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The Useful Idiot: The Circle

Absolute freedom and absolute tyranny both can be defined and enforced starting with the individual.  If the individual is not free, neither is society as a whole. If individuals are tyrannical without resistance, society eventually becomes tyrannical. Both the left and right sides of the political spectrum often use the term “useful idiots” to refer to those individuals who are fanatical to a fault in believing in the cause of their respective sides. These individuals are useful in the sense that without them tyranny would not gain a foothold and fools in the sense that they willfully ignore the truth and fail to anticipate the larger picture for the future.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (now a movie starring Emma Watson) tells the story of one useful, unthinking idiot, generally a progressive, but only in the sense that she wants to be part of the “in” crowd. The readers gets the feeling this twenty-something, Mae, would joyfully promote whatever was deemed to be popular and eagerly becomes part of and instigator in what can best be described as a “happy” fascism (see Hitler happy face on Jonah Goldberg’s bestseller Liberal Fascism). Her story instantly brings to mind the timeless quote by C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

I read The Circle in about a day and a half. The book consumed me and I think not unlike the unhealthy way that media in general can consume an individual’s attention. It is a horror story in the purest sense, relating our own eagerness to create hell on earth and highlighting that whatever technology humans create, there is always, always a downside. That Egger’s writing reels the reader into being able not to do much but read the story, he is genius in recreating the addictiveness of entertainment and the desire to “know.”

The Circle fits into two story genres for me, the first and perhaps more benign one of young people (often women) obtaining a dream job in which the company consumes their life, draining and using them up all for the almighty dollar. This story belongs alongside The Firm and The Devil Wears Prada as much as it also belongs with 1984. The second category, those stories of totalitarianism is what makes The Circle rise far above the first genre.  In reading the story, those who are well-read or have seen totalitarian films or movies will find instant parallels to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Minority Report, The Giver, Antitrust, and thousands of other, similar stories.

Mae’s useful idiocy in The Circle is truly amazing. The Circle is a modern tech company with tentacles in every conceivable human endeavor, clearly symbolic of Google, Facebook, Apple, and the like. The story is so horrifying because the consuming nature of social media and modern technology has become evident to all. People spend thousands of hours a year (including myself) scrolling through news feeds, trying out new apps, liking and disliking, and commenting on topics we know little about. We see daily how our privacy is constantly infringed upon, whether it be yet another requirement in airport security or cameras installed (with or without our knowledge) in our neighborhood. This is presumably all to keep us safe, but leaves us more vulnerable than every to tyranny.

Useful idiots are hard to resist because together they make up millions and millions of people.  Technology makes it easy to become disconnected to reality. Just think of all the people rapidly accepting the Transgender movement without question. It’s easy to take on a cause online. One doesn’t have to think or research or actually comprehend the larger picture. With social media, it is also increasingly easy to think that “online” equals reality. Think of when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in Africa. What was our response?  The #bringbackourgirls hashtag for Twitter. The Circle parodies this perfectly as Mae “frowns” at a militant group terrorizing another country and then becomes concerned that the militant group will, first of all care that she is virtually frowning at them, and second of all, take steps to stop their behavior. Laughably, she also worries that they will physically try to target and attack her due to her one “frown” among millions of others.

To perhaps highlight just how unthinking Mae is, Eggers shows her as a young woman eager to sleep with almost anyone, even those she’s really not attracted to. This relates directly to the social justice nonsense that people are some how “-ist” (racist, agist, sexist) if they have preferences along race, gender and so on for romantic partners. Just as Mae feels bad if she doesn’t instantly reply to any message from anyone around the world in The Circle system, it’s no jump to figure she would feel just as bad rejecting any of the same people’s sexual advances. One of her partners seems to only use her for sex and then suddenly, inexplicably, relies on her to save the planet from tyranny. Mae isn’t the only useful idiot, just the one we happen to follow in the story.

The part where The Circle implements “instant democracy” is profound. Mae herself still can’t just immediately mark or voice her opinion. She (who has a lot of influence and power by this time) waits until others have given their “smiles” or “frowns” before she herself chooses the most popular option. If there was one thing I could change about modern education it would be to have a class clearly discussing and explaining to young minds just what democracy is and means. Pure democracy isn’t much different from mob rule and the only reason the young champion it is because they are young and are being taught by totalitarians. If all of one’s opinions match perfectly with those already in power, it is easy to think that pure democracy is a great thing. It’s easy to think that the governments have every right to force their citizens to speak or even to think a certain way.

