With a Flick of the Finger
La Mort de Marat by Jacques-Louis David
“Don’t be deceived when they tell you things are better now. Even if there’s no poverty to be seen because the poverty’s been hidden. Even if you ever got more wages and could afford to buy more of these new and useless goods which industries foist on you and even if it seems to you that you never had so much, that is only the slogan of those who still have much more than you. Don’t be taken in when they paternally pat you on the shoulder and say that there’s no inequality worth speaking of and no more reason to fight because if you believe them they will be completely in charge in their marble homes and granite banks from which they rob the people of the world under the pretence of bringing them culture. Watch out, for as soon as it pleases them they’ll send you out to protect their gold in wars whose weapons, rapidly developed by servile scientists, will become more and more deadly until they can with a flick of the finger tear a million of you to pieces.” ― Jean-Paul Marat
Words written many years ago… words which are written now too by those who deem themselves awakened to the truth about society and politics, those who think that people are blind to reality, slaves to the illusions governments create for us to live in and follow. Those who shout at us through articles in newspapers, through political activism, radical and rebellious souls who think they know what is really happening, what is really at stake. Those who think they are the smartest man or woman in the world and everyone else is a blinkered idiot being led around by a leash by the arch villains who control everything.
“Man has the right to deal with his oppressors by devouring their palpitating hearts.” ― Jean-Paul Marat
And yet… some of the greatest revolutionaries of history have become the very people they were revolting against. Perhaps because when you devour the heart of your oppressor you become the oppressor. Power corrupts even those who deem themselves incorruptible. It is easy to be noble when you believe that you are powerless, but once you become aware of your own power, once you seize control, then the true test of your nobility of character begins.
Motivation is a strange creature. What motivates you? Do you fight against an oppressor because you truly believe that what they are doing is wrong, or is that a veneer hiding some deeper urge, an urge to be the person whom you are fighting against, to have the power you feel they possess because if you had their power you would use it justly… but would you? Many villains think that they are the heroes, and how many heroes do atrocious things in the name of justice and righteousness.
“In order to ensure public tranquility, two hundred thousand heads must be cut off.” ― Jean-Paul Marat
Being human and living in this world is a complexity we may never really understand, perhaps it is not supposed to be understood, just lived and experienced.
“How could liberty ever have established itself amongst us? Apart from several tragic scenes, the revolution has been nothing but a web of farcical scenes…” ― Jean-Paul Marat
We desire and strive so hard to bring order to chaos, because the very idea of chaos scares us witless… and yet some of the things we do to bring order to chaos create a far greater chaos than had we just let the chaos sort itself out. We are impatient control freaks… and we think waiting, being patient, is a death sentence, a terrible torture. So we create slogans to motivate us – Just Do It, Carpe Diem, Make Your Dreams a Reality…
I wonder if that’s what Marat did by supporting the revolution, was he making his dreams a reality? Was that what Charlotte Corday was doing when she paid a visit to Marat while he was relaxing in the bath after a hard day of being a revolutionary.
“To form a truly free constitution, that’s to say, truly just and wise, the first point, the main point, the capital point, is that all the laws be agreed on by the people, after considered reflection, and especially having taken time to see what’s at stake…” ― Jean-Paul Marat
Ah, yes, the people would have to agree… that is going to take a little bit more than a while to happen. This is one of my favourite paintings, I love it because it exudes a sense of peace. Do you agree?