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Beyond Scrooge: The Golden Calf “Trumps” The Golden Rule

Last Word | December 18th, 2015

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them: they have made them a molten calf, and have worshipped it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” - Exodus 32: 7,8

“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” - Mark 12: 31

“What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” - Confucius

“Dickens is one of those writers who are well worth stealing,” - George Orwell

In “A Christmas Carol” Charles Dickens provides us with the timeless metaphor of a man consumed by worship of the Old Testament “Golden Calf” who, through divine intervention, is converted to worship of the New Testament, and Confucian, “Golden Rule.”

Nowadays, unfortunately, although Ebenezer Scrooge may be seen through to his conversion on stage and in film in the holiday season, our political hustings in the United States are rife with the nastiness of his earlier self — writ large.

While Donald Trump may be the worst of those currently peddling xenophobic paranoia, racial and religious hatreds, he is by no means the only one. “The Donald” has tapped into a paranoid streak in American politics (see Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics) of long standing. It is worth remembering that neither the Republican Party nor much of the major media in the 1950’s had much problem with Joe McCarthy’s mendacious use of the word “Communist” until he began to expose himself in the Army-McCarthy Hearings and his attacks on establishment institutions, like President Eisenhower’s Episcopalian Church.

But who remembers such things, other than historians and other “nitpickers” -- like George Orwell?

The 2015/2016 Republican establishment now scrambles to cope with their recent fling with Tea Party extremists and the ruinous effects of “greed is good,” trickle down economics that they embraced under Ronald Reagan and sold to many, many suckers among the American middle class, along with dismantling New Deal restraints on Wall Street cupidity in 1999, and an unfunded war in 2003. These men sowed the wind of greed that reaped the whirlwind, now being funneled into the talented demagogic tornado that is Donald Trump.

But fascism?

Not so fast. A jerk boss who enjoys firing people does not necessarily have the stuff of 20th Century dictators. A thorough reading of Orwell, who did more dissecting of organizing lying in the time of Hitler and Stalin than any other, is advised, before we give Mr. Trump that much credit, or blame, for what he has stirred up.

The best place to start your New Year’s inoculation against organized mendacity in the media and politics would be with Orwell’s long essay on Charles Dickens, published in 1939: “All peoples who have reached the point of becoming nations tend to despise foreigners, but there is not much doubt that the English-speaking races are the worst offenders.”

I used this comment and more in a previous column on anti-immigration hysteria (“Broken English and Broken Promises,” HPR, 8/2/2010), but it is much better for you to read the entire essay first hand. It can be found in a volume (Dickens, Dali, and Others) on internet bookstores like Amazon, Alibris and others for just a penny or two, plus a few dollars postage.

Another favorite of mine from the same collection is from Orwell’s essay [1944] on Salvador Dali called Benefit of Clergy: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

Or from “Freedom of the Park[1946]” (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 4, In Front of Your Nose): “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

One of Orwell’s darkest, and most compelling series of insights comes from a book review he did of Adolf Hitler’s, Mein Kampf, in 1940 (The Collected Essays, etc, Vol. 2, My Country Right or Left): “I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power—till then [1933], like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter—I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him.”

Or: “The initial, personal cause of his [Hitler’s] grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate it is there. He is the martyr, the victim,…If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon…The attraction of such a pose is of course enormous; half the films one sees turn upon some such theme.”

Or: “Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life.”

When you read Orwell’s novels, essays and columns from the 1930’s and 1940’s, you thus get a fuller glimpse of the insights of the man who wrote “Animal Farm” and “1984.” His hopes and humor, as well as his despair and alarm. His writings may not always give you happy thoughts, but they will help enormously towards making them clear thoughts.

Orwell’s essays on political language and “political correctness,” like “Rudyard Kipling,” [1942]; “In Defense of P. G. Wodehouse” [1945], “Politics vs. Literature” and “The Prevention of Literature” [1946], and “Reflections on Gandhi” [1949], are priceless guides for the perplexed, available for a few dollars in The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays, and Reportage, and other collections.

Three jewels from “Politics and the English Language” [1946] are: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible;”

And: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity;”

And: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

A judicious reading of Orwell’s essays should allow for a clearer perception of who in the public eye is speaking on behalf of the Golden Rule, and who is speaking for the Golden Calf, and when they contradict themselves. I have my own opinions, but I will spare you those for the time being. I am hurrying to reread Orwell myself.

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