The Queen is dead. Long live the King. The monarchy must endure because reasons.

The Queen is fondly eulogized by continents of people because she was symbolically connected to so many of them. Not for anything in particular she did; she is remembered for her grace, dignity, etc. all the things that can’t actually be pointed to. She’s a celebrity, famous for being famous. Like if Paris Hilton had a colonial empire, but for whatever reason, was mourned like Robin Williams.

You might gather by my tone that I am a republican, in the European sense of the word, with no apparent shame in demeaning the recently deceased. But this is no ordinary death, it is the death of a dictator. An autocrat by any other name would smell as sweet. I would be just as sardonic over the death of Vladimir Putin, I assure you. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say she was just a sweet old lady, and all those stories about racism are irrelevant. A benevolent Queen, a loving shepherd tending to her flock.

Don’t worry baby, you know I always treat you right!

There are a surprising number of people who want to believe in the benevolent dictator. The millions of Trump supporters hoping to overthrow democracy to install their glorious leader see him as benevolent to their interests, at least, apathetic to the interests of everyone else. But even on the left, there exists among some the wish for a politician who could get into power and just ram through environmental protections irrespective of lobbyist interference or whiny pipeline apologists. The world is dying, and the efficiency of a single-minded focus to overrule the profit-driven oil and gas industries and enforce measures to ensure our existential survival is quite seductive. And honestly pretty logical too, since accommodating the bad faith actors and those with suicidal profit motives may mean we don’t make it as a species given our limited timeframe. A benevolent dictator also means we don’t have to worry about these problems because we’ve got absolute power taking care of things for us – it’s the allure of a kind and caring god, answering our prayers, and abdicating us of any responsibility.

The problem with autocracy is that there’s just one ruler with absolute power. And despite millennia of precedent, we won’t assume that absolute power is going to corrupt our benevolent dictator because benevolence is right there in the name. Our hypothetical framework does not extend to advisors, sycophants, and other surrounding officials, however. Even a dictator with good intentions is still open to corrupting influences, especially if our ruler is siloed away in some government office or palace or whatever era you want to place our hypothetical. People are going to seek to gain from that absolute power, and it’s beyond even the naivety of those who believe in benevolent dictators to suggest that they will all bear equal levels of benevolence to our ruler. With an institution of absolute power, coups are inevitable, and benevolence does not provide immunity from harm.

Caesar counts as a benevolent dictator, right?

Let’s indulge that naivety and suggest that our wise ruler is incorruptible, impervious to influence, and their aristocrats or children don’t think to overthrow them. Our autocrat, however close to a god their champions want them to be, is not omniscient. Benevolence is a mere disposition, and while there requires a degree of wisdom to impose philanthropic decrees, being one person limits our dictator in what they can possibly be philanthropic about. Our environmental autocrat from earlier may have spent their life studying environmental engineering to determine what practical solutions are necessary to reverse climate change, but ultimately that means that they’re pretty ignorant in a lot of other areas. What do they know of labour relations, racial equity, First Nations sovereignty, prison and police reform (or abolition), and all those other things our leftist dreamers might want from a benevolent dictator? No matter how benevolent or wise, it’s impossible for one person to know enough about everything to be benevolent toward every facet of society.

Along similar lines, our ruler is going to come from a certain location that is going to influence the way they see the world. Our dictator will necessarily come from a culture, and from this, will necessarily have an in-group. This doesn’t imply that our dictator will be malevolent toward the out-group, we’ve established our parameters forcing them otherwise, but it does imply they will have biases and blind spots. That’s why people love Trump: he shares and reinforces their biases, so they’re not worried about a tyranny with him at the helm, blind spots be damned. But even our benevolent dictator won’t be able to act on things alien to them, leaving the out-group at a disadvantage in reaping the benefits of their lord’s benevolence.

It might be argued that our benevolent dictator would delegate in arenas where they lack the expertise or background to be effective rulers. However, that leads us back to our original problem: we can’t extend benevolence indefinitely, nor can we assume that our autocrat would have the wisdom to appoint appropriate delegates to the right position. Sycophants gonna sycophant, after all. If we allow other factors to determine how these people become appointed, then our dictator is no longer such, and the hypothetical fails.

I’m sure giving a German absolute power has no possibility of backfiring!

