Parasites have a pretty nasty connotation. Vermin such as: fleas, lice, ticks, worms—are tiny monosyllabic terrors. They’re selfish takers. They bite. They suck. They kill. Parasites target bodies and blood. In Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning movie Parasite, the broke Kim family targeted the wealthy Park family. Through a series of unfortunate events, the four poor Kim’s come under the employ of an outrageously opulent family, who are living their idyllic life, shuttling in their chauffeured Benz between high-rise offices, classy supermarkets, garden parties and their ultra-luxe home.
The Parks are mostly worry-free, although they have concerns, like their overactive son or daughter’s English studies. Overall, their life is mostly undisturbed splendor—except for smell. The father, mother and son all, at separate points, notice the smell of the Kims. Smell, that most intangible and elusive sense, should have given the Park family a clue as to the mischievous pedigrees of their paid slaves. Yet, it did not. They ignored it. They held their nose and took what they wanted from their laborers. That was their parasitical contribution. Even the man in the basement was living off the charity of his wife and covert fridge theft. We are all parasites, taking what we can get from those who will give.
We can call it sociability, the human need for contact. Humans will go crazy in solitary confinement. We need to be around others. We feed off their energy or power. Babies literally feed off others. It’s mutual parasitism—symbiosis. It’s all in how you look at it.
At the risk of incorrectly paraphrasing one of the smartest men alive, Richard Dawkins wrote that humans, and all animals, might only be vehicles for the truest life form—genes. Genes are the replicators, the things that live on in our offspring after we die. We are merely the vessel that propagates the naturally selected DNA. While not parasites, they are self-interested. They seek to duplicate themselves.
While reading an exceptional book, The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker, I came across some curious passages. I believe they show the modern parasites, vehicles and replicators of 2020.
“Freud’s basic insight into narcissism as the primary characteristic of man: how it inflates one with the importance of his own life and makes for the devaluation of others’ lives; how it helps to draw sharp lines between ‘those who are like me or belong to me’ and those who are ‘outsiders and aliens.’ The leader allows us to express forbidden impulses and secret wishes [called] ‘the infectiousness of the unconflicted personality.’”
“How important the leader often was by the simple fact that it was he who performed the ‘initiatory act.’ This initiatory act can be anything from swearing to sex or murder. Each member of the group can repeat the act without guilt. They are not responsible, only the leader is.”
Narcissism, outsiders, unconflicted personality—does that sound like anyone we know, some outsized character whose face is constantly in the public view? Isn’t narcissism another way to view parasitism? A tick doesn’t care that it gives you lime disease; a louse didn’t care if you got typhus, they’re going to get that blood. And the president doesn’t care if you disagree, he’s going to do what he wants. What I find strangest is the following, the obeying, by Congress and some Americans, of the presidential parasitical plan. Again, we return to Becker’s book: “The important conclusion for us is that the groups ‘use’ the leader sometimes with little regard for him personally, but always with regard to fulfilling their own needs and urges.” Congress seeks reelection, but what is it that the Americans who want to Make America Great Again seek?
Humans are and always have been tribal. Except now, there are only two tribes, rich and poor. Of course, the residual effects of nationalism, racism, and sexism are still with us, but the biggest delineation today is wealth. The wealthy hope their reproduced vessels (children) will replicate their financial success—which is the closest thing to happiness today. The best quote from Parasite was: “They’re nice because they’re rich!” The Parks don’t have to worry about a parasite, their wealth insulates them. Once you’re rich, you’re never poor.
It’s not greed that makes Trump lovers follow him, because he cannot and does not give them anything except satisfying their desire to feel important. Trump fills the non-celebrity American plebians with inflated significance. By visiting their town and ignorantly, cheerfully and comically espousing contempt for others, he nurtures their self-importance. Who exemplifies modern narcissism and parasitism more than a politician? That parasite called narcissism is within us all. It takes introspection and empathy to remove it. But, who’s got time for that?
Politics has become a hobby, like rooting for your favorite sports team. America is vastly different than the 1787 Constitutional Assembly’s America. Infrastructure is precarious, health care costs are out of control, education is becoming privatized, politics are a charade like professional wrestling and most important—deficient income is strangling the majority.
D.C. should pass laws establishing a jobs program to fix infrastructure, universal health care and better school settings. But, all of those things are for other people. I don’t drive on that bridge, I’m not sick and I don’t have kids. JFK said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” But what if you’re too poor to buy a boat or can’t afford to fix the leak? Money doesn’t buy you happiness; it buys you options.
Right now, too many people have too few options. Despite the prosperity spreading across the world, it is tenuous. Debt, accidents, unemployment, automation, outsourcing are all just one misstep away. David Brooks wrote about the lack of family support undermining families, China is showing how easily your health can be usurped, and Trump is drilling a metaphorical worm of distrust into the American mind. The tribal mind of humans needs to be reminded that our tribes are no longer formed by color, creed, or country, but by capital. It would do us well to consider the fact that we all share this Earth and everyone does better with a little coin in their pocket.