George Orwell wrote an essay called “Inside the Whale.” It’s mostly a discussion of the works of Henry Miller, then very trendy and banned for sale in the United States because of obscenity. Towards the end he comments on Miller’s use of whales as metaphors, and pens this startling passage:
For the fact is that being inside a whale is a very comfortable, cosy, homelike thought. The historical Jonah, if he can be so called, was glad enough to escape, but in imagination, in day-dream, countless people have envied him. It is, of course, quite obvious why. The whale’s belly is simply a womb big enough for an adult. There you are, in the dark, cushioned space that exactly fits you, with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to keep up an attitude of the completest indifference, no matter what happens. A storm that would sink all the battleships in the world would hardly reach you as an echo. Even the whale’s own movements would probably be imperceptible to you. He might be wallowing among the surface waves or shooting down into the blackness of the middle seas (a mile deep, according to Herman Melville), but you would never notice the difference. Short of being dead, it is the final, unsurpassable stage of irresponsibility.
And follows it shortly with this:
Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships—an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely imaginable…. But from now onwards the all-important fact for the creative writers going to be that this is not a writer’s world. That does not mean that he cannot help to bring the new society into being, but he can take no part in the process as a writer. For as a writer he is a liberal, and what is happening is the destruction of liberalism. It seems likely, therefore, that in the remaining years of free speech any novel worth reading will follow more or less along the lines that Miller has followed—I do not mean in technique or subject matter, but in implied outlook. The passive attitude will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before. Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism—robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale—or rather, admit you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it.
That was written in 1940, but a more apt description of the state of affairs in 2013 is hard to imagine.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Orwell’s essay lately. My significant other, for instance, takes Time magazine. Our edition had this cover:
That’s Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl Time proclaims “one of the 100 most influential people in the world.” And her story is inspiring, except…. well, here’s Wiki:
On 15 October 2012, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, launched a petition in Yousafzai’s name and “in support of what Malala fought for”…
The petition contains three demands:
- We call on Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child.
- We call on all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls.
- We call on international organizations to ensure the world’s 61 million out-of-school children are in education by the end of 2015.
Anybody notice anything missing there? How about here:
As of 7 November 2012, Mullah Fazlullah, the cleric who ordered the attack on Yousafzai, is based in eastern Afghanistan where he was confirmed to be in hiding according to ISAF sources in Afghanistan. An ISAF spokesman stated Fazlullah was not being tracked by US forces since he was viewed as an “other-side-of-the-border problem” and was not involved in operations against American or Afghan interests
The Taliban have been clear in their response to the assassination attempt in that they will continue to target her, despite her survival, with a spokesman saying, “The attack was a warning to all youngsters in the area that they would be targeted if they followed her example.”
In other words: Absolutely nothing has changed. The UN’s “I am Malala” petition has had, as of this writing, exactly the same impact as every other UN petition regarding that part of the world, i.e. none. The Mullah who ordered up her assassination is still at large and making statements. The Taliban are still determined to kill her. Pakistani girls are still stoned for trying to go to school. If you take away all the troposphere warming from Gordon Brown’s hot air and the millions of kilojoules expended by liberals worldwide patting themselves on the back for signing (or, at least, thinking about signing) the petition, the net effect of all this on the world has been… zero.
And she’s one of the most influential people in the world.
Or consider this story, again from Time, profiled at Ace of Spades (Ace link). As Ace explains it, Time strongly implies that because Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a boxer, and could therefore have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, his similarly radical brother could’ve been also. The magazine’s “Healthland” article concludes
While none of this likely would have deterred Tsarnaev, it might be used to diagnose other people at risk of explosive CTE-related violence and stop them before they act out. By treating a single person’s wounded brain, doctors could one day save uncounted other lives.
leaving it to our imaginations to supply the mechanisms by which Tamerlan’s CTE-inspired violence rubbed off on his brother Dzhohkar.
Meanwhile, the New York Times (h/t Ace) muses on “the complexities of online identity — of the ways in which people strike poses and don masks on the Web (which can sometimes turn into self-fulfilling prophecies), and the ways in which the Web can magnify or accelerate users’ interests and preoccupations.”
Given the layers of irony, sarcasm and joking often employed on Twitter, it can be difficult to parse the messages of a stranger. Yet some of them can seem menacing or portentous, given what we now suspect: “a decade in america already, I want out,” “Never underestimate the rebel with a cause” or “No one is really violent until they’re with the homies.” But others suggest a more Holden Caulfield-like adolescent alienation: “some people are just misunderstood by the world thus the increase of suicide rates.”
Ah yes. Just your normal alienated adolescent, with a prod from “the complexities of online identity” — except, of course, that this version of Holden Caulfield went on to murder people.
Time Magazine and The New York Times are hugely influential publications, with readership in the millions worldwide. They are using this influence to push us all further inside the whale. By pretending that Malala Yousafzai is influential, that Dzhohkar Tsarnaev was a typical alienated adolescent, that Tamerlan Tsarnaev turned violent from a knock on the head, they urge us to lay back and accept the inevitability of Islamic radicalism, of international terrorism, of random violence perpetrated by people we invited into our country and nurtured with our welfare dollars.
The stark fact remains: This particular act of violence — the Boston Bombing — could have been prevented. Not by better cops, or more security cameras, or, God help us, with stricter gun control laws, but by a better immigration policy, e.g. literally any other policy than the one we have now. The Russians repeatedly warned us about these guys. The FBI investigated them back in 2011. And yet, not only did we give them money in the form of welfare, we granted one of them American citizenship. While he was on welfare. After being investigated by the FBI. And after repeated warnings from the Russians.
In any rational society, any one of those facts would have protestors out in the streets. In America, though, we have our leading organs of influence urging us to calm down, lay back, and enjoy the blubber.