Getting a Mouthful
by James L. Secor
People are isolated and isolated from themselves. They are alienated, from themselves and others. There is no knowing anything of anybody.
With this unbridgeable gap between me and you, commitment centres on me and what I want whenever. Life happens to me and I go with it. That’s all any of us have. So, what’s important is now because I only exist in the now. I don’t exist in the past tense. And, of course, I can’t exist in the future because it’s not here yet. I only exist here and now. I only feel things in the eternal now. One thing after another. Me and you. Separate but going along the road. On and on. Wherever it takes us. Just me bob-bob-bobbing along. Me. Because I have no idea about you and I have no idea where this road of life is taking me.
Since I know nothing and am not an agent of anything in particular, I cannot be held responsible. Life affects me and I react: I have no choice. I can only go with what I’m given. Now. Events are not future. Events are now. We are all at the mercy of events. The nowness of life. Events happen to you and me but there is no connection between the events and no connection between us and we have no choice but to go along with it. Events are the stampede makers of life. Like grasshoppers or lemmings.
Take the case of Johan de Witt.
I, of course, did not know him. Personally. How could I, being of humble origin? But I knew of him. I had seen him in his numerous processions through town, through the province, though he progressed through more than just mine. The whole country, in fact. He was a handsome man with long dark locks, a thin moustache at his thin upper lip and no beard, though perhaps there was some peach fuzz right along the chin; heavy eyebrows and a long, thin nose. Aquiline? I don’t know. I don’t know what an aquiline nose is. Nor have I found it necessary to find out. What is important is that he smiled at us as he passed. He smiled and waved. Once, his eyes made contact with mine and I knew he was human. Acquired aristocracy be damned.
He was everybody’s hero.
But this was not to stand him in good stead. For who knows what will stand you in good stead since you don’t know where you’re going or what road you’re on.
Is there more than one road?
Isn’t it more like a delta where the river splits into myriad channels that inevitably lead to the ocean? And at the ocean what does it amount to?
Johan de Witt. A Republican, a man who believed in the people and the Republic of Holland and not a supporter of Holland as the aristocracy’s playground. The True Freedom.
Imagine that! A you-and-me type of person coming to rule the country. Stranger things do not happen.
Johan de Witt brought great prosperity to the land and, therefore, everyone loved him. He brought overseas trade–other than with Britain and the other European nations–though we knew these others were barbarians, barely human. But what does this matter when we should never have to meet them? Living off of their labor was no problem at all. We introduced them to civilization. We brought them need and the need for satisfaction. Which we held the key to. In the name of free trade. And the country became rich. And the people therein. More ours than theirs, as would be expected. Advanced countries need more, eh?
Could a born aristocrat have done as much? I dare say not, since an aristocrat would be interested solely in himself. That is, in fact, the definition of an aristocrat: self-interested. The rest of the world be damned. It’s the way of the world. And nobody likes it.
Johan de Witt was a breath of fresh air. New blood. And so his end is the more telling. Some would say, it says more about the people, the yous and mes, than it does about him. But he’s just like you and me. Just another human thrust along the event path. Just because he made something of himself doesn’t mean anything. Certainly not that he’s different than you and me. You and me aren’t what’s important. We are what makes the world go round. You and me. I. It takes a lot of I to keep the gears working. So many that we are faceless. All the more reason to celebrate Johan de Witt.
You might say, success went to our heads.
Johan de Witt cut quite a figure at the head of the armies. He wore the minimum of armor passing through town and countryside since the battle was down the road a piece. Thank goodness. I would not want to have it here. Me and you, we have lives to live. We are not soldiers. It is not our profession to fight. Though I think more come home than die. It doesn’t seem like it, all attention being lavished on the dead and wounded. But there it is.
In establishing the Republic, the Free Hollander Johan de Witt led us into wars to repel the greedy European powers that drooled over our riches. We would not be slaves to their appetite. A road we’d been on far too long. Mostly, we fought against the English and the French. The French had long belabored us and were petulant over losing their colony. The English were greedy barbarians who believed killing their rulers solved problems and proved their strength and worth. A land of slobs and rogues.
There were many wars against these English upstarts. Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelius were successful, though we lost New Holland during the second war. No great loss. Not much in the way of trade. Not really. We, in turn, sailed up the Thames River to London and demolished the English. No one had ever done this before. What a coup! In the end, we became richer and stronger until finally we Dutch could strut a bit.
Revenge. Justice. Judgment. It’s all the same. Control yourself? Where’s the rule of thumb? Where’s the standard? Where’s the proof that control orders anything? Things happen. First this, then that. Move on. Life’s like that. No telling what’s up next. So, what’s this control business? Controlling yourself does not control the world. And who are you to tell me, eh? You don’t know me. Can’t know me. I don’t know you. We are all separate individuals.
What happened to Johan de Witt was sad, though. I’d like to say no one deserves such an end, but who am I to make such a judgment? And what is it to say that it was due to the disaffected? We’re all disaffected. Isolated. Alone. Stumbling along as best we can. We are not responsible for what life hands us. If it says to go this way, we only go that way. Go with it.
One day Cornelius de Witt was arrested. No one knows why. Some malfeasance or other. Johan de Witt went to see his brother in prison. When he came out, standing a moment to suck in the fresh air, people attacked him, beating him with clubs and pipes and knotted rope. They kicked him. People flailed away, frenzied beasts. When Johan de Witt fell silent, his body was dragged to the square where hangings and other punishments were accomplished. Fires were built and set alight. We hacked Johan de Witt to pieces and roasted his parts. Several of the inns rolled kegs of beer before their doors so we could drink as we ate and carouse the night away. There was not enough of Johan de Witt to go around.
(c) James L. Secor, 2016