The true horror of The Circle is that it is an all-knowing, all-seeing, mandatory participation system created and run by humans. If atheists think God is awful or should be disbelieved for demanding holiness, they should consider the alternative: humanity trying to be God.  This is the “god” that Satan would have for the world. In this Tower of Babel system, people have no chance to opt out, no rest from interference from their fellow humans, and perhaps most importantly, no forgiveness and no real love.  It is an evil that Boromir of Lord of the Rings would say “does not sleep.”

As harsh, or rather as just as God is, for love of us, He made a way out of punishment and eternal damnation. In Hell, there is no God and no forgiveness. Hell’s inhabitants have no relief from the evil they have done and that is the basis of their torment. We joke that everyone online is permanent, but it’s really no joke, and past information on people (especially of a political nature) is often used as a weapon against them and by all sides.

The invasive tracking of the individual in The Circle also brings to mind biblical prophesies like that in Revelation in which people are forced to wear the “mark of the beast” to buy or sell anything. The ironic thing about constant surveillance and tracking is that it is at the same time very inept. If the NSA tracks our every keystroke, in looking for the criminals, their haystack is impossibly huge. In addition, even though the information is in the “cloud” or “ether,” it still needs a physical space to be stored and itself uses a ton of physical resources. Talk about a burden on nature.

The Circle was so horrifying to me because it’s not so much telling the future, but telling what’s going on right now. The good thing is that people are becoming tired of social media. The bad thing is, once the next big social media site has a foothold, the obsession will start all over again. It’s at once great and also terrifying technology. People are peer-pressured into only sharing positive things online. People are increasingly (myself included) mistaken in the importance of their own opinions and thoughts. People are pushed into holding up only the popular or politically correct views and are more and more afraid of listening to any other views. In fact, young people especially, are starting to believe that any view that doesn’t conform with their own, or that of their college professors, is dangerous, and–even more remarkably–as physically dangerous to their person. This is where the “snowflake” accusation comes into play. We are attempting to make the world into a place where no negative or bad thing is spoken, seen, heard, or felt.  However, as any realist knows, this is futile. It is impossible to erase all of the bad things in the world and it is impossible to make utopia. This experiment is bound to fail in the long run, and worse than failure, will likely end with totalitarian oppression that must be overturned with physical violence. If one side will not listen to the other, if we “don’t use our words” as Stefan Molyneux often says, “we must use our fists.” This is no more clearly shown in episodes like that of the Berkeley riots against anyone on the “right” side of the political spectrum, and the rise of Antifa, purportedly a group against fascism, but fascistic itself and prone to physical violence against anyone who merely disagrees with them. Brave new world indeed.

Sensitivity Readers

This baffles me. Why hire someone to read your work and ensure you don’t offend anyone? Actually, not “anyone,” but those who live and breathe by whatever current form of political correctness is in place. As a writer, there is no guarantee, no matter what you write, that you will never offend someone. That truth alone should make the practice of hiring a “sensitivity reader” a poor investment, but pour on top of that the increasingly shrill culture of offense today and the question becomes: Why write in the first place? How in our overly sensitive PC culture can one hope to be any sort of artist without offending that culture at some point? And the rules of what is “offensive” are changing all the time.

It used to be a badge of honor for writers and artists to offend the prevalent narrative or world view. Why the heck would any writer want their stories or essays to be so lukewarm that they offend no one? How far down the rabbit hole have we gone even thinking that’s it’s possible to never offend. What about the readers who want exciting stories that challenge how they view the world? What about the offense they take at a boring story with feminists rants they’ve heard a hundred times already? No, no, let’s give them more drivel toeing the PC line. Keep to the status quo, everybody’s doing it. Marxist collectivism, when it’s not murderous is actually really boring. Everyone must be the same all the time with no differences, whether in dress or viewpoint. Used to be that artists were the ones holding this stuff back. Now, they share in the oppression of anything remotely interesting.

