Archive August 2013
|An Orwellian Look at Henry Miller
George Orwell’s 1940
review of Tropic
of Cancer is worth revisiting for several reasons. Not least of
which is the critical lens that one novelist uses to examine, evaluate and
analyze another novelist’s work. Reviews often reveal as much about the biases
of the reviewer as they do with the book under review.
Orwell’s review details a
bias about Miller’s class (working class), nationality (American), and art (he’s
a failure) and politics (the absence of political context). Orwell’s
sensibilities were fashioned at Eton; Millers on the hardscrabble streets of
Brooklyn. Orwell’s sympathies were with the working class; Miller was from the
American working class. In the English world of 1940 the class distinction would
have been a significant factor in the literary world where the Orwells were
expected to write meaningful books and the D.H. Lawrences given a shovel and
told to dig coal. It is important to remember the rigidity of class divide and
everything that flows from it whenever an Orwell reviews a Lawrence.
Reading Orwell’s review of
Henry Miller is at times painful when his class talons are involuntarily
exposed. His review of Tropic of Cancer displays the conflict between
the ideal of what the working class consciousness ought to be—politically
attuned—and the reality of Miller’s working class absolute focus on the sensual
to the exclusion of the larger political framework.
Henry Miller and D.H.
Lawrence broke free of the bonds of their culture and class by travelling and
living abroad. In Orwell’s case, fighting in a foreign civil war (The Spanish
Civil War) showed a commitment to overcome the walls of class and upbringing and
how very hard a road that is to travel. Orwell sought a literary life devoted to
repudiating the chains of his class. In his review of Miller, it seems for
Orwell that those chains were never fully severed.
Orwell wrote Down
and Out in Paris and London where Miller set The Tropic of Cancer. Both
books were intensely autobiographical. He may have had a propriety feeling about
his Paris. This is a kind of old hand attitude that one finds in many places
including Bangkok where the old days were always better, more alive, more
interesting and stimulating. Orwell couldn’t quite figure out why Henry Miller
would bother with Paris after the golden age of the late 1920s when “there were
as many as 30,000 painters in Paris, most of them imposters.” Paris was swamped
with “artists, writers, students, dilettanti, sight-seers, debauchees, and plain
idlers as the world has probably never seen.” Though Orwell didn’t live long
enough to see a similar accumulation of people in Bangkok in the late 1980s and
early 1990s. For Orwell, the Paris scene populated by the expats of the 1920s
had vanished by the time Henry Miller arrived to find “bug-ridden rooms in
working-men’s hotels, of fights, drinking bouts, cheap brothels, Russian
refugees, cadging, swindling and temporary jobs.”
George Orwell, an old
Paris hand, felt that 1930s Paris (it was no longer his Paris) had less
promising material for a novelist. Actually, it comes across even stronger; he
thought Paris was a waste of time, a distraction in the larger European theatre,
a spent force where nothing of interest would emerge. By comparison, in Orwell’s
view there was vastly more interesting material to be mined in Rome, Moscow and
Berlin as Hitler and Stalin worked the military and political levers pushing
toward war. The fact is, by the time of this review Orwell had the advantage of
hindsight. Henry Miller was writing in Paris in the 1930s before the war
started. To strike Miller with a cross-over punch to the jaw for not
anticipating the future outcome is an easy shot as the fist is coming from an
arm originating in 1940.
To ignore the European
political developments, to Orwell’s mind you were “either a footler or a plain
idiot.” [Note: A footler is someone who wastes time or talks nonsense.] Orwell
chose not to answer in which of those categories Henry Miller’s Tropic of
Cancer fell. But it was plain to Orwell that Miller’s literary credibility
was on the line. Or more graphically, he was driving a stake through the heart
of a minor monster that no one should take seriously. He wanted to grab Miller
by the throat and shouted in his face, “You fool, what about Hitler?
Concentration Camps? Forget about bonking and look what is happening around you
at the gathering forces of history which are building to send you and the rest
of the working class back to the battlefield!”
While Orwell came to the
brink, he blinked and chose to sidestep the absence of political context and the
fact that Paris had become a backwater. Despite a silver literary stake driven
through Miller’s heart, Orwell concluded that Miller’s book was ‘a very
remarkable book.’ That is a remarkable observation given Orwell’s doubt about
the value of a novel “written about American dead-beats cadging drinks in the
What brought Orwell around
despite his obvious reservations about Miller’s choice of where to set the book
and the lack of even a remote bit of interest in the larger political clouds
forming over Europe, including Paris, at the time the story was set, was that
Miller was genuine working class. As much as Orwell fought for and wrote about
the working class, he was never a member of that class. Orwell was as much an
outsider to the working class as Miller was to the French in Paris, and for the
same sort of reasons—attitude, education, and sensibility.