Let’s indulge in comatose levels of naivety and suggest that everything up until this point is irrelevant, and our dictator is righteous enough to avoid influence, knowledgeable enough to implement policy across all fields, and is connected to their people enough to avoid bias and blind spots. An omnipotent leader who is all-good, all-knowing, and ever-present across their realm. I’ve essentially described God, not-so-subtly alluding to the fictitious nature of our hypothetical dictator. However, even if all of these things were miraculously true, our divine dictator has one fatal flaw: mortality. Even Jesus Christ died on the cross, leaving His rule to the fallible.

Constructing an institution of absolute power means that even if such a fantasy as a benevolent dictator came to life like Geppetto’s marionette, they too would then die, leaving in place a vacuum which would need to be filled. Monarchs typically leave their power to their progeny, just as the British kingdom will inevitably pass to Elizabeth’s children once Charles kicks the bucket. Can you imagine if the next in line was Jeffrey Epstein’s buddy Andrew rather than William? Queen Elizabeth could have been the best fucking monarch the world had ever seen, but it means nothing if her successor pisses it all away.

Who would want a King that couldn’t sweat?

I like to think of the great Shah Akbar, the third Mughal ruler of India. He unified the subcontinent, was loved by non-Muslims and Muslims alike for his fair accommodation to diversity, and invested in art and culture to create a peaceful, prosperous land. He was succeeded by his son, Jahangir, who was fine, but the cracks began to form as he had to stave off his own son who attempted a coup against him. He had similar interests in art and culture to his father, but he didn’t have the same authority. Next up was a non-coup son, who became Shah Jahan. He started being a bit more militaristic, expanding the empire – up to you whether you think it’s still benevolent to violently seize and annex new territory. He’s the guy who commissioned the Taj Mahal for his favourite dead wife, so he left behind some pretty architecture at least, but it does seem like we’re starting to lose track of the citizenry here.

The next son is Aurangzeb, who basically ignored his father’s wishes of who would succeed next, and took leadership by force, imprisoning his father in the process. He was very militaristic, and expanded the Mughal empire to its largest point. Aurangzeb was a strict Muslim, and demolished a bunch of Hindu temples during his reign, abandoning all pretenses of tolerance once proudly exhibited by his great-grandfather. His militarism drove the empire to bankruptcy, and he didn’t name a successor so his sons fought it out amongst themselves: a civil war that effectively cemented the downfall of the Mughal dynasty.

He has a bird! What could possibly go wrong?

When looking at those with power, we must keep in mind the institutions that legitimize them. The Queen no longer governs in the traditional sense, ruling now only symbolically, but still: a symbol of what? What does her elegance and grace mean to the people of India or Palestine, to the Indigenous peoples of British colonies? Hell, what does it mean to the working classes of England who derive no benefit from, or indeed are actively harmed by, an institution of incestuous nepotism? We’ve romanticized Kings and Queens, knights and princesses, to the point where the fiction feels more real than the reality. The best kind of power is the one that is diffused as thinly as possible among those who are impacted by its influence. Pretending a dictator can be benevolent ignores the tyranny inherent in the institution.

The nicest thing one can say about Queen Elizabeth is that she existed as a benign tumor. The cancer remained dormant. How long do we have to wait before it begins to metastasize? Even if we want a god to save us from ourselves, such a thing is impossible. God is dead; the Queen is dead. Maybe we should start taking responsibility.

The foundation of linguistic determinism, dictonary.com, defines feminism as, “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” I’ve described before how equality is an insufficient measure of defining feminism, and its failure becomes much more stark as time goes by. For instance, women are now as equally incapable as men of getting abortions as in certain US states. Feminism can’t be about equality because the issues facing women are distinct from the issues facing men. It’s a buzzword abused by the left just as tragically as “freedom” is by the right. I don’t mean to completely disparage the term (nor “freedom”, to be perfectly honest) since it does have its uses, but setting up equality as the goal of feminism is to ignore what feminists have been demanding for centuries.

We too can serve under capitalism to support the military industrial complex!

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 demanding a place for women in formal education. She argued that preventing women from becoming educated and then calling them dumb is a cruel, self-fulfilling prophecy. Modern examples would be certain vocations being hostile to women, preventing their participation, and then pointing to their menses as the reason they can’t participate, ignorant again of this gatekeeping hostility. To be clear, equal access to education is a significant portion of this argument, but the goal isn’t the equality in and of itself; it’s the education.

