I was thinking about how great literature of the past has two components, one of entertainment and the other of wisdom. Often, the great authors of history do more than just cater to our enjoyment by telling a great story, they also educate through the themes of their writing. To varying degrees, many of these authors were also subversive satirists, camouflaging biting social critique and observations with entertaining characters and story lines.
I was thinking about three separate authors this morning and how their words and wisdom can teach us a lesson about where we are headed as a culture and society. These were Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) who lived from 1903 to 1950, Herbert George Wells (aka H.G. Wells) who lived from 1866 to 1946 and Charles Lutwidge Dotson (aka Lewis Carroll) who lived from 1832 to 1898.
While Lewis Carroll predated Wells and Orwell by several decades, Orwell and Wells lived during a time of rapid social change brought about by a tsunami of technological and industrial advancement. They were also firsthand witnesses to the rise of Fascism and Nazism and the devastation of WWII. Both men had divergent views on what these changes meant. Wells, one of the founders of science fiction, was a staunch believer in science’s potential. Orwell, on the other hand, cast a much more skeptical eye on science, pointing to its limitations as a guide to human affairs.
The idea that tied these three men together is this current fad of supposed academics and thinkers twisting reality into the same pretzel of 2+2=5 as Orwell recognized in “1984”.
The debate over what 2+2 equals may seem silly and trivial but when one considers that the answer to such simple and basic equation is a debate, it becomes clear that it isn’t – because this isn’t about mathematics at all, this is about power. It is about disconnecting reality from the natural world and setting up an arbitrary system where the answers to such questions are the purview of some authoritarian entity.
Such was true in the case of Orwell’s “1984”. It was not enough for citizens of Oceania to say that 5 was the correct answer, they had to BELIEVE it was true. In Orwell’s book, after applying several electrical shocks for “incorrect” answers, the interrogator O’Brien (who works for the Ministry of Truth) informs protagonist Winston Smith that control over physical reality is unimportant to the Party, provided the citizens of Oceania subordinate their real-world perceptions to the political will of the Party; and that “Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once”.
Basically, what O’Brien is saying is that reality is whatever the state says it is and if the people agree with it, they won’t be punished. That is exactly what Ibram X. Kendi is saying about “antiracism”.
I read with some degree of interest the assertion of Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history, director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University (who, along with Robin DiAngelo, another academic and author of “White Fragility” have created quite a cottage industry out of racism toward whites). Kendi writes:
“To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.”
I have earlier pointed out how Kendi’s ideas are embodied in another great author’s essay – Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”, but beyond that, when combined with the idea that math is a racist concept, a path to disaster on a civilizational scale is revealed.
When simple, natural facts and truths (like 2+2=4) are decoupled from the intellect of the individual, two things happen, 1) an alternate world is created where reality based ideas and concepts (like mathematics) are no longer necessary and 2) when answers are needed, some entity must supply them.
First, the problem with dissociating reality from people is that nature always reclaims abandoned reality. Just like the jungles eventually overwhelmed the temples of the Maya, nature takes what belongs to it, so someone will always need to keep the knowledge that 2+2=4 is an absolute truth. The natural world demands no less.
H.G. Wells described that sort of world in his novel, “The Time Machine”. It is the world of the Morlocks and the Eloi. In Wells’ future, the Morlocks understood science and maintained the machines that made the world work. The Eloi, while human, were “mere fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and preyed upon – probably saw to the breeding of”.
Secondly, if answers are not based in reality and reason and the individual no longer has the power to decide for themselves, some arbitrary authority is required to provide that answer. That is where Lewis Carrol comes in. Chronicling Alice’s continuing adventures in Wonderland in “Through the Looking Glass”, Carroll records the following exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Whether to be the master…that is the real question, isn’t it? Having the authority to determine whether the answer to 2+2 is 3, 4, or 5 – or none of them is the key. That is what Ibram X. Kendi is proposing to “end racism”.
This is it in a nutshell. “Wokeism” is a waking nightmare. Orwell, Wells, Carroll, and Vonnegut all show us how the movie ends – if we do nothing. There is a chance we will do just that. One of America’s great faults is tolerance of pretty much everything, assuming that the more ridiculous something is, the less harmful – but as Karl Popper, the Austrian-born British philosopher, stated in his Paradox of Tolerance, if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant.
So far in 2020, we have front row seats to the destruction of the tolerant by the intolerant, unfolding right before our eyes.