In doing a crossword puzzle. I ran into the term homo homini lupus. The first two words surely related to the human race. I supposed lupus had to do with the auto-immune disease. Nor so. Lupus is Latin for wolf.
The Roman satirist Plautus (250-184 B.C.) first used the phrase in a comedy. A character declares that “man is a wolf to man.” Homo homini lupus est. For political correctness, we might add “and ditto for woman.” Putting it mildly, humans (individually nor collectively) are not always nice. In fact, in this theoretically Christian nation, rather frequently not.
A couple weeks back, our local preacher acknowledged that, in spite of prayer, things sometimes got “messy.” Hoping to explain how a “good God” allows bad things to happen, he mentioned Adam and Eve. That’s where the first man freely chose to sin — aided and abetted by the first woman. “In Adam’s fall we sinn’ed all” is a maxim printed in New England around 1690 as part of a pamphlet to teach Protestant kids the alphabet. Today, many fundamentalists take Adam and Eve as factual history.
My own suspicion is the allegory was invented long after the origin of humans to explain belatedly why homini (mankind) so often acted like selfish lupuses. Long ago, C.S. Lewis the Christian apologist observed “the line of evil crosses every human heart.” (I don’t recall Lewis blaming Adam or his restructured rib.)
The common triggers of homo lupine behavior are money, power and sex — often intermixed. Money is not hard to understand. Power comes in social, political and religious subcategories. Sex commonly draws more attention — especially the exciting stories of naughty others.
All that’s to say, dear fellow homini, at best we are a mixed-bag. Mark Twain called it “the damned human race.”
Many wiser than I have come to the same conclusion. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was not a religious man but a materialist. Hobbes believed any god was beyond the capability of mortals to understand. Hobbes obviously didn’t anticipate any supernatural fix for human problems. He argued for the necessity of human government, imperfect though it might be. Without such government, said Hobbes, “the life of man (would be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
(It now occurs to me that lupus as an auto-immune disease has merit: Humanity is often its own worst enemy.)
The word “government” is widely defiled today by the far right and their wealthy allies, whose mantra is Reagan’s simple-minded statement, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Well, it’s more complicated than that. Often I am saddened at how little Americans know, or have tried to learn, about our own history.
Recently, I loaned my copy of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel “The Jungle” to a conservative friend. Writing in 1906, Sinclair accurately described the disgusting working conditions and miserable home life of poor Americans, spouses and children in Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
There was a government of those times, but not one that saw all Americans as entitled to respect. Sinclair, called a “muckraker” by Teddy Roosevelt, was one of many who began to demand change: A different kind of government, one that must solve problems of social injustice.
Months after the publication of Sinclair’s novel, “An embarrassed Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act to curb these sickening abuses.” (http://www.ushistory.org/us/42b.asp)
“The Jungle” exposed just one ugly scenario. There were earlier abuses, and more to come.
After (and if) my friend finishes the novel, I’ll offer my copy of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States: 1492 — Present.” Library Journal called it “a brilliant and moving history of the American people.” If you haven’t read it, get off your butt, turn off the TV — and your smartphone. Buy a copy or visit the local library and borrow one. Read it. Then, share it with your kids and friends, discuss it with your coffee group.
If you’re looking for a bottom line. It’s this: Today, the label “government” is interpreted too often as a regulatory threat, a threat to the “freedom” to make as much money as possible whatever the public cost. The rich get richer, the middle class disappears, and the lower class gets bigger and bigger. History is beginning to repeat itself.
One small example of many: Jim Hightower, in the Lowdown, reports Mondelez International, based in Deefield, Ill., is moving its Oreo Cookie factory from Chicago to Mexico. That will cost 600 U.S. jobs and send them to Salinas. There the minimum wage is $4 — per day! Mondelez’ s top three executives are paid, respectively: $5.9 million, $2.5 million and $2.1 million annually.
So, American working class, while you listen to the tea party about God, gays, guns, abortion and Reaganesque corporate-friendly anti-regulatory sermons; while you try hard to pay the bills and feed your kids on the current minimum wage; while you wonder how you’ll pay for their college or vo-tech education; while you contemplate Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts for the wealthiest or Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s love affair with Citizens United corporate personhood — enjoy your Oreos. Or, you can eat cake.
And things are worse in Mexico — unless you’re a corporation.
Bob Hooper, a fourth-generation western Kansan, writes from his home in Bogue.