So last night I went to campus to get some printing done, and while waiting for the school computers to wake up, drink their coffee, and otherwise remember how to function above 3 Hz, I read a book I haven't read in a while: Animal Farm by George Orwell, the same guy who wrote 1984. (For a plot summary of 1984, see attached comic.) I was slightly embarrassed to realize that I finished the entire book in one sitting. It is a short one and took less than two hours to cover, but it wasn't what I had planned on doing on campus. I got back to work.
Animal Farm ***plot spoiler*** tells the story of a group of animals who overthrow their human oppressors and begin trying to build a socialist paradise. (Yes, you can read it as a democratic or Zionistic paradise too, but the language used is of a socialist revolution.) From the very beginning, the pigs - cast as the most intelligent of the animals - begin to withhold for themselves special privileges and perks. Gradually the laws of the society change: No animal shall kill another ... without cause; No animal shall drink alcohol ... to excess; All animals are created equal ... but some are more equal than others. By the end of the "fairy tale," the rest of the animals cannot tell the difference between the humans and the pigs, who have surpassed even their former master in cruelty, excess, extortion, and slavery.
I've always been disgruntled to read of the pigs' transformation (pun unintentional), but last night I was livid with outrage. The last time I read this was before my mission, and I've 'experienced' a lot since then. The universality of the themes really smacked me upside the head. It's not just a metaphor for the Russian Revolution. It happens time and time again throughout the world. It's going on in Zimbabwe right now where a former "freedom fighter" has turned into one of the country's most ruthless dictators and oppressors, beating and killing people who are suspected of not wanting him to be president anymore (Gee, now why would they not want that?) while the rest of the world sits on its thumbs or maybe even, in a moment of reckless diplomatic abandon, says he's a very naughty man and should give back his toys ... if it's not too much trouble.
The corruption of the idealistic hopes and dreams that have led so many peoples and countries to strive for a free and independent life just galled me. Reading about the reborn suffering of the animals, who couldn't tell the difference between the oppression before and the oppression after, reached me in a new way as I considered the hundreds of millions of people who live on less than a dollar a day - hundreds of millions in Africa who even live on less than $0.50 a day! In some ways, I guess it was reminding my heart of why I'm working on a dissertation about kleptocrats and writing a book chapter on governance. The dry language of formal economics fails to capture the real pathos like Orwell's work does, though.
A new application struck me this time as I pondered the book. One of my econ professors at BYU (Prof. Lambson) used to be a Marxist, believing that if only Trotsky had won out in the Russian Revolution instead of Stalin, things would have been different. In Animal Farm, Snowball (one of the pigs) plays the part of Trotsky - a war hero and leader, albeit not above receiving a few perks himself, who is eventually exiled and branded a criminal and enemy of the people - while Stalin (played by the pig Napoleon) triumphs and enriches himself on the backs of the people. I used to read the book in the same way: if only Snowball had somehow won out, things would have been different.
Today, however, Prof. Lambson is a Libertarian. Among his reasonings - which were easily the best part of the class - is that a person like Stalin is not constrained by virtue and will therefore tend to be victorious in a power struggle. It is not Stalin who is the aberration, it's Washington who let go of the reigns of power voluntarily who doesn't fit the pattern of history.
I had a different thought last night, though: if Snowball had won, would things have been any different? He, like Napoleon, had worked to convince the other animals that the pigs deserved the entire production of milk for their own food so they could do the "heavy" brain work. Faced with the same corrupting influence of power, would he have truly made different choices, or would the decay have only been a bit slower? Switching over to Tolkeinian imagery, even Frodo was eventually corrupted by the Ring of Power. Switching to the Old Testament, the children of Israel prospered under Gideon who refused to be king but quickly fell under the tyranny of one his sons who was "willing to bear the heavy burden of leadership." Switching to the Book of Mormon, not one of the men who desired to be king over the Nephites, the Lamanites, or the Jaredites was a George Washington. Every single one of them was seeking for power, for authority, for riches and fame. They conspired and killed to get what they wanted, in the end destroying two civilizations in genocidal warfare.
And now here we have a new small handful of men vying to wield more power than should probably be entrusted to one person. On the one hand, it's a frustrating exercise and circus to have to go through every four years. On the other hand, I am immensely thankful to FDR for being elected to four terms in office and thereby spurring the enactment of a Constitutional amendment to throw the bums out of office every 8 years so that no one can get too comfy in that throne. How thankful we all should be for legitimate checks and balances and a divinely inspired Constitution.
If only I could figure out a reliable mechanism for consistently electing competent people who don't want the job. On the one hand, it might be worth a Nobel. On the other ... they'd never enact it.
... Come to think of it, there is such a system. "We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy ... to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." No one vies for office in our Church. No popularity contests, no political strifes, no wheeling and dealing. God makes the call, and those whom God calls, He qualifies for the work.
God's ways: isn't it about ... time?