I am a subject in a kingdom of lies. At 57, I have grown up with decades of untruth — advanced for the purposes of purported social unity, the noble aim of egalitarianism, and the advancement of a cognitive elite in government, journalism, the arts, and the universities.
Alger Hiss really was a communist operative, albeit an elegant and snooty sort of one. The Rosenbergs were tag-team spies. Noble Laureate Rigoberta Menchu did not really write her own memoir. I admire the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, even as I sensed there were large areas of their biographies that simply could not be disclosed and that the censorship was apparently for our own good. I know that if I did what Eliot Spitzer did I would not be hosting a TV show.
I did not quite know how “witch hunt” characterized the often disreputable tactics of Joe McCarthy — cruel and obnoxious were the better adjectives. You see, there were really communists in Hollywood at a time of a dangerous global cold war against communism, in a way there were never any witches at all in Salem.
But then for some reason I sensed that a murderous, camouflaged Fidel Castro killed more innocents than a murderous, gold-braided Augusto Pinochet. I accepted that we were to be silent about the former’s crimes since his ends were said to be good, while the latter’s crimes were for the bad — though economists of no particular political affiliations have shown that Chileans escaped poverty and dictatorship while Cubans were, and are still, plagued by both.
As far as Hollywood, goes, as I have said, I do not go to the cinema at all. The choices are meager. We can watch a George Clooney, Matt Damon, or Ben Affleck — multimillionaires all of mediocre talent — uncover some corporate or CIA conspiracy that threatens the environment (their employers and distributors are not corporate?), the non-white male, or global peace — or sit through yuppie crises whose double entendres and cute repartees are known mostly only to metrosexuals between New York and D.C., or from Malibu to Newport Beach. We are told they are films, but those too are lies; they are mere transcripts of the daily psychodramas of a privileged and bored class whose efforts are spent searching for global causes that might balance — as penance if you will — their own often angst-driven quests for influence, notoriety, and the material good life.
The media is our ministry of truth of the Oceania brand: one day Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, preventive detention, Predators, the Patriot Act, and Iraq were bad; then one day in January 2009 I woke up and heard of them not all. I then recognized that they were now either good or at least necessary — or perhaps sinister IEDs of a sort left behind by the nefarious Emmanuel Goldstein administration, now too dangerous to even touch.
The Goldstone Report, I thought when I first scanned it, was worse than most undergraduate research papers I have graded — and therefore I expected it to be praised by the international community. And it was until even the author, like the rare guilty undergraduate who confesses to plagiarism, wants his signature off the report. But then long ago I got used to Israel being damned by reporters, NGOs, and the UN and EU types as apartheidists, racists, imperialists, and Nazis in direct proportion to the fact that visitors to the Middle East usually prefer to go Israeli cafes, hotels, and hospitals. Reporting on the West Bank is a 10 AM-2 PM day job, with a commute back across the green line. Half a million Jews ethnically cleansed in the 1960s from Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus were opportunists; half a million who fled to the West Bank twenty years earlier are still recently arrived refugees. But then I don’t know why Jerusalem is a divided city and Nicosia is not; or why the Kuril Islands or East Prussia are not similarly said to be “occupied”; or why the fence in Israel is worse than the fence in Saudi Arabia.
I have no idea whether invading in preemptive fashion an oil-producing, Arab Muslim country without congressional approval is an impeachable or humanitarian act — or both. You see, it depends, in the manner that Trotsky’s photo used to, and then did not used to, appear in the snapshots of the Soviet pantheon. I suppose the same is true about prisoner abuse. I remember traveling in Europe and seeing those eerie black Klan-like hoods and capes with all sort of French, Italian and German sloganeering about the atrocious sexual humiliation that took place at Abu Ghraib, but I imagine this summer there won’t be much about supposed transgressions in Afghanistan where civilians were supposed to have been executed rather than humiliated. Things just happen, I suppose, in wars after 2009 — like now in Libya too.
I also have a sense, although it has never been quite so ordered by the Ministry, that a nut burning a bible is either artistic expression or a proper antidote to centuries of repression and so to be either applauded or ignored; but a nut burning a Koran evokes decapitations and murder and does so quite understandably — although I am never told quite why. Does it involve liberal paternalism and condescension: millions of Muslim radicals are captives of emotion and ignorant and thus not “like us,”so we must create much different standards for “them” that we don’t apply to others? We as adults laugh when symbols of Christianity are defaced in thousands of incidents; they as children naturally and understandably kill when one Koran is burned by one silly wannabe minister? Or is the Ministry’s fear that when Christ is satirized in a cartoon, no bomb shows up at the editorial office; when Mohammed is so caricatured, two do — and that because reporters are said always to be brave and publishers principled we cannot just admit to that?
