Analogous to...

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010

I stumbled across an essay the other day by George Orwell, and I spent some time trying to process the essay; what about this story insisted I pay attention. I'm posting it here in full. I should add, however, that, since there's no need to let this long beautiful essay dominate the page, please click the read more link at the end of this excerpt to read the entire essay.


Shooting an Elephant

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, IN SAECULA SAECULORUM, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old .44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful IN TERROREM. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant’s doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone “must.” It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of “must” is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours’ journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of “Go away, child! Go away this instant!” and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend’s house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant—I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary—and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd’s approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant—it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery—and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a LARGE animal.) Besides, there was the beast’s owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick—one never does when a shot goes home—but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frighfful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open—I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

--George Orwell (1939)
Read Orwell's entire essay


A mob [Entitlement Slaves] has gathered. In full possession of its spite and ire for the behemoth [the Constitution] determined to tear down what these squatters have built up, the mob looks to the Imperial [Liberalism], his long carbine over one shoulder, five fat slugs in his shirt pocket-- not unlike five smooth stones and a sling --to bring down this "destructive" giant and replace it with the giant facade of greater personal liberty.

The Imperial doesn't have to shoot the elephant but his growing boot of colonial serfdom has been so long on Liberty's throat it seems best to put the beast-- our Constitution --out of its misery. The mob behind him-- entitlement slaves --both hating the hand that supports them and loving him for the boons he grants them, salivate at the prospect of stripping the carcass. He doesn't have to shoot the elephant but he's oppressed the unwashed for so long he both sees himself as their protector and beneficent lord. He knows better than the pachyderm what nature has to say about freedom, and balance. And in the end botches the killing, forcing it to suffer a prolonged and painful death.


I find the parallels here to be curious: The Mob, ignorant and both distrustful and dependent upon the Imperial. The Elephant struggling to live the life it was meant to live in the face of the Imperial who sees himself as superior and justified in killing the law the elephant represents, and the Mob who wants what it wants, the Elephant be damned. I don't think the Imperial understands what he's done. And the Mob can't think beyond the meat they've hacked from freedom's corpse.

George Orwell later wrote something that perfectly describes this scenario:


War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Strength is Ignorance.


Are we there yet?

10 comments:

BenT - the unbeliever,  March 25, 2010 at 3:13 PM  

This is the passage that leapt out to me: "For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do."

In this quote I see the dilemma of Republican leaders. They have this great mass of supporters behind them. People that they absolutely can not afford to look a fool in front of. So even though there is a moderate health care bill full of ideas that Republicans invented and proposed in the debates of health care in 93-94. They can't deny the crowd. They can't give in because then their supporters might question their authority. They can't say the most liberal parts of the bill have already been killed (public option, medicare buy-in). They can't say we could have dealt with this issue years before. So what they have to do is give the conservative supporters a show ... of strength, of defying something that isn't really a threat, something so that conservative supporters won't turn on their leaders.

That's the analogy this poignant passage brings to my mind. Eric's analogy I can't see at all. What is an entitlement slave? Or what does he mean when he references the Constitution?

Would it change Eric's viewpoint to know that more than 85% of those on welfare have full-time or part-time work? Does he count seniors with Medicare and Social Security as entitlement slaves? How would he restructure our modern society to free these "slaves"?

Or perhaps my disconnect with Eric's analogy is with his view of the constitution as something perfect and eternal. Something that must never be changed or interpreted anything. I've always viewed the Constitution as akin to a house. A structure within which people (who are more important than the structure), can be sheltered to grow and prosper and mature. A structure which can be expanded or redesigned or rearranged within, to provide for the people it harbors better.

But of course if you look hard enough you can find analogies in the shapes of clouds and the future in a cup of tea. When what you're really seeing in those abstract mediums is a reflection of yourself.

ELAshley March 25, 2010 at 4:40 PM  

Nothing wrong with the Constitution changing. Something most definitely wrong is shooting it dead in hopes of a perpetual political majority.

New Poll from CBS...

Most Want GOP to Keep Fighting on Health Bill

62% of Americans want Republicans to keep on fighting... 89% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats, and 66% of Independents. 62%... that's 10% more than voted for Obama.

"So what they have to do is give the conservative supporters a show ... of strength, of defying something that isn't really a threat"

Not really a threat? Your level of ignorance is astounding. You haven't been paying attention. And I fear you never will. Doesn't mean I don't like you though!

No single-payer option? Do you think this particular bill is the end? Fool if you say yes. This bill is just the spring-board to single-payer. This bill will kill the private insurance industry. What will happen then? The government will step in. And we'll be on our way to insolvency and crappy European style medical care.

Be smug all you want. But your party is dead.

