What Bad Guys Got Right

I love George Orwell.  But I can never forget that he was a Socialist, which meant that, when the chips were down, he was cuckoo for cocoa puffs.  Here he is, in The Road to Wigan Pier, discussing the typical Left-wing attitude of his time toward the British Empire:

Every left-wing ‘intellectual’ is, as a matter of course, an anti-imperialist. He claims to be outside the empire-racket as automatically and self-righteously as he claims to be outside the class-racket… [but] in the last resort, the only important question is. Do you want the British Empire to hold together or do you want it to disintegrate? And at the bottom of his heart no Englishman…does want it to disintegrate. For, apart from any other consideration, the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa. Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation–an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream.

The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes. That is the very last thing that any left-winger wants. Yet the left-winger continues to feel that he has no moral responsibility for imperialism. He is perfectly ready to accept the products of Empire and to save his soul by sneering at the people who hold the Empire together.

And yet, Orwell thought “[social] class-breaking,” as he called it, not only could happen, but would happen — that his fellow Englishmen, Left and Right, would choose a herrings-and-potatoes life, if only they were sufficiently informed about social conditions in the Raj!

Karl Marx was far less sanguine, and far more sanguinary: He knew that social classes would never break without Revolution, and that the Revolution would produce, of necessity, a new type of human being — one that is perfectly content with herrings and potatoes so long as no peasant in Hyderabad ever goes to bed hungry.

Marx got the diagnosis right.  His prescription was wrong, because human beings don’t work like that (and there is no such thing as Spirit, History, and the rest of the Capital Letter Stuff that is Marx’s real philosophy).  But he nailed the fact that conflicts between social classes are the drivers of history, small-h.  Looking to Marx for political insight is like going to one of those bird mask-wearing medieval plague doctors to treat your head cold.  He’ll spot the problem straight off, but he’ll want to bleed you and make you wear a poultice of sheep rectum or something to cure it.

Bad guys, in other words, get things right all the time.  Adolf Hitler well understood liberal democracy’s hedonism problem, and here again, Orwell said it best:

Hitler…knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life…. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.

Like Marx, Hitler got the diagnosis right, but his prescription was equally barmy.  His (and Himmler’s) big idea for the post-victory Reich was a network of autobahns linking what were essentially medieval castle towns all across the former USSR.  The Waffen-SS was designed specifically for the role of warrior-peasants farming the Ukraine.  Think of the Teutonic Knights, but with tanks and jet aircraft — that’s what the Wehrbauern were supposed to be.  Like Orwell with his English Socialists, the Nazi leadership seemed to believe that the proper National Socialist consciousness would prompt people to give up the comforts of a globe-spanning slave empire to go dig in the dirt in the ass end of Lithuania.

The question for us is: Have our modern day bad guys gotten it right this time?

Soros et al seem to believe — and lots of folk in Our Thing seem to concur, if comment sections are any guide — that modern techno-feudalism has produced a new kind of human being.  Bread and circuses couldn’t keep the Roman plebs suppressed for ever, this line of belief goes, but Augustus et al didn’t have iCrap.  The carrot of constant ego-validation on Facebook, combined with Facebook’s constant suppression of badthink, has produced a proletariat too fat, lazy, and stupid to do anything other than “work” just enough to keep consuming.  We social media-sotted “workers” are like the Capitalists in Lenin’s famous quote, except that instead of selling the ropes by which we will be hanged, we buy the chains by which we will be forever enslaved.

I don’t buy it, and as proof, I give you the “Antifa” themselves.  I’ve written about this before, many times, but if you haven’t been on campus recently (or at all), I really can’t convey to you just how nice everything is.  I stand by my hyperbole, because it’s really not too much of an exaggeration:

There is no nicer, safer, cushier existence than that found on a college campus.  There never has been, not once, not in all human history.  The great Ozymandias would trade half his empire for an air conditioned dorm room and all-you-can-eat sushi at the student union; he’d trade the other half for a MacBook Pro and free wifi.

I’m a middle aged, upper-middle-class White guy.  I live a life chock full of “privilege.”  But I’d trade it all to be a 19 year old college kid again, because thanks to student loans, an on-demand culture that caters to students exclusively, and the continuing stupidity of upper-middle-class parents, 19 year old college kids live way better than I do.  Half the cars on campus are nicer than mine, the other half are way nicer, and the kids all carry about my month’s paycheck’s worth of stuff just on their persons.  iPhones, Mac Books, top of the line fashion, $200 Ugg boots, $300 watches that don’t even tell time…. But hell, I’d trade all that just for the sheer, glorious irresponsibility of it all.  College kids know nothing, because they’re required to know nothing; do nothing, because they can’t be made to do anything.  Failed the exam?  Just go nag the professor until he changes your grade, and if he won’t, keep nagging up the chain — someone will change it, because the customer is always right (and if all else fails, by definition you’ve got at least one Victim Card to play).  It’s heaven.

