The Overton Window: Chapter 3, Part 2
As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for putting his finger right on it:
This almost reads as if it were written by a leftist. The villain is a rich white man, and the threat is that the national security state is out of control. Somehow I doubt that sharing and disarmament are going to be Beck's recommended solutions, though.
P.S. It seems really odd that a rich man of 74 seems to view immanent collapse as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Indeed, this book is nothing if not baffling in both its political philosophy- to the extent that it has one- and its formless, pointless populism. If at the end of this thing you have any better idea what message the authors were trying to send, then you're smarter, or more delusional, than I am. And let's face it- I'm about as delusional as they come. Well done, Jay! I'd also like to briefly nod to Sassafrass as a strong runner up for identifying Molly's roots. Keep at it, everyone, and maybe you'll take home the comment of the week!
And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Bazinga!
Dramatis Personae: In order of their penis sizes.
Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.
Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.
Noah Gardner: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high".
Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.
Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.
Recommended Mood Music:*
Page 24, Line Skylight:
No quote, but as you may recall we were in the midst of Arthur Gardner's megalomaniac speech to several mostly unnamed government agents. Particularly, we left off in the middle of his extended metaphor likening the fiscal crisis to the Indonesian tsunami. He continues in this vein for a while, rhetorically asking his audience to correct him if he's wrong about the amount of the $8 trillion bailout of U.S. financial institutions (1). Then the authors go for a dig at entitlement programs.
Page 24, Line 10-13:
"It's a heist, an inside job. It's been done before, of course. Social Security was the boldest Ponzi scheme in history until now (2). But all the bills for all those years are finally coming due, and there's not enough money in the world to pay them." [Arthur said]
I'll concede that there are some similarities to a Ponzi scheme, but it's worth noting that social security was predicated on having a larger body of people working than there were people drawing from it. Or, put differently, it counts on mortality. This is why part of the solution to the social security crisis may be raising the retirement age- because it will decrease both the number of people eligible and the amount of time they're eligible before death. Technically, though, I'm pretty sure almost any government service could be labeled a Ponzi scheme or some other type of financial shenanigan with some degree of accuracy. Roads? Ponzi scheme. Military? Protection racket. Elections? Lottery. It's all a scam if you look at it with the right perspective.
Page 24, Line 14-19:
A ring of digital projectors near the ceiling awoke out of standby and the wraparound screens encircling the room came alight with an unbroken panorama of changing, flowing imagery. Charts and graphs, spreadsheets and Venn diagrams, time lines and flowcharts and nomograms, none displayed long enough to absorb, except as a blurry continuum of research and market intelligence behind the old man's words.
"I'd like to introduce the new iPhone. It comes standard with digital video camera, video calling, unlimited data, and a secret mind-control ray that will turn our customers into hapless sheep." Okay, all kidding aside,** there's a fundamental problem with this scene- it doesn't work. It doesn't work because what they're describing is precisely what we'd see if this scene were appearing in a movie. There'd be Arthur in an immaculately tailored dark suit, haloed by the flickering screens that visually suggested the argument that could not be given to the audience explicitly because movies have to do everything quickly. It's a visual metaphor for content that the audience does not, indeed cannot, see. The problem, however, is that this is not a movie- this is a book- and as such visual metaphors don't really work because we can't see the screens or the cheerful multimedia flicker thereupon. Instead, we can only read a description of them. And, unlike movies, the novel thrives on its ability to provide deeper, richer information about characters, their motivations, and their plans. The authors could quite easily have taken a chapter to lay out extensively, and explicitly, just what Arthur wants to happen because they're writing a frigging book and if you don't want the whole story, then you shouldn't be reading it in the first place. And it isn't like the authors didn't have the space- this entire damned narrative almost fits on a bar napkin. But, they don't provide the whole plan, and thus we're left guessing what the hell is going on for the rest of the book. Completing the failure, not only does this textual rendering of a visual metaphor fail to inform, but it makes the book seem like a giant pile of stupid, because when you write it out it's almost impossible to miss how silly this movie gimmick really is.
Page 24, Line 20-25:
"Over the last century you've saddled your hapless citizens with a hundred thousand billion dollars in unsecured debt (3), money they'll be paying back for fifty generations if there are still any jobs to be had by then. Meanwhile you're up to your necks in misguided, escalating wars on two unforgiving fronts with no sign of the end. That's trillions more in unpayable IOUs." [Arthur continued]
I gotta be honest, this type of rhetoric really aggravates me. See, we live in a democracy, more or less. That means that taking an "us and them" attitude towards the government is more than slightly stupid. We have run up a huge debt, we have got two difficult wars on our hands and we are responsible for finding a way out of this situation. This isn't some damn aristocracy that we have to overthrow, it's a bunch of people who generally do what they think we, the people, want them to do. And if they do stupid things perhaps we ought to wonder just who is giving them such bad ideas. But, whatever, this book is built on firing up an unspecified "us" against a murky "them," so I guess we'll just move right along.