Fellow writers, if it’s authenticity you’re worried about, hire a good researcher, not some “sensitivity” tool.  If your book sparks a reaction, great, that means that people are reading it, that they care about it, and that they will tell more people about it who will spend their money to read it and will also be talking about it.  Twilight had a lot of mockers and offended many, but they were all talking about it and you couldn’t walk anywhere for months without hearing about sparkly vampires. Guess who now has enough money to continue writing and getting better at her craft? Uh, huh, that’s right.

Should our goal be to offend? I suppose that depends on what kind of writer you want to be. Satirists thrive on offense. If you’re just a storyteller like me, though, the goal is to tell an exciting and engaging story and often that involves challenging readers’ sensitivities. So what?  They are reading, and that is the point.

 

Political Correctness and the Ministry of Magic

Since that awful day on September 11th, 2001, I have watched in perplexity as politically correct Progressivism has tied itself into knots to deny that we are in a war against Islam. Some will want to chastise me for saying that, but it’s true. Islam is the enemy, not radical Islam, but Islam itself, for no one can be a radical Islamist without first being a follower of Islam. Islam is a religion, an ideology, a governmental system, and a way of life that is completely incompatible with the West and our freedoms. In Islam there is no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom for women, and no freedom for those of other faiths and lifestyles.

Never have I seen such a passion as I have in the past couple of weeks by fellow Americans to assure me that Islam is a “religion of peace.” If only they had a tenth of that passion for defending their own country and their own religion (some of these defenders are Christians), what a different world that might be. Instead, fellow Americans, including those in our government are much like the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter series in their increasingly ridiculous attempts to deny that Voldemort has return—I mean that radical Islamists are causing terror around the world. Forget Islam in general, even calling the radicals terrorists is a bridge too far for some, and I have to wonder, is that reason fear? Are Islamists “they who must not be named?”

If you’ve read Harry Potter, you know that as the hero and his friends try to thwart the evil magician’s plans that they are continually hampered at every turn by the very politically correct Ministry of Magic, the UK magical world’s government. The Ministry refuses at times to even acknowledge there’s a threat. They chastise Harry for every un-PC action and are not even willing to give him a chance to explain himself. They put him on trial for breaking a law without wanting to listen to the reason he broke it. Harry illegally uses magic to ward off soul-sucking creatures that are attacking him and and his non-magical cousin (a cousin he thoroughly detests, yet chooses to save, btw). Instead of investigating why these dangerous Dementors who are supposed to be guarding a magical high-security prison are instead attacking teens, the Ministry chooses to try and strip Harry of using magic, maliciously attempting to leave him defenseless.

Farther into the series, Ministry official Dolores Umbridge (love that name) refuses to even let the Hogwarts students continue learning Defense Against the Darks Arts. No need for self-defense, government’s got it, right? Gun control, anyone? Watch or read Order of the Phoenix and tell me that Umbridge’s whole schtick isn’t a mirror image of the current “safe spaces” movement where one doesn’t want to hear anything unpleasant, un-PC, or anything resembling the truth. Tell me it doesn’t illustrate a perfect picture of an inept government unable to protect its citizens, while at the same time dismissing their very real fears and experiences, and even worse, denying them the right to defend themselves.

The prankster Weasley twins, Fred and George, represent the best of Libertarianism as they tease Umbridge at every turn, bringing laughter and joy to students as she tries to suck it out of them with rule after politically correct rule. Adding even more insult, Fred and George drop out of school to start a thriving, creative business that in no way needs the Ministry’s help to succeed. They are the very picture of Entrepreneurship and Capitalism.

The most disturbing part in comparing PC puritans with the Ministry of Magic is that in the end it was discovered that the Ministry itself was infiltrated by Voldemort’s supporters. Just why is it so neccessary for our government to deny Islam as the root cause for most of the terrorism going on in the world? What’s really at stake here? Bad enough if it’s merely fear worrying them (As an aside, defending Islam won’t save one if Islamists do take over. One’s house, like the Voldy-loyal Malfoy family, will be the first to be occupied. One’s safety will be constantly in question as one must cave to increasingly more uncomfortable demands, the final demand which may even be one’s life or the lives of those one holds dear), what if the motivation is more because they share commonalities with the Islamists or are even supporters of jihad themselves? At this stage in the game, is seems a reasonable question to ask.  Anyone remember good old Andrew McCarthy? He called out numerous people in the U.S. government for being Communists and Communist sympathizers (another ideology incompatible with our freedoms). They don’t bother to tell one in school today, but turns out Andrew McCarthy was right.

