Little children throw tantrums in the street
blocking off the roads that go to the airport
and endangering those who remind them
of wealthy American expatriates who clearly
must be up to no good and whose infusion
of cash into their local economy has perhaps
staved off the threat to their entitlements that
now looms for them as a cash-strapped
president tells them that their Social Security
system is going to have to change, and no one
likes to hear that.
What makes them children, you ask? They look
to be adult enough. Some of them are balding,
some with gray hair, and some menacingly show
the passage of cruel time as they brandish some
kind of improvised weapon against imaginary
threats, after all. Why children, then? Because
like so many other bratty little children throwing
tantrums as they are so wont to do when they do
not get their way, these deadly infants know how
to raise their voices to scream against the injustice
of the world that does not cater to their wants but
seemingly do not know how to use their words to
persuade others to enact some better course, or
to use their reason to understand how it is that a
government that makes promises of help in old age
can be so quick to forget those promises when it
realizes that it has no money to fulfill them. Let us
hope that we do not encounter any such murderous
children in our streets, or any other.
What is the context of this somewhat fierce poem? Recently I was made aware of some ferocious demonstrations taking place in Nicaragua because the president there had made some (possibly very necessary) reforms to their Social Security system. The riots were serious enough to shut down the US Embassy in Managua and for the State Department to send some very serious warnings for people to avoid traveling there if possible and if living in the country to lie low and avoid going in public if at all possible until things settle down, whenever they do. This struck me as somewhat odd. I am, likely surprisingly to no one, no particular fan of political protests . Indeed, the tendency for such protests to seek easy answers to hard questions and to be easily led into violence against some sort of scapegoat or sacrificial group of people is very worrisome as a student of history.
Over and over again this particular poem uses words about the protesters, and these words would apply equally well to our own homegrown variety as well as the kind one encounters in other countries, that suggest some sort of infantile state to those who are protesting. I call them “little children throwing tantrums” and “deadly infants” and “murderous children,” for so they are. What is it that makes them children, though? In terms of biology, of course, they are adults. Some of them may even be middle-aged and approaching their dotage, far too old to be engaged in the sort of juvenile escapades of violent political protest. Yet not all of those who have reached adulthood in the physical sense have reached adulthood in the moral or political sense, and in life it is this sense that is often decisive. To have reached the age of reason means that one can control one’s emotions and that one can express one’s own thoughts in well-chosen rhetoric. In short, to be an adult one has to be able to speak one’s thoughts and feelings in words that can be understood and to be able to listen with self-control so that one can understand unpleasant aspects of reality. Adulting is hard.
Indeed, that may be the most obvious takeaway from a poem like this, that adulting is hard and has always been a struggle for us. Of course, these people have their grievances about the local Social Security system, although how foreigners who do not take advantage of that system are to be blamed is unclear unless the protesters are motivated by sheer envy to hate those who are better off than they are, even if they are not involved at all in such matters of local politics. Social Security systems in general are officially sanctioned Ponzi schemes by which the well-being of honored senior citizens is to be guaranteed by a portion of the labor of younger generations, but explaining this unpleasant fact to those who are dependent on such multi-generational thievery is by no means a straightforward or rewarding task. Inevitably governments promise more to vulnerable populations than they are able to fulfill when it comes time to pay the piper, and vulnerable populations of the poor and infirm and aged are far easier to stiff than the wealthy and powerful interests whose hands are always in the collective till. Instead of reasoning about such matters as adults do, and instead of writing witty but fierce material that exposes this sort of corruption, all too often those who are being wronged behave in ways that justify their being viewed as bratty and insolent political children instead of adults whose views and interests are to be taken seriously. No one thinks to ask, sadly, whether it is wise to rely on the promises in the dark made by governments at all, or whether it is only a fool or a naif who takes the projections and pronouncements of politicians and bureaucrats at face value. I leave it to the reader to judge that matter.
 See, for example: