Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

Having now read 98 of the 290 short stories written by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), from 4 English translation anthologies with many repeats between them, I am convinced that he was the best short story writer ever. The quality of his stories range from “good” to “masterpieces,” there are no mediocre nor bad ones.

Any writer aspiring to be a literary artist must read and learn from de Maupassant. He was a master of economy of style, brisk pacing, even-tempered wit, deep insights into human psychology that remain entirely relevant to this day, and of devising imaginative plots with deliciously apt denouements (endings).

He was superb at describing food, dining and cuisine, and also of sensory impressions like smells, with vividness. Also, he was a lyrical artist with his many passages describing natural settings: the sky at various times of the day and during various seasons, river environments, the woods, open hilly grasslands and plains, and weather day or night. The best equivalent I can recall in American literature is Mark Twain’s lyrical passage in “Huckleberry Finn,” on the early morning mists on the Mississippi River.

It is easy to find critics, from de Maupassant’s day to ours, who dislike him. This is because he was so truthful, and so matter-of-fact about it; never an appealing trait for people protecting cherished illusions and prejudices. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant does not show any prejudices, except perhaps for a marked dislike of cruelty, and a marked enjoyment of life, from which springs his enormous compassion for the very very flawed creatures that we human beings are.

Reading Guy de Maupassant as a social critic of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and Third Republic (1870-1940), it is easy to see why that Third Republic fell in 1940. Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, “The Rules of the Game,” is a gem in this regard. The health of a nation is based on the attitudes of its people, and the attitudinal corruption riddling the Third Republic, despite its wonderful cultural elegance peaking during its Belle Époque (1880-1914), undermined its political strength against the subsequent assaults by fascism.

The attitudinal weakness and sociopathology of Americans today, as say compared with the awesome fortitude of the Russians of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the 2 year 4.5 month siege of that city during 1941-1944, or of the Cuban population for over half a century since 1961, is similar to the classism and dissolution of the French bourgeoisie during the Third Republic. But, today’s Americans are practicing their dissolution and societal enervation without the culture, grace or elegance of the 19th and early 20th century French.

That 70 million Americans could vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is the saddest commentary one can imagine on the abysmal state of the American Public Mind. While I have now read many thoughtful and statistically supported analyses, from November 2020, of the erosion of Trump’s political support and the electoral collapse of his regime, I remain convinced that his appeal was always based on one factor: bigotry by white people (and minority individuals who hankered to join the capitalist übermensch club) whose xenophobia is expressed as fear of being economically swamped by demographic dilution.

I acknowledge that Marxist analyses of the November 2020 election, based on their economic focus using their class analysis dissection of American society, are excellent; and that perhaps a few of the pop-psychology and ‘cultural’ commentaries on that election’s aftermath also offer some insights; but I think it all boils down to identity politics (voting for the projected ‘me’ reflected by a candidate), electorally, and gut “race-consciousness” emotionalism, which is stronger the less educated the individual. That very highly educated very rich people would also vote consistently for Trump and the Republican Party is entirely a function of their parasitism, but even with them gut-level racism is a factor in their sociopathological outlook on human society.

What is wonderful in Guy de Maupassant’s stories is that they are filled with a wide variety of characters, and many of these reflect the attitudes I just described with respect to American voters in 2020. So, one gets sharply drawn personified images of the many shades of those attitudes. Another aspect of his sharp insights into human nature is that we are not strictly governed by our rational minds (which rationalist-materialist stricture I see as the biggest gap in the Marxist analysis of human society), because humans in fact are much compelled by genetically programmed behaviors and tendencies erupting out of our ancestral evolutionarily honed instincts: our monkey genes. It is so easy to see Trump’s rabidly naïve functionally psychotic evangelically bigoted zombie horde as a purely reactive monkey troop defending its imaginary territory from “them!”

As regards American society in November 2020, the best that I can see is the growth of refreshing and enlightened attitudes in so much of the young population (under 45 years old), which was crucial to the electoral defeat of Donald Trump; and the best I can hope for is that a revival of real education occurs so that an increasing fraction of our younger citizens can learn how to better enjoy life by developing their minds beyond the limbic tendencies embedded in our monkey genes. It is such people who will propel any economic and political improvements that may occur in American society in the coming years, and which are absolutely essential for making credible organized responses to the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the destruction of world environments and the loss of biodiversity, and the overarching threat from global warming climate change.

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

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The Perennial Smoldering of America’s Reichstag

“Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own ‘slow-motion Reichstag Fire’” proclaims a current article in Salon. [1]

“Obviously, we are in a slow-motion Reichstag Fire right now. That is what is happening. Donald Trump is not as skilled as Hitler. He doesn’t work as hard as Hitler. He doesn’t have the same level of confidence as Hitler, but he’s clearly looking for that Reichstag Fire emergency. Trump tried to make Black Lives Matter into that emergency. ‘Antifascists’ and ‘thugs’ and ‘law and order’ and so on is part of that effort. Donald Trump keeps trying to make the Reichstag Fire work.” — Timothy Snyder.

I have heard this idea being applied to U.S. politics for some time (since Reagan). I think it reflects the fear of many people, which arises as their previously taken-for-granted assumptions of the general benevolence of U.S. institutions and the U.S. political elite as a whole, drop away in the face of scandals and public disclosures of the obviously cruel and predatory nature of U.S. foreign and even domestic policy goals.

