Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Pacifying The Proles

     The aim of the High is to remain where they are. – George Orwell, 1984
     "Government's a dubious glory...You pay for your power and wealth by balancing on the sharp edge of the blade. That great amorphous thing out there -- the people -- has turned and swallowed many governments. They can do it in the flash of an angry uprising. The way you prevent that is by giving good government, not perfect government -- but good. Otherwise, sooner or later, your turn comes." [Frank Herbert, The Godmakers ]
     The moral dimension of arranging the assassination of a popular politician didn’t trouble Wriston at all. Living in the public eye had always entailed increased risk. Historically, whenever some troublemaker had roused the rabble to a greater pitch than the Establishment of that time and place could tolerate, it had disposed of him with no compunction and extreme prejudice. There were parts of the world where that was still the inevitable price of rising to power—places where a dismissal from high office was always administered with high-velocity lead. Power seekers in such lands arrived in their palaces with their death warrants already signed and sealed; they merely awaited delivery. [Shadow Of A Sword]

     However they represent themselves, and whoever their true beneficiaries may be, all political Establishments must take care to do one crucial thing: to keep “the proles” in their place. To fail at this is to fall to the scythe.

     Perhaps the most curious feature of Orwell’s great dystopian novel is his paucity of elaboration on how The Party kept the proles from rising against it. Clearly there had to be some mechanism for keeping them pacified, but the only thing Orwell mentions is a lottery upon which the proles are encouraged to focus, and whose largest prizes always seem to go to persons no one knows. Aldous Huxley, in his dystopian vision Brave New World, makes use of a drug, “soma,” which has both euphoric and tranquilizing properties and which is distributed freely to the Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon classes.

     The emperors of classical Rome famously employed a panem et circenses technique: “bread and circuses,” to keep the plebes fed and diverted. Free grain was distributed regularly, without any attempt by the Empire to determine whether the recipient was in need. Spectacles in the Coliseum and lesser regional arenas were used to entertain the plebes and exhaust their energies. It worked to an extent, but to maintain its effect it had to be increased as time passed. Toward the end of the Empire, grain distributions and Empire-sponsored spectacles were held on 220 of the 360 days in the Roman calendar. It was one of the influences that ultimately crashed the Roman order.

     Suzanne Collins’s dystopian Hunger Games trilogy, whose totalitarian state is named Panem in obvious homage to the Roman technique, portrays an almost perfect parallel approach to the pacification of the masses – but with a difference: those outside the ruling caste cannot become prosperous. The State’s exactions limit the commoners to little better than subsistence, and sometimes less. The theory behind that approach would be that a people barely able to feed itself would not have the time or surplus energy for political restiveness. It doesn’t work out that way in Collins’s books. Neither did it hold for long in the U.S.S.R.

     In Western societies of our time, the tranquilizers and pacifiers must be more subtly engineered. Moreover, a variety of them must be provided. The Establishment cannot allow their function to be too obvious. Neither can it ensure that a sufficient fraction of the common folk will fasten on any particular one. Yet the underlying pattern hearkens back to Rome.

     America has a luxurious welfare state, in theory a compassionate effort to relieve the extremes of poverty but in practice a mechanism for binding its supposed beneficiaries to the State’s teats. The giveaway here is how the definition of “poverty” has mutated over time. Today a “poor American,” entitled to the State’s generous “benefits,” would be about equivalent to a member of the working class in other Western societies. He’d certainly be in no danger of starvation or death by exposure. Little to nothing is asked of him in return for the State’s largesse. The arrangement suggests that the point is not to get people out of poverty but to enroll as many welfare clients as possible.

     America also has its spectacles. They’re not provided by the State, but they function similarly to those once held in Rome’s Coliseum. Various forms of inexpensive entertainment, many of them provided to us in the comfort of our homes, occupy a large fraction of Americans’ free time. Over time those entertainments have steadily increased their emphasis on the two indispensable elements of anything intended to hold a commoner’s attention: sex and violence. The barons of the entertainment industry have been careful to maintain close relations with the political powers that be, a point that should not be lost on the reader.

     And it works. For decades the combination succeeded in diverting a sufficient fraction of the populace from any serious degree of attention to political goings-on: sufficient, that is, that the Establishment has managed to retain control of the fraction that bothers itself over such things. Only in the most recent years has its grip begun to slip.

     Why? How is it that so meticulously designed and carefully maintained a system for keeping us proles in our place should have begun to lose its purchase? Have the giveaways and the spectacles lost part of their savor? Have they who engineered the system become incompetent or negligent? Or has the passage of time actuated influences of power great enough to countervail our contemporary bread and circuses?

     There are several candidate explanations. Some involve grand socioeconomic theories of history. Others rely on a Hegelian / Marxian dialectical account, despite the crudity of such an approach. A few posit the importance of world-historical individuals credited with the power to shape events by their personal force, a theory that recent events support to some degree.

     We cannot be certain which of these explanations is at all valid. What we can know, with a confidence approaching certainty, is that the pacification system of the century behind us is failing. The masters of our Establishment will strive to buttress it, for the alternative – from their perspective, of course – is worse. Attention to developments will pay as never before.

     Be watchful. Keep your powder dry.

4 comments:

John C. said...

Unfortunately, the old system of welfare designed to keep the receivers on the reservation has been replaced with a 16 year plus educational brainwashing industry which has actually surpassed the welfare state in producing loyal, non thinking subjects. Also the fight for immigration of colored people to replace those murdered in our abortion mills seems to have succeeded. The elite are hurriedly trying to replace white people to create and maintain the perfect one-party state. What other reason would the elite have for demanding, demanding I say diversity of America and other majority white nations while not demanding the same of middle east, Asian and African countries. After all, if "diversity makes us stronger" wouldn't poorer countries need that enormous strength more than successful Western countries?

Margaret Ball said...

Do you think that the welfare system has sown the seeds of its own failure? The "proles" are no longer grateful for being kept in relative luxury; they take it for granted. Indeed, just about every American I know, from rich to poor, assumes that a safe and peaceful life with plentiful food and entertainment is the norm they can expect.

Hard to pacify people by giving them what they assume is their birthright.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Margaret, that might explain why such systems fail -- and as far as I know, they always do. It constitutes a parallel to the consumption of a drug: as your body acclimates to it, you need more and more to obtain the same effect, until you reach a lethal dose.

The one objection to that explanation I can see is that welfare clients, like us all, eventually die. However, welfare clients tend to breed welfare clients -- and the acclimations and expectations of the parents tend to be passed to their progeny.

John C. said...

That seems to be right on the money, Mr. P. In my own life I have only met a few welfare folks but every one was the spawn of a welfare person. I personally have never met a "first generation" welfare recipient. Oh, but I am from Philly which may explain a lot. Just like 70 years of democrat destruction to the city, its infrastructure, its potential and its culture at the same time 70 years of generational welfare has done a number on the City of Brotherly Love.