Once upon a time, a group of wealthy men decided to join forces to ensure that their wealth and power would never diminish.

They needed a way to control the people who lived below them so that they needn’t worry about revolution. 

But their home nation was long ago designated for free people, and free people have desires of their own. And to the wealthy men, any desire by the masses to glean power, and wealth, would lessen their own hold of it. 

So the wealthy men called upon another man for a solution. The man was in advertising—having built a successful career on mobilizing masses to do, think, and buy whatever his clients wanted. He did not belong to the class of the wealthy men, but the wealthy men knew that men like the advertising man had the same desires. And so the wealthy men offered the advertising man a pile of gold for his time in helping them devise a solution for their problem. 

The advertising man took half the gold, and scheduled a meeting.

At the meeting the wealthy men gathered around an oval table, with the advertising man at one end. One by one they each spoke of their desire to control the masses so that they could continue to build their wealth and influence without worrying whether the masses would revolt. 

The advertising man listened and when they’d finished, he went away to think. 

He traveled to the Caribbean where he stayed on an island, and it was there that he thought about the wealthy men’s problem. Three months later he returned. 

“I have a solution,” he pronounced at the beginning of their next meeting. 

“It’s virtually bulletproof. But it will require sacrificing your ethics and morals. Are you willing to do this?” 

There were grumblings amongst the wealthy men sitting around the table. 

“But we are Christian,” one of the wealthy men said. “How can we shun our deep moral beliefs?” 

“You don’t,” answered the ad man. “You simply change what it means to be Christian. You have the power to do this, if you’re willing.” 

The grumbling continued. 

“It’s like this,” the ad man said. “You can keep your religious convictions and the morals that come with it, or you can keep your wealth. It’s that simple. And this is the moment you make that decision. Because my solution only works if you’re willing to do that which is necessary to fully and absolutely take control. If you do not, I will leave now and wish you all the best of luck.” 

The wealthy men huddled together and after a few moments, turned back to the ad man. “Please continue,” one of them said. 

The advertising man began by talking about the American Dream—the birthright of anyone born within the borders of the free nation. 

“The American Dream as in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” asked one of the wealthy men. 

“No,” said the ad man. “I’m talking about money.” 

He then went on to outline what, at the very minimum, every American truly wanted in life. A home in the suburbs. A nice car. Cable TV and fast internet. A good paying job where there’s opportunity for advancement. He talked about healthcare, retirement, and the idea of financial security. He walked around the table as he spoke, slapping it once for emphasis. 

“But there’s another side of this dream that no one talks about,” said the ad man. “Men desire more. A boat, perhaps. Two-week vacations in exotic locations. A second home.” 

“So basically things that we have,” one of the wealthy men said with a sarcastic laugh. 

“Yes,” said the ad man. “But how do they get these things? The common thread among these things that men truly desire is that they all require capital. Money. Gold.” 

“Where are you going with this?” asked a wealthy man with a skeptical look sitting at the opposite end of the table. “We don’t want the people to desire what we have.” 

“Oh but you do,” said the ad man. “The trick is, never allowing them to get it. Sure, we’ll invite very few into your club, but then these people will become the physical embodiment of the American Dream. Ambassadors in the flesh. People who have risen to achieve the real American Dream. My estimate is that we will likely need to allow one percent of the population to achieve this modicum of economic success. Not counting your sliver of a percentage point, of course, which will continue to be the wealthiest group on earth.”

“So give up some of our wealth to keep the masses in check?” a wealth man asked. 

“And in line!” another added. 

“The price you pay to allow select few others into the upper echelon of wealth is easily offset by increased production,” the ad man continued. “We sell the narrative that the harder someone works, the more wealth they can accumulate. Believe me, they’ll work till their hands bleed. People will do anything for money. And the young will be the easiest to exploit as work horses for our plan. They’ll have been raised on this brazen idea of success. We can squeeze 60-80 hour weeks from them if we do this right. Of course we’ll pay them just enough to live in the work centers to keep them productive and efficient, and they’ll think they have it made. They’ll share with their friends about how hard they work. It will become like a contest of egos. But the best part, and the thing that keeps them working this way, is that we’ll hold the idea of expendability over them for added motivation to grind their bodies to dust. Everyone is replaceable.” 

The wealthy men were transfixed. 

“We can even lean on antiquated cultural values established by none other than Benjamin Franklin, and his ‘Protestant work ethic’, as a reference point to how people should work.” 

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” a wealthy man said, smiling. 

“Energy and persistence conquer all things,” said another. 

“There are dozens of these ridiculous aphorisms. A veritable framework for what we want—a population of obedient workers who serve … us.” 

The room fell silent. 

