A buddy and I sometimes joke about the reasons the Universe has not seen fit to let either of us win THE BIG ONE. It is never because of the staggering odds against it. It is always because the Universe knows better. With him, It knows how much of his winnings would be spent on the storied bevy of buxom beauties. With me, the Universe knows how much I would spend making trouble.
My failure to win, thus far, has never prevented me from making a wish-list, and checking it twice. One bullet point reasserted its presence just a few days ago. When reviewing it, I realized just wanting to start that particular kind of trouble makes me (among a host of other problematic attributes) presumptuous; judgmental; culturally insensitive; meddlesome; and maybe just downright ignorant.
Ah! Ignorance. That is really where this story begins: high school English class and one of the most important writers of the last century – George Orwell. We were reading his Animal Farm. It quickly became one of my favorites. I thought I knew exactly what he was saying, and to whom he was saying it. It was years later that I learned otherwise. Until that point, I truly believed Orwell had written a biting, satirical allegory on the American Revolution, its betrayal, and its present-day aftermath. How wrong I was, and how glad I am to this day that I remained in the dark as long as I did. The dark allowed me to see our history from a wholly different perspective. It prevented me from falling into a my-country-right-or-wrong mindset. The dark made way for objectivity.
Finding out what Orwell was really up to proved enlightening. Though my high school years were in the midst of the Cold War, the only thing I knew about the Soviet Union was what I learned in school, read in the newspaper or saw and heard on the television. You can imagine how all of this was presented. It was probably only slightly less filtered than what the Soviet Union was presenting to its populace. At any rate, the man Orwell sought to shine his light on, the brutal dictator Josef Stalin, died when I was a one-year-old, and his policies and legacy were repudiated by Nikita Khrushchev (in word, if not deed) when I was four. Stalin was directly responsible for the murder of millions of his compatriots, responsible for the undermining of the Russian Revolution, substituting a fascism that always seemed to smother such revolutions like infants in their cradles. Orwell (like my wife’s father and uncle) had gone to Spain to fight against the right-wing fascists devouring Europe. He did so nearly a decade before the rest of the world realized it had to do the same. Imagine his disappointment in seeing a revolution he admired succumb to the fascists of the left. Imagine my surprise at learning this.
So, one of my what-I-will-do-when-I-win fantasies from my trouble-making list came to mind while watching the news a few days ago. There was a story about an academy for training butlers to serve the rich – in China. Yes, you read that right. It was not about Taiwan, not Hong Kong, but mainland China – The People’s Republic, communist China. The real estate mogul bankrolling the school, when asked about how such a thing jibed with Mao’s revolution, said she believed it was necessary to keep the good things Mao said, but not the bad. It was not clear in which of those two categories she placed repression. It was then I was reminded why I’m never awarded money to blow. My mind immediately took flight in one of my fanciful forays over China in an old propeller plane. (Since it is fantasy, I can do so without getting shot down by the Chinese air force). Anyway, I’m flying back and forth over the countryside, and I’m dumping copy after copy, countless copies of Animal Farm on the farms and villages and cities below. The people read the book, and like I so many years ago, they know exactly what Orwell is saying, and to whom he is saying it. After awhile, thanks to Powerball and the power of literature, the masses rise, the pigs catch hell, the revolution is made right.
It warmed my heart recently to read Fidel Castro, Cuba’s unrepentant communist, is appalled by the Chinese. Despite his flaws, he at least remembers how his game is supposed to be played. Thanks to adolescent ignorance, Orwell helped me bear in mind how ours is supposed to be played as well.