We can debate all day long over what to do about terrorism, both foreign and domestic, but we cannot even have that discussion if we don’t acknowledge what it is we’re up against. Islam is at the center of terrorism today. The first step in defeating the extremists is in acknowledging this fact. So interested are we in puffing ourselves up in “tolerance” (we’re just so awesome and special and PC) that we are putting ourselves and our countries in very real danger. How many more people must be slaughtered before we wake up? Let me also add, this denial has been an issue for the U.S. before, namely in not recognizing the great threat that Hitler and his Nazis presented to the free world. J.K. Rowling’s depiction of the Ministry of Magic echoes the very real history that we are dooming ourselves to repeat. Our current government is threatening those who would speak any ill against Islam. Is this a direction that will keep a free society free? Is this a direction that will help in the fight against terrorism?

Let’s take note from Harry and Co. and press on despite the idiocy of political correctness. Let us take on the threat calmly and firmly, forgiving those like Malfoy, who will eventually realize they are fighting for the wrong side and will wish to come back to the right one. Let us accept them back with open arms. Let us join together with those who love freedom. More than that, let us speak up for love, goodness, and faith. Let us speak up for America and for the West and the good they have done for the world. Let us speak up for freedom of speech and for freedom of religion, both of which are so important to the sharing of the Christian gospel that Christ died for our sins so we could live (ok, shameless plug, but it’s honestly the best news in the world).

Let us speak up for self-defense and against the lies that we are mere children who should have no say in our own security. Let us speak up for the fact that although most Muslims may be peaceful, their religion is not. Let us speak up for the fact that a Republic and a Democracy are better than Sharia. Let us speak up for the fact that both men and women are worthy sexes, that both play key roles in society, roles which should be cherished, not reduced to a burka. Let us speak up for the truth and let us not allow lies to flourish. Let us be free in the truth, even when the truth is painful or difficult to hear. Politically correct lies are cancerous tumors that can only be exorcised with the sword of truth. Let us ridicule PC-dom with so much truth and joy that like Umbridge against the Weasley twins it is left exhausted and maybe even a little impressed by our living  so brazenly without it.

(This post has been updated to fix some typos.)

If Not Now, When?

Hey blogging world, I’m back again and with a perhaps controversial musing to kick things off.  Well, what’s not controversial today, right?  As I’ve finally wrestled most of my procrastination into submission, I am finally done with a good, clean first draft of Trolls for Dust, Season Two.  It will still be a few months before I publish and I have to fix some things, proofread, get a few critiques, etc., but to those of you who have been waiting for what may seem like forever to learn the fate of Harmony, Hezzy, Eva, and crew — I’ve not forgotten either about you or the story!

Ok, on with the musing:

The world is marching towards Totalitarianism which is a governmental system requiring complete and total submission to the State.  If you’ve never read 1984, now would be a really good time.  In that book, citizens not only have to do what the government says, they have to love doing it.  This march is being accomplished largely by Progressivism which embraces the State as a god and disregards morality, human life, religion, common sense, and the family all in a long grand march Forward for power.  And it is power for themselves the Progressives want, not “equality” or whatever compassionate word of the day they spout.  The most frightening thing about all of this is that few appear to see it happening and some that do just want to stick their heads in the sand and hope it will all go away.

Ever watch the cartoon Pinky and the Brain?  In each episode Pinky asks “What are we gonna do tonight, Brain?”  And Brain always responds, “We’re going to try and take over the world,” or a similar response.  The world is a lot like that cartoon in the sense that someone, some Totalitarian, some tyrant or tyrants are always trying to take over the world.  Totalitarians go under different names such as Communists, Fascists, Islamists, Progressives and the like, but they all have one thing in common:  All these ideologies require compliance down to our very thoughts, if possible.

