Peonage for our times.

I love learning new words and I feel even better if I not only remember them but also what they mean. So, after reading most of the Grauniad at a lovely little craft fair on Saturday, (rule number one of selling is don’t just sit there reading a newspaper), I’m pleased with myself at remembering peon and peonage. It was from an excellent essay by Ben Fountain and had the great title: “How donald trump feasted on the corpse of the American dream” and he used the term peonage:

“A peon is a person subject to peonage (/ˈpɒn/, from Spanish peón [peˈon]), a type of involuntary servitude of laborers (peons) having little control over their employment conditions. Peonage existed historically during the colonial period, especially in Latin America and areas of Spanish rule.”

And we too have become peons, especially our young folk. I recently wrote about my daughter entering peonage as she begins at university. On Saturday night someone mentioned how excited other parents had been at the news that their progeny had been granted a large mortgage. It’s like the old joke: what’s easy to get into but difficult to get out of? Trouble. Just substitute debt for trouble.

Thing is that peonage has spread to the professions and middle class life, although one could argue it’s ever been thus. Just think of the junior doctors dispute and as a teacher I was always fulminating at some management bollocks or government decree. And what does all this peonage do? Make already rich fuckers richer.

Mr Fountain also quoted one of my favourite American comics, George Carlin: “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it”.

And I loved not only what Mr Fountain wrote but, as with all good writing, how he wrote. Example: “Then there’s that other American dream, the numbed-out, dumbed-down, make-believe world where much of the national consciousness resides, the sum product of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex: movies, TV, internet, texts, tweets, ad saturation, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, Amazonian sewers of porn and political bullshit, the entire onslaught of media and messaging that strives to separate us from our brains.”

And this Fantasy Industrial Complex, this world of hyperreallity, has led to the next ‘leader of the free world’ possibly being someone who trades in a very weird world of lies, one donald drumf. Now I know we’re all fed up with the spin and lies of politicians but this is something different and very dangerous. Two sets of people I’ve spoken to recently, who could be classed as sentient beings, said they liked drumf and that they didn’t like the lying Hilary. On both occasions I felt I’d slipped into some parallel universe, that I was with actual living beings saying stuff that I normally just watch and hear via a screen. On both occasions I couldn’t help myself and asked these people how they could go with someone who crudely lies almost every time he opens his mouth and at the same time repeat the mantra about ‘lying Hilary’. This is cognitive dissonance on an industrial scale, confirmation bias not needed at all.

From Owen Jones a brilliant line I’m still laughing at: ‘Our new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson – a joke now lacking a punchline’. And I’m still smiling at Watford beating moanrinho’s babylon. And my team, the Blues, are on a good run.

And I’m looking at peonies in a new light.


Keep on keeping on, love Duncan.


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