I think I also understand that the support for 11 million illegal aliens arriving here from Mexico without English, legality, or education is not fueled by tribal and ethnic chauvinism. I know that to suggest that extending immigration consideration to a new cadre of 11 million Koreans, Chinese, Africans, and Europeans with graduate degrees and capital would be racist to the core. The former group from Oaxaca is diverse, the latter from almost everywhere illiberal. I have seen those demonstrating for amnesty deprecate the U.S and its flag while championing Mexico, and I think I am supposed to understand that screaming at the country you wish to stay in, while singing praises for the country you do not makes perfect non-sense, in Humpty-Dumpty word fashion. And I know I am not supposed to say that, much less explain why millions flee here from a temperate and fertile south and not from an Arctic north.
I know that UC Berkeley is worried about diversity since blacks and Latinos are underrepresented (as are whites) while Asians are vastly “overrepresented.” And I think I understand how such proportional representation will eventually be achieved by various ministries, and all contrary to state law: the underrepresented whites will be assumed to be overrepresented, the Asians will be quietly and insidiously pruned back by considering “community service” in preference to grades and test scores, and far more African-Americans and Latinos will be admitted by rejecting unfair criteria such as meaningless grades and test scores — and that all this — not science or the humane arts — will be mostly the business of the architects of undergraduate education. The alternatives? They are too ghastly to contemplate. Just let things alone, and the underrepresented communities will decide on their own why they are not going to college in sufficient numbers, and take self-help measures to the degree they see it as a problem — or shrug and admit that the ministries are using archaic neo-Confederate racial criteria in a mixed-up, intermarried world where one needs a genealogist to plot one’s precise racial ancestry.
I think I have it right that conservative Republican white guys are selfish and greedy, and therefore a liberal Bill Gates or George Soros made their billions by enlightened, or green, or socially useful methods. Did BP and Goldman Sachs really favor Barack Obama? Will they again? Were Freddie and Fannie really looted by Clintonites? Did GE pay no taxes? Is there still a revolving door in Washington where a Robert Gibbs, of no discernible talent, or a Peter Orszag, who nearly wrecked the economy with massive deficit spending, are now poised to become progressive multimillionaires?
Is making millions from Facebook, or GM, or GE now fine in a way it is not from the Koch Brothers? Again, these are just the thoughts of someone trying to read between the lines of the Oceania censors. (So we are to think the Tea Partiers are the greedy reactionary and wealthy, and the millionaire donors targeted by the Obama reelection committee merely generous?)
I don’t know what “investments” and “stimulus” mean. Do any of you? I think they refer to borrowing over $500 billion for a particular green or mass transit project. But then I don’t know what “green” means either, and for that matter don’t know what is the difference between “global warming” and “climate change” — other than earthquakes and tsunamis sometimes count under the latter, as do cyclones and hail storms. I do know that when I go to the Sierra tomorrow to shovel 15 feet of March snow off a porch I am supposed to assume these last two record winters of heavy snowfall had something to do with climate change. After all, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu warned that 90% of the Sierra snow pack will one day disappear and my farm, like all the others, will blow away — and that apparently somehow, some way, sometimes too much snow is just part of that drying out process.
As far as ‘kinetic” and “man-caused disasters” and “overseas contingency operations,” I think they have something do with killing terrorists. I also assume those who do fight the bad guys do not employ such euphemisms, which are for our, not their, consumption. We, the administered to, live in a “downright mean” country; our administers go to Costa del Sol in summer and Vail in winter on the mean country’s dime.
In this kingdom of lies, this Oceania of the mind, I, a subject of the monarchy of untruth, navigate carefully, assuming what I read and see is simply not true — and cannot be said to be untrue. Last week at the Post Office, a rather well-dressed young man in line was explaining to me that he was wondering why his unemployment check had not come to his PO Box. And then he further offered that he is now negotiating, or rather hoping, for his unemployment to be extended beyond his second year. I smiled and said, “That’s wonderful, because I know you are not working off the books for cash, and I know you are looking for a job all day long, and I know that if your benefits ever end, you will not suddenly find work.”
The odd thing was that he laughed and thought those were lies too.