What saved Tropic of
Cancer and made it linger in his memory, was that Miller was about to
‘create a world of their own’, not based on the strange but the familiar.
Miller’s genius was in letting the reader know that he or she was being
understood. Miller’s reader would say, “He knows all about me. He wrote this
specially for me.” There is no humbug, moralizing, trying to persuade you to
understand his perspective or values. What Orwell valued was that Miller
dispensed with the usual lies and simplifications and instead wrote about
“recognizable experiences of human beings.” Miller gave the reader that the
things he was writing about were happening to you.
The nature of the
experience chosen by a writer mattered a great deal to Orwell. It is interesting
that Orwell who was born in India and was a colonial official in Burma (and
whose first novel was Burmese
Days) should take a negative view of expatriate life and the
role of authors writing about such lives. He noted that Miller’s book wasn’t
about “people working, marrying and bringing up children” but about people who
lived and survived by their wits on the street, visited cafes, brothels and
studios. Orwell believed that expatriate writers transferred their ‘roots into
shallower soil’ as a result of concentrating on these experiences.
For Eton educated Orwell,
I suspect what he secretly loved about Tropic of Cancer was his feeling
Miller was interested in bringing what was common in the real life of ordinary
people with all of its callous coarseness out into the open. What he secretly
envied was Miller’s class credentials. Orwell might have lived down and out in
Paris but his self-imposed suffering could never have made him a member of the
working class. Orwell fought alongside the working class in the streets of
Barcelona. Henry Miller drank and fornicated in the Latin Quarter. Tropic of
Cancer made it clear that it was one thing to make an intellectual commitment to
the working class, argue their cause, fight their battles, but quite another
thing to become an authentic spokesman of their emotions and desires.
Miller laid open the lives
through their spoken language. “Miller is simply a hard-boiled person talking
about life, an ordinary American businessman with intellectual courage and a
gift for words.” There is no protest about the horror and meaninglessness of
contemporary life. In its place, Miller had written a book about someone whose
life circumstances should have made them miserable but instead, in the case of
Henry Miller, he was incredibly happy. Such an epiphany must have been a slap in
the face for someone committed to the struggle of the working class.
In contrast, Orwell
thought James Joyce was an artist who turned ordinary working class life into
art. Miller was the tabloid writer who entered the mind of the ordinary person
and his words to the ears of one who marched on the playing fields of Eton had
not gone through the usual filters that censored language and
What separate the two men
transcends class, nationality and politics. It comes down to Orwell’s view of a
writer at all times and all places which is to resist fear, tyranny and
regimentation. When Orwell looked up from Tropic of Cancer, what
horrified him wasn’t the language or whoring, it was Miller’s acceptance of
‘concentration camps, rubber truncheons” as well as Hitler, Stalin, machine
guns, putsches, purges, gas masks, spies, provocateurs, censorship, secret
prisons, and political murders. For Orwell it was unthinkable for a serious
writer to ‘accept civilization as it is practically means accepting decay.’
Orwell makes the case that Miller’s point of view was passive and he laid down
and with a sense of resignation and let things happen to him.
reflection, who are the characters in Tropic of Cancer? They aren’t the
ordinary factory worker or family in the suburb, but “the derelict, the
déclassé, the adventurer, the American intellectual without roots and without
money.” And what evaluates and saves Tropic of Cancer is isolated by
Orwell to one crucial factor: Miller ‘had the courage to identify with it” as he
was part of this group. He didn’t look down on them, try to explain or justify,
he reported their lives, troubles, loves, sensual preoccupation.
Orwell was a political
writer who used the form of the novel to great effect in 1984 and
Animal Farm. He would hardly be the reader of choice for a novel
preoccupied with sex among American expats in Paris in the 1930s. For him the
sensual man was out of fashion, it was the time of the political man to take a
stand on principle. Miller’s Tropic of Cancer accepts a world with
endless cycles of violence, greed, aggression, inequality, and injustice as
largely unchangeable, and that the best chance anyone has is for an escape from
the constraints of the madness and limits of one’s own culture and exploring
their emotions inside a new culture. Both Orwell and Miller lived in a
pre-global world. Literature and writers were identified with their nationality
and class. This is less true in our modern world. To read Orwell’s essay on
Henry Miller is to see how far we have travelled since 1940 in terms of what
readers expect of authors, and what authors’ expect from each other.
