I'm frequently appalled at the number of important books I haven't read - despite having read two or three a week for more than six decades. In truth, I’m mortified. I feel like a reader who doesn’t read—though that is very far from the truth.
For instance, though I admire his stories enormously—they make great movies—I have never been a great fan of Dickens as a writer. I've rationalized that is because I read him too young (I was about 11 at the time) but I have never been tempted to give his works another try. And I truly hated the book MOBY DICK—though quite enjoyed the movie (which was filmed in Ireland near where I used to live). But MOBY DICK was a school requirement which probably colored my opinion. Compulsion did not do much for my innately cooperative nature (Major hint: that was a joke).
By the way, I met Gregory Peck in the South of France when I was a teenager. Impressive man—and he was extremely kind to me. My recollection is that he was tall—but memory is a fickle thing.
All these years later, I looked him up. The man was 6’3”. I guess that qualifies as tall. What lingers with me was his affability. The man—in the flesh—was a good humored delight.
Shame on me (we are back to talking about Moby Dick written by Herman Melville)? Actually, I think I'm quite entitled not to like a particular author, regardless how well regarded he or she is—or was.
In my favor, let me say that once I start a book, it is rare that I don't finish it. My thinking there is based upon experience. I know editors will reject a book if it takes too much time to warm up, but again and again I find myself being agreeably surprised if I have the patience to hang in there. WAR & PEACE was a case in point. Reading that was a life-changing experience as far as I was concerned. I was on a high for days—and, it appears, motivated for decades.
Could writing be this wonderful? Evidently, it could. I lack the ability to describe how truly awesome that discovery felt. I have never thought of it in that context before, but it was an epiphany—a truly life-changing event. And it was all accomplished through the printed word.
Though I frequently read books of the highest quality, I have never pretended to be a particularly highbrow reader, or even a literary reader. When I was young I read for adventure. It was the best way I could find to escape the confines of boarding school without having to make the physical break (which was pointless because even if you were successful and made it home, you'd be sent back—I knew my mother).
Some will argue that I read solely to escape. They would be partially right, but I was realistic enough to appreciate that reading was—at best—temporary escape (followed by painful reality) whereas the adventure was permanent.
Great stories linger to an extent that I can only describe as remarkable.
It didn't take long before I was captured by ideas; and they soon became the main driving force. They still are—whether they come from fiction or non-fiction. Ideas—essentially a fresh perspective on some aspect of life—are orgasmic. What an inadequate word! Ideas endure.
But why the need to read Hitler's opus?
Because being a thoroughly unpleasant human being doesn't mean you are not right on some things.
In particular, he seemed to understand how to manipulate his fellow men (and women) better than most; and I've become very interested in the degree to which the American public is being manipulated today—and has been for decades.
Add in the every increasing availability of extraordinary computer power together with our evolution into a surveillance state (with most surveillance being by corporate interests) and I have to wonder to what extent we are still capable of independent thought. Think about that last sentence carefully. We like to think we are all independent thinkers—and rational into the bargain—but clearly we are not.
So file my interest under: Know your enemy! Anticipate that, where major powers are concerned, your enemy may well come from within.
But the U.S. isn't Fascist?
Not quite—but it's not a democracy either. More to the point, there are enough similarities to fascism for there to be serious cause for concern regarding the direction we are heading. The key difference would seem to be that in traditional fascism—though it is based upon an alliance of government and big business—the government, normally headed by a dictator, is the dominant force.
In contrast, where our current system is concerned, our government is dominated by financial elites—and, as far as I know—there is no single dictator. I have added the qualifier because a dictator doesn't have to be known to the public. For centuries, Japan, for instance, was nominally ruled by the Emperor—but the real power lay elsewhere with the shogun.
Right now, we are a plutocracy—a country governed by the rich to the great benefit of the rich. Do we have a secret shogun? A kuromaku?
Kuromaku literally means "black curtain," but is used to describe a puppet master—the power behind the scenes.
I just don't know. What is clear is that we are no longer a democracy—and, in particular—we are not a representative democracy. Our elected officials don’t represent us. Primarily, they represent those who fund them.
Fascism, or some broadly similar totalitarian system, hovers. It is not inevitable, but it is the trend. It will probably have a new name which will attempt to camouflage its real nature. Some kind of catastrophe is likely to accelerate it. Recall how after 9/11, fear dominated rational thought—and we virtually rushed to surrender some of our hard-won democratic freedoms (which we still haven't regained).
Think of how many people died, were injured, or had their lives wrecked to gain such freedoms. We should be ashamed of ourselves.
The causative catastrophe may not be war—the traditional rationale for a dictatorship—but some kind of fundamental economic threat which undermines the security of much of the population. It may not be one single event like the 1973 oil embargo (remember that?) but be made up of a number of interwoven strands (political, economic, social, and natural developments) which together threaten to destroy—or have begun to destroy—or have already succeeded in destroying—the American Way of Life.
It’s changing, in case you haven’t noticed.
What might those strands be? Excessive corporate power; financialization; the success of propaganda in influencing, manipulating, and controlling the mass of the population; the equal success of consumerism as an instrument of control; the militarization of the police; the increasing reach and power of the security services; the erosion of rights and freedoms; a widespread lack of faith in government and in institutions generally; excessive faith in the military; income inequality; the breakdown of the Social Contract; the failure of trust; eroding earning power; increasing economic insecurity; failure to provide employment; automation; the decline of the Middle Class; and Climate Change.
But these are all happening right now? Aren't they?
Yes—that is rather my point—though most people are acting as if it's business as usual. It isn’t. There are forces afoot which are going to change much of what we regard as familiar and stable.
But how does Hitler come into all this?
Hitler's genius was in anticipating and harnessing such forces; and then in weaving all the strands together to get himself elected. Forgive the pun, but the man knew how to execute.
But we'd never elect a Hitler. Would we?
I doubt we’d know in advance. I doubt the Germans knew what they were getting—and by the time they found out, it was too late. But it’s worth remembering that the man didn’t seize power. He was given it.