“So lure people into believing they can have what we have on the promise that all it takes is commitment to the company line? Companies we own?” the skeptical man at the other end of the table asked. 

“Exactly.” the ad man answered. “And it’s not difficult. For example, we own the media. So we begin to create content that keeps the masses engaged. Entertained. And distracted from what’s really going on. People are visual animals. They believe anything they see—so we inject them with imagery of success that they should all aspire to—all while selling them our goods and services. People will be so busy working and consuming that they won’t even notice the wheel they’re running on. We will literally be increasing productivity while increasing profit for our companies. And the people working to get what you have will be the catalyst for all of it.”

Another wealthy man then said, “I understand the concept, and don’t dislike it, but what about residual costs? Insurance for this workforce, for example? How do we pay for that?” 

“You own the goddamn insurance companies for Christ sake! Hell, you own the hospitals, and the pharmaceutical companies! Healthcare isn’t a problem. Trust me. It all comes down to the narrative.” By referencing the narrative, the ad man was in his element—speaking in terms of manipulating people to act favorably. He continued, “We simply craft a long-term narrative that explains the high cost of healthcare. We begin to make healthcare a privilege, not a right. We embed so much legalese in the process that people become confused and do whatever it takes to ensure their health, and the health of their families, is secure. And then we turn to the them to pay for this privilege.”

“So the workers pay for their own medical care under the guise of insurance … and we still profit? Won’t they catch onto this scheme?” one of the wealthy men asked.

“No,” the ad man pronounced. “Because something happens and they rush their kid to the Emergency Room after she falls off a swing. A couple weeks later they receive a bill in the mail. That’s when they see firsthand just how much it ‘costs’ and immediately realize how having insurance saved them a ton of money. Naturally the charges are inflated, but that’s not important. What’s important is that they see value. They become grateful for the system and work even harder. You see, at the most basic level people want security. Peace of mind. The ability to predict the future. The ‘scheme,’ as you say, gives them the illusion of controlling future outcomes. For a price, of course. And in the end, we don’t pay for any of it. In fact, we profit. Hospitals. Medicine. Insurance. They’re all massive profit centers.”

The ad man paused, put both fists on the table, looked around the room and said, “Look, we can talk about every possible scenario here, and I’m perfectly willing to do that—but in the end there will be a solution for everything. This thing you want, this ‘control,’ it’s sitting right in front of you. It simply requires the courage and will to act in total solidarity. Do you,” he said looking around the table, “does this group have that will?”

There were no words for a full minute. The ad man took a seat and drank some water while peering around the table over the top of the glass. A wealthy man finally spoke, “Let me ask you this, what do we do about politics? This is a free nation, after all, based on policy crafted by politicians elected by the masses. What if they elect people who begin to write policy that results in us paying more taxes for their social policies, for example?” He leaned across the table at the ad man and added, “We don’t want to lose a cent, in case that isn’t clear.” 

The ad man jumped up and clapped his hands, “This is where it gets fun.” He then explained how political dogma parallels religious dogma. “The great thing about dogma is how it doesn’t discriminate. We’re all subject to its influence. And the essence of dogma is that it requires that we choose sides. That we be on ‘a team.’ Catholics and Protestants, for example. Or Christians, Jews, and Muslims. It’s no different for conservative and liberal political parties. And, thankfully, we’ve only got just two parties here in our free nation. It’s far easier to carve them up this way. The buckets are bigger. And the bigger the buckets, the more solidarity that exists—and the easier it is to control them through the narrative.”

The ad man walked over to the window that opened across the city, then looked down at the bustling street. “Look there. Everyone struggling just to make it through the day. Each person carrying a sack of stress that they fling over their shoulder as they kiss their families goodbye in the morning. For one person this stress is money. For another it’s health. Love is a big one. Loss. The list goes on.” 

He then turned back to the men at the table. “Every person down there has a story in their minds that they’re playing out in real life. And it’s a story we control.”

He began circling the table again. “Gentlemen, the political component of this solution is the one thing that actually keeps us solvent. As we’ve established, we own the media. We therefore control what the masses consume. And we control the narrative. We use the media to reinforce dogma that has existed for generations in these two political buckets. It doesn’t matter whether they’re uneducated conservatives or elitist liberals, each faction is prime for being controlled through the right narrative. We will turn these two factions on each other and convince them that the reason their lives aren’t good as they’d like is because of people who think differently than they do. That their problem isn’t a foreign government or people like us—but rather their next door neighbor. We feed them media soundbites that rouse their ire against the other group. Because this free nation is so balanced between the two schools of political thought, we can keep them fighting each other for as long as we want. And here’s the best part, because it takes advertising to sway people, and advertising costs money, we can focus our financial benevolence on politicians who are grateful.”

“Grateful?” a wealthy man asked. 