Page 24-25, Line 24: 30-32, 25: 1-2:
While foreclosures of your citizens' homes are breaking all records and unemployment is exploding in every state you've been busy dodging audits and nationalizing the mountainous gambling losses of the Wall Street elite. For heaven's sake, you nationalized General Motors just to get your union friends off the hook (4) (5) (6).
So, in the space of a couple of sentences, we've blamed the government, big business, and organized labor, which when you think about it doesn't leave too many groups as potential good-guys for this book. This is particularly the case when you recall that we just got done referring to social security as a "ponzi scheme," thereby implying that all public entitlements are, essentially, cheating. So if capitalism is bad, and government regulation is bad, and social safety nets are bad, and foreclosures are bad, what the fuck are we supposed to do? And even as Gardner castigates the government men for not "doing something," the authors are implictly closing off all avenues of action- somehow the government is responsible even though none of its alternatives would meet with approval. And, really, this is a constant and confusing theme of this book- the government is powerful enough to orchestrate massive conspiracies and the like, but too incompetent to run a country. Regardless, Arthur goes on for a while, emphasizing that when the ship of state sinks the people will come for the current crop of officials with torches and pitchforks.*** And then we get to the authors' apparent political philosophy.
Page 26, Line 7-8:
When things go wrong, there must always be someone to blame; a villain, if you will.
I say this is the authors' political philosophy rather than simply that of the character, Arthur Gardner, because this line of thinking permeates the novel. No, it isn't that we have collectively allowed heavy debts to accumulate and serious fiscal problems to arise because we've lacked the political will to make the tough choices. No, it's because a secret cabal of manipulators in government are conspiring to deprive us of our rights. Honestly, the above quote is probably the most straightforward statement of this book's thesis that we'll ever fine, and it's as clearly stated as it is absurd. Fortunately, the government reps have realized what a pile of shit this is and are no doubt about to tell Arthur to go screw himself.
Page 26, Line 17-19:
"Tell us what we need to do." It was the woman who'd spoken up earlier. Judging by the breathy reverence in her voice, she'd already entered the early stages of baptism into the cult of Arthur Gardner.
Or, then again, maybe they're falling for this nonsensical bullshit. I forgot that we're in the authors' bizarro factional world. Never mind. Arthur rambles on for a while, seeming to suggest that he's going to orchestrate some kind of revolution that will make "the people" a permanent underclass, but he never really explains how, or why, or even who will be in charge at the end, aside from promising the nebulously defined government officials that they'll still be in control. See, for example, if you have any idea what's about to happen based on this passage:
Page 28, Line 17-21:
"There'll be no revolution, only a brief, somewhat shocking, leap forward in social evolution. We'll restore the natural order of things, and then there will be only peace and acceptance among the masses." He smiled. "Before we're done they'll be lining up to gladly pay a tax on the very air they breathe."
Right so... who will be in charge again? What the fuck are we doing? This is all a bit murky for me, you know? But, hell, apparently an unnamed antagonist group is going to steal our liberties, but it's unclear who we are, or what our liberties comprise. And then shit gets really weird, because Arthur tells the crowd that this plan has been in the works for a loooong time and their superiors are onboard with it but, now that they're ready to execute, the superiors want the juniors (you know, the folks in this room) to sign off on it. Let me say that again: the final execution of a long-planned plot to take over the United States is going to be commanded by a bunch of underlings who are only now finding out about it. What the f-ing hell is going on here? Finally, Arthur decides to sum up.
Page 29, Line 17-22:
"Down one path all men are created equal: equal in poverty, equal in ignorance, equal in misery. Down the other is the realization of the brightest hopes of mankind. But not for all men; that was a brief experiment, tried and failed. Abundance, peace, prosperity, survival itself- these coveted things are reserved for the fittest, the deserving, the most courageous of us, the wisest. The visionaries."
And... what? Aside from the implication that Arthur is a social darwinist, I have no idea what the hell is being discussed here, except a vague sense of foreboding. Just... huh?
But, whether we understand or not, that's the end of the chapter, and the clearest account of the plan that we're ever going to see. Oh well! Tune in next time when Noah helps set the plan in motion and then... well, does nothing at all of note. It'll be a blast- trust me.
* No, I'm not insane. It's just that Arthur's performance in the second half of this chapter is too much like an Apple presentation from the negaverse for me.
** Actually, given the iPhone's TCO over the first 2-3 years, I'm not convinced it doesn't have a secret mind-control ray.
*** I'll concede that I almost rewrote that line to correct the painfully mixed metaphor. I mean, really, where the hell would you even get torches and pitchforks on a ship? But then I decided, "Oh well. What the hell," because leaving it this way frankly conveys the general Overton Window vibe pretty effectively.
Labels: The Overton Window