American Henry Miller was
an escape artist, a hustler, and sensualist. Englishman Orwell was a Barcelona
street fighter and British colonial official. The divide between the two men
could hardly have been greater in terms of personality, education, temperament,
and philosophy. The gap between Eton and the working class slums of Brooklyn was
huge. For all of those differences, though, Orwell saw why Miller had attracted
readers—he brought them into a story, never talked down to them, and made them
feel they should step inside and join him on a grand odyssey of the sensual
world that was recognizable and real and spoke directly to their own
That part of Orwell’s
review is as true today as it was in 1940. The social, economic and political
distance between Orwell and Miller’s consciousness may be greater today. Few
novelists have taken up the cause of the working class struggle. That fell with
the Berlin Wall and in place of a wall is a growing inequality, repression and
acceptance. It seems that Miller may have won in the end. What is important to
remember is that Orwell took Miller seriously. In 2013 writers situated along
this divide are receding like galaxies traveling at the speed of light away from
each other. Soon they will no longer have evidence the ‘other’ ever existed. As
recently reported in the New York
novelists are no longer critically review each other’s books. The competition
for money, academic position and literary prizes has silenced a generation of
novelists too afraid and timid to speak truth not just to authority but to each
|Updating Craziness and Madness
There is a fifty-year
publishing anniversary that needs celebration. It has to do with the meaning of
insanity and related terms. Our use of language in every day conversation—in
novels, movies, newspapers, TV, and on the Internet—changes the meaning of terms
from the past. Take the trio of insanity, craziness and
madness. Those three ideas have been around since we’ve had language,
and one day someone will find from big data on the development of language, that
one reason we acquired language was to keep tabs on people who the community
thought weren’t quite right in the head.
It has been 50 years since
the Kesey novel One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was released. That makes it a good time to revisit and
ask questions about how insanity, craziness and madness remain powerful and
effective tools to protect state power and authority.
The film based on Ken
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, won five Oscars. The book and
film struck a chord with the Academy and filmgoers. McMurphy could be any of us
who pushed back against authority. McMurphy, a criminal in the prison system
with a relatively short sentence to serve, thought he was clever in gaming the
system by being transferred from prison to a mental hospital. He challenged the
power of the head nurse. What he discovered that he was inside a system that
could keep him indefinitely and no law, no institution, no authority could
prevent the head nurse or her staff from using the full range of ‘treatments’
(in the name of medical science) to break him (or from their point of view, cure
If you are
anti-authoritarian, then you run the McMurphy risk of being labeled insane,
rebellious, and troublesome. You go on a list. Nothing that you can do as
McMurphy found out will prevent the authorities from carrying out a lobotomy. At
the end of the story, the Chief sees what they’ve done to McMurphy whose
unresponsive face is a testament to the power of the State who employ the words
‘insanity’, ‘craziness’ and ‘madness’ with the precision of drones.
Insanity is both a legal
and medical term. Madness and craziness are ordinary, common usage to describe
abnormal mental acts of another person. Political correctness has erased
insanity, madness and craziness and instead discussions that would have used
‘insanity’ now refer to ‘mental disorders.’
Science has dispatched
madness and craziness to the old world of magic, herbal cures, and shaman
trances. Science has replaced the local shaman with doctors, nurses, scientists,
and psychiatrists. That has been called progress and a victory over superstition
and backwardness. In the 50 years since the novel was published, science hasn’t
been successful in changing the attitude, nature, and emotions of mankind. In
1963, the medical workers, in the name of ‘science’, doomed McMurphy. Science
acted then, as it does now, as a good cover for those in power to legitimatize
the repression of people like McMurphy.
