The Pentagon, 12 January 2008. (Credit: David B. Gleason)
George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now Donald Trump—all of whom grew up on Hollywood’s spectacle of America winning wars ad infinitum and none of whom fought in an actual war—“managed to remain quite deeply embedded in centuries of triumphalist frontier mythology.”
We’re still stuck in the fantasy of “an American world of forever war.”
I was struck, while reading one of Peter Zhang’s exploratory essays and thinking about US war culture, by the metaphor of escape.[i] Escape is just one figure in Zhang’s extended comparison of Deleuze to Zen. The spirit of the essay’s multiple analogies is heuristic, especially for escaping debilitating conventions of political culture. (more…)
Why should I be civil to them or to you? In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are the dullest dogs I know.
Don Juan speaking to the Devil, in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell
To face the Apocalypse we must fix squarely in the mind what Donald Trump is and what he’s not. These days I have frequently revisited George Orwell’s dark fable Animal Farm as an emblematic text from which much can be learned. “Animal Farm,” said Orwell, “was the first book in which I tried … to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”
Among the animals of Orwell’s dark fable—the heroic cart-horse Boxer and the “motherly mare” Clover, Muriel the goat, Benjamin the donkey and Moses the Raven—none stands out for me more than Napoleon the Pig. (more…)
Chris Hedges worries that American culture is in precipitous decline. His book, Empire of Illusion (Nation Books, 2009) argues that the end of literacy constitutes a triumph of spectacle and illusion over reality. Only 20% of the public reads even one book in a given year. A society captive to images prizes effortless entertainment over substance. It gives up its intellectual tools for coping with real-world complexities.
The problem, Hedges argues, applies specifically to war. “The chasm between movie exploits and the reality of war, which takes less than a minute in a firefight to grasp, is immense. The shock of realty brings with it the terrible realization that we are not who we thought we were” (p. 20). The actual experience of soldiers and marines entering combat explodes “the mythic narrative of heroism and patriotic glory sold to the public by the Pentagon’s public relations machine and Hollywood” (p. 21). (more…)
Illustration from “Roughing It” by Mark Twain. Illustration by True Williams, 1872. (Credit: Gutenberg.org)
In Animal Farm, George Orwell created an allegory about totalitarianism that put in doubt the notion that a government of animals would be superior to a government of human beings, or vice versa. In his satirical essay “Man’s Place in the Animal World,” Mark Twain left no doubt that a society of men and women is a de-generation from superior societies found in the Animal Kingdom.
The Great American Trickster explains:
Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and with calm pulse to exterminate his kind. He is the only animal that for sordid wages will march out … and help to slaughter strangers of his own species who have done him no harm and with whom he has no quarrel.
“The Cornell Farm” (oil on canvas) by Edward Hicks (1848).
When the animals rebelled in Orwell’s Animal Farm, they promptly set up a system of government based on a political philosophy called “Animalism.” Among its Seven Commandments, the last and final commandment painted on the barn wall read: “All animals are equal.”
Orwell’s fable (subtitled “A Fairy Story”) has been read as a political satire of the Russian Revolution. In this view, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are surrogates for Stalin and Trotsky, and the indictments and slaughter of the animals accused of counterrevolutionary activities are an allegory of the Moscow Trials, etc.
In our smug self-sufficiency, we forget that parables, allegories and prophecies always refer not only to a particular set of historical events. When one reads the account of “the three hens who … now came forward and stated that Snowball had appeared to them in a dream and incited them to disobey Napoleon’s orders,” Animal Farm becomes Salem, Massachusetts, and is also a precursor of the U.S. Congress during the McCarthy era.
Parting from the disturbing premise that Animal Farm is a moral tale for us, I find several illuminating correlations: (more…)
Governor Scott Walker proposes a $300 million cut in higher education over the next two years in Wisconsin; Governor Bobby Jindal intends a $141 million cut in higher education in Louisiana next year.
Newly elected Governor Doug Ducey and his Republican legislature in Arizona will reduce state funding for universities by $104 million and will cut $19 million from state contributions to community colleges. In defending his budget proposal, Ducey commented: “This budget reflects our values as Arizonans.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of this illustrious country, U.S. Representative Dave Brat, Republican from Virginia, lectured the American public on how to create great minds: (more…)
George Orwell. (Credit: Wiggy! / Wikimedia Commons)
Erich Fromm warned us that 1984 (1949) is not just a description of Stalinist barbarism, but that Orwell means us, too, in his dystopian novel.
In this and succeeding posts with the same title we will conduct periodic “State of the Dystopia” examinations in which we will review how many of Orwell’s prophecies (and in what way) have come true. In our time Orwell has become, if not a holy prophet like Jeremiah, at least a political prophet of say, the secular prophet Nostradamus. We study Orwell’s writings the way faithful Christians pore over the Book of Revelation to keep track of the oncoming of the Apocalypse.
To begin with the simplest, and most resounding of Orwell’s prophetic utterances: the building of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) in Oceania (see map below) was “an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, three hundred meters into the air.” On its white face, “in elegant lettering,” was carved the three slogans of the Party:
Putin shakes hand with Modi at the 6th BRICS summit. BRICS is an acronym for the economic association of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The recently established BRICS bank is an alternative to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Federation)
Whether or not the rhetoric is sincere, it aims to persuade us that our country is on the side of the angels. Stories to the contrary are ignored or forgotten. The simple but effective mechanism for suppressing the nation’s guilty conscience is to concoct a devil figure. If our enemy is evil, then we are a force for good. This self-serving logic is regularly recycled. It keeps bad memories in check whenever or wherever they might pop up. It works like a vaccination to immunize us from a dreaded disease. (more…)