When the Ruler Can’t Understand the Ruled

While reading Frenzy, I frequently found myself exclaiming the age-old complaint of “That’s not fair!” Injustice seems to run rampant in the novel, and I can’t seem to resolve this with the usual justification of “Well, life’s not fair.” In our class discussions, I kept coming back to the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled as an explanation for this unfairness; how can a god, who lacks the propensity for human feeling, control the lives of mortals with any semblance of justice?

Perhaps the best place to begin is the casual exchange between Dinoysos and Persephone that results in the freedom of Semele from the Underworld. Dionysos is able to trade a branch of myrtle wood (in Vlepo’s opinion, “a stick really”) for his mother’s retrieval. Vlepo recounts, “‘Fine,’ Persephone said. It was so simple.” There is a certain incredulity in Vlepo’s telling of the story, as if he can’t process the ease at which the agreement is reached. Placed in contrast to the results of the last time someone attempted a rescue mission from the afterlife, Vlepo’s surprise is definitely justified.

Vlepo is reminded of the torture and mind games dealt upon Orpheus when he tries to save Eurydice. The gods will only allow them both freedom if Orpheus can keep from looking back at Eurydice. The gods, however, have no concept of how difficult that will actually be. The connection between the couple is so profound that Orpheus literally thinks, “I cannot be without knowledge of you.” His devotion to Eurydice is such that he feels if he doesn’t check that she’s there, he cannot go on existing. No god, who lacks human emotion, can comprehend the love and desire that pushes Orpheus to turn around. If the gods had some experience with these emotions, they may have recognized the impossibility of their preposed task.

This disconnect is exemplified further in Dionysos’ necessity for Vlepo. In Dionysos’ words, Vlepo represents “the human middle”; basically, Vlepo acts as a translator of human emotions. While Vlepo is not a human himself, he is more apt to report on their feelings. Dionysos can access everyone’s thoughts, but he will never be able to fully grasp the emotions he sees because he doesn’t feel them himself, so he has Vlepo try and relay this to him. Listening to a report containing descriptions of something you’ve never fully experienced yourself, however, is rarely very enlightening. How, for example, can you comprehend an account of abject sadness if you have never once been sad? Still, then, even with Vlepo’s existence, the disconnect between god and human persists.

Frenzy seeks to expose the detrimental effects of a ruling body that inhabits an entirely different existence than those it rules. Looking beyond gods versus mortals, this disconnect exists in real-world governments. In the process of writing this blog post, I was reminded of an assignment from my Nature of Inquiry class that involved an opinion-essay on what role science should take in creating laws. Some people would argue that science should become the absolute dictator of public policy because it provides the facts, and will thus make the correct decisions. I argued that this (drawing heavily from the argument of sociologist Frank Furedi in his article “A revolt against deference”) should never happen because science is an objective being that cannot properly govern a human population with a variety of values it doesn’t understand. For example, if science were to solely produce legislation regarding climate issues, it would demand total dissolution of the fossil fuel industry. This action would not, however, take into account the human suffering of those workers whose livelihood would be destroyed by it. Science, like the gods in Frenzy, is separate from human emotion, and thus makes for a poor ruler of human beings.

Yet another iteration of this disconnect occurred to me while browsing through pictures of signs from the recent global youth climate strikes. The sign shown in the image below (stating, “You’ll die of old age, we’ll die of climate change”) is a perfect example of this problem.

From the MarketWatch article ‘The wrong Amazon is burning’: These are some of the most powerful global climate strike signs.

The youth argue that the people in government have no right to ignore climate change because they will not have to live through the tragedies of the future. This disconnect is one of age; the people in government are older, so they feel less driven to act because climate change does not immediately affect their future. The governed, on the other hand, are younger, and thus have a franticness the older can’t understand. How, then, can the government fairly and effectually make decisions regarding this topic? Just like the gods create a task for Orpheus that does not account for human emotion, the government creates legislation that does not account for the youth’s urgency.

This sentiment is also present in any king/peasant dynamic in narrative (or really any relationship of a similar kind such as master/slave). How can a king, who is rich and given everything on a silver platter possibly rule peasants in a fair way when he does not daily experience their toils and hardships?

One could go on listing examples of this disconnect all day long, but I think it’s most important to highlight Frenzy’s ability to expose this problem to the reader. Considering the tragic events that befall the mortals at the hands of their governing gods, I would say that Frenzy acts as an effectual warning for what happens when situations mirroring those in the novel occur in real life.

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