I am writing this post today to encourage people to speak out against what’s happening, because if not now, when?  Do we do it when the thought police, yes, thought police, invade our homes in the middle of the night? (Already happened — I’m looking at you, Wisconsin).  Until our freedom of speech is threatened? (Already happening, just look up the latest weekly outrage on either the Left or the Right)  Until our freedom of religion is threatened? (Already happening)  Until we have a literal gun of the State to our heads?  I think speaking up for the truth and our beliefs (whatever those may be) is the least we can do.  The world may march onward into darkness, but we don’t have to lie down and make that march an easy one.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak boldly, especially with your family and friends.  You may find you disagree on more than you realized, and that’s ok.  When the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, where the people closest to you are going to stand could be important.  It’s also important to find out why others believe what they do.  Do both sides have logical reasoning, or are both being carried only on emotion?  You may also pleasantly find that you agree on a lot, and maybe even on key things like liberty and the idea that the common man can generally rule himself and his own life.  It’s a sad world indeed we are making if two friends or family members can’t sit down and have a discussion or debate without getting ridiculously upset.  If we can discuss things with people we know, all the better for discussing and debating those we don’t know.  And, boy, do we need practice in debate.

I am a self-confessed comments junky.  I love reading online comments, especially on political articles or whatever the offensive thing of the day is.  In the comments, sure there’s sometimes a lot of meanness, but more often there’s quite a bit of humor, some good reasoning on both sides, and the comforting fact that people care enough about an issue to comment.  People do care and almost all of them have an opinion one way or another.  There’s people who see the big picture and some who see the details.  Having those people connect online is awesome.  Yeah, there’s trolls, but there’s always going to be trolls.  The biggest thing that stands out in the comments, though (and I am as guilty as the next person), is that there is often no logical argument being built, though the people arguing both think they are using logic.  I firmly believe that when it comes to making and enacting laws and/or policy, common sense and logic need to prevail.  This is especially important when challenging an unreasonable law.   Common sense (which isn’t so common anymore) is the common man’s weapon against the forces of ideological tyranny.  And tyranny most often comes from governments, so we’d be best focusing on liberty for all, worrying less about what government can do for us and more about what it’s doing to us, worrying less about the wrongs of the past and more about the ones going on right now.  (Incidentally, the U.S. Constitution is all about what the government can’t do to the citizens).

More on the subject of free speech:  It’s a terrible world we are building if we think that saying the wrong thing should mean a person be automatically fired, their name dragged through the mud, their family be terrorized by protestors on the lawn, and that they should be bankrupted, publicly shamed and humiliated all by the force of government.  That sounds more like a Maoist China than it does a free America, and it’s the environment in which Totalitarians thrive.  These days discussion and debate are being tossed on the altar of lock-step PC Progressivism which knows no forgiveness and will not stop its march even after it has won.

 Isn’t it alarming that no one can give a speech anymore without protestors trying to shout them down, not even the President?  Freedom of speech should mean that a person can at least give their speech and have their say.  It doesn’t mean they are free from criticism and negative reactions, but they should at least have the freedom to speak, don’t you think? And people may not always word things well, but can’t we get off our continual motion machine of offense long enough to see the truth of what they are trying to say?  None of us have perfect grammar, spelling, and/or eloquence, not one.

The biggest thing people are afraid of hearing is the Truth.  The Truth cuts to the heart like nothing else and can be hard to take (think anything Donald Trump said recently).  The Truth is that the world, but specifically America and the West, is barreling down a dangerous path to tyranny.  If we don’t speak up now, then when?  Do we hold our comforts, safety, and security so dear that we can barely find a voice to defend them?  Do we have such low self-esteem that being called “bigot” or “racist” when we are merely stating the truth, silences us?  And for the Christians:  Is our faith, is our God, that fragile that simply mounting a defense for freedom of religion will shatter it or Him?

Today is the day to speak up for Truth and Freedom, for tomorrow we may be silenced or worse.  All Totalitarian systems have a knack for eliminating anyone who disagrees with them.  The body count is terribly high.  For the sake of our families and children, for the sake of our fellow man, we must find the courage to at least speak out.

The good news is that more and more people are speaking out every day.  And the more people speak out, the more people speak out, making tyranny’s foothold all the more unstable, and making total power of the Progressives all the more elusive.

The Assets

The AssetsThere’s no better spy story than a true spy story.  The Assets miniseries now playing on Netflix tells the real story of a mole hunt within the CIA, a hunt that started in 1985 and took many more years than it should have to find the guilty culprit.  Although I didn’t find Jodi Whittaker (BBC’s Broadchurch) to be the best choice for playing officer Sandy Grimes, she did a decent job despite her unnatural-looking blond hair, and the teenage-like tantrums that may have been more the fault of the writers/directors than the actor.  Paul Rhys (Borgia) was perfect as cocky-yet-geeky traitor Aldrich Ames.  Has ever a man been so obviously influenced by a love interest?