It is difficult to say
what is more dangerous—the old witchdoctor non-scientific approach, or the new
science, medical approach. A person’s liberty should stand on magical thinking
of superstitious people. It is cruel and senseless and barbaric. Has science has
put an end to the era of witchdoctors? Many people are doubtful. The history of
insanity correlates not as one would wish with the developments in science. The
idea that science brings progress and the ways of a superstitious people are
left in the past. What we are discovering is that science is creating better
tools for lobotomy for critics and opponents. Insanity, craziness, and madness
become mud-slinging words hurled against the rise of new ideas, philosophies,
Don’t forget that at the
end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest it was Nurse Ratchet who won. In
2013 we have a new cast of Nurse Ratchet’s and McMurphy’s and every indication
that the outcome will be the same as it was in 1963.
Remember the bottle thrown
from the plane in the Gods Must Be
Whenever a tribe comes in contact with an unknown technology, instability of the
existing system of belief and thought starts to list like an oil tanker that’s
rammed a reef. Soon the peaceful tribe is racked with high emotions such as
hatred and envy and violence follows as the hotheads arm themselves to control,
own, and monopolize the novel invention. At the end of this 1980 film the hero
Xi throws the bottle over a cliff and returns to his village.
But the days when the hero
could return the world to its pre-bottle ways is over.
What is new is not a
bottle thrown from a plane, but the Big Data quietly culled, stored, and
analyzed into marketing, economic policy, and dissent suppression. That bottle
won’t be thrown over a cliff. It is here in the village to stay. New tools to
spot and isolate (or control) the ‘hostile disruptions’ increase the reach to
track and watch people who are ‘mad’, ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. Though you will be
less likely to see those terms used. As insanity has been tainted by the long
history of loose standards, terrorism has been copied and pasted in places where
insanity, madness and craziness were commonly found.
The mental health issue
always has risked being politicized into a campaign to reduce violence, and
maintain security and order. We don’t have to look very far back in history
before we stumble upon the inconvenient truths about state authorities using
mental health as a method of repression and control.
A list of from the Reasons
for Admission used by Trans-Allegheny Lunatic
1864 to 1889 gives an idea of the range of thinking and acts that landed you in
the bunk next to McMurphy. These 19th century reasons describe the
mental state or behavior of a person before being admitted to the asylum. From
the 1963 film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a case could be made
that much on the list below had survived well into the 20th century.
A case can be made that dressed up in different terms, the list will still be
sufficient to catch the 2013 version of McMurphy.
Business nerves and bad
company along with brain fever, sexual derangement, dissolute habits and women
trouble could fit about 90% of the writers I have met over the years. The
reasons associated with the definition of crazy may explain why many people view
writers, painter, dancers and others as belonging under the big tent of art as
crazy or insane. The point is people who don’t wish to or are incapable of
fitting into morality and norms of their society are by definition
psychologically abnormal and their alternative way of living might be further
evidence of abnormality. Religious or ideological fanatics see other
non-believers as abnormal. Our technology hasn’t updated the definition, only
the power and capability of tracking people who fit one of the categories, of
The clear and present
danger of the concept of Insanity that finally caught up with
McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has been summarized: a term
that “may also be used as an attempt to discredit or criticise particular ideas,
beliefs, principals, desires, personal feelings, attitudes, or their proponents,
such as in politics and religion.”
In 2013 would McMurphy’s
outcome have been any different? Have the last 50 years with all of our advance
technology given us better outcomes? Or are we still back at the gate of
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic asylum, where McMurphy is put out of his misery and the
Chief’s only hope is to escape as fast as one can from the clutches of
repressive power. There is a big difference. In 1963 escape was an option. In
2013, Nurse Ratchet’s forces would find the Chief and he would end up like
Whether you identify with
the Chief or McMurphy doesn’t matter. It is Nurse Ratchet’s world. One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was a warning unheeded. We live in the shadow of the
Reasons for Admission to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. As ‘novel reading’
is one of the grounds for admission, you’ll forgive me if I put on my track
shoes and go looking for where the Chief has gone to ground.
|Digital Tracking of Corruption
The website www.bribespot.com is devoted to citizens from around
the world who complain that state authorities have demanded bribes to overlook
infractions of the law or as an additional, informal condition to receiving a
benefit or service. Corruption can occur around the edges of a political system,
or may have developed as part of the culture.
Here’s a recent example of
a posting from Thailand by a motorist who paid Baht 200 ($5.00) to the
Lane Rama IV Road, near Bangkok University, direction Theptarin
They: 6-8 Police, most likely from Tha Rua Station were waving “all”
motorbikes to stop. 2 were blocking left+middle lane.
