The Egalitarian Nightmare Mythologized

I read The Giver and its companion book Gathering Blue many years ago when my eldest two children were relatively new readers. I enjoyed them, but didn’t keep up with the series, and hence didn’t know about the sequel or the other companion book until my ten-year-old brought them home from the library last week. After having read all four books now (and having recently watched the film version of The Giver), I’ve come to the conclusion that Lois Lowry is an important writer, as she’s creating a relevant and modern mythos that might well have a lasting impact on the culture.

Messenger and Gathering Blue are pure fantasies, or even fairy tales. They are kindred books, one from a male perspective, and the other from a female perspective. In the same way, The Giver and Son are kindred books, with a male perspective in one and a female perspective in the other. Honestly, put them all together, and I think she’s detailing the problems inherent to a culture that pretends itself to be egalitarian and must heal from the damages this lie has caused. The theme of human evil is overarching, but the evils-of-egalitarianism theme is present nonetheless.

Her choice to write four books with back and forth male-female — as in traditional male-female — perspectives supports this view. However, it’s the content that ultimately supports it. I’m not one to insist on my interpretation as being the author’s intention. I find symbology in books all the time which the author either didn’t know was in there or insisted was not, and that’s because I’m educated. Education creates bias; yes, it’s true. It would be really difficult for the author, in this case, to pretend that the content of masculinity and femininity in her books didn’t exist or that she didn’t intend for it to be in there (egalitarianism goes farther than equalizing the genders, but gender is a strong component of these books).

The first book in the quartet, The Giver, paints a nightmare of an egalitarian society. The society has been artificially engineered to negate differences among people. They are color blind, cut off from their feelings, and all men and women work assigned jobs in an equal fashion. Nobody marries and produces families; the children are supplied by birth mothers (no doubt the only non egalitarian position) and assigned to couples who have also been assigned to each other. Some of the details reveal that the boys, while still children, act like boys — albeit subdued. They’re attracted to vehicles, for example, in a way the girls aren’t and volunteer to work with them when they’re young. The girls, true to form, often volunteer in the childcare center or the nurturing center. But when they begin to have sexual stirrings, their natural genders are suppressed through medication.

The people don’t know any other way, as anyone who isn’t compliant is “released” (i.e. murdered), and everybody else is heavily medicated. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but isn’t that exactly where we’re at right now? Isn’t it? We’re a pretend egalitarian society who is all but color blind and devoid of our natural emotions. We encourage girls to begin taking birth control pills at a young age, ostensibly to prevent pregnancy or more neutrally to “correct irregular and painful menstrual cycles”. What it does, ultimately, is to create an artificially neutered society. In addition to this, male sperm counts have been low for some time now, and there are a number of theories as to why this is so, including the one about oestrogens polluting the environment.

All this is to say that Lois Lowry has painted us a fairytale version of our own suppressed society. In The Giver, the male protagonist Jonas, after becoming the Receiver of Memories, learns to feel emotions again and then becomes masculine when he ceases to take his drugs. His renewed masculinity spurs him to be noble and courageous, eventually leading his people out of their artificial stupor. By contrast, in its kindred book Son the female protagonist Claire is a “birth mother” who, by bureaucratic negligence, has been forgotten about; she is never put back on her drug regimen after giving birth. She therefore begins to feel the intense loss of the baby that was ripped from her uterus and stolen from her. She ends up sacrificing herself — her entire youth, to give a bit of a spoiler — to be reunited with her child.

Son is Jungian in the way that it progresses. Claire learns what it means to be a woman, and she’s guided by a grandmotherly figure in her quest. She faces the evil shadow side of humanity in order to find her lost child. In the end, however, the hero who finally defeats the shadow is none other than her own son, nearly grown. In other words, the timeless story of the woman who births the man-child, and the man-child who grows up to defeat evil, together set the world right again. Sorry about the spoilers, if you haven’t read it. It’s still worth reading.

I’ll just leave it at that.

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Blood and Gore Are Overrated

Having finally read Lowry’s Son, I rewatched the film rendition of The Giver. For Hollywood, it’s a well-done adaptation. I was especially struck, this time around, with the beauty of its subtlety. Of course, the book works off subtlety. Still, though, there were a number of places where the film might have gone off the rails with tawdriness between Jonas and Fiona, or even worse, with violent depictions of Jonas’ received memories.

I hate to be a fuddy-duddy, but the violence and tawdriness in films these days are astonishingly bad. The mind does become numb after a while, and the impact of simple storytelling is lost due to visual blood-skin-gore fests. I was thinking about this because, as the kids and I were debating what film to watch on this gloomy Sunday evening, my son was adamant that we not watch The Giver. The baby dies, he insisted. No, Gabe doesn’t die, I reminded him.

And then when I watched the film (son was half-watching, half-reading a book), I remembered what he meant. The excess twin is “released” through injecting a needle in his skull. There is no gore. There is no blood. It’s clinical. The baby is moving one moment, and the next he is still. It’s utterly horrifying. I don’t often watch films from beginning to end, as I’m constantly distracted by other things. Therefore, when I actually sit down and watch an entire film, I’m surprised by the details I hadn’t previously focused on. In this case, focusing on them took me on an emotional ride.

