Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Animal Farm

The Classics Book Club at the Ingalls Memorial Library in Rindge is reading George Orwell's 1946 classic, Animal Farm.
Last night, at the "Save Our Town" meeting at the Rindge Meeting House, a couple of us talked about the book while waiting for the meeting to start.  I was just to the part where the neighboring farmer, Frederick, blows up the wind mill.  My friend had finished the book and wanted to know who I thought the main characters represented.  "Was Napoleon a caricature of Stalin?"
I suppose...but the thing about a classic is that it transcends the circumstances of it's time to remain relevant today.  It matters little to me whether Napoleon was Orwell's picture of Stalin...or Truman, for that matter.  What does it mean today?
The "lower animals" as Farmer Pilkington refers to them at the end of the book, seem to reflect all the characters we see among, "We the People," who are not in charge and running things, but get a vote and are expected to work toward our community's success.
I identified with Boxer...and a little bit with Benjamin, the old donkey.  I really liked them both as "people," but I think they also let their fellow creatures down.  I feel a bit like, "Clover," seeing that some things are wrong, but accepting that I probably missed the meeting where those decisions were made...or misremember them. Truth is, at various stages of my life, I have been the cat and Mollie too.
Snowball, Benjamin and Muriel could all read, but only Snowball tried to use that talent in service to the community.  If Snowball hadn't been run off, would the others have learned to read as he intended?  Would the power have been shared more equally?  Or would his successes have gone to his head and turned him into a greedy pig like Napoleon?
Was it inevitable that Napoleon would use his wits and authority to find a way to drive Snowball off or kill him?   What made Napoleon so exploitative?  Was it jealousy of Snowball's vision and willingness to live among the others in full equality?  Was Snowball doomed the moment Napoleon raised an army of dogs conditioned to obey him blindly?
The others not only allowed Snowball to be driven off by the dogs, but they soon forgot Snowball.  Those who stayed loyal and tried to help were executed or committed suicide after admitting complicity.  The animals were then treated to an alternate version of history where the windmill plan was created by Napoleon and where Snowball's bullet wounds became bites from Napoleon.  Rather than being a hero of the Battle of Cowshed, Snowball is reported to be a traitor who was fighting on the side of Farmer Jones and his men.  Only Napoleon's attack on Snowball saved the day in the latest version of history as told by Squealer.
Do the pigs represent all government and elected officials?  I think it is more like the 1% versus the 99%.  If you are rich, or gifted with talent, your life will resemble that of the pigs.  You will not have to labor or serve so much as "think" or "plan."  Once you separate the young pigs from the other young animals, you will erase any sense of compassion or fellowship in the young pigs for any but each other.  Napoleon used brilliant strategy.
Should we then be opposed to thinking and planning because it so often turns out to benefit no one but the pigs?  
No.  Just the opposite.  We all need to get educated and pay attention to local issues.  We do not need a Snowball to turn things around in this country.  We need to see the "Snowball" in each of us, protect it, encourage it and keep it in play.
Planning is good.  We should all participate, not shut it down because it is inconvenient for us to show up at meetings.   The Plan NH Charrette invited everyone's participation.
Let me take one example from last night's presentation to present another side of their argument.  Ken Eyring pointed to the media firm identified in the list of Plan NH participants.  He talked about how shocking it is that a firm was hired at all and for so much money!!!  What do they need with that if this is supposed to be a grassroots effort???
The people at the "Save Our Town" meeting last night were recipients of a direct mailing that cost over $500.  That is what media firms do.  I left some of the postcards that Plan NH sent out inviting participation in Granite State Future on the table last night.  There is no nefarious plan at work in hiring a media firm.  You have a goal of getting the widest possible participation and you use the tools available to you.
I am always suspicious of people who spend much of their time in arguing for a position by demonizing or dehumanizing the opposition.  Now, after reading Animal Farm, I understand why.  It reminds me of Napoleon and Squealer, constantly telling stories and lies about someone who isn't there to counter them.
I believe in healthy debate.  I don't think bullying people by telling them to "move back to Massachusetts" or shouting them down at meetings is a sign of a reasoned discussion. 
I hope the people who came to Ken Eyring's presentation will come hear Roger Hawke and Ben Frost tonight as well.  Otherwise it's just "Four legs good.  Two legs bad." ~ the sheep Animal Farm

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