“If you don’t take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.”—Plato
As mentioned in my book, “The Classroom of Life”, during my youth, my mind did not have a very clear understanding of corruption, greed, politics, government, or the financial world. As years passed, I would read, see, and experience more of the real world. It was very different from my small parochial micro-world. Sometimes it was frightening and often difficult to accept the realities that truly existed. I learned that there was a percentage of people who would consciously do anything, regardless of negative consequences, to get what they wanted. They, with impunity, could rationalize their transgressions as necessary for their own personal aggrandizement. As Sir Thomas More and Machiavelli had so poignantly suggested 500+ years ago, the corrupters of humanity included money, property, and personal power. I then realized the value of Plato and Aristotle’s thoughts and their warnings some 2000 years ago. No, it wasn’t a new world; it was the same old thing, just with different actors. It took many years to connect most of the dots, and it still remains a work in progress. After many explosive epiphanies, it was now time to share my revelations and those of the profound mentors and iconic writers. As I reach the middle of my “golden years,” it is my final chance to convey what the classroom of life has taught me. Thus, it remained a final task to share my thoughts and experiences, along with the writings of the iconic sages of the past. Hopefully, they will teach you how to avoid your journey's many pitfalls by allowing you the most precious vicarious learning possible.
As a teen and young adult, I had vague and fleeting suspicions of unscrupulous behavior, xenophobia, bigotry, and corruption. I now share with you my déjà vu experiences confirmed by the famous quote of George Santayana, “Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, and also the works of George Orwell and Michael Lewis below.
As you read “Animal Farm”, or the summary below, you will see the incredible similarity that exists in our current world. It was written by George Orwell in 1945, a fascinating book that certainly ranks in my very top best literary works. This dystopian novel begins with conditions that paralleled a series of events culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917. It is written simply but compellingly. “Animal Farm” mimicked the Bolshevik Revolution and the tyranny of the infamous Joseph Stalin. It is an allegorical and satirical novella of intense metaphoric animals. Each farm animal depicted a real human personality during Stalin’s era. It is a scathing satire that contrasts the monarchy versus the poor, angry and downtrodden, during the days of a cruel communist totalitarian society of desperate proportions.
Instead of writing a Sir Thomas More type Utopia, Orwell wrote ‘dystopia’, the polar opposite of a perfect world. Orwell was convinced the only true remedy was a more socialistic approach based on equality, quality of life, and the elimination of rampant poverty. He was outraged at the oppression and neglect of the overworked industrial employees living in putrid and disgraceful hovels. Stalin’s brutal regime transformed socialism into a new kind of communist oppression, not dissimilar to the former conditions under the Czars. Stalin’s Social Democratic Party became a totalitarian dictatorship. He and his crony comrades oppressed Russians and their satellite states for almost a half-century. After the demise of the USSR, it has eventually headed towards a somewhat revised communistic dictatorship under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.
In his book, Orwell’s protagonist is Mr. Jones, the manor house alcoholic. He becomes the catalyst when the rebellious farm animals transform it into the satiric Animal Farm. The animals had completed the fall harvest and met to develop a farm policy. The brightest and most inspirational animal, a prized boar named Old Major, describes a dream where all animals of husbandry live in a free world without fear or intimidation. His first step was to post the seven commandments, highly visible on the barn door Unfortunately, Old Major soon dies. The time is now ripe for a plot against Jones. Soon, two devious pigs, Snowball (Leon Trotsky) and Napoleon (Joseph Stalin), plan a rebellion and decide to change the name from Manor House to a more representative title, Animal Farm. At first, all is calm and successful. However, it becomes obvious that Napoleon is abusing his power and is hungry for total control. He steals things and rewards his fellow pigs with the booty. Napoleon then convinces the other pigs that they possess an extremely high level of intelligence and an innate ability to lead. Squealer, a true believer pig, is enlisted to help support the pigs’ leadership.
