27 June 2005

Breeding by Pigs

The inimitable Dave Pollard does it again. In a brilliantly incisive post about American's apparent ignorance and/or apathy towards politics, Dave expresses a deeply trenchant Truth: "Ignorance and apathy both mitigate against change. If you're in power and you can breed both in the electorate, you're laughing."

The post is well worth a careful read and it brought to mind a column I wrote for a now-defunct website. Here it is:

Puerto Rican.com 008 – Week of 10 December 2001

Animal Farm
By Gil C. Schmidt
Editor of eRevista PoRtal

When I was a youngster, I overheard a man’s brief rant about “those in power” and how they had a “conspiracy” to keep Puerto Ricans ignorant, and thus, controllable. He pointed out how the educational system (this was in the late 1970s) was a mess, how the newspapers were written “for morons” and how politicians and others, “those in power”, kept manipulating “everything” to retain their grasp on the populace.

At the time, I thought he was crazy. A conspiracy? To keep people, as he said, “stupid”? A deliberate effort to not educate people? What was wrong with this guy? Hell, nobody seemed to be paying attention to him… Seemed to. For a little, insistent voice in my head was saying he might be right…and no one there was even trying to contradict him.

This was a small incident, but over the years, I’ve recalled it several times and mentioned it once before. The whole incident came roaring back when I saw the latest TV ad campaign and the title “Animal Farm” flashed into my head as the commercial ended.

The government has created a series of ads featuring business leaders encouraging effort, and now another series with “commoners”. (I only saw one, but I imagine there are at least one or two more) Their catch-line now is: “Adelante con Fuerza, Puerto Rico”. (Roughly: “Onward with Force/Strength/Energy, Puerto Rico.”) Supposedly common citizens urging their fellow citizens to make a greater effort. And all I could think of was the Horse, in “Animal Farm”.

George Orwell’s often heavy-handed fable of animals taking over a farm and creating a progressively-debased “utopia” is great reading. In it, the Horse is by far the strongest animal, capable of doing almost all of the necessary heavy work. But, his muscle is not matched by his brain. As things are going to pot on the Farm, his only comment and response is “I must work harder. I must work harder!” And so he does, with simple-minded, but poignantly noble strength. And while his muscles struggle, the Farm leaders--the Pigs--wallow in excess and create more chaos.

Oh, the parallels.

The reason I could never forget that man’s rant so long ago was the niggling feeling that maybe, maybe he was right. The points he made are still valid: The educational system is a mess, the media often does treat its audience as morons and what we see every week from our “leaders” has the acidly-sour taste of rampant manipulation in it.

• “Give them to me as children and I shall own them forever,” are words ascribed to Adolph Hitler.
• “The strongest protection of liberty is an educated people,” is ascribed to Thomas Jefferson.
• “Let him work harder!” is the Pigs’ implied response to the news that the Horse is struggling and dying.

And now, “Adelante con Fuerza, Puerto Rico”: Am I the only one who hears the subtext: “Work harder! It’s your fault! We have other—better!—things to do!” and the drunkenly-delighted cackle-grunts of the Pigs?

Almost four years have gone by since that column. Seems like it's been only a week.

The Jenius Has Spoken

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