Officer: You were not driving as req on the left lane but in the middle
lane & showed me a plastic home-made-menu-pricelist lamented sheet with a
list of all offenses & their prices. On the list: Driving in Middle Lane =
Me: But how can I be on the left lane, if u guys are blocking it and I
need to swap to the right lane to make a U-turn? Shall I fly over?
Officer: Give me 400thb or u go police station & this take long
Me: opening the purse and taking out 200 thb and telling him I not pay
more than 200thb (had a meeting and was in rush).
Officer: literally pulling my 200thb out of the purse and saying: Now you
Q: Is it illegal to drive in the middle lane to change lanes? Only in
Thailand. Police Officers I guess, they fly over the middle lane.”
It is useful to start with
an understanding of what corruption means. Corrupt or corruption derives from
the Latin corruptus meaning to abuse or destroy. Corruption manifests
on several scales:
1) petite scale –
when bribery in the form of small gifts and personal favours and is tolerated
within the larger normative values of the community;
scale – found in regimes run by a narrow circle of plutocrats or tyrants
where the political, social and economic institutions are subverted for the gain
of the tyrants and their cronies;
scale – where process and institutions are weak and are found in a culture
of impunity where state authorities have little or no fear in exacting personal
benefits. The weak institutions indeed may feed and indirectly encourage
corruption by paying a low salary to employees and turn a blind eye when they
supplement their salary through bribes.
Wikipedia has this definition of corruption
in the context of policing:
Police corruption is a specific
form of police misconduct designed to obtain financial
benefits, other personal gain, and/or career advancement for a police officer or
officers in exchange for not pursuing, or selectively pursuing, an investigation
or arrest. One common form of police corruption is soliciting and/or accepting
bribes in exchange for not reporting
organized drug or prostitution rings or other illegal activities. Another
example is police officers flouting the police code of conduct in order to secure convictions of
suspects — for example, through the use of falsified evidence. More rarely, police officers may
deliberately and systematically participate in organized crime themselves.
We will have at some stage
Big Data from sites like www.bribespot.com to see patterns in the behavior of
state officials. It may be that the data will confirm that at the end and start
of the month, and near major holidays that bribe taking increases as officials
are under pressure to pay rents, school fees, or buy gifts. What bribespot.com
relies on is self-reporting. It is difficult to assess how representative of the
problem are the cases that people choose to report. This takes effort to do. I
suspect that most people can’t be bothered to self-report.
The other problem with
corruption reporting is that, by its inherent nature, secretive and
non-transparent, that it is difficult to prove. The motorist says the cop asked
for a bribe, the cop says that is a lie. He said, she said is an eternal loop
and the law mostly favors the police in the case of doubt. People aren’t stupid.
They know that without concrete evidence, they are wasting their time to
complain. And if they complain, police who are corrupt are more likely to
intimidate a whistleblower than non-corrupt police. As the theory goes, once the
cops break one pillar of the law, it is much easier to knock out other pillars
to protect themselves against the law.
August 21st 2013 ran an editorial titled “Corruption is a two-way
street” by blaming the corrupt official and the person paying the
bribe. The editorial concludes that to be effective to stop corruption action
must be taken against the state official and the person paying the
This proposed formula to
solve the problem of corruption in my opinion is fundamentally flawed and fails
to address the underlying causes. It treats all cases of bribery at the same
level—one corrupt state official, one citizen paying the bribe. The illegal
gambling casinos run by state authorities is an example of how corruption is
often a one-way street. In some systems, the corruption is closer to an
expressway rather than a two-way street, with eight-lanes filled with traffic.
That is the problem with thinking of political solutions in terms of metaphors.
They quickly fall apart when the metaphor is expanded to expose the scope of the
problem. The approach championed by the editorial would be as effective as
asking people to drop suggestions into an anti-corruption box.
As we’ve seen in the
categories above, bribery falls into a number of distinct categories, each of
which has special issues and problems that should be addressed.
In the second category,
the Grand Scale, treating the bribe payer in a system of tyrants that act as
rentiers and extractors as wealth and resources as equal to state
officials, is missing the larger issue. It is the nature of how power is
allocated and abused throughout the system. Corruption is a symptom of a much
more fundamental political issue. To focus on the bribe payer is a distraction,
it is irrelevant to finding an overall solution.
