There are people, in all likelihood a majority, who are by nature obedient. Their lot is to play Sid Sawyer to whatever Aunt Polly comes along, whether the authority in question is a democratically elected leader or an up-to-his-elbows-in-blood dictator. As though stuck in some epochal centrifuge, they go with the flow, tirelessly, unwaveringly, always to the right, until death separates the dead from the living. They are the cannon fodder of the human race, and it is their kind—excuse a clumsy play on words—that gives the term rat race its undeservedly pejorative meaning.
Others, usually a conspicuous minority, are by nature rebellious. They jaywalk through life, romancing the Nigger Jim when the Negroes in America are still slaves and ridiculing Martin Luther King, Jr., once they have gained ascendency—more despite Dr. King, perhaps, than thanks to his social ministrations. They are the mavericks among the rats in the laboratory, always pushing the right levers at just the wrong time. Theirs is a centripetal race—against the clock and, indeed, anticlockwise.
While I have on occasion flirted with this last, subversive set, only a superficial observer reviewing the whole spectacle of my life would call its protagonist a born rebel. Surely the Nixon lapel pin I wore at 16, when my conformist coevals busied themselves with Molotov cocktails and obscene graffiti, scarcely qualifies as rebellion. With episodic detours and a few sidelong glances, perhaps, yet for the most part I have followed the silent majority, paying my dues and even, mournfully, my taxes.
Lawful conduct, however, is not what conformity is all about. To obey in order not to be punished physically, and even to do as one is told in order to attain some of life’s comforts or rewards, is only the beginning of the conformist’s story. Nine tenths of what makes man run—and in this he differs from the rat—is intangible, immaterial, not easily reducible to organic chemistry formulas and zoology case studies. A shopgirl’s fleeting smile, a wife’s angry grimace, a friend’s evasive laugh—such stimuli affect our lives and thoughts no less powerfully than the sticks and carrots in society’s laboratory cabinet.
One doesn’t want to do things just because they are not done—any more than one wants to do things just because they are against the law. Yet what if there should be a compelling reason to break these behavioral restraints? Alas, we’re bound by them hand and foot. I don’t want to risk contempt, perhaps even ostracism, on the part of my friends for expressing a controversial opinion, any more than I want to go