is an achingly slow, remarkable song. It’s about the citizenry relinquishing power to politicians, essentially placing their own lives in their greasy palms. The melody is atmospheric and touching, sung with a sad sense of surrender. There are no answers except for those rulers provide. It’s a beautiful piece of music, suitable perhaps for a funeral procession if you replace the vocals with a violin. Shortly after 9/11, I envisioned it as America’s song to our president, singing it how billions of people must have ‘sung’ their song of despair to their leader’s throughout history:
As the dust settles, see our dreams, all coming true it depends on you
If our times, they are troubled times, show us the way, tell us what to do
Be our guide, our light and our way of life, and let the world see the way we lead away
Hopes, dreams, dreaming all our sorrows gone forever
Surrender to Power is the beginning of the end for a Just Society. The people hand their government a get out of jail free card, allowing them to act with impunity in completion of their crimes.
Rulers, therefore, can continue Playing the Game, another gem on the album. Brimming with confidence from the population’s unwillingness to thoroughly examine how they are being maneuvered, law makers are convinced not only are they doing the will of the people, but of God as well. Retribution is quick and deadly, in many cases cruel beyond belief. In the eyes of the powerful, CONTROL is rarely arbitrary, but an operation planned well in advance. A lyric in the song is particularly interesting;
All my games are won before they’re played for… I have planned that no opposition can stage a fight.
In modern warfare, unless you’re 20th century Germany, a country bent on tyrannical acquisition always picks on someone they can handle. Peripheral nations are used as pawns to drain enemies of similar resources and strength.
Ignorance is a permanent requirement to the machinations of global political systems; they don’t flourish by encouraging ideas counter-productive to their own. Let’s get smart about this. Even the most dedicated pursuers of justice, individuals such as Maxwell Smart, must maintain a level of ignorance acceptable to Power. For example, in one scene from the show, Max is in the Chief’s office discussing the kidnapping of Agent 99 by KAOS.
“Where do you think they have her hidden, Chief?” Max asks.
“Come over here, I’ll show you.”
The Chief walks in back of his desk, presses a button, and the walls begin to separate. We see a glimpse of what will be a large map. But Max can’t wait until it’s revealed, asking, “They have her hidden behind the wall, Chief?”
Having to choose worthy leaders from a serving tray of indoctrinated candidates leaves the masses zero hope. Once in a blue moon someone adequate comes along, sympathetic to the turmoil the average person lives with. But any success achieved from this clumsy alliance, as in the success of Maxwell Smart, is sheer luck. Electing and leading are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
In the end, despite all the destruction and death, nothing has really taken place. It’s a continuous loop where events will always play out exactly the same way. Strong country must get stronger or perish. It gobbles up weak country, literally or figuratively. Small risk, but over time, maybe centuries, big reward. And big business. The weak remain in perpetual poverty. Entropy, though, will eventually overrule. The mighty will turn weak, or at least weaker.
Obviously at times the population rises. No matter what good has been accomplished during a ruler’s reign, the people will tell him or her to go one day. Unfortuneately, other well-connected vampires in search of The Power and the Glory open the lids to their coffins, ready to defy the light with their own Proclamation, So Sincere with Aspirations of Playing The Game. The wheel slowly turns around…