The same analysis applies
to the third category, the Institutional Scale, where justice system operates
with weak, highly flawed law enforcement institutions. The state officials act
with impunity. To suggest that the bribe payer is an equal bargaining partner
with such an official neglects the power and authority that can be effectively
employed to compel a target by placing them under duress such as torture,
imprisonment, heavy penalties unless a bribe is paid. To call this a two-way
street would require a radically different view of how streets, rules and
traffic are interconnected.
Thailand falls into the
first and third category. It is a gift-giving culture and bribery is the
slippery slope that gift givers use to glide out of a legal jam or to obtain a
state concession or benefit. Many Thais don’t view the giving of small gifts to
officials as a bribe. The attitude is reflected in the Thai phrase sin
namjai—something like “gifts from the heart.” It is part of being kind and
generous; the gifts give both the gift-giver and gift-receiver face, with the
benefit of oiling the social wheels and keeping them moving. Such a gift-giving
tradition comes from a system of ancient attitudes that worked in a small scale
agricultural based society (which most of Thailand remains).
The problem is the
attitudes are difficult to fit with law enforcement in large populated cities
where more and more people live. In places like Bangkok, the cop isn’t someone
the bribe payer knows and has a long connection to through family as would be in
a village. They are strangers. The giving of the money isn’t an act of kindness
and generosity; it is an act of desperation, made out of fear and anxiety.
The institutions of justice are weak as protection isn’t sought within an
institutional framework but within a network of connections where a patron
provides protection. The state officials are selective in enforcement of laws
depending on the rank and status of the person they ask for money. If that is an
important/influential person, then it is unlikely that a low-ranking state
official will even ask for a bribe.
The same principle extends
to protect the wives, children, relatives and immediate household of people of
power and status. It is not just state officials acting with impunity that is a
sign of weak justice system institutions, one also needs to look at the elites
and ask whether they can act with impunity. If the answer is the police and the
powerful are both immune, but others must comply with the law. Being in that
privileged position there no incentive to create a strong criminal justice as
that would make the powerful vulnerable. Weak institutions which they control
directly or through proxy, can be more easily controlled. The tacit promise of a
political system to keep the elites strong and institutions weak delivers: I’ll
scratch your back, if you scratch mine. And all this back scratching will occur
behind closed doors. It isn’t enough to say ‘don’t pay the bribe’ as that fails
to address the imbalance of the power relationships and the nature of how
impunity is distributed in a political/economic/social system.
Corruption shouldn’t be
viewed only through the lens of cops taking bribes. It involves tea money for
parents to pay to get into a school. Money paid for medical services or for
installation of water, sewer, or electricity. Whenever there is a government
service to be provided, the question is whether the officials administering the
system seek additional payments before authorizing or approving the benefit. If
the answer is yes, it likely follows that such the officials inside that
organization are not only corrupt, and the institution that employs them is weak
and can do nothing to counter the culture of corruption.
Corruption continues to
work because we still live in a small data world. In a few years after the
methods of surveillance
have advanced another technological leap and become prevalent, and
unstoppable, then it will be difficult for state authorities to maintain the
essential secrecy that is the lifeblood of corruption. The Big Data Political
System (BDPS)—the next stage of political evolution—we can expect advanced
computerized system to monitor the behavior and conduct of its human agents and
actors as well as the rest of us.
Our old more, simple world
of free choice is slipping away. Nothing is certain as to our future world will
greet us one morning. It may start with a news report: “A large majority of
people agree with urgent need for preventive detentions and secret
interrogations as a necessary precaution to support our government’s goal to
protect all citizens against terrorism and corruption.” It will use nouns and
not verbs. Actions will be downgraded, potential acts upgraded.
That morning may be sooner
than we imagine. We will kick ourselves for not suspecting that corruption like
terrorism while real, were a great cover for an invisible government to scale up
its own culture, priorities and institutions.
Systematic monitoring may
be sold and bought on the basis it ends corruption. But before you sign on, be
careful for what you wish for. You might be trading one old problem for ten new
problems. The BDPS coming soon to your country may extract a very high price in
terms of liberty and freedom. We may find that we are substituting one culture
of impunity for another. And we may long for the days, that we paid Baht 200 to
a Thai cop who demanded it even though we committed no traffic
Zoos in China are cutting costs by a sleight of hand trick. In a Chinese privately run zoo called “People’s Park” in the eastern city of Louhe, the sign on the front of a cage says the animal inside is an African Lion. When Ms. Lui’s six-year son asks her why the “African Lion” barks like a dog, she’s put in a curious position.