And yet, these are the most miserable critters in captivity.  They have everything, they’re required to do nothing…. and they’re out rioting in the streets, because President Trump’s tweets make them feel bad.  They’ve got their own fucking pronouns, for Christ’s sake, that they can change at will.  If anyone should be Soros’s New Soviet Persyns, it’s these kids.  If iCrap can’t keep them happy, then there’s something wrong with the iCrap-and-iCircuses view of society.

We’d do well to figure out what it is.  Western Civ depends on it.

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7 thoughts on “What Bad Guys Got Right

  1. WOPR

    I will say the necessary components are:
    – religion (as a Christian you know where I fall)
    – a national myth – Manifest Destiny was one such thing
    – a short term (approximately 5 years) national struggle/goal per generation.

    Constant struggle and constant comfort are both innervating. Cycles of struggle and success/lessons learned causes a society to grow.

    BTW, notice that Orwell lists what he talks about as common sense like all Leftist do?

    1. Severian

      No doubt. One of the reasons people take Orwell to be an oracle is because he’s a master of stating his own (often batty) opinions as if they are self-evident, stone-cold fact. I love him, but he’s done a LOT of damage with that wonderful prose style.

      Leftists going all the way back to Plato have considered themselves Science’s BFFs; I have never heard even the most “centrist” Liberal admit that he doesn’t know something of consequence. The best way to get to the nearest McDonald’s? They’ll admit to ignorance. The Navy’s proper posture on the Pacific Rim? Well, they’ve never thought about it, and their entire naval experience consists of playing “Battleship” one rainy afternoon when they were seven, but if we are now having a National Conversation on defense policy, they know down to the fathom exactly where every ship should be. (President Trump is, of course, doing everything all wrong no matter what. That guy could cure cancer, and even the most “centrist” Liberal would start bitching about all the poor oncologists he put out of work).

      Back before things got so far out of hand, I said, only half-joking, that mandatory Little League would solve lots of our problems. Tough competition, under fair, impartial rules, with authorities enforcing good sportsmanship, would teach iCrap-addicted little snowflakes everything they need to know about life.


  2. Frip

    I meet a lot of bar people. Trying to picture what Severian would be like at the pub. Probably interesting. A bit verbose and domineering. But you’d accept it because his BS is backed up by education and reasoning. And humor. After a few drinks every guy wants to voice some strong opinion. Even if it’s just made up on the spot. If you don’t have one, you resort to poking holes in the smart guy’s carefully constructed views. Blow down his house of cards. But when a guy’s good for real, you gotta be ok with just listening, sipping, nodding, and laughing.

  3. Jay Carter

    Not a big fan of Mr. Orwell.

    However, (as they say) even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.
     “Blind George” found his acorn when he wrote: “We have now sunk to a depth at which a restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”


  4. P_Ang

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve read the first half of “The Road to Wigan Pier” several times. Reading the second half where he diverges into social critiques and political theory just bores the living hell out of me. The only other book I’ve ever had the same experience with is “Battlefield Earth.” First half; good, second half; mindless blathering about Scientology.

    1. Severian Post author

      The Full Metal Jacket effect — the first half is a harrowing character study; the second is a by-the-numbers war movie. I really enjoyed the 2nd half of Road to Wigan Pier, but a) I’m a dork, and b) Leftist psychology fascinates me, and Orwell is the weirdest case of all. He sees the problem so clearly — his insights into human nature are some of the keenest, and best-expressed, you’ll ever find — but then, he’s still a Socialist. And not even a “scientific” socialist — he’s one of the loony moonbeam California ones, who think it’d be so much nicer if everyone were so much nicer, and all we have to do to achieve that is…. convince everyone to be nicer. It’s bizarre.