“Those who will be loyal to campaign contributors,” another said. “And the bigger the contribution …” 

“The more loyalty,” the ad man said. “For any number of things. Want to open up national parks to oil drilling? We can buy that. Want to ensure everyone down there is free to buy AK47s to fight each other, we can buy that too. But we won’t stop at trying to ‘convince’ politicians who only might be loyal, we will hand-pick men who are charismatic enough to win elections and who are already on our side. We might even consider a having a celebrity run for president at some point.”

Some of the wealthy men laughed. 

“I’m not kidding. All celebrities want fame and power. To have someone who already has the public’s ear and who represents our idea of success might be a strong play for the highest office in the world. And it won’t have to be a ‘man of the people’ either. As long as he understands how to mobilize masses, that’s all that matters. We can use our media strength to create a political cults with the right icon at the helm. Hell, we could even bend the truth behind him to help him forge his way. He could be a blubbering idiot and it wouldn’t matter.”

He fixed his gaze on the skeptical man at the far end of the table, “What I’m talking about is king-building. A king who will serve us. We can do this. We have the tools. We have the resources. The question is, once again, do you have the courage? The will to carry this out?”

The men turned to each other. 

“What about laws currently in place?” one of the wealthy men shouted. 

“Who makes those laws?” the ad man snapped. “Politicians. Judges. People who are elected via the voting process. A process we control by virtue of controlling the narrative—knowing our audiences and stoking their ire. It’s basic stuff. In the end we rewrite the laws into whatever benefits us.”

The ad man sat down again and let out a long breath. All eyes were fixed upon him. And he knew it. “Not to get too far ahead of myself, gentlemen, but there’s a real chance to take full control over every aspect of society if we play our cards right.” He then leaned into the table and added, “Every aspect.” 

“Now tell us the flaw to your plan,” a wealthy man asked. “Certainly, there’s a flaw.” 

The ad man leaned back in his chair and locked his hands behind his head. “There is” he said with some resignation. “It’s artists.”

The wealthy men laughed in unison and one of them said, “If that’s the only flaw, then this plan really is bulletproof.” 

“Don’t underestimate artists,” the ad man said. “Throughout history some of the world’s greatest institutions have been challenged and even toppled by grassroots efforts lead by people who see through things. People who see the truth. Artists.”

“So we need to fear painters and sculptors?” a wealthy man asked through laughter. 

“Maybe,” the ad man replied. The laughter subsided. “Or musicians. Or writers. Especially writers.” 

“So how do we isolate this threat to stop it?” asked a wealthy man. 

“Well, over time we can take control over higher education that goes beyond our current tactic of bilking kids and families out of tens of thousands of dollars in high interest loans for the promise of a ticket to success and a good life through a degree. We can begin to devalue liberal arts altogether and simply turn universities into worker factories that pump out productive employees for our companies.”

The ad man stood again, put his hands in his pockets, and slowly walked back to the window. “But artists, true artists, they don’t necessarily need college. Their parents didn’t have the control over them to force them into that meat grinder. No, these people are dangerous. Rogue. These are the kinds of people who light revolutions with ideas. People who normal people can identify with and who can open up others to the truth of circumstances. Which, of course, is the last thing we want.” He then turned back to the men at the table and smiled, “We like zombies.”

“So how do we handle them?” asked a wealthy man. 

“Devalue them. Underpay them. Make it harder for them to live life like the rest of us. Turn them into beggars. Force them to accept our vision of what it’s like to live in the ‘real world’ and eventually, hopefully, their fires will die down as they get older. That’s really the only solution that exists.” the ad man said. “Artists play by different rules.”

The meeting continued for another four hours and covered topics ranging from banking and religion, to the military, taxes, and cronyistic foreign policy. In the end, the wealthy men decided that they did indeed have the collective will to enact the ad man’s plan—and that absolute power and control was worth more than their morals.

The wealthy men relievedly shook hands at the conclusion of the meeting.

“What will become of you in this brave new world?” one of the wealthy men asked the ad man.

He smiled. “Oh, I have a plan.” 

The next day a large delivery of gold was transferred to an offshore account in the ad man’s name. And the following week he packed his life into a shipping container and sent it offshore as well. To an island in the Caribbean. He followed it a month later. 


TWO YEARS LATER

The ad man, tanned and dressed in linen, walks barefoot through a house. He pets a dog and kisses a woman who hands him a cup of coffee, then he moves through the living room toward a large window that he slides open. He steps onto a deck overlooking a small town nestled between the lush jungle and the blue ocean. He takes a sip of coffee and looks out over the ocean. Toward America. Where black smoke from the fires blurs the horizon. As it has for months.

***

Jim

Stop Being Comfortable
All Hail the King

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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