Tibetan Mastiff pretending to be an African Lion
A zookeeper said the real African lion was unavailable being sent away for breeding. So the zoo may have had no choice. The A world without choice is a phony, impoverished world trying to be authentic and rich and failing at both. How do you explain political/economic theory that forces consumers to accept one animal as equivalent to another in order to cut the zoo’s operational costs to a six-year-old child?
African Lion playing himself
Another cage in the same zoo labeled “Snakes” had a couple of rats scurrying around hoping to be mistaken as snakes. The Telegraph went on to report: “There was another dog in the wolf cage, while some foxes were standing in for the leopards.”
It is bad enough for animals to play themselves in captivity for human entertainment. Having to pose as other animals must be confusing and humiliating. It’s sad that the zoo had no choice. But even sadder are people who have no knowledge of choice when they are seized by a negative feeling.
Many novels are like this Chinese zoo. In reading a novel, one of my foremost pleasures is finding an author who examines interior mental processes of the characters. Giving the characters an authentic inner life is difficult. Fiction without great characters will disappear quickly from mind. How does a writer go about capturing the complexity of a character’s mind?
It is as difficult to understand another’s emotional reactions to daily problems—someone cuts in front of you in a queue, insults your intelligence, a taxi refuses to stop for you, you’ve lost your keys, or passport, or can’t remember your passwords. These are examples of banal annoyance that teaches us lessons about ourselves to ourselves. The question is whether a character is open to lessons about his or her feelings. Our feelings expose us to others in powerful ways that leave our ideas far behind. In a memorable novel it is clear the characters also share our frustrations, defeats, our sense of alienation. We want to know if they think about their feelings, and if so how does that change the way they are in the world.
We look for something beyond sharing. For example, we won’t like a character who is a Tibetan Mastiff pretending to be an African Lion and not admitting to the lie. But if he is lying and we as readers know what factors in his life against which he’s struggling in his quest to continue the deception or overcome it, we’d be very interested to know what has caused that ‘African Lion’ to bark like a dog.
Like the six-year-boy at the Chinese Zoo, we would question the dog-like nature of the lion. We’d turn the pages to find out how others in the story will react to this lie and deal with the situation. Will they share the delusion that the dog is a lion? Are you as the reader supposed to share that delusion? Page after page, we search for how a character life interest has brought him to this juncture. This point. This cage. What transformations did he experience along the way? What conjunction of events led him to crawl into that cage and take the attitude of something he knew was a lie?
I’ve been reading Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life. The book is part patient case study and part memoir written by a British psychiatrist. Psychiatrists make a living in getting patients to understand what in their past relationships and upbringing caused them to bark like a dog when they are pretending to be a lion. A good novelist does something similar in the creation of memorable characters. The profile of the author’s tea with an old friend in London revealed the process required before a closed mind opened. And it is in the opening of a mind that had been shut off to oneself that hold our interest. The story is a good example of how a character’s self-knowledge is what makes his story memorable, and why I am writing about it here. The books we treasure and return to increase our self-knowledge by learning the techniques others have used to gain self-knowledge.
Dr. Grosz’s friend, a famous radio personality, who suffered from depression and isolation, described himself as negative, always looking for a flaw, a fault, or a reason to criticize another person. Indeed he introduced the author to a new word: captious. The friend defined ‘captious’ to mean someone who noticed and expressed displeasure over trivial issues. Each transaction or event registered as a victory or a defeat. He was talking about himself being not just critical but petty critical. The author asked him if he thought the analysis over a number of years had been helpful. The friend replied that he hadn’t resolved that issue but he was more ‘aware.’
His self-awareness gave him a feeling of choice at the moment he felt annoyed or upset. He could examine the feeling prior to reacting. He could permit himself the right to feel that it was his anger that was making him critical. Projecting the anger onto another as a defect in them, rather than something coming from inside himself. He no longer had to accept that the triggered emotion would automatically take control over his reaction. Instead, he could observe the source of his feeling and ask: where was it coming from? Was the source internal or external or mixed up?
What mattered was the self-knowledge that he had a choice when he experienced negative feelings. Without choice he’d lived without freedom in the truest sense of the word. To be ‘unfree’ is to be without choice. In that world of non-choice, you enter a cycle triggered by criticism because you believe you have no other choice and lapse into guilt for your conduct. He also could reflect on his years of therapy when he thought of about his feelings. And that made him feel less lonely.