After an unsuccessful attempt by Jones to regain control, other animals with different personalities begin to emerge, such as the egotistical Molly, the vain horse. In the meantime, Snowball plans a windmill to provide electrical power and more leisurely refinements for the animals. A vote being imminent, Napoleon has his ferocious canines chase rival Snowball off the farm. Later, Napoleon agrees to the windmill and closes down all further meetings and debates. Snowball, a serious rival, soon becomes the subject of blame for all the pain suffered. The promised windmill had been halted temporarily by a new personality, a horse named Boxer. Napoleon, in typical fashion, does a character assassination of Boxer while blaming Snowball for the windmill destruction. Napoleon, through his cunning and deceitful actions, garners more power and control. Conveniently, one by one, Napoleon discredits and stereotypically pigeonholes his competitors, thus diverting attention from his own malicious and cruel behavior. He continues to distinguish himself as not only a capable leader but the most intelligent and powerful of all animals in their new manor, Animal Farm.
Soon, unable to control the animals, Jones moves away. By this time, Napoleon has risen to a position of a totalitarian dictator. He forces the innocent animals to confess untrue transgressions resulting in their deaths by the vicious dogs, albeit in full sight of the other animals. Napoleon and his comrade pigs move into the Jones’ vacated house while the others recline to leisure in their pens. The animals begin to lack food and starve, while the pigs are becoming grotesquely fat. The rules and commandments are consistently broken by the obese pigs. Slowly the rules are rewritten and revised to the benefit of the pigs. These revisions allow for more illicit behavior. Boxer, the esteemed horse, wanting to rebuild the windmill, is secretly sold to a glue boiler. Squealer makes up a story that boxer became ill and was sent to the veterinarian, where he succumbed to a peaceful death. Napoleon expands his farm by buying the adjoining lands, thus increasing his power. He and the other pigs begin walking on two legs and soon become the reflections of their human rulers. The animals’ original commandments are finally abandoned, and a single rule replaces them, “All animals are truly equal. However, some are more equal than others.” The pigs begin acting like humans, with Napoleon at the helm as their totalitarian ruler. The moral conveyed by Orwell is that Napoleon (aka Stalin) is now the absolute ruler, the other animals become the gulags, and the pigs become the ruling class and guards of the manor. I’m not sure of its origin, but my 102 yr. old friend Jim Whitcomb frequently used the inimitable term “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered”, perhaps an apt quote.
I think it is important to understand all of the animal characters that Orwell disguised. They represent the possibilities of history repeating itself with similar personal characteristics. Do you see any current representatives or corollaries below?
The major cast of characters included the following:
Mr. Jones— is drunk, careless, cruel, and ineffective. He represents a Russian Czar. An autocratic tyrant.
Napoleon—a narcissistic shrewd deceptive, and malicious pig whose craftiness intimidated and eventually controlled the population of animals. They had rallied for freedom, but instead, oppression resulted. At that time, Napoleon represented Joseph Stalin, but today there are others very much like Stalin.
Snowball—a pig that, after the successful revolution, challenges Napoleon for control of the farm. Snowball is a very intelligent revolutionist, eloquent speaker, and very devious. He is the counterpart of Napoleon, who represents Leon Trotsky
Boxer—is a cart-horse who is strong, dedicated, fair-minded, and loyal to the future prosperity of his collegial comrades. He is naïve true believer who trusts Napoleon. He works hard for the common interests. He represents the striving middle-class.
Squealer—is Napoleon’s propaganda minister and newscaster who constantly justifies all of the leader’s actions. He spreads false news to his fellow animals. This allows Napoleon to gain and maintain power over the other animals. Squealer uses jargon to baffle and confuse the others. He can represent Stalin’s or Hitler’s propaganda machine.
Old Major—is an inspirational leader who had a vision of equality. He was a mentor of freedom and the resolution of poverty and oppression. Old Major’s goal was that everyone share equally in the spoils. He represents a composite of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
Moses—a Raven who spreads stories about the heavenly Nirvana. He is, in many ways, a pacifist and idealistic zealot who tries to bring peace to his friends. He represents the exploitation of religion by the Communists.
Benjamin—a bold donkey and obsessed skeptic. He does little to change things yet comprehends and satirically shares his thoughts. He primarily shares his persistent skepticism. He represents the passive citizenry of communist Russia.
The Sheep—are dumb and easily duped. They are the passive true believers, unwilling to do anything to change the status quo. They represent the gulags of a totalitarian government.
The Canines—are vicious dogs who terrorize the animals. They are cruel, bigoted, xenophobic, national supremacists who have no conscience. They represent the Soviet secret police.
Mr. Pilkington, a neighbor, prefers simplicity leisure and represents the Allies.