Blood-skin-gore fests should horrify us, too. Becoming numb to violence and death is a very bad thing for the human spirit. I’m not even certain that it’s overexposure that causes the numbness; I would conjecture that we don’t allow it to filtrate too deeply into our souls for our own protection. We might shut down inside, or we might shut our eyes or walk out of the room if it becomes too much. Subtlety, however, seems to worm its way past our filters and can have a much stronger consequent impact and/or influence on us.

The other day, a friend asked if I was the one who had written about art vs propaganda in the past. In reply, I said something like this: “Probably, as it’s something I talk about. However, it’s my contention that all storytelling is propaganda. Those storytellers who know how to hide what they’re doing through subtlety are better artists. But they are also quite a bit more dangerous because they know how to jack into the subconscious mind rather than the conscious mind. Meaning, they will influence us without our being consciously aware of it…unless, of course, we as an audience have trained ourselves to be aware.” Yes, I AM quoting myself. Not only am I constantly distracted, but I’m lazy. Go figure.

Good art is dangerous. How did I end up here? Lois Lowry is an incredible storyteller. Does that make her dangerous? I suspect it’s only dangerous if we’re not consciously aware of the messages that are subtly influencing us. I happen to believe that Lowry’s messages are life-affirming and well worth exposing ourselves to. And, in fact, her messages in this quartet of books dovetails quite well with the subject, making all of this seem kind of circular. Isn’t that what The Giver is about — numbness? A human society that has become numb and would rather remain that way in order to protect itself?

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Memories, You’re Talking About Memories

I am, indeed, as I’m currently reading a book called Permanent Present Tense. This is a truly incredible book, as it’s a blend of biography, memoir, science, and history — all my favorite genres right there. It’s the story of Henry Gustave Molaison, a man who was given a lobotomy as a way to relieve his epilepsy. Although the lobotomy did greatly improve his seizures, it had the secondary effect of destroying his ability to store memories. Molaison provided researchers with a unique opportunity to study the brain’s ability or lack thereof to store memories, retrieve old memories, and how an impaired ability to remember affects intellect. It apparently doesn’t change innate intelligence (Henry had an above-average IQ before his lobotomy, which he maintained after), but that isn’t what I want to talk about.

I just finished reading chapter 7, which delves into memory consolidation. In this chapter, the author discusses research (I’ve read this research elsewhere), demonstrating that as time passes, and we unpack old memories, we change the details of these memories. These memories are then restored in an altered state. This is an observable phenomenon. Collect a family together in one room and get them waxing nostalgic about past events, and you will hear numerous versions of the same events. No doubt, emotional filtering also affects how we remember the past, but there is also that overlay of changing the details with time.

Perhaps a more relevant study of this is observing the lives of couples in the throes of divorce. I’ve experienced this as an observer numerous times, unfortunately. Listen to their stories as everything’s falling apart; and then listen to those stories change five years down the road. If I had a penny for every time a man acted erratically, claimed to both his wife and his friends that the marriage was over, told his wife she should file for divorce — an order which she then obeyed out of self-protection — and then claimed later that everything was her fault because she was the one who filed for divorce, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a few pennies. These people have conveniently removed and changed details as they unpacked their memories over the years. Not that I haven’t likewise witnessed destructive wives turn their memories to their own favor over the years, subtly changing details until the memory has quite a difference appearance in their own minds; I certainly have. There seems to be a persistent belief out there that women are responsible for the destruction of marriages because they file for divorce more frequently. To that, I have to laugh — a deep, dark cynical one, but I still do laugh at the absurdity of humans.

Due to this odd ability we have to alter memories, it makes me wonder how any of us can have a firm grasp on the past. I suspect we ought to document our lives as we go along. Even if the documentation isn’t 100% accurate, as in, it’s filtered through our emotional states, at least we’d be left with a record of the details we were consolidating in the moment. Of course, this subject also makes me again ponder the truth of anyone’s memoirs or autobiography. I don’t think it’s a postmodern conceit to say that these types of works are true for the person writing them if their goal is to be honest about the past (probably not Brian Williams, in other words).

Memories and the way we process them are certainly a fascinating look at what it is to be human. I have long imagined that I’m a neutral observer of the world because I can easily detach emotionally from the moment and consider myself to, therefore, be an honest recorder of the past. But ironically, the more emotion we have attached to the moment we’re processing, the more retention we have of the memory. So what we’re left with will always be at least a little skewed, I guess, unless our lives are recorded in writing rather than memory by an outside observer who has little to no emotional attachment to us.

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Oh, the Cognitive Dissonance!

I know little about Michael Bloomberg, except that he’s transformed from a Democrat to Republican to Independent over the years, and that he’s a billionaire who is also ex-mayor of New York. According to his Wiki, he was educated as an electrical engineer and proceeded from there to Harvard for an MBA. He clearly possesses much business savvy and is only a conservative in so much as it will protect his business assets. Otherwise, he is a progressive. But that is the extent of my knowledge on Michael Bloomberg. Or I should say, that was the extent of knowledge I had on the man.

