Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You Okay, Pukka Sahib?

Started reading George Orwell’s “Burmese Days” a few weeks ago, and just picked it up again this morning.

Right at the good part.
Orwell wrote the book, of course, to support his anti-colonial views, and he does an admirable job of it. Through the eyes of Flory, his main character, Orwell demonstrates the cowardly thinking that supported colonialism for so long. And what he writes is also pertinent, I think, to society as a whole.
He writes:
For as his brain developed – you cannot stop your brain developing, and it is one of the tragedies of the half-educated that they develop late, when they are already committed to some wrong way of life – he had grasped the truth about the English and their Empire. The Indian Empire is a despotism – benevolent, no doubt, but still a despotism with theft as its final object. . . . The real backbone of the despotism is not the officials but the Army. Given the Army, the officials and the business men can rub along safely enough even if they are fools. And most of them are fools. A dull, decent people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter of a million bayonets.
First, ouch.
And yeah, that sounds like complaints we’re hearing today. We as a nation are pretty content and are developing late – I see it in my students, I see it in myself.
What is our backbone? Because we in the US have officials that are as useless (for the most part) as those Orwell describes, leaving the real work to be done by functionaries. The military-industrial complex comes to mind, but part of me thinks that’s too easy of a vaudeville villain to trot out – but it might be the only apt comparison. Because it’s the banks and industry that got the bailouts in 2008, not necessarily the forgotten men.
Are we cherishing and fortifying our dullness behind a quarter of a million corporate ledgers?
I don’t know. I’m like Flory – my brain is still developing, and developing late. How committed am I to a wrong way of life? Am I, like Dave Barry, much less interested (he wrote, as he looked at the notes he left himself) to ENDING WORLD HUNGER than I am to BUYING DETERGENT?
See, I have to have economics explained to me via cartoon.
He writes further:
It is a stifling, stultifying world in which to live. It is a world in which every word and every thought is censored. In England it is hard even to imagine such an atmosphere. Everyone is free in England; we sell our souls in public and buy them back in private, among our friends. But even friendship can hardly exist when every white man is a cog in the wheels of despotism. Free speech is unthinkable. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator, but you are not free to think for yourself. Your opinion on every subject of conceivable importance is dictated for you by the pukka sahib’s code.
What is our code? It is increasingly twisted, in which we can show outrage when a black man is murdered by a neighborhood watchman but no national discussion ensues when two black teenagers kill an 88-year-old war veteran in a botched robbery. One is racism. The other is something that just happens, and, hey, there was no racial intent in the robbery. So it is not discussed. It is when we can discuss corporate profits overflowing while wages for the workers remain stagnant or slip as inflation increases. That cannot be discussed. It is when those who oppose abortion are called “Anti-choice,” by the press, though they would prefer to be called “pro-life,” and where the press immediately starts calling a man “she” when he announces that’s what he’d prefer. It is where there is an urge to tax churches the same as for-profit organizations because they dare to urge their members to speak politically, and then urge that those political discussions be censored, stifled, or otherwise drowned out in a sea of noise more to the pukka sahibs’ liking.
We are not colonialists, but we, just Orwell writes, are “creature[s] of the despotism, a pukka sahib, tied tighter than a monk or a savage by an unbreakable system of tabus.”

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