Mr. Frederick, another neighbor, is vicious. He represents fascism.
Mr. Whymper, also a neighbor, is a greedy ultra-capitalist and businessman.
Think about it! Do Orwell’s animals and humans resonate with any current individuals of notoriety who exist or existed in our recent government, or that of other countries around the world?
George Orwell’s other dystopian novel “1984”, was written in 1949. It was written at a time when few people could imagine such a possibility. Not surprising, “1984” was written fresh after Nazi Germany’s blitzkrieg, occupation, and final capitulation. Few people could believe that such a dystopian message, a subtle warning that history could repeat itself, could occur soon after the devastation of World War II. His treatise strongly resembled a renewed Nazi Germany replete with nationalism and its ubiquitous propaganda machine. Its cornerstone became a totalitarian government where news was censored and carefully reconstructed as fake but credible news. It not only conveyed the party’s message but controlled the populace’s thinking. Its purpose was to polarize the people while systematically destroying its non-fascist factions.
Orwell’s portrayal creates an emotional nightmare for any reader who cannot possibly conceive of such future events. The author’s prescient prediction has very real implications to national and international states’ affairs. The vapid platitudes being espoused by the power-happy elite were shameless and noteworthy. Extreme capitalism siphoned almost 95% of all wealth to a very few while bankrupting the educated poor and severely diminishing the more educated middle class. The clichés, jingles, and stereotyping worked wonders in pigeonholing individuals. They were categorized as rotten, crooked, mean-spirited, or weak and incisive, yet effective. The results were contempt for decency and a lack of moral turpitude. These vindictive, petty statements created a polarization between the true believers and the nonbelievers. Divide and conquer was their game.
The conditions in “1984” were described as the landmass called Oceana, controlled by an extremely dystopian regime called Ingsoc. It depicted a time of constant warfare, where residents lived in constant fear and paranoia. They were encircled by spies and secret police, constantly surveilled, and inundated with fake news reports. The revised spoken language was called “newspeak”. The inhabitants were treated as gulags. Propagandized notifications appeared daily on the radio, TV, and outdoor monitors. The minions were constantly being subjected to various forms of surveillance by bugging and videotaping. All news was controlled and censored by the state. Any independence or individualism was unacceptable to the party, who was controlled by a small elite group with very special privileges. The elite savored their perks, otherwise denied to the public. These overseer elites lived in elegance controlling the residents’ independent thought, referred to as “thought crimes”, a very serious offense.
The oppressors of the citizenry were the “thought police”. They regularly arrested anyone whose thoughts were out of line, inconsistent with the party message.. Often, after interrogation, the thought police were authorized to euthanize them. The party’s impudence was rationalized by Big Brother, while the mawkish claques of true believers were revealed in his support. The true-believers jaundiced outlook ignored the deception and fraud amongst them, while those who were perceptive enough to recognize their oppression were persecuted. Daily, hundreds of these gladiators of freedom and democracy were savagely destroyed.
These oppressive techniques multiplied, including control of the social media available to an audience of billions. Controlling these communication platforms was no different than Hitler’s control of his nation by his puppets and their propaganda machines. Those who can control the media can control thought regardless of its accuracy. Although “fake news” was often discredited, many true believers accepted it as real and would repeat it, line and verse, as if scripted from the Holy Bible. Orwell’s Big Brother, whether real or a substitute Wizard of Oz, was a bold approach to poison minds with prejudice by the ruling elite. Big Brother’s daily scheduled messages filled with slogans in the vernacular of repeated “wordspeak” mesmerized his followers. Total control was their mission.
Although perhaps unthinkable, the omnipresent government used masterful manipulation and surveillance to accomplish its control. Likewise, the news media, controlled by an unconscionable wealthy elite, could perform the same feat described by the story’s protagonist, Winston Smith. While working for the Ministry of Truth, he was expected to perform his “historical revisionism” by rewriting past history that now supported the new regime. By fixing the past accounts with revised news and re-coined quotations, it powerfully supported the party line. Just as he re-fixed history, all evidence of the true history of the past was destroyed forever. Needless to say, Winston’s contempt for the party line eventually was discovered by the “thought police”. Subsequently, after much punishment and attempted mind-altering, he was eliminated. This surreal and severely thought-provoking novel has been repeatedly chosen as one of the finest literary pieces of the century.
