The elephant in the room
~ One ~
But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd–seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing–no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.
The quoted paragraph comes from an essay by George Orwell entitled Shooting An Elephant.
~ Two ~
The ten thousand words captured in a picture above tell the story of Bill de Blasio, New York's communist mayor.
~ Three ~
For one thing, the passage of time has thoroughly debunked the racial justifications for human abjection.
We've clearly, amply seen that there's nothing specifically coolie about the filthy bamboo huts, nor about the ingrained ignorance, nor about the "contemplative" idiocy that spawns them. White trash is exactly just as able to be scum and scummy as any filth scraped off the bottoms of Africa or the far East.
We've for that matter also seen there's nothing specifically English, or Frenchi, or for that matter Japanese about technology and the development of the various crafts. The Koreans managed it just as well, the Chinese managed it just as well, in a world where all semiconductor fabrication takes place in China one'd be hard pressed to propose anything specifically white about industrialisation.ii
For the other thing, and perhaps more importantly, the passage of time has thoroughly debunked any hope that the problems Orwell confronts may be, as he wishes them to be, the results of "despotism".
The same exact human filth that he imagined was caused by imperialism thrives in what it calls democracy, and much more so than it ever did! The only difference between the coolies of yesterday - two thousand Burmese with no higher purpose than earthworms, crowding around what they imagined will soon be a carcass -and the redditards of today, two thousand Americans with no higher purpose than earthworms, crowding around exactly the same is that this later swarm could learn, and could wash, and could mature and could be human. They could, they have all the means available at no cost, one click away.
Of course, if you think about it so could have the coolies of yesteryear. The means are always there, this illusion of "unavailable means" is merely a projection on your part, trying to force the world as it is into the narrow framing of the world as you imagine it'd be convenient. But otherwise, people could always learn, and people could always wash, and people could always mature and could always be human as proved by the fact that some do. Some do. That's it.
And this understanding lays bare the true conflict the author encounters. Not as he would like to present it (between forces external, the oppressive Empire and the oppressed humanity) but as it actually is. As conflict always actually is : between the calling of the world and the inadequacy of the subject.
The Empire is, in point of fact, a better avenue for the teaching, for the washing, for the maturing and for the humanifying of a horde of maggots than democracy ever could hope to be, strictly because any education, and any improvement is to be built on the stable platform of punishment and reward, rather than on the impossible footing of self-award.iii
Sure, it could be said that a distant monarch enthroned across the seas is a poor implementation of personal sovereignty. This is not what Orwell says. Orwell is a man that is not strong enough to enjoy killing, for the simple, direct and quite respectable pleasure of having killed. Yet he's also not strong enough to turn to a large crowd of idiots and urinate on their "faces"iv. Instead, he cowers before idiots' laughter, as if anyone cares, and he aims to entertain them. He is a definitive bureaucrat, and he imagines the problem is the Empire.v Not in any case, not ever, no way could the problem be that he is not up to the task. That the Empire needs better men, actual men, stronger material, finer stuff, subtler steel, purer piss and vinegar. Oh, no, not that.
Anything but that.
And yet... no, democracy isn't this magical panacea whereby simply by changing the queen for a president anyone can now retreat to their country estate to watch TV for the remainder of history, because "the problems will take care of themselves".
The problems do not take care of themselves. Irrespective how you call the thing, be it a "despotism" or one of these despotic socialist "democracies", be it anarchism or theologic absolutism, be it whatever it may be the problems won't take care of themselves. It is a pipe dream, this, "if I buy a house big enough, expensive enough, complex enough, fashionable enough I won't have to clean it any longer". The dust settling everywhere is not the result of the house, even if it only observably happens in a housevi.
The elephant in the room is that never, ever, no matter what will you turn the world into something where you can rest, where it doesn't matter how good you are, where agency is no longer a function of activity, where the lamb and the lion lie down in harmony. The elephant in the room is that no contract, no law, no constitution, no agreement, no plea, no bargain, no god, no gizmo and no widget will ever protect the weak from the strong, the lazy from the impetuous, the careless from the careful, the meek from the forceful, the cowardly from the courageous, the clueless from the informed and so on and so forth.
Go ahead and shoot at it. The good news is that you can never run out of bullets.———
- Yes, not so very long ago technology was first and foremost a French affair. The English like to readily forget that before the union with the Dutch they didn't really count for much more than Renaissance Scotland. Yet who could have imagined in 800 that there will ever be a country to master iron as well as Francia ? [↩]
- Laziness and stupidity, innocence and ignorance are of course breeding as we speak a generation of Asians who imagine electronics are specifically Asian, or Chinese or Korean. In due time they will of course discover the nonsense filling that notion. [↩]
- Patriarchy is a thing because nobody likes living in a world populated by little girls. [↩]
- That plural is unwarranted. From whence all that many faces to fit to a multitude of nobodies ? One face's enough for the whole crowd. [↩]
- You know, just like if I order my slave to work out harder than she feels inclined it's my god damned oppressive self that's "to blame", as if such a thing were in the first place even possible. It certainly wouldn't be her gingerly lazy butt, because everyone everywhere forever lives to protect their own shortcomings at the cost of whatever it may cost. At the cost of the entire world, should it come to that.
Would you rather contemplate what an idiot you are or Rome burning ? Nero isn't all that far away from the soul of modern man, you see. He shocked the ancients, but that's because they were ancients, not because he was shocking. You meet him every day. [↩]
- And the more settled the house, the more observable the phenomenon, which is why superior states like the British Empire tend to appear more problematic than indisputably inferior states like the welfare socialisms of the decaying West. [↩]