What keeps The Assets compelling is that it bounces between the CIA offices, the Russian assets they are recruiting, and Grimes’s difficulty balancing her secretive work with family life.  Themes running throughout the miniseries cover bureaucracy/institutionalism vs. doing the right thing, how the definitions of “traitor,” and “hero” change depending what side one is on.  Based on the book Circle of Treason by Sandy Grimes and her colleague Jeanne Vertefeuille (a wonderful performance by Harriet Walker), the series indicates that were it not for the persistence of these two women, Ames would have never been caught because the heads of the CIA didn’t really seem to care.  Chilling, if true, and a stark contrast to the KGB that is shown taking great pains to weed out any possible traitor in their midst.

Indeed, the scenes showing the fates of both the US operatives in Russia and their assets are the most compelling in the series, revealing just how sinister Ames’s actions were.  These women and those on their team are to be commended for their bravery and persistence in pursuing the truth.  The last few scenes had me in tears as truth won out.

For a full understanding at how closely The Assets fits the real story, watch the final episode, which is a documentary with real interviews and historical background.  I find the journalists’ mockery of the CIA, and especially their unfair condemnation of officer Vertefeuille to be irritating, as so many journalists, especially today, can’t defend or praise the US for any action, no matter how good, just, or honorable, people who throughout the years have most times chosen the stance opposite US interests, pretending that this stance makes them “objective.”

On the positive side, both Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel both have obvious contempt for Ames and his wife in their interviews.  Also, it is highly embarrassing that Ames was allowed to get away with his treachery for so long, and it is remarkable that he was actually caught, and equally remarkable that the CIA did not appear to foresee such a threat.  Sandy Grimes’s obvious delight in the truth and seeing Alrich sentenced is also refreshing in a society that puts increasing emphasis on sympathizing and understanding evildoers, instead of stopping them.

It’s also refreshing to see communism portrayed correctly as an undesirable type of government, an ideology that spouts love for the common man and for freedom, but always turns out to be the exact opposite.  Communism is merely one side on the die of totalitarianism, just like socialism, fascism, and progressivism.  All four ideologies are touted by those who believe that those in power know better than the common man (incidentally this thought usually begins with a hatred of both morality and Christianity) in how to run their lives, whether it be seeing the common people as too stupid or too poor to take care of themselves, or both.

These are not friendly ideologies, but sinister ones that lead to death camps, eugenics, euthanasia, abortion, mass executions, and the like.  All four ideologies are summarized by a flagrant disregard for human life, especially the lives of those most vulnerable in society, and many in service to them are revealed in history to be some of the worst murderers and torturers that the world has ever seen.  Most chilling is the institutionalization of murder where barbaric acts are seen as “civilized,” and desirable in an “enlightened” society.  The barbarism doesn’t often happen overnight, but takes a number of years to be engrained, for any resistance to the idea that some human lives are worth more than others, needs to be quietly stamped out, as most people’s consciences initially object to such a thought.

Another side to the die, is Islamism, a system that is just as totalitarianism as the others, and currently a more immediate threat to the West, though the others aren’t far behind as the people of the West increasingly look to governments for their daily needs and tell themselves that if something is “legal” it must be “right.”  Western people condemn Christianity and Judaism for “judging,” but happily defend and embrace a religion for more censorious and dangerous.  It’s nice to watch a story in which good and evil are not swapped, and a story in which ordinary people are revealed to be the most capable in caring for the welfare of their fellow citizens.  It’s also of note for any ideology, capitalism included, that some will always want for more money/power, and will do anything to get it, even if it involves taking lives, thus the unwillingness of the CIA to understand that a traitor was in their midst.

Book Review: Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14Escape from Camp 14 is one of those true stories that makes one question oneself.  Shin Dong-Hyuk, the titled escapee, is from the beginning presented as an unreliable narrator.  The author, Blaine Harden, is a journalist attempting to set the record straight on what actually happened in Shin’s life, as Shin has changed his story from the first time Harden wrote about him.