Today I read an article in the Aspen Times, which detailed a talk he gave at the Aspen Institute. It does not surprise me that Bloomberg seems to be painting himself as an authoritarian in the realm of politics, despite the fact that he left both authoritarian parties to be an independent. Successful politicians, especially in New York City, tend to be authoritarians. First, he discusses why marijuana should not be legal; second, he explains why plumbers should remain plumbers and waitresses should remain waitresses. Plumbers and waitresses can make a lot of money, he claims. Therefore, according to Bloomberg, if your average plumber or waitress manages to get into Harvard, they ought to eschew such an educational opportunity and continue doing what they’re doing.

I already understand that education isn’t for everybody; neither does everybody have the wherewithal to become Wall Street billionaires. Additionally, I understand that waitresses and plumbers are needful professions. Good ones can, indeed, make a lot of money. So at the point in the article where he made these statements, I found myself grimacing at the words of this Harvard-educated politician/businessman, but I was not yet thoroughly disgusted.

No, that didn’t happen until he was asked, whatever can be done about poverty? Yes, I just said that in a fainting flower tone of voice (in case you were wondering). And what was his answer to the question? Education is worthless for poor adults. It won’t help them, according to Bloomberg. But don’t worry, he’s going to write a book about how to help the poor among us. I’m sure the poor are holding their collective breath, while waiting to purchase it in mass market paperback or as an overpriced ebook.

The conversation about the poor must have turned into whatever can we do to save the children “who have been failed [i.e. the poor ones]” because he soon had an answer for that age-old question. Here I’ll quote the article directly lest your credibility in my reportage is beginning to wane. I mean, if I were you, I’d be scratching my head, too. Okay, here goes:


“Bloomberg claimed that 95 percent of murders fall into a specific category: male, minority and between the ages of 15 and 25. Cities need to get guns out of this group’s hands and keep them alive, he said.”

There you have it, friends. The advice from this noble politician/businessman is to not educate poor people. Your average not-as-poor person should remain as a wage slave and eschew higher education, as well, especially if it comes from an Ivy League school. And by all means, disarm the minorities! And don’t just disarm the minorities, but the young male minorities. Young men, as we know, are the greatest threats to the establishment. So make sure to A. keep them impoverished and B. prevent them from fighting back.

What do minority-championing progressives have to say about this? I have no idea, but I’m guessing the cognitive dissonance of oppressing the minorities through disarming them is too much for many anti-gun folk. But maybe it’s okay to hate Bloomberg, as he’s a privileged white guy AND a member of the 1%. Hmm…I’m going to have to further ponder this one.

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Eureka! I Discovered It!

No doubt owing to my mind being focused on other things [my book; others' books; just fill in the blank w/ whatever you imagine a self-employed homeschool mom might do], I’ve only managed to come up with the blog posts I don’t want to write instead of the ones I do — that is, I want to write those blogs that are full of important topics and which bear a subtle prescience.

To start the list, I don’t want to write about 50 Shades of Grey, and I especially don’t want to write a post about why the movie is vile and then proceed to list 5 x 10 ways it will corrupt a Christian housewife. As one Christian housewife blogger has already said it better than I could — So let’s spread the word that we don’t need bondage, whips and chains to have fun in bed! — I’ll let her continue to do just that without moving in on her territory. I mean, I would’ve added that we don’t need a billionaire, either, but what do I know about fun? I did, however, invent a usefool [I swear that was unintentional] weapon against corruption with whips and chains. See below.

Apron_1922

 

It appears to be an ordinary full-length, criss-cross apron (the criss-cross straps make it more difficult to remove). But it’s actually interwoven with a fine steel mesh that was blessed by the Pope and three different Rabbis, as well as a shaman. Although it has come to my attention that the shaman was a shyster-for-hire, the rest are legit as far as I know, and I didn’t pay them that much, anyway. The apron will keep the billionaires away, unless one hires you as a maid… Here I throw my hands up in the air. I am NOT writing that story.

She has such beautiful delicate ankles, doesn’t she? The woman in the pic, I mean.

I’m also not wanting to write a blog post highlighting the gentle martyring of the American female.

Their delicate or thick ankles.

Or their yoga pants — why or why not they should wear them. Undoubtedly, that’s an important subject, but it’s not for me.

Or measles and why or why not spreading infectiously acute anxiety is the best way to maintain a free society.

Or football. I have no commentary on that one.

Are women more likely than football players to spread infectiously acute anxiety? I don’t want to answer that question, either. I’ll let you ponder that one, gentle reader.

Legos and whether or not they are sexist. As a little girl, I never had any. Therefore, they are sexist. Or maybe they were created by men who wanted to keep me out of important schools of architecture and other classical learning. That is a fine conspiracy theory, with much evidence to back up its five points of essentialism.

But that reminds me. Have you ever wondered why the hegemonic femininity has gained a foothold as the conceptualized masculinity of the pseudo-natural structure of organizations? I’ve been pondering this much lately. I may have, indeed, stumbled on the post I would like to write. It’s all about equal rights, a civilized post-Malthusian world, and why they aren’t good for us. Rights, mostly. They make us selfish when standing on the shoulders of tyrants.

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