Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Bizarro World (aka Fox News), Orwell and Vonnegut warned us about big government liberals

Ok, we have an AM radio host on Fox News saying that liberals who support government regulations and such are "the people that George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut warned us about."

Now look here: George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut were both socialists, so it's certainly absurd to be trying to turn them into props for movement conservatism.

The people in George Orwell's dystopian literature that he warned us about were not those who seek to implement environmental regulations on the amount of pollution that can be dumped into our water or air, nor were they those who think that restaurants should disclose the calorie contents of their food and such; they were, broadly speaking, totalitarians who ruled by oppression in the name of fighting an ever-present intangible enemy.

I can kind of see what the guest, Chris Plante, was getting at, however. Being an AM radio movement conservative, his picture of "a boot stamping on a human face — forever" is something like the government not allowing Fast Food to seduce children with toys into eating unhealthy food. Me, personally, am more concerned with, say, the government starting a forever-war against an intangible enemy ("terror") and then abrogating civil liberties (torture, mass surveillance, habeus corpus roll-back...) in the name of that war, but that's just me.

The Vonnegut thing, though, that really bothers me. Checking Amazon's author page (my books are still in storage) I can count 15 books by Kurt Vonnegut that I have read. I'm guessing Chris Plante has read close to zero.

Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. You will find no greater, richer source of humanist fiction than Vonnegut, in my opinion. If you've ever noticed my sometimes habit of starting a paragraph with "Look:" or "Listen:" or ending a post with "And so it goes" and such, those are small little tributes to Vonnegut. So this is a roundabout way of my saying that I'm somewhat famliar with Kurt Vonnegut's work.

Chris Plante has no business trying to make the man who could write something like this into a mouthpiece for his AM radio worldview:

One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?
Characters in Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Deadeye Dick are named after Debs. Jailbird, the most recent book of his I've read and actually have a copy on hand, has this epigraph:

Help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because they are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all the poor workers. In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.

-Nicoloa Sacco (1891-1927) in his last letter to his thirteen-year old son, Dante, August 18, 1927, three days before his execution in Charleston Prison, Boston, Massachusetts. "Bartolo" was Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927), who died the same night in the same electric chair, the invention of a dentist. So di and even more forgotten man, Celestino Madeiros (1894-1927), who confessed to the crime of which Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted, even while his own conviction for another murder was being appealed. Madeiros was a notorious criminal, who behaved unselfishly at the end.
Later, the protagonist laments

I thought now about Sacco and Vanzetti. When I was young, I believed that the story of their martyrdom would cause an irresistible mania for justice to the common people to spread throughout the world. Does anybody know or care who they are anymore?

I have no opinion of Sacco and Vanzetti, but mention this to give you an idea of where Vonnegut's political sympathies lie.* It's beside the point, however. What Vonnegut wrote about was not totalitaranism, as was the case with Orwell, but about the follies of human nature and striving to find meaning and getting by in a capricious world.**

Et cetera.

*Previously, Fox demonstrated it was aware of Vonnegut's politics, which is likely why it trashed him the day after he died.
**Vonnegut's fiction did contain some dystopian elements, such as in Player Piano, but that novel certainly doesn't make Plante's point, given that Vonnegut was making a point about what he perceived as the dehumanizing aspects of industrial capitalism.


Sheldon said...

Thansk for the great post. Of course never mentioned is that the cheap fattening food the poor eat is structured by the government support of the corporate food industry.

Sheldon said...

By the way, thats a great opening quote by Vonnegut in the In These Times article.

And, here is link to a free Kindle book for you

Author Jack Richards said...

In Orwell’s 1984 control is accomplished by inflicting pain. In Huxley’s Brave New World it is achieved by means of pleasure and an elimination of conflict and constant tension. What can we learn from this?

First, that control is necessary for those in power. Secondly, that our lives will be affected by the method of control chosen by the power elite.

Huxley points out that the social ethic has replaced our traditional ethical system – the system in which the individual is primary. “Its basic assumption is that the social whole has greater worth and significance than its individual parts, that inborn biological differences should be sacrificed to cultural uniformity, that the rights of the collectivity take precedence over what the eighteenth century called the Rights of Man.”

He also points out that, “Man is not made to be an automaton, and if he becomes one, the basis for mental health is destroyed.” Any culture that, for political or social reasons, tries to standardize the human individual, commits a violation of the human biological nature.