It was François-Marie (Pappy) Arouet, writing under the nom de plume (name of the feather) ‘Voltaire’, that said, “to hold a pen is to be at war”. I couldn’t agree more, albeit retrospectively. I’m at war, pen-fashion, with what I regard to be a sweeping tide of superstitious, retrogressive, vengeful, dimwitted anti-intellectual goat-spanking that has swept the United States like a tide. But I also know, because I periodically dip into that fusty old thing they call literature, there’s little to be said anew that Voltaire didn’t say back when he was running around in wig and garters getting banished from Paris. He said what he said in the 18th Century, the first three-quarters of which he survived against tremendous odds (he was dead for the last quarter and subsequent periods). War, oppression, revolution, the birth of reason and the death of regency, Voltaire was there for the works, and scribbling away like blazes. Anybody that reads ‘Candide’, which contains some crackerjack descriptions of why war is not as much fun as Donald Rumsfeld makes it out to be, will emerge from that slender volume much the wiser, possibly even sporting a long gray beard and a wizard’s hat with stars and moons on it.
Why, in these times that call for snappy, up-to-date commentary, would I be trolling around in the mossy glades of French Lit? Here’s why: “As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities”. Voltaire said that. Want to know why liberal-thinking folk, whose numbers far outweigh those of the reactionary cranks that keep electing das Gebabblefuehrer to office, can’t seem to make their numbers count? “God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.” Right-wingers have the discipline and the snipers. Leftists are just running around in large groups waving their fists. How, though, does the Right maintain its convictions, despite every conceivable evidence that they’re lethal hogwash? “Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them.” If you’re willing to split hairs and go for the ends justifying the meanness, Bush and his buds do adhere to the skeleton of a moral code suitable for the Puritanical-minded among us; it’s just that the skeleton is fleshed in rotting skunk entrails. Voltaire put it rather more elegantly. Then again, speaking of Puritans and Bush, “Anyone who seeks to destroy the passions instead of controlling them is trying to play the angel.” You can guess Voltaire didn’t mean this as a compliment.
There’s been some discussion lately about whether it is the common American, or the tyrants at the top, that one should blame for this disastrous situation. Have we not, in the manner of the mob, allowed ourselves to justify actions of such wanton cruelty that they rank right up there with the buttock-eating, rape, pillage, murder, logical positivism, and general ill behavior described in Candide? We have, after all, snipped apart our nation’s safety net, rejected inclusion, embraced government by the will of a vengeful, pissed-off bluenose God, and waged war on a nation guilty of nothing more than suffering its own tyrant. “Ordinarily [quoth Voltaire] there is no comparison between the crimes of the great who are always ambitious, and the crimes of the people who always want, and can want only liberty and equality. These two sentiments, Liberty and Equality, do not lead direct to calumny, rapine, assassination, poisoning, the devastation of one’s neighbours’ lands, etc.; but ambitious might and the mania for power plunge into all these crimes whatever be the time, whatever be the place.”
Pow, right in the Kissinger. What he’s saying is, the little guy can be satisfied so he knocks off the malfeasance. Not so, the big guy. That said, isn’t ‘tyrant’ a pretty strong word for a man that was just about elected president twice? “One gives the name of tyrant to the sovereign who knows no laws but those of his caprice, who takes his subjects’ property, and who afterwards enrolls them to go to take the property of his neighbors.” Voltaire might just be on to something. “To the wicked, everything serves as pretext.” Yes, I think he is.
There is only a slim consolation in all this, again voiced by the grizzled Sage of old Paree: “I have always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: “My God, make our enemies very ridiculous!” God has granted it to me.” Hole in one, François.
BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: http://www.lulu.com/Squareinthenuts . Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros . And Mr. Tripp may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.