BenT - the unbeliever,  March 25, 2010 at 10:23 PM  

Most European countries:

1. Spend less than half per person then the United States on health care.
2. Provide more comprehensive health care services to their citizens.
3. Have better medical outcomes than comparable US patients.
4. Live longer healthier lives than Americans.

Lord please let us have a health care system equal to most of Europe's!

Plus I gotta ask you what's so great about the health insurance industry?

ELAshley March 26, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

Some time back I asked the same basic question as you: what's so great about the IRS that abolishing it in favor of the FairTax, would be an awful thing? Your response? All those hundreds of thousands of employees would be out of work! But now that it'll be hundreds of thousands of Insurance employees you can't even muster a crocodile tear!

For the rest, the Heritage Foundation published in 2001 'Perspectives on the European Health Care Systems: Some Lessons for America'

* If you insist on government management of the health care system, do not expect freedom from waste, inefficiency, or inequity in the delivery of care (look at France).

* If you want to promise citizens a national or state program of universal insurance coverage, don't expect that you will be able to deliver universal access to high-quality health care. You won't and you can't (look at Britain).

* If you want to fix prices for medical services, prescription drugs, or other medical devices, don't expect demand for these goods and services to be met or investment in research and development to continue apace. It won't (look anywhere).

* If you insist, with a straight face, that in a government-run health care system, all of your fellow citizens will be treated equally -- regardless of their class, station in life, or disease condition -- you are not merely enthusiastic or well intentioned. You are lying.


And this was 2001.

Here are a fraction of headlines found at "The Problems with Socialized Health Care" taken straight from the newspapers in England. Follow the link and you'll find all these and more, including links to each story.

Straight from the newspapers:

* Burnham Forgets 230,000 on List
-August 14, 2009 [Daily Express (UK)]

* Couples Face an IVF Postcode Lottery
-August 6, 2009 [Daily Express (UK)]

* Kidney cancer patients denied life-saving drugs by NHS rationing body NICE
-April 29, 2009 [Daily Mail (UK)]

* Girl, 3, has heart operation cancelled three times because of bed shortage
-April 23, 2009 [Times Online]

* Number of children going to hospital to have teeth pulled soars by 66% since 1997
-April 12, 2009 [Daily Mail (UK)]

* Cancer survivor confronts the health secretary on 62-day wait
-March 21, 2009 [The Scotsman]

* Children being failed by health system, says head of watchdog
-March 21, 2009 [Guardian Unlimited]

* Our cancer shame: Survival rates still lag behind EU despite spending billions
-March 20, 2009 [Daily Mail(UK)]

* Failing hospital 'caused deaths'
- March 17, 2009 [BBC]


I don't know where you're getting your "facts" but none of the articles listed above speak to liv[ing] longer healthier lives. Quite the contrary, actually. I see no evidence of better medical outcomes either. Colon cancer deaths are higher in Canada than in the U.S.. Why? Because of the longer wait for screening and treatment.

Your argument is unpersuasive and terribly naïve.

ELAshley March 26, 2010 at 9:12 AM  

Furthermore my argument takes back seat to the desires of the American people who, in a CBS poll no less, want Republicans to continue fighting democratic healthcare reform... by 62%

Europe's healthcare system is a mess, as is Canada's. Nova Scotia's top man just a few months ago came to the US for heart surgery because he didn't want to wait-- as he would have had to under his country's system.

If Europe's healthcare system is superior to ours why do so many world leaders choose the US when it comes to critical treatment?

But again, the question is beside the point. 62% of Americans polled by CBS do not want Obamacare, hence their desire that Republicans continue the fight.

Your attitude in this is the same as all those arrogant leftists in Washington. You know better what the people need and you'll foist it upon them whether they want it or not.

ELAshley March 26, 2010 at 9:16 AM  

No one on the right is saying this nation doesn't need healthcare reform. What we are saying is that government has no business nationalizing 51% of our economy... which is the number being bandied about. 51% being the number equivalent to ALL the nationalizing government has thus far done. We are fast on our way to Chavez Land.

Obama has no right as president to destroy the foundations upon which this country has flourished for centuries.

Edwin Drood March 27, 2010 at 3:15 PM  

Off topic:
Could you put the links back on the front page. I use this site as a jumping off point to Casting Pearls, Load Stones and MA's blog. I guess I could just make book marks but I jump around to a lot of different computers.

Mark March 27, 2010 at 3:32 PM  

Edwin, they are still here. They just got moved to the sidebar.

Edwin Drood March 28, 2010 at 9:29 AM  

Sure enough, I guess this proves I'm not good with "change"

Craig March 28, 2010 at 5:28 PM  

But there's still hope

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Barry Obama : The Young Turk


Young Turk:
Date: 1908
Function: noun
Etymology: Young Turks, a 20th century revolutionary party in Turkey
:an insurgent or a member of an insurgent group especially in a political party : radical; broadly
:one advocating changes within a usually established group.





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