A comedy for comfort 302

To those of our readers who seek comfort  at this ‘I can’t-believe-it’s-really-happening’ moment, I recommend the comic-tragic novel BEND SINISTER, by the great Vladimir Nabokov. It’s about a country – for which V N even invents a language – being taken over by a new leader whose equalizing ideology is called EKWILISM. 

Here are some quotations to whet your appetite:

A citizen (a grocer) enthuses: ‘Our Ruler is a great man, a genius, a one-in-a-century-man. The kind of boss people like you and me have been always wanting… "I," he said, "am born to lead as naturally as a bird flies." I think it is the greatest thought ever expressed in human language, and the most poetical one… He is certainly the brainiest man I have ever met… Now it is the State that will help me along with my business. It will be there to control my earnings… I shall make much more than I ever did because from now on we all belong to one happy community. It is all in the family now – one huge family, all linked up, all snug and no questions asked…’

The origins of Ekwilism lie partly in the schooldays of the Ruler, Paduk [Toad]. A new headmaster comes to his school ‘with ideas resolved to develop what he termed "the politico-social consciousness" of the older boys. He had quite a program – meetings, discussions, the formation of party groups – oh, lots of things. The healthier boys avoided these gatherings for the simple reason that, being held after class or during recess, they encroached upon one’s freedom.’ One boy in particular, the protagonist of the novel named Krug, ‘made violent fun of the fools or trucklers who fell for this civic nonsense. The headmaster … warned Krug (who was at the top of his class) that his individualistic behavior constituted a dreadful example [and warns him that he will be given poor marks if he does not conform]  … The position was interesting: here was this headmaster, a liberal with robust leanings towards the left, an eloquent advocate of Uprightness and Impartiality, ingeniously blackmailing the brightest boy in this school … because the boy would not join any group whatsoever… All he asked for was that they follow their social and economic instincts, while the only thing he condemned was the complete absence of such instincts in an individual… Under these circumstances he felt justified in pointing out to the teachers that if Adam Krug passed the final examinations with honors, his success would be dialectically unfair in regard to those of Krug’s schoolmates who had less brains but were better citizens…’ [Paduk , who later becomes the Ruler, responds enthusiastically to the headmaster’s ideas and program.] 

The theory of Ekwilism is propounded by a  philosopher named Fradrick (sic) Skotoma. In brief, it’s this:  ‘At every given level of world-time there was, he said, a certain computable amount of human consciousness distributed throughout the population of the world. This distribution was uneven and herein lay the root of all our woes. Human beings, he said, were so many vessels containing unequal  portions of this essentially uniform consciousness. It was, however, quite possible, he maintained, to regulate the capacity of the human vessels… He introduced the idea of balance as a basis for universal bliss and called his theory "Ekwilism". This he claimed was quite new. True, socialism had advocated uniformity on an economic plane, and religion had grimly promised the same in spiritual terms as an inevitable status beyond the grave. But the economist had not seen that no leveling of wealth could be successfully accomplished, nor indeed was of any real moment, so long as there existed some individuals with more brains than others…It is important to note that while suggesting a remoulding of human individuals in conformity with well-balanced patterns, the author prudently omitted to define both the practical method to be pursued and the kind of person or persons responsible for planning and directing the process… He died soon after his treatise appeared and so was spared the discomfort of seeing his vague and benevolent Ekwilism transformed into a violent  and virulent political  doctrine, a doctrine that proposed to enforce spiritual uniformity upon his native land through the medium of the most standardized section of the inhabitants, namely the Army, under the supervision of a bloated and dangerously divine State.’  

If, as you read, any resemblance strikes you to any existing new Ruler and his doctrine, point it out to everyone you can. Laughter, even bitter laughter, comforts and consoles.  

Posted under Articles by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, November 5, 2008

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