If we’re used to reading fiction, we as readers don’t often fully considered unreliable narrators.  If we’re citizens of affluent countries reading about hardships in other countries our expectations tend to be a desire for some kind of cathartic experience.  This is reflected in many of the reviews of the book both on Amazon and Goodreads where readers express their frustration that they did not have an emotional connection with the main character.  This is said to be Harden and also Shin’s fault, but I pose the possibility that this has nothing to do with them, but our expectations as readers.  Why do we desire a cathartic experience from Shin’s story?  Does he owe us this for some reason?  Will we have our experience and then go on and take down the North Korean government?  Will we throw money at the problem and hope it goes away?  These questions are not to blame readers, but to probe our expectations.  Yes, Shin is an unreliable narrator.  He’s human and just as sinful as both us and his oppressors.  Sometimes we forget that like any human being, victims sometimes lie, are sometimes selfish, and often don’t fit into whatever box in our mind that we’ve created for them.

Shin is a victim because he was raised in the camps, but he’s also not a victim, he’s a survivor.  He feels guilt for what he did in the camps, but all of his betrayals, right or not, helped him to survive.  He’s still trying to survive in a world where he’s expected to behave like someone who grew up in freedom.  He’s expected to be honest, but was never raised to be honest.  Yes, his lying is irritating, but does it really lessen his story?  It’s obvious he went through trauma of some kind, and I think it’s kind of morbid on our part to want the victim to recount their awful experiences in gory detail just so we can have an emotional connection.  These people are plagued by guilt and continual nightmares and we want catharsis for ourselves, just because we want to be entertained.  I ask again, does an emotional response mean we are actually going to do something about the problem, or will we think on it a day or two and move on with our lives?  This isn’t, again, to criticize, this is to be realistic.  Stories of this kind are important to be told, but for most it’s one book in a long line of books that we read in our lifetime.  So our expectations should perhaps be more reasonable.  The truth isn’t easy to come by.  It wasn’t during WWII with the Nazi camps, and it isn’t now.  Shin’s story is his story and if we learn something from it (even if the details aren’t exactly perfect), that’s not a bad thing, and in the end, he doesn’t owe us a thing.  We can criticize his way of thinking and his actions, but that’s not going to change his actions or his way of thinking.  He’s a flawed human being, just like we are.  And just like us, he knows his faults and is trying to remedy them.

Speaking of criticism, I found the paragraphs discussing the callousness of South Korea’s response to the atrocities of the North as the pot calling the kettle black.  South Korea and the United States are both driven by work, success, and the like.  We like working, want to succeed, and have done so many times over, often to the peril of personal relationships and human kindness.  This, however, does not make Capitalism, competition, making money, or the drive to succeed bad in and of themselves.  To try to succeed in life is honorable, to make something of ourselves is also honorable.  To step on others to get there, not so much, but this is something we have in common with Shin.  It’s not always an easy choice.  Our advantages often come on the backs of other’s disadvantages.  If our ally got to the barbed wire first, suffered and died because of it, is it right for us to climb over his dead body to escape?  If we survive, we feel guilty; if we succeed we also feel guilty.  We are so lost to the truth, that we can’t even be sure if our guilt is justified.  We feel guilty about feeling guilty.  Is forgiveness even possible?

As a Christian, I believe it is through our Savior Jesus, who died that we might live, who took all that pain, guilt, and pseudo guilt on himself, so we could wear robes of holiness in the eyes of God, and be saved.  It’s easy to criticize people, societies, and countries for doing nothing about atrocities, but what honestly could we do that’s ever enough?  Could tons of money solve the problem of North Korea?  Could an invasion or a takeover?  We could maybe end the camps, but can we stop the thinking that leads to the camps?  WWII ended Hitler, but it didn’t end the thinking and ideas that made his takeover possible in the first place.

These questions also pale in comparison to a more immediate problem: Claiming to care these days is considered to be moral high ground.  The southern border problems of the U.S. are case in point.  So many people claimed to care about the thousands of children coming across our border this year, but their caring (including mine) stopped at actually addressing not only the problem, but also the concerns of citizens in allowing so many to cross our border at one time and stay indefinitely.  The people with concerns got criticized harshly while those who “cared” got to act holier than thou by proclaiming how much they cared on social media.  And now that crisis has been overtaken by the latest fear of Ebola in which the same puppetry plays out.  This claiming to care, this need for catharsis from others’ sufferings, are just that old selfish human nature coming to raise his ugly head.  If we claim to care, we can feel good about ourselves, even if we will not or cannot do anything about the problem.  Same with an emotional response.  If we have the right emotional response to an atrocity, well, we must be good people even if our very next act is to go about our daily lives as if that catharsis never happened.  We snottily tell others what they should pay for, all without ever planning to give a penny of our own income.  The petty tyranny of “good intentions” is alive and well today as it always has been.