Similarly, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963 with a less specific, but much more illuminating assertion. She posits that keeping women at home creates an unnamed ennui within them that can only be solved by their participation in the work force. This again requires an equality of opportunity, but Friedan is still not making an argument for equality, but an argument in repudiation of this mystique – that women ought to content themselves with the purpose intrinsic to cooking and cleaning. It’s a “mystique” because of its unnamed quality: up until this point, women were considered biologically-inclined to domesticity, so this role must be the only thing that could possibly matter to them. The language didn’t exist at the time to argue against this narrative.

Probably just a bout of hysteria

Strangely enough, the language was already there. Towards what end does one use an education or a vocation? Today we might say that the answer is money, but we’ve also forgotten that money is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The answer is actually to create meaning within our lives. Friedan recognized that forced domesticity is deeply unfulfilling – what are the results of the feminine mystique if not a lifelong existential crisis?

Existential philosophers have been talking about the angst of an unfulfilled life since before the suffragette movement (though, notably, not before Wollstonecraft). Victor Frankl recognized the necessity of meaning to existence. Albert Camus recognized the importance of embracing it even in the face of absurdity. Friedrich Nietzsche asked us to devote our lives to creating it. Existentialism is the pursuit of self-actualization in a universe that is actively trying to suppress it, whether through death or, in this instance, the patriarchy.

As Heidegger would say, women only exist authentically in a Being-Toward-Patriarchy

This is what the patriarchy is. It’s not the fancy name given to an unequal system; it’s the name of the cultural norms that systematically repress the existential potential of women. Consider the aforementioned criminalization of abortion. “Pro-life” is a harmful misnomer because it hides the reality of its repression. Consider Judith Thomson’s defense of abortion:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.

Do you have the right to choose to remove yourself from this situation that you did not consent to, regardless of the consequences on the life of this violinist? Of course you do. Perhaps the death of this violinist is no cause for jubilation, but the choice is still crucially yours. There’s a reason that critics of the pro-life movement call it “forced birth” rather than pro-life, because it more accurately describes what they’re advocating. The life of the unborn child, regardless of whether or not life begins at conception, has always been irrelevant to the woman’s right to choose.

Well that was a wasted nine months…

The distinction is important because we can see now that being forced to give birth is actually massively detrimental to a woman’s ability to live her own subjectively meaningful life. In a lot of cases, it’s not just forced birth, but forced motherhood. If she so chooses, motherhood can indisputably be hugely rewarding, but if not, she is tragically left with a Kierkegaardian mystique as her life is determined by outside forces.

Having your life defined by the powerful majority is not solely the purview of women. Black liberation movements are about reversing the historical suppression of self-actualization through Jim Crow, red-lining, and police brutality. It’s hard to live your best life when you’re being incarcerated by an unjust penal system. The queer focus on recognizing and accepting the different is about the ability of the different to live out their own self-actualization, even if their version of self-actualization isn’t exactly what Maslow might have had in mind. I think it’s a safe generalization to make that all social movements demanding equal rights are in reality simply asking for the opportunity to live their lives in the way they find most meaningful without some jerk forcing them into a box outside of that meaning. Hell, even Oscar Wilde recognized that under capitalism we are limited in our ability to self-actualize because we’re too busy labouring for the profits of others. You’re not going to be living your passion if you have to serve coffee to assholes in order to eke out increasing rent payments.

Noted socialist, Oscar Wilde. Albert Einstein was a socialist too, for your historical socialists lesson of the day!

One of the rare beautiful things about individualism is its recognition that our meaning ought not be determined by the collective. It’s even quite libertarian to insist that there be no suppression on the expression of that meaning (undeniably within reason). This is why modern day libertarians insist that current oppression is either rooted in biological inclination or in self-selected out-group culture – if the conditions were socially imposed, the cognitive dissonance would become too great.

Human beings, all of us, are meaning-seeking creatures. We want to lead fulfilling lives. It’s honestly such a simple, basic thesis that it ought to be glaringly obvious. It’s just that social structures have been implemented over time to prioritize the meaning of certain groups over others. The high school football player who rapes his female classmate is protected because his future, his ability to make meaning, is threatened by the legitimate consequences of his actions. He can go on to play college ball, and now she can’t get an abortion and is stuck with the life that was involuntarily thrusted upon her. His meaning is prioritized; her meaning is superfluous. It’s an unbalanced existentialism.

That’s patriarchy. Smashing it is feminism.

There’s a common conservative trope in America that responds to any demand for gun reform after a mass shooting with a disappointment in “the left” for making the tragedy “political.” In the most considerate light, this is the assertion that one ought to focus instead on processing grief rather than… what? What are politics? I mean… what am politics? I did a whole bit with my title; I should probably refer back to it for some degree of continuity. So what am politics?

