The King and All the King’s Men

Old Cemetery in Ireland (my photo)

Imagine if you will a castle stronghold. Inside the walls dwells the king. He has all the power, like a god.

Also inside the walls dwells the queen and the heirs. They have positions of great privilege. Then you have other less prestigious people living inside the walls who are just grateful to be inside the walls. They may provide a service to the royal family or they may have a lower position of importance like a priest or a nobleman. They’re just happy to be allowed to live inside the walls. Things are better inside the walls for those fortunate enough to live there. They might be invited to dinners, royal celebrations, parties, even into the king’s bed.

Now step outside the walls where the serfs live.

You’ll find a much different lifestyle. One that holds little to no promise of ever improving. The serfs can’t own land. They must care for the king’s land instead. They can’t even hunt on the land without the king’s permission. They are expected, however, to raise food for the king and serve the king without question. They may even be required to lay down their lives for the king in battle. The spoils from war belong to the king, however. A serf’s life is grim by comparison to those who live inside the castle walls. They struggle to put food on the table.

I contend that the above story is in our DNA and may partially explain what makes humans do what they do.

We carry our pain to our graves and pass it on to our children. Generational pain is part of our legacy. It influences our world view and places limitations on our ability to solve old problems with new ideas. We’re stuck in the past in many ways, even as we struggle to move forward. We are the enemy.

We literally sabotage our own futures by keeping old cultural expectations alive.

The psychology behind what makes us do what we do is well worth considering. Our culture often determines our willingness to make systemic changes. In America, the rich rule and we’re told to aspire to be like them. In fact, the American Dream is built on the idea that anyone can become one of the rich as long as they’re not afraid of hard work.

So, no matter how imbalanced the system is that we’ve created, we focus on getting into the club rather than abolishing the club.

The club has always been there. It’s as American as apple pie. Did the colonies leave England and the King only to create a new version of the king and the king’s men? Many will answer no because we’ve been told throughout the years that our democracy was uniquely designed to level the playing field by focusing on a higher degree of equality.

We all were supposed to have a say in matters that concerned all of us.

Yet, clearly our short history points to a very real possibility that the forefathers didn’t intend to share the power nor the decision-making process. At first only white men with property could vote, after all. It took almost 150 years to include women. Slaves couldn’t vote. Indigenous people weren’t allowed to vote. Even poor men were denied.

So how were we really all that different from the king and the king’s men of England?

To this day, in the world of political influence, we’re still not nearly as comfortable with a woman’s voice as we are with a man’s voice. A white man’s voice remains the gold standard.

When a woman finally does run for the highest office of the land, even the left leaning voters have reservations.

Oh, yes, they tell you they want to see a woman finally occupying the Oval Office, but just not this woman. For some reason, no matter who the candidate, her sins are far more reprehensible than all the king’s who ruled prior to her.

A woman can’t be a king in America. Not yet.

So, if indeed our ancestors who stood outside the castle walls sometimes hungry and always overworked suffered because of the King’s greed and neglect, I think it’s fair to surmise that they passed years of generational suffering down to all of their descendants.

It’s in our biological memories so to speak.

The pain and suffering endured and passed on in our DNA rears its deeply wounded head whenever we encounter the king and the king’s men. Yet, for some reason or other our only solution still appears to be to become one of them. We must get inside the castle walls or die trying.

So, we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

If we’re lucky enough to get invited inside the castle walls, we’ve won the battle the only way we know how. In fact, the victory results in feeling superior to our own kind, what we came from, and embracing the value system of the king.

We soon look down our noses at the serfs we left behind.

They’re too lazy to work as hard as we did. Their too rough around the edges to associate with any longer. We can barely see them because the great wall that separates us from them is too high and too thick. Eventually, we forget about them and so nothing changes. We don’t even want it to change. We like things just the way they’ve always been.

After all, we made it inside the castle walls.

I realize that I’ve used an allegory to expose our cultural biases and expectations. I also realize that it’s an oversimplified way of attempting to understand what makes humans do what they do. However, we really do have a legacy of longing for change while refusing to change our methods to bring about change. Thus, social progress has been slow and tedious, often interspersed with regressive tendencies. Two steps forward and one step back is the oldest dance in the world.

What a strange world we live in, Master Jack.

Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.

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Teresa Roberts

Teresa Roberts

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.