Petty tyrannies are only part of the real threat to freedom: actual Tyranny.  Put the blame where it belongs, on the North Korean officials who perpetuate this awful system of oppression and fear.  Is “the system” really an excuse for the evil men do?  Did all of the people have go along with the Nazis and their concentration camps?  They could have rebelled (some did) at the cost to their own lives.  It’s never an easy choice to do the right thing, and sometimes we aren’t even sure what the right thing is, but putting the blame on those who live in freedom is faulty at best.  The free people are criticized severely no matter which choice they make, to help or not.  Our cry of compassion should not be for others to give what they have, but for us to give what we have, for us to be the change we want to see in the world.  Even Shin, who was not taught honesty, knows this.  It’s why he struggles with nightmares and guilt, and is frustrated by those well-intentioned people who think they know exactly what he should do with his life.  It is so very easy to spend other’s time and money, to tell others what they should care about, who they should help, and to dismiss their fears.  How much harder it is for we as individuals to put our own time, money, and effort on the line!  To put our own skin in the game and struggle with the problems that can come with (fore example) a mass migration no matter the reason.  Skin in the game is why, despite its flaws Capitalism and competition are superior to both Socialism and Communism.

Even today, too many young people are still taught that Socialism and Communism are good things.  They are taught that the evilness of human nature only comes out in Capitalism, consumerism and competition.  They are taught to look at those who own businesses and make money as evil.  The young are taught this in free societies thriving on competition and Capitalism, in places where they themselves have little to no threat of the tyranny and death toll that both Socialism and Communism bring.  They are taught that those who invest should reap the same reward as the employee who is flipping hamburgers, despite the fact that the investors may have put days or years of more time into their work efforts, and also a lot more money.  Are burger flippers really in the same situation as Shin in Camp 14?  Do they honestly have no other choice but to be burger flippers?  If they “escape” the burger flipping by working harder, taking the risk to move up in management, or paying for more education, should they be chastised?  Are they climbing over their colleagues’ dead bodies to get through the electric, barbed fence?  Greed is a sin, yes, but envy is too, and “Workers of the World Unite!” is the cry of both the greedy and the envious without at least the virtue of hard work to temper it.  It is a cry that falls prey, time and again, to the tyrants of this world – and there are many.  Self-sufficiency (as apart from government) is the best way of keeping tyrants at bay.  Human nature is selfish, and those that promise a new system where everyone is “equal” or forced into equal outcomes in life, is only a cover for those tyrants who wish to have more of the proverbial pie than most.

Socialism and Communism are most often idealized by the young, because they are childish notions with little understanding of how the world and selfish human nature work.  Capitalism and Republics, for all of their faults, are for adults, those who wish to make their own paths in life and who are willing to risk failure in order to succeed.  It’s hard to force people into freedom and self-sufficiency, because they are alien ways of thought in much of modern life.  We are inundated daily with the idea that governments hold the key to all happiness for society.  But how can this be when governments are run by flawed people who are at heart selfish, and who only want to stay elected, and keep their jobs, so they don’t have to invest in another career?  Time and again, we are shown just how greedy so many officials and politicians can be with money that they did not earn and that is in no way their own, and yet we still believe the Communism/Socialism/Nazism/Totalitarian fairy tale.  True, having too much can corrupt, but so can having too little.  Envy is a different beast than greed, hiding in the deep recesses of our hearts, it gnaws away at us, a green monster to which an honest and open greed pales in comparison.  Shin is actually pretty honest in what he wants: a full belly.  He wants to eat, and eat well, and he is doing what he can to ensure that happens.  And he is also at least striving to tell his story and in some small way help those who are still prisoners of the country we call North Korea.  May God be with him in his continued struggles and help to find peace of mind and the forgiveness that all of us need so desperately.  And may God help us to put our expectations where they belong, on ourselves first and foremost, to be His hands, and His good in this world.