Column by Paul Hein.
Exclusive to STR
There are six million people living in the section of North America designated “Missouri.” They know that because they’ve been told they live in Missouri, not because they’ve seen lines on the ground saying, for example, Missouri on this side, and Oklahoma on the other. People are encouraged to think of the portion of the earth they occupy as somehow different from other portions, and, for some reason, to feel proud of the place where they live, although, as I said, they wouldn’t be able to tell one area from another without being told. (The strategy of divide and conquer comes to mind.)
These six million people--myself among them--are ruled by a group consisting of 34 senators and 163 representatives, although all 167 of them would claim to represent the people of Missouri. That means that each state legislator “represents” 30,457 Missourians. That would seem a daunting task, but it rates little concern among us, because, frankly, no one much cares about these people. Ask a number of Missourians to name their state senator, or state representative, and expect a shrug and “I don’t know” for an answer. Similarly, ask any “representative” if he knows the people he presumably represents, and he’d admit that he didn’t. But it doesn’t matter: the term “representative,” even if meaningless, sounds much better than “ruler.”
The dictionary defines “represent” as “to act or speak for someone or something.” It is hard to see how a person can act or speak for 30,457 individuals who have never met him, or even learned his name, and who, in turn, are unknown to him. And represent them with respect to what? The Missouri lawmakers made lots and lots of laws last year, and it’s safe to say that the man on the street wasn’t aware of any of them, and certainly didn’t contact his “representative” to tell him how to vote each and every time.
As mentioned above, each legislator “represents” over 30,000 people--but there are six million in the state. Even if my legislator were aware of me, and voted according to my wishes, what of the other 165 legislators? Their votes count as much as the votes of my legislator, and they do not represent me even as much (little?) as my own, but their “laws” certainly affect me.
What’s more, there is probably not a single person in the legislature who was elected by a majority of the people he claims to represent. This means that the legislator acts or speaks for people who did not vote, or who voted against him; and moreover, these people outnumber those who voted for him! This is called the “democratic process.” It’s quite inspiring to think that someone you never met is speaking for you about matters you aren’t aware of and endorsing some bill that you might oppose if you knew about it. My neighbor, however, might be enthusiastic about the bill, wishing “our” legislator would vote for it. He “represents” my neighbor also. It must be quite tricky to speak for two people with opposing views! Very impressive.
Well, actually, the whole government operation is impressive, and is designed to be. The Missouri capitol, for instance, is imposing, with murals by Thomas Hart Benton, and the largest bronze doors cast since Roman times. People who work in a building like that must be pretty important! And while the rest of us live in houses, the governor—that public servant—lives in a mansion. He’s special, you see. If he weren’t, would he be living in a mansion?
And that’s all there is. Were it not for the pomp, ceremony, impressive buildings, and limousines, our “representatives” would simply be a group of strangers who expect us to place our persons and property at their disposal because they say so, i.e., enact “laws.”
Sadly, most of us do.