Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Where Did I Put My Spear?

Ever since the war we have been the battleground of mighty reform movements. Consider the ideals of each group, and contrast them with the practical results...
• Women's suffrage, designed to clean up politics, shot the Ohio Gang into power and presented us with the Teapot Dome.
• Prohibition, enacted to eliminate the drunkard, made dipsomaniacs of our children, festered our cities with speakeasies, sponsored the rise of the most vicious criminal class in the history of the world.
• The schools, successfully raiding the state treasuries upon the assurance that education was the best defense against crime, filled the penitentiaries with their students.
• The great up-surge of luncheon clubs, professing to purify business ethics and to exalt the principle of service, swung into power on a wave of commercial dishonesty unparalleled in any country that ever existed.

I just finished Dalton Trumbo's Eclipse, his first novel, of interest mainly to students of American Realism and residents of Grand Junction, whose history and citizens the story closely follows. But the sentiments of Trumbo's character, created in 1933-34, ring with clarity today. [Punctuation of the quoted passage is mine.]

We gave them their heads — all these fine reformers of morals, business, politics, appetites. They sat firmly in the saddle, riding through a sea of gold... Our self-appointed leaders plunged headlong into a latrine — and, which is worse, they forced us to wallow there with them.

And what happened to the fellow who dared question them? What if a man said, 'I doubt this prosperity', or 'I doubt this morality', or 'I doubt this church', or 'I doubt this government'? He was impaled on a cross, and all the slobbering sensualists they could muster thrust spears in his side. Well... they have taught us a lesson. They have given us a great historical demonstration of the fact that a man cannot believe in anything with his whole heart and his whole soul without becoming an intolerable bigot, and hence a menace to his fellow citizens.

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