Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, January 14, 2011


Arthur Silber is back.

Obama tells us that we must "make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," and that "only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation." Despite the fact that most of us are taught early in life that "actions speak louder than words," the majority of adults have more deeply internalized a lesson directly opposed to that maxim: when you judge an authority figure, you must give special weight to his words and what he says his intentions are. If his actions profoundly contradict what he "talks" about, it is the actions you must disregard. There is a direct line between forcing a child to believe that physical and/or emotional abuse is inflicted by his parents (or other caregivers) "for his own good" and arguing that the United States must invade and destroy a village, or an entire country, for its own good. Most adults spend their lives refusing to see the connection.

In fact, how a person acts is of infinitely greater significance than what he says. And toward the conclusion of his remarks, Obama conceded as much: "We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."

Is it "civil and honest" to ask how Obama is treating us, those poor, lost souls who are not "good and important"? I dare to proceed in the belief that it is. In answering that question, one fact above all must be mentioned first. That it is not -- and this fact has almost never been mentioned in all the interminable debates about the violence in Arizona -- reveals a great deal about the moral and intellectual rot that suffocates these wretched United States.

While I am not willing to excoriate Gabriella Giffords for her support of the military state while she is in her hospital bed, I am happy to point out that Obama's soon-to-be-famous speech, beautifully written and utterly heart-felt, is fake and cruel in its pandering to American vanity and pride. The same man who declared he can assassinate his enemies at will said the following:

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives - to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.


If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

The very last thing we could ever possibly want would be for our imaginary God to give us what we deserve. We not only accept that our president is a wanna-be assassin, we give him money and campaign for him. We kill little girls all the time, little girls who are just as loved as Christina. We would have to be crazy to kill them, evil, out of control and utterly merciless. And yet we do.


Kia said...

This week I revisited some of Anton Chekhov's short stories. In the edition I'm reading, one volume is dedicated to stories--realist stories--told from the points of view of animals and children. It is the saddest volume in the whole series. Poor children and orphans would be sort of taken into slavery in households and worked all day, beaten if they fell asleep while rocking the baby's cradle in the middle of the night. The people who mistreated the children in this way tended to be shopkeepers, the tradesman's class, for whom the tiny margin of advantage that a slave child working in the house would give could turn into some incrementally equivalent advancement in social status. So you see a society in which "nice" people--or at least people who keenly want to be taken for nice--habitually regard (certain) others as instruments of their private ambitions; from these instruments the maximum of value is to be pitilessly extracted, and somehow, also, the value extracted never seems to keep up with the cost of their upkeep, even when the child-slaves can hardly stand up, between hunger and lack of sleep. You just know that such casual mindless cruelty was commonplace at the time, so much so that no one even noticed that there was anything wrong with it. That many people, in fact, regarded their severity with these poor children as a point of pride. When I first read those stories, years ago, I thought of these things as 19th-century phenomena, other times, other mores. But I feel quite differently now: I see it in the really callous and punishing attitude to the poor that prevails in our own time. The stories, that always seemed emotionally true if rather fantastic, seem less fantastic and even more sadly true. There is something base and basic us that makes it easy for us to think we can rise by pushing those who are down even further down.

H.R. Cullen said...

This post is much more interesting than the McArdle fascination. Although Mr. Silber is way off-base about the wretchedness of the United States, I am sympathetic with your sentiment about our leadership. I'd love to see a post exploring your thoughts as to why this situation exisits.

Susan of Texas said...

You are incapable of understanding them.

Susan of Texas said...

Kia, I will have to start reading Chekhov.

About a year ago I read an article about life in Dubai. The expatriates there--British, American, European--loved having lots of cheap servants who were basically slaves. They bragged about never having to lift a finger.

And now I remember Mrs. Trollope writing of her disgust when a Southern woman said the same thing. People don't change, I guess.

Tom Ball said...

Humor me.

Susan of Texas said...

You'll find all you need in my past posts.

Batocchio said...

Kia, what edition/translation? (Many of his stories about adults have similar dynamics.)

Chekhov's life was pretty interesting, and sad. Basically, as a young man, he was told he'd die soon (from tuberculosis) and then kept on living - finally dying at 44. He woke early before the rest of his extended family to write for a couple of hours in peace. In his early career, he wrote many satirical pieces, which aren't always read over here. Perhaps he always felt he was living on borrowed time, which helped him develop his sardonic wit, and his keen eye for small kindnesses and cruelties. His best work captures the subtleties of life and what's "emotionally true" as few have. (I could go on, but one of the best things I got from studying in Moscow was a much, much deeper appreciation for Chekhov.)

Also, this thread discussion reminds me again of The White Ribbon. Susan, have you seen it yet?

Kia said...


I have the old Constance Garnett translation, re-issued in 12 volumes by the Ecco Press several years ago (still in print), along with some notebooks and other materials. This is about the only way that I know of to have all of them, though I suspect that the translation might be a little slovenly. Cambridge University Press published them as well, and I seem to remember liking those better but it was a while ago. I do think Chekhov the short story writer is underappreciated (because surprisingly not read), so you are in possession of the secret treasure. And "emotional truth" perfectly describes what he does.

Batocchio said...

Thanks! From what I know, Garnett's well-regarded. I'll have to look at those editions. I know the plays very well, and some of the short stories, but certainly not all of them. I've read Garnett's translation of Ivanov, which is okay, but I think the David Hare version is better – but I also think plays and poetry are harder to translate. Chekhov can be extremely subtle, and I know of one case where Michael Frayn (a very good playwright) "corrected" a line in Three Sisters and accidentally messed it up. Paul Schmidt's translations of the plays are supposedly quite good.

My Russian's too rudimentary to fairly judge all the translations myself, but I've asked around, and I try to research that sort of thing, own multiple translations of some works, etc. FWIW, here's my take: If you're reading Dostoevsky, Garnett is pretty good, but go for Pevear and Volokhonsky. If you're reading Bugakov's Master and Margarita, go for the Burgin and O'Connor edition, which also has excellent endnotes.