Politics am the process by which a system functions and is successfully navigated. Think of office politics: if I want this report submitted, I know I have to get it in before noon because Pam in accounting has liquid lunches every day and is too sauced later in the afternoon to get any meaningful work done. If I want that promotion, I need to laugh at Scott’s jokes because he is the boss and has a fragile ego and holds a grudge. You have to recognize the power dynamics at play, understand everyone’s role and the eccentricities that inform their behaviour within that role, and perform your own role accordingly in order to meet your own needs within that system.

Politics!

Government isn’t politics; it’s an institution of politics for the functionality of the society that it governs. If I want any hope of a clean energy deal, I have to give Joe Manchin a rusty trombone in order to get it. This is no different than getting Pam to process your TPS reports quicker by buying her a nice vodka cran, if tasting slightly worse. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what the goals are; politics can just as easily gum up a system as it can loosen it. An obstructionist can use all sorts of political tools and rhetoric to achieve the self-interested goals of whatever lobby group is paying for their motivation: that’s also politics. It’s just that the system that it’s sustaining is plutocratic rather than serving the needs of the demos. Systems are legion and intersect in all sorts of ways.

My first example was an office because I specifically wanted to distance politics from government to make it clear that politics exists anywhere. Politics exists across the whole spectrum of governments, and if you think about the vast differences between a democracy and an autocracy, and the different maneuvers that would be required to function within each of them (e.g. how one goes about satisfying the needs of the many compared to satisfying the needs of the one), it’s obvious that politics can be everywhere, even when it’s defined by only its most overt form. Remember, it’s the process by which we function within a specific system. It doesn’t matter what the system is, whether a workplace, a nation, or a relationship, politics is there. When you successfully answer whether those pants make her ass look fat, you’ll likely be congratulated by being told that you provided a satisfactorily diplomatic response: a distinctly political term.

In short, dismissing gun reform by saying, “it’s easy to go to politics” is by definition, politics. If you are carefully considering your words in order to maintain the functionality that serves you within the system you’re navigating, you’re doing a politics. The far more interesting question is, I think, what is political?

What am political?

When something is political, it means that it is attached to a particular system’s functionality. Laughing at Scott’s jokes is a political act. It is conforming to a persona of flirtatiousness in order to succeed within a business dominated by men informed by a lecherous patriarchal worldview. This is why they say that the personal is political: our individual actions either conform to or rebel against the systems within which we function as our means of navigating them (see code-switching as another example). In Scott’s instance, we have to navigate the system of interpersonal relationships wherein we behave in a particular way to avoid ostracization, the system of a workplace wherein we need to perform in a certain way in order to pay for food and rent, and the system of patriarchy wherein I actually don’t have to worry about this part because I’ve been a dude this whole time.

It would actually be a much shorter list if we try to think of things that are not political. Come to think of it, even an act of God like Hurricane Katrina is still political because it showcased the failures and successes of a variety of systems. Similarly with Covid-19, it too stress-tested the functionality of our various systems. These supra-human events are just as political as, say, the Civil Rights movement because if we are paying attention, we can use politics to adjust our systems accordingly to prevent future failures. Or, alternatively, condemn the system as a whole if we see its successes as abhorrent when the veil is ripped away. Anything can be political if it highlights the (dis)functionality of a systemic response, so our short list is a list of zero. Who knew.

Remember when Kanye cared about black people?

All this boils down to a belief that guns, and all the deaths that inevitably accompany them, transcend literal acts of God in that they cannot be politicized. Right? Something that is embedded in the United States constitution, itself another institution of politics, would defy all reason if we approached it politically. It’s seemingly okay to politicize mental health, and I would genuinely love to see massive increases in expenditures to bolster social supports for those with mental illness, but somehow I don’t think that that governmental response is in the cards either. It would be fun to call the Republican bluff and table legislation that did exactly this to see how Republicans find a way to weasel their way out of it, but Democrats have their own systems they’re trying to protect.

A belief that guns are inevitable does not want the system to change; mass shootings are indeed emblematic of its success. Guns mean freedom! All those dead children are the broken eggs intrinsically linked to this omelet of ambiguous “freedom.” Unadulterated “freedom to” with no regard to “freedom from,” this is what the success of that system looks like. Those who use politics in order to hide the abhorrence of that success using the denunciation of “politics” to do so are the vilest of hypocrite.