Orwell’s “tsunami siren” continues to be heard by those concerned about tyrannical governments. I entreat you to explore and understand Orwell’s futuristic novel as a grist for the mill. Read and heed its implications. Do you see any parallels between: “Il Principe”, “Utopia”, “Animal Farm,” and “1984”??? Unfortunately, your new world is now fraught with many more challenges than mine. So tread carefully, be alert, and never take down your guard.
“Often people in power, charged with saving it from itself, bleed the society to death.”—Michael Lewis
“Boomerang” was a nonfiction book written by Michael Lewis. I especially enjoy him because not only is he a very gifted writer but he writes lucidly about a variety of subjects crucial to our modern society. He is a master at condensing complex topics into everyday social parlance. His amusing style captivates the reader with subjects so crucial to their future success and happiness. Whether it is decision-making, sports, hiring of the best qualified, the evils of our financial system, or the causes of economic crises, each can have a dramatic impact upon your life. They are serious subjects necessary for you to explore, understand, learn and act upon.
Why do I discuss financial markets? Because any one of us can easily be coerced into financial ruin by some of the reckless and tyrannical charlatans of the financial world. Unless you learns about financing, you will be subjugated to its temptations and fall prey to its appealing self-gratification. Soon it will be too late to look back at the devastation. Unfortunately, the temptations will look too good to be true, and they usually are. Once again, as mentioned earlier, you are subjected to what neuroscientists call an evolving brain. Part of humanity’s problem is that you are powered by this primitive brain that seeks immediate pleasure. Your higher-level functioning succumbs to poor self-control regulation. This inability to regulate self-control is found in all levels of society. This so-called primitive lizard brain was the cause of fallen empires, democratic governments, religions, political extremism, and tyrannical dictators. Unfortunately, your underdeveloped brain embraces the childish concept of instant gratification, often resulting in fiscal irresponsibility.
Recently overspending of Greece and the unwillingness of Germany and other nations to further enable their out-of-control economy almost caused a complete collapse of the European Union. This near-collapse resulted from the ballooning of “fatcats” spending frenzies, avarice, and power-hungry extremism. It included politicians, bankers, governments, and entrepreneurs. Mr. Lewis criticized and condemned these “fatcats” for allowing greed to overtake common sense. In particular, he said people took as much as they could because they could, without any regard for the common good or its consequences. These “takers” were not just high-level officials or financial types but ordinary citizens who were tax evaders or overpaid civil servants. The author stated, “It was not fate or coincidence that cities, states, and nations; but alone in a dark room with a pile of money, they were conditioned to grab as much as they could.” So, they pocketed piles of money by designing and packaging bad loans in a subprime market. The unscrupulous allowed the unsuspecting to obtain otherwise unobtainable loans by crafty financiers who then packaged and shamefully labeled them as prime investments and then sold them to unsuspecting investors. Both the debtor and the holder of this worthless paper lost an unconscionable amount of money. In his book Lewis provides real-life snapshots of persons of meager income being caught up in the frenzy, purchasing overpriced real estate, causing them to be overnight millionaires until the bubble burst and the panic began.
In many cases, the same overnight millionaires became penniless, besides losing all of their properties. My point is that societal chaos is not only a result of governance and greed for power but the avariciousness of both individuals and financial institutions. Money and possessions have been corruptors of humankind since their very inception.
I encourage you to read or review Michael Lewis’s book, “BOOMERANG”. It was compiled after the economic calamities of cheap money in the early 2000s. It is a very comprehensive and well-documented account of an old sociological truism, “the longer an organization exists, the further it gets away from its original mission”. Each of his chapters are sprinkled with subtle humor, insights, and lubricants to wisdom. Rather than banal bromides, he provides facts and figures. His lucid portrayal of the consequences of greed and power both in the United States and the European Central Bank is illuminating. This fiscal tsunami-affected Italy, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Greece. In addition, not only was it a crisis, it had a domino effect that created collateral damage across the globe.
Hopefully, this succinct commentary on the dangers of financial markets will provide insight to light your path to better financial success. On your journey, don’t forget the many observations, fears, concerns, predictions, and profundities of the well-grounded scholars of yesteryear. I bid you my best wishes in creating a world that beckons for a return to honesty, fair play, and morality.