“A rattlesnake that doesn’t bite teaches you nothing.” – author Jessamyn West, second cousin to Richard Nixon
Having grown up on the plains of Montana, I’ve had plenty of encounters with rattlesnakes and have lots of colorful stories about them. As a kid, I was told that if you were trying to shoot a rattlesnake, you simply needed to move your pistol in a steady circular motion. The snake would begin to follow with its head. Then just pull the trigger. You couldn’t miss.
This of course was complete nonsense. After missing five shots in a row with this method, fired at a menacing snake at close quarters, I used my sixth shot to simply take steady aim and fire, which worked perfectly.
Most of the rattlers I encountered made their presence known. Now, in South Dakota, one long time rattlesnake wrangler says he’s starting to see snakes with defective rattle musculature that strike without warning. Although few who study the snakes agree, he thinks it’s a genetic adaptation. Rattling gets you killed, so why bother? Just strike!
Lately, I’ve been thinking we’ve got an infestation of this new kind of silent but deadly rattlesnake, especially in government environs, but we’re the ones following them in circles with our heads, not the other way round. We’re easy prey.
The seldom used pistol of my youth was a 22 caliber long barrel magnum that looked (in my imagination) a bit like the mythical Buntline Special Wyatt Earp was alleged to have carried at the OK Corral shootout. But no matter how powerful your sidearm might be, you can’t shoot a reptile that stays silent until the venom is in your system.
RATTLESNAKES IN THE AMERICAN EDEN
From their earliest days on the North American continent, British settlers saw this fecund land as a new Eden blessed by god, using openly Edenic language to describe a bountiful “new world” in their correspondence, journals and first publications.
Eden of course came with snakes, lots of them, and according to historian Zachary McLeod Hutchins, colonial mythology transformed the then ubiquitous American rattlesnake from a symbol of evil into “…a natural symbol for colonial rebels struggling to differentiate themselves from their European past.”
Hutchins notes that, “…the rattlesnake first appeared as an emblem of colonial unity in the editorial writings of Benjamin Franklin during [the French and Indian wars of] the 1750s…” and it continued in this role during the Revolutionary War 20 years later.
White colonists made the rattlesnake the foremost symbol of their Edenic union during the Revolution, and it remained an official emblem of the United States throughout the nineteenth century. The rattlesnake was a symbol of colonial and national unity as well as a representation of the religious and racial dangers that threatened to tear the Union apart; it represented both the hope of a new, national Eden and the certainty of an impending national fall.
Rattlesnake mythology in this ‘‘perfect Eden of fruit and flowers” waxed and waned over the years. During Cotton Mather’s time it was alleged that rattlers “…could use their eyes to captivate and control birds, small animals, and even children.” Women, it was said, were particularly vulnerable! (ibid, Hutchins)
However, our revolutionary forebears embraced the fierce, lethal potency of the native rattlesnake, using it as a symbol of the wild, raw colonial power of a United people.
So what went wrong? Instead of a nation of fierce individuals willingly united and graced by divine providence to “crown thy good with brotherhood, From sea to shining sea,” the people of the USA in the time of Covid appear docile in the face of clearly monarchical government overreach, and they also appear to hate and fear one another in unprecedented ways.
The Associated Press series “Divided America” detailing the nation’s many divisions sums up the pre-Covid zeitgeist.
It’s no longer just Republican vs. Democrat, or liberal vs. conservative. It’s the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent, rural vs. urban, white men against the world. Climate doubters clash with believers. Bathrooms have become battlefields, borders are battle lines. Sex and race, faith and ethnicity ...the melting pot seems to be boiling over.
Now, as permanent Covidization displaces the failed post-War experiment in neoliberal globalization in an attempt to empower a massive reconfiguration of all political, social and economic life on earth (See my Covidnomics series.), new divisions over masks, vaccine safety and mandates, remote schooling, lockdowns and quarantines have driven political dysfunction to an all time high.
WHAT TO DO UPON BECOMING SNAKEBIT
It isn’t division itself that is problematic. The US has always been divided, often vehemently so, but at one time there was a semblance of a shared underlying ethos about national identity that was sufficient to maintain the rough appearance, and sometimes the fact, of democracy.
