Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Few Quotes To Power A Question Of Some Importance

     The novel of ideas is a largely abandoned form of expression today. In part, that ‘s because most such books won’t sell. People read fiction primarily to be entertained. A novel too concerned with ideas is unlikely to entertain adequately. But it’s also because far too many people are made uncomfortable by any idea that demands that they separate themselves, even temporarily, from their usual patterns of thought.

     Below are a few snippets from one novel of ideas that was widely read. I regard it as one of the finest novels of the Twentieth Century. (Before you ask: No, it’s not one of mine, and it’s not Atlas Shrugged.) The dialogue below is between two very bright men: one a scientist, the other a writer and thinker. The scientist has been thwarted professionally by a colleague with immense power, though that power is unacknowledged as such:

     “He uses you where he can, and where he can’t, he prevents you from publishing, from teaching, even from working. Right? In other words, he has power over you. Where does he get it from? Not from vested authority, there isn’t any. Not from intellectual excellence, he hasn’t any. He gets it from the innate cowardice of the average human mind. Public opinion! That’s the power structure he’s part of, and knows how to use.”

     The scientist is reluctant to confront what his friend has suggested. He calls it “crazy talk.” The writer demurs:

     “What drives people crazy is trying to live outside reality. Reality is terrible. It can kill you. Given time, it certainly will kill you. The reality is pain—you said that! But it’s the lies, the evasions of reality, that drive you crazy. It’s the lies that make you want to kill yourself.”

     The scientist continues to grope for reasons to disbelieve:

     “Look, brother,” he said at last. “It’s not our society that frustrates individual creativity. It’s the poverty of our world. This planet wasn’t meant to support civilization. If we let one another down, if we don’t give up our personal desires to the common good, nothing, nothing on this barren world can save us. Human solidarity is our only resource.”

     The writer’s reply:

     “Solidarity, yes! Even there, where food falls out of the trees, even there our founder said that human solidarity is our one hope. But we’ve betrayed that hope. We’ve let cooperation become obedience. Back there they have government by the minority. Here we have government by the majority. But it is government! The social conscience isn’t a living thing any more, but a machine, a power machine, controlled by bureaucrats!”…

     “In the early years of the Settlement we were aware of that, on the lookout for it. People discriminated very carefully then between administering things and governing people. They did it so well that we forgot that the will to dominance is as central in human beings as the impulse to mutual aid is, and has to be trained in each individual, in each new generation. Nobody’s born free any more than he’s born civilized!”

     Ultimately, the scientist comes to see and understand what his writer friend has been talking about:

     “You said it—you should have refused to go there. I said it as soon as I got here: I’m a free man, I didn’t have to come here! . . . We always think it, and say it, but we don’t do it. We keep our initiative tucked away safe in our mind, like a room where we can come and say, ‘I don’t have to do anything, I make my own choices, I’m free.’ And then we leave the little room in our mind, and go where PDC posts us, and stay till we’re reposted.”

     I’ve altered a very few words in the snippets above to conceal the source. It’s a novel about a society founded on the principle of utter and complete anarchism: that is, that there shall be no entity allowed to assert the privilege of coercion, regardless of its size or the rationale it proposes. Yet after some decades, despite a complete lack of infection or infiltration from archist societies – indeed, despite an educational system that strives to inculcate the anarchist premise as the essence of freedom even in the very youngest of its pupils — the anarchic society is deteriorating into one ruled by a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has the support of the most influential citizens. The majority passively goes along with it, out of nothing but the fear of disapproval.

     My question: How and why has it happened to us?

     What is the nature of our American reality? Are we free men, or are we subjects under the rule of others who can move us about like pawns, take our property when and as they please, and disenfranchise us at their whim?

     Reflect on this. I beseech you, reflect!


Linda Fox said...

Sadly, most people have little desire to be truly free. They just want to go along with the whims of the crowd, partake in the entertainments of the rest of them, amuse themselves at the end of the day, and - I hate to point this out - NOT THINK TOO HARD.

To some extent, leaders are at least a cut above the average in IQ. They're a whole lot more above the average in their willingness/ability to resist the pull of the many into conformity. Few women are those kind of leaders. As Sarah A Hoyt describes them, they are ODDS. And, women are less likely to be standoffish, prickly loners. Hell, even women who are Cranks yearn for others to join them.

Even Dian Fossey, isolated in her studies from many people, had her companions - the Apes. She made herself into one who could derive her satisfaction from another species. Because, for women, isolation from other living things is true torture. Hence, social isolates who are female become Cat Ladies.

Not so some of the men. It is inherent in them to resist the pull of the group, and insist on making their own way. Hermits, Loners, and other Isolates abound in their gender. To stand against the wisdom of the crowd does not cause a sick feeling to well up within their being (unlike that felt by almost all women, and many men). They can resist the pull to conform.

Andy Texan said...

Donald Trump has a very good feel for public opinion. After initially trying to stand athwart that opinion and ride out the storm was quickly dissuaded. Public opinion was very fearful. The entire political establishment got ahead of the wave one-upping each other to show deference to the fear. Note that the governors who took the most draconian actions have the highest public opinion (in their states) and those that did not saw their poll drop. The public is (was) very fearful because the polity is no long composed of the stern stuff of earlier generations. The make-up of the first American Republic (ended with the civil war) has little in common with us the fifth Republic (since 2001). For me the demarcation years are 1776, 1865, 1913, 1965, and 2001.