“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Just some stuff to think about as we digest all of this breaking news about what the government knows and when it knows it, how it gets it and where it stores it. And how ubiquitous is the case (tracking credit cards, too?).
Do people fear the wheels are coming off the trolley? Is this fear widespread? A few weeks ago I was reading Christopher Lawford’s lovely, candid and affectionate remembrance of growing up in a particular time and place with a particular family, the Kennedys, circa roughly 1950-2000. It’s called “Symptoms of Withdrawal.” At the end he quotes his Uncle Teddy. Christopher, Ted Kennedy and a few family members had gathered one night and were having a drink in Mr. Lawford’s mother’s apartment in Manhattan. Teddy was expansive. If he hadn’t gone into politics he would have been an opera singer, he told them, and visited small Italian villages and had pasta every day for lunch. “Singing at la Scala in front of three thousand people throwing flowers at you. Then going out for dinner and having more pasta.” Everyone was laughing. Then, writes Mr. Lawford, Teddy “took a long, slow gulp of his vodka and tonic, thought for a moment, and changed tack. ‘I’m glad I’m not going to be around when you guys are my age.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because when you guys are my age, the whole thing is going to fall apart.’ ”
Mr. Lawford continued, “The statement hung there, suspended in the realm of ‘maybe we shouldn’t go there.’ Nobody wanted to touch it. After a few moments of heavy silence, my uncle moved on.”
Lawford thought his uncle might be referring to their family–that it might “fall apart.” But reading, one gets the strong impression Teddy Kennedy was not talking about his family but about . . . the whole ball of wax, the impossible nature of everything, the realities so daunting it seems the very system is off the tracks.
And–forgive me–I thought: If even Teddy knows . . .
Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they’re living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they’re going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley’s off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, “I got mine, you get yours.”
You’re a lobbyist or a senator or a cabinet chief, you’re an editor at a paper or a green-room schmoozer, you’re a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief, and you’re making your life a little fortress. That’s what I think a lot of the elites are up to.
Not all of course. There are a lot of people–I know them and so do you–trying to do work that helps, that will turn it around, that can make it better, that can save lives. They’re trying to keep the boat afloat. Or, I should say, get the trolley back on the tracks.
Here is where I think Noonan falls a little short. These elites are not simply milling about waiting for “the next chapter of trouble.” I think in too many cases they -like troubled eldest siblings, the “first children” who have never quite gotten over the subsequent additions to the family- have been actively fomenting chapter after chapter of trouble, for some 40 years. They are complacently building little fortresses, but they are doing so for a reason. Having written all of these chapters of trouble, they are feeling quite confident that their story is solidly structured, and they are ready for the dénouement they have planned. The anticipation of their surprise ending is making them almost giddy.
The ending, of course, is the coup d’état. Believing that the rest of us, now disillusioned, are no longer clinging to romantic ideals of honor, or truth or nobility, these always-restless First Children, devoted to deconstruction, believe they are about to take down the presidency, the churches, the “old” government and even the “old” media. They expect to put into place something “brand new.” But believe me when I tell you what they are building is older than dirt. And up from it. Which is why they will need their fortresses. Castro lives in one, too.
They’ve been practicing all of this, by the way, perfecting the Art of the Painless Coup so thoroughly that most ordinary folks do not even realize what has occurred.
— The Art of the Painless Coup
Transformation, achieved? What do you think?
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
― George Orwell, 1984
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
— WB Yeats, The Second Coming
Oh, and what was that about saving for retirement?
Ah, well…I never actually thought I’d get to live by the beaches.
This was a great movie. Perhaps I’ll watch it again.