Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From the Inside to the Outside

"Goodness comes from within. Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man." ~ Anthony Burgess, from A Clockwork Orange

The neocons, whom I have now decided were created by spontaneous bugnation, have infested Washington, DC, to the extent they have gained a great deal of influence with the current administration. Sadly for America and the world, but not for them, this influence is far in excess of their wisdom to support it. Said influence has allowed them to enact their lunatic's agenda of sending the US military halfway across the planet to cane the wogs until they become civilized. Even Bill Clinton, who is a quasi-psychopath, waved them away. Dubya, on the other hand, has embraced their beliefs possibly not whole-heartedly, but pretty close to it. This is not good.

Dubya claims he is a "born-again Christian." I wonder what this means, because I have known other "born-agains," including several people who claimed their interpretation of the Bible was the only correct one. One guy, in particular, insisted to me (and anyone else who would listen) that the Pope had sent assassins to bump him off, to prevent him from spreading his Message of Truth to the world. At least he tried to merely persuade people, instead of beating them on the head with a rock. Bush, the neocons and their Christian Zionist brethen appear to have their very own Message of Truth they're going to impose – with a big stick – on the recalcitrant Fuzzy Wuzzies on the other side of the earth. This is a White Man's Burden that I wish the US was unburdened from.

I get the impression Dubya is not exactly the most knowledgeable man in the US. I don't believe he is dumb, just not Ludwig von Mises–intelligent. I could be wrong, but considering the line of presidents behind him that stretches back from his father to Carter to Nixon to Johnson to FDR to Wilson...the odds are not in his favor.

Apparently...okay, well, more than apparently...Bush is not familiar with the word "metanoia." It's a Greek word that means "to change the mind and heart."

"Metanoia" has traditionally been translated in the Bible as "repentance," as in "You must repent." That's the old translation, and not a particularly accurate one. Modern translations get the word right: "You must change your hearts and minds."

"You must change your hearts and minds" means from "the inside to the outside." From the inside of a person to the outside behavior. That's real, true change. Caning the wogs means "from the outside to the inside." It's based on violence or the threat of violence. There's no real change involved. Sure, there's fear, and resentment, and hate, and lies from the canees, but no real change. Of course we can say, "We don't care if they like us, as long as they fear us," but considering all the empires based on this belief no longer exist, obviously it's not all that smart of an idea.

A very good book, and movie, about "from the outside to the inside" is Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. If you're going to viddy both of them, I'll point out the movie is much easier to understand than the book. In the novel the author created a new language ("Nadsat") spoken by his teenage thugs, which was a mixture of English, Russian, some gypsy, and bits of rhyming slang. Some of this language exists in the movie, but only a fraction of what is in the novel.

If you read the book you literally have to have a dictionary beside you to understand what's going on. Here's a typical sentence from a novel almost completely composed of such sentences: "you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches."

The villain in both the movie and the book is Alex, a sadistic 15-year-old who thoroughly enjoys spending nights with his droogies engaging in a bit of the "old ultraviolence" – rapes and beatings, mostly, with a bit of theft thrown in. Or, as the book puts their activities concerning an old man: "to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood."

The nocturnal ramblings through the English countryside of Alex and his friends finally leads to the death of an older woman. Alex, who is the only one to get caught, gets sent to prison. He doesn't like it there. He passes the time by engaging in sadistic violent fantasies.

When he's given an opportunity to get out early by submitting to some Skinnerian operant-conditioning – known as the "Ludovico technique" – he jumps at the chance. This bizarre perversion of psychology, which consists of strapping Alex in a chair with his glazzes forced open while he's given drugs and forced to watch violent movies, "cures" him of his violence. Every time he tries something criminal, he gets so sick he falls down.

Alex wasn't changed on the inside. His behavior was changed, but not his heart and mind. Later, because of political considerations, Alex's conditioning is reversed and he immediately becomes feral again. He was held in place by "from the outside to the inside," because there wasn't any "from the inside to the outside."

Most people are only familiar with Kubrick's movie and the American version of the novel. In both of them, after Alex's conditioning is reversed and he returns to his violent ways, they end. In the movie, Alex's last words are, "I was cured, all right" as he is engaged in rape.

The ending of the English version of the novel is different, and much better. In it, Alex starts to grow up. He gets tired of the violence. He changes his heart and mind. That last chapter is cut from the American edition, and the movie. Kubrick later said he didn't know about the original ending of the book.

Burgess wrote this about the English and American versions: "A Clockwork Orange was published in New York by W.W. Norton Inc. later in the year [1962]. Eric Swenson, Norton's vice-president, insisted that the book lose its final chapter. I had to accede to this lopping because I needed the advance, but I was not happy about it. I had structured the work with some care. It was divided into three sections of seven chapters each, the total figure being, in traditional arithmology, the symbol of human maturity. My young narrator, the music-loving thug Alex, ends the story by growing up and renouncing violence as a childish toy. This was the subject of the final chapter, and it was the capacity of this character to accept change which, in my view, made the work into a genuine if brief novel. But Swenson wanted only the reversible artificial change imposed by state conditioning. He wished Alex to be a figure in a fable, not a novel. Alex ends Chapter 20 saying: 'I was cured all right,' and he resumes joy in evil. The American and European editions of the novel are thus essentially different. The tough tradition of American popular fiction ousted what was termed British blandness."

In the movie and the American version of the book, there is only the always-fragile controlling of behavior through "from the outside to the inside." The English version ends portraying the wisdom of "from the inside to the outside" – Alex finally truly changing his heart and mind.

The State and society at always at odds with each other. The more the State expands, the more society retreats, and the more chaos threatens. Society -- civilization -- is but a thin veneer holding down a sometimes-not-pleasant human nature. Since the State is based only on force and coercion, when it ends up treating Alex as it did, it's a sign that society is collapsing because of State interference -- leaving the State no choice but to use violence. That's the message of A Clockwork Orange -- the collapse of society, engendered by the State, creates monsters like Alex, who the State attempts to control by violence.

In the excised final chapter, when Alex decides to renounced violence, it shows how society can repair itself -- when people chose to become civilized, from the inside out.

The people running the State never seem to pay much attention to the Bible's admonishment that "You must change your hearts and minds." Since all States are based on coercion and the threat of coercion, its modus operandi is, ultimately, "Do as I say, or I'll smack your gulliver with this stick." I don't think this is a good recipe for dealing with the rest of the world. Heck, it's not a good recipe for dealing with your neighbors next door. Certainly some people – chronic criminals – have to be controlled this way, but it doesn't work for entire nations, which anyone with one-quarter of a brain knows aren't completely composed of crooks.

Since I'm not some sort of towering genius of wisdom, and sometimes don't even trust myself all that much, I pay attention to ancient, tried-and-true knowledge. Let's put it this way: I'll take the wisdom of the sayings in the Bible over Duyba's MBA any day. I'll take it over anything the neocons have to say, too. Therefore, I can say the administration's attempts to remake a large chunk of the world in its desired image are bound to fail.

I collect easily memorized sayings. They give me quick answers when my brains lock up on me. Some of them are a bit long, but here's a good one, from Confucius: "Weak character coupled with honored place, meager knowledge with large plans, limited powers with heavy responsibility, will seldom escape disaster."

The US administration should pay a little more attention to ancient wisdom and not modern foolishness. Maybe then it might decide not to tolchok the entire world. But since they have their gullivers up their sharries, they certainly aren't going to listen.

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