Chelsea Manning, Mr. Bumble’s Wife, and the Law as the Ass of Capital

“Oh, Eeyore, you are wet!” said Piglet, feeling him. Eeyore shook himself, and asked somebody to explain to Piglet what happened when you had been inside a river for quite a long time.

Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison. And as there should be, there is wide scale outrage over this. Manning’s punishment is more than many convicted of rape, murder, and even of war crimes. As such, many are decrying this apparent miscarriage of justice.

Eeyore would probably ask somebody to explain what happened when you challenged the power of the State. I’ll give it a try.

The phrase “the law is an ass” was popularized by Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, when the character Mr. Bumble is told he is legally responsible for his wife’s theft of some jewelry as “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction”. Mr. Bumble replies “If the law supposes that … the law is a ass — a idiot. … I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience”

The dictionary gives several meaning for the word “ass.” Mr. Bumble is using the word to mean “a pompous fool.”

The law, he supposes, is as misguided as a fool, and with some more experience, “his” eye would be open, and he would realize that woman are independent people and their husband’s don’t control them, and thereby that Mr. Bumble should not be held responsible for his wife’s stealing.

Foolishness seems an odd charge to make of such a studious and contested field as the law.

The law is forged on behalf of the most powerful by their most vetted representatives. Could it be that they simply didn’t know women enough to realize women where real independent people? Or, perhaps more likely, they wanted to employ the law to restrict the independence of woman?

In the Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen writes “The early differentiation out of which the distinction between a leisure and a working class arises is a division maintained between men’s and women’s work in the lower stages of barbarism. Likewise the earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able bodied men of the community”

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels write “The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production.”

Maybe the law as not as foolish as it seems, rather it’s simply promoting the interests of the leisure class against the working class and ensuring patriarchal property rights. So perhaps, the law is not an ass in the sense of “pompous fool,” but rather in another meaning from the dictionary, a “hardy and sure-footed animal, smaller and with longer ears than the horse.”

The donkey has been used as a working animal for at least 5000 years. Rather than acting the fool, what the law is doing is carrying water for the beneficiaries of a stratified society. It is the means by which the class structure protects itself from threats. The level of crime, and thereby the just punishment is not based on the damage done to individuals, but rather the threat to the structures that allow one class to exploit another.

The law is an ass. It is capital’s loyal ass. And to use the word in another sense, “the fleshy part of the body that you sit on,” that’s exactly where Chelsea Manning kicked it.

If you understand legal justice as being rooted in fairness and equality, then it is impossible to understand how Manning could possibly be deserving of more punishment than those who commit heinous, violent and inhuman crimes. However, if you understand legal justice in a materialist sense, you realize that hurting people doesn’t necessarily hurt capital or threaten the structure of class society, and therefor is not such a big crime.

Attacking the legitimacy of the State is a very big crime.

From the point of view of Capitalism, Manning got what she deserved. As such, cries for “fair” treatment for Chelsea are likely to fall on deaf ears. Though it’s ears are long, Capitalism’s ass only hears what it wants to. We can only change the logic of the law by resisting capitalism.

On a happier note, DJ Podinski is back from his Balkan adventure with new beats to share, so join us at Buchhandlung this evening!


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