      1. moscanarius

        Reminds me of Haldane, one of the greatest geneticists ever, who not only was a Socialist but also a supporter of the Soviet Union until after WW2. Haldane kept making excuses for Lysenko’s madness, even after it became clear to everyone else that Lysenko was a dangerous madmen (he eventually banned the teaching of genetics from the URSS). From wiki, emphasis mine:

        In 1938, he proclaimed enthusiastically that “I think that Marxism is true.” He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1942. He was pressed to speak out about the rise of Lysenkoism and the persecution of geneticists in the Soviet Union as anti-Darwinist and the denouncement of genetics as incompatible with dialectical materialism. He shifted the focus to the United Kingdom and a criticism of the dependence of scientific research on financial patronage. In 1941 he wrote about the Soviet trial of his friend and fellow geneticist Nikolai Vavilov:

        The controversy among Soviet geneticists has been largely one between the academic scientist, represented by Vavilov and interested primarily in the collection of facts, and the man who wants results, represented by Lysenko. It has been conducted not with venom, but in a friendly spirit. Lysenko said (in the October discussions of 1939): ‘The important thing is not to dispute; let us work in a friendly manner on a plan elaborated scientifically. Let us take up definite problems, receive assignments from the People’s Commissariat of Agriculture of the USSR and fulfil them scientifically. Soviet genetics, as a whole, is a successful attempt at synthesis of these two contrasted points of view.’

        I mean, he knew Lysenko was full of it. But Lysenko was on the side of Good, so… he chose to change the subject. Even as his friend Vavilov was being hounded to prision.

        His eventual criticisms of Lysenko are very thoughtful and mild, always trying to see the best possible side of Soviet-approved genetics; a truly fascinating tour on the power of ideology. Some nuggets:

        Lysenko’s contribution printed in the summer number of SCIENCE AND SOCIETY will certainly “give occasion to the enemy to blaspheme.” I have little doubt that he has gone too far in some directions, but it is important to see what there is of value in his criticism of orthodox genetics.

        (See, the Enemy may use Lysenko’s folly against the Soviet People; we must defend the fool)

        Then we come to the question of the three-to-one ratio, which Lysenko says is a statistical, not a biological regularity. I confess that I am not quite clear what he means in this case, perhaps because his speech has been summarized. Where a three-to-one ratio is expected according to the laws of formal genetics, it is very rarely obtained with complete accuracy. The deviations from it are due to two causes. First of all, we have deviations due to chance. Thus if we expect 30 hairy and ten smooth plants we are quite likely to get 33 and seven or 27 and 13. And this fact is of great biological importance. If plants or animals were always produced in exactly Mendelian ratios there would be a perpetual equilibrium in hybrid populations. These deviations, so far as they are random, are partly due to sampling, partly to linkage of the gene studied with other genes in the same chromosome affecting viability or fertility. Owing to these chance deviations, one type or another will ultimately disappear from a small population, and it will become homogeneous. Sewall Wright of Chicago has studied this effect in great detail. Second, when large numbers are grown, a deviation from the three-to-one ratio is usually found, because one type is fitter than the other. One of the largest lists of such deviations in any plant was published by de Winton and myself.[1] If there were no systematic deviations of this kind there would be no natural selection based on survival of the fittest, even if there were reproductive selection based on differences of fertility. Thus systematic deviations from the three-to-one ratio are a fact of extreme biological importance.

        (LOL, Lysenko’s “misunderstanding” was basic even for that time. Yet see how Haldane tries hard to rationalize it)

        Next we have the question of food. I think that nine times out of ten Lysenko is wrong, that is to say that you cannot improve a breed of animals by improving its food. But there are cases where this is possible, and they may be common enough to make Lysenko’s principle of great practical value… [proceeds to quote one case involving cancer development]… I believe it to be a rarer phenomenon than Lysenko supposes. But it is futile to deny its existence and to regard Lysenko’s assertion of its possibility as in any way unscientific.

        (Yeah, the thing was that Lysenko thought this kind of rare phenomenon was common and widespread, not an uncommon possibility. Hence the accusation of his theory being unscientific)

        But scientific pioneers are not infallible. Pasteur did more for the theory and practice of fermentation than any other man. Yet he made some big mistakes. Having discovered that the usual agents of fermentation, such as yeasts and bacteria, were alive, he denied the possibility of fermentation by nonliving substances. Yet today thousands of different enzymes are known, about twenty have even been crystallized by Sumner, Northrop, and others, mostly in the U.S.A. In the same way Lysenko, who is right in pointing out that the majority of characters showing Mendelian inheritance are of little economic importance, is quite wrong in supposing that none of them are.

        In the same way Lysenko was wrong if he referred to the theories of current genetics, such as the three-to-one ratio and the like, as “fantasies.” They are not fantasies, but approximations.

        (The biggest privilege of being a commie was that you can shit on actual smart, productive people and have them still defend you and beg for more mistreatment)

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