Lewis Lapham describes the phenomenon.
Democracy is geared to ceaseless argument and change, the friction between labor and capital, men and women, matter and mind, the government and the governed. It’s like a suspension bridge; it needs the balance of opposite stresses. That’s why it’s a volatile substance, just the way freedom is. Democracy is not a trust fund, and it’s not a monument; it's the antithesis of empire.
Democracy is supposed to be dangerous, which is why it's the hardest form of government. Power always seeks to multiply itself. But the object of entrenched power is to make time stand still, to keep people afraid, frightened birds in front of the IRS or a snake. Power doesn’t want an argument. Democracy is troublemaking.
America’s institutional founders and early pioneers, such as those who fought in George Washington’s ragtag revolutionary army, were inveterate troublemakers, even in the face of a lethal smallpox virus with multiple variants. They saw the rattlesnake as a potent symbol of the threat that a united (and armed) citizenry posed to tyrannical royal overlords.
The modern American, terrified of both guns and snakes, not to mention common respiratory viruses and death and just about everything in between, including rogue pronouns, has willingly defanged him/herself and ceded power to a den of slithering globalist vipers silent about their true intentions. They’re promising safety and an illusory escape from death, and this chimerical lullaby couched in the false certainties of clinical language appears to be sufficient.
This is not an advocacy piece for guns – or snakes, or masks or no masks, vaxx or no vaxx, or any of the other myriad inanities that people have allowed to divide, disempower and sicken a healthy civil society.
It is an advocacy piece for the kind of fierce spirit that informed the American Revolution and embraced the native rattlesnake as its symbol. Today’s noisy “activists” are a pale imitation of their revolutionary forebears, even with generous allowances for the latter’s many glaring flaws.
The inestimable Ben Franklin made the case for the rattlesnake as national symbol more eloquently than anyone else before or after in an editorial published in the December 27, 1775 edition of The Pennsylvania Journal.
“[The rattle-snake’s] eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarrelling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defence, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.
Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America? The poison of her teeth is the necessary means of digesting her food, and at the same time is certain destruction to her enemies. This may be understood to intimate that those things which are destructive to our enemies, may be to us not only harmless, but absolutely necessary to our existence …
‘Tis curious and amazing to observe how distinct and independent of each other the rattles of this animal are, and yet how firmly they are united together, so as never to be separated but by breaking them to pieces. One of those rattles singly, is incapable of producing sound, but the ringing of thirteen together, is sufficient to alarm the boldest man living.”
If politics does indeed make strange bedfellows, revolutionary politics takes this to a completely different level. We can either “accept the certainty of an impending national fall” at the hands of a viperous oligarchy, or we can embrace our own fierce power, when united, to raise an undeniably fearsome national alarm in order to reclaim our native freedom.
In 1927, the Journal of the National Medical Association celebrated the introduction of North America’s first “anvivenin” kit by the H.K. Mulford Company of Philadelphia by proclaiming, “A package of Antivenin should be included in every first-aid kit.”
Mr. Henry Kendall Mulford founded his company in the late 1880’s, and by the 1920’s, it had grown into a national enterprise, opening its first branch in San Francisco in 1909. Mulford patented a machine that made the nation’s first compressed medical tablets. Always on the hunt for nature’s healing secrets under Mulford’s guidance, the firm expanded to over 1,000 employees on 200 acres in rural Pennsylvania, growing extensive gardens of plants and flowers for research into natural remedies.
I’d recommend purchasing one of Mulford’s infamous 1927 “antivenin” kits for the work ahead, but in an unfortunate sign of the times, H.K. Mulford Company was sold to Merck & Company in 1929.
The best antivenin now is the same as in Franklin’s day – “Unite, or Die.” And I would add, strike first.
Enjoyable read and appropriate to say the least.
Brilliant! I'd never really thought about the origins of the slogan, "Don't tread on me." Thanks for sharing this powerful Benjamin Franklin quote and for putting it into context against the backdrop of rapidly spreading global tyranny.