The first major incident of this sort since WWII was the Vietnam War: the Tonkin Bay Incident deception, the Pentagon Papers, My Lai, the Secret Invasion of Cambodia, Agent Orange; and then the many negative incidents of domestic fallout from all this: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., urban riots, Watergate, the exposure of the CIA assassination plots (the Senate’s Church Committee), COINTELPRO (domestic spying), and the FBI/Police assassination of Black Panther Party people.

So, I think that widespread loss of trust in the U.S. Government by sectors of the population that still believed in “our way of life” (so, not for Black America, which was only too well-acquainted with immunized murderous racist policing; nor Native Americans) became a permanent feature in the public consciousness, and is expressed differently depending on the people involved: pro-gun idiocy by ignorant people being one example, and “Reichstag Fire” alarms by intellectual liberals and academics being another.

I think that the truth of the matter is that the actual purposes and goals of government policies, and the intentions of the insiders who instigate and enact those policies, have always been the same: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth, with the costs of these actions being passed on to the population at large in the form of taxes and the manning of the military for “doing the dirty work” and providing the necessary bleeding and fatalities required to “get the job done.” I think the American people are by and large a “human shield” to the “owners” who run the whole government-economy game. The comedian George Carlin famously said: “It’s one big club, and you ain’t in it!”

So, while I agree that Trump and his cult followers are a real low point in American history, and threats to the wellbeing of most of us, I don’t think a Biden-Harris administration will be dramatically different as regards the substance of American foreign and domestic policies. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are where they are today because they are fully vetted as reliable agents for that “Inner Party” (from Orwell’s “1984”). Both are personally invested in (careerism) and fully compromised (bought) by the Wall Street Inner Party (WSIP), to work in the management bureaucracy that continues the long-standing mission of corporate-owned government: the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

The WSIP is finding that Trump is too unstable and too incompetent for their convenience; he is spoiling the smooth continuation of their profitable operations. They want someone like Obama, a smooth operator to calm the masses so they do not interfere with the status quo which in no way benefits them. Obama was superb at doing that job. Kamala Harris is just a shameless careerist who is hoping to graft Hillary Clinton “femaleness” to Barack Obama “Blackness” into a winning (for her) public image. She smiles today because Biden’s nod indicates that the WSIP has bought into Kamala’s “business proposal” of the utility of her personal branding (or subterfuge, as far the public good is concerned).

If the November 3 election proves to be a disaster for the Democratic Party, then the WSIP will soldier along profitably, as it is always assured of doing, but with a rockier and much crasser political “leadership,” and thus a more restive public. If Biden-Harris win decisively as many hope, then the WSIP will gain the benefit of Biden-Harris being a political soporific for the masses, which would make WSIP business-as-usual predatory profiteering easier to carry on and map out into the long term.

At this point, all those elected and appointed political insiders are scrambling to work out their own careerist bailouts or takeover plans, depending on how they see themselves positioned with respect to their public images and their approval ratings with the WSIP. So, for sure the cast will change for 2021, but by how much is not yet clear. The play, on the other hand, will not change in any fundamental way, though clearly a Biden-Harris win would require them to make some highly visible, but not necessarily significantly revolutionary changes: bones tossed to the chained-up dogs barking out in the rain.

Relative to berserker Trump, whatever palliatives (I’m sure weak ones) Biden-Harris might toss out would still be welcome. But they will be items that the WSIP would be prepared to “pay” in exchange for a return to the “stability of business conditions,” under a Biden-Harris (or, Obama III) Administration, a stability (of guaranteed subsidies and political protection) that they so highly prize for their maximum ROI and ease of planning (“investing”).

My view on the election of 3 November 2020 is this: The time now is to plug the holes in the boat to keep it from sinking, only after that can you decide which direction to row it in. Beyond that, no matter who you vote for, with whatever idealism and revolutionary vision you wish to have, you will get the same functional result: the WSIP owned government will focus its awesome powers, foreign and domestic, on the enrichment of capitalists and the protection of their wealth.

To change THAT, will require much much more continuing social and political activism and agitation for a long long time. Dumping Trump and his gang is a necessary first step to begin advancing that idealistic process, and without doubt would be a major morale boost far and wide. So we should all make sure it happens, but have no illusions about it’s depth of change of the American reality. Having that kind of voting attitude requires maturity: the having of a realistic outlook enabling pragmatic action without falling into despair and having childish tantrums of frustration over being denied the immediate gratification of realizing revolutionary utopian dreams at the push of a button.

And if, in the extremely unlikely event that we really do suddenly drop into a new 1933-style Nazi free-fall, then we will just have to fall back on our personal moral character, and work out our various paths toward lives of merit, as so many others were challenged to do throughout human history.

Thus, I agree we should have intelligent, realistic concerns about the course of American politics, but I think it counterproductive and personally harmful to have exaggerated irrational fears. Whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) during the November 3 pivot, maintaining your equanimity and psychological strength are essential for carrying on with your life.

[1] Historian Timothy Snyder warns that America is already in its own “slow-motion Reichstag Fire”
(Salon talks to Snyder about how Donald Trump uses pain and suffering as a weapon to remain in power)
Chauncey DeVega
October 18, 2020
https://www.salon.com/2020/10/18/historian-timothy-snyder-warns-that-america-is-already-in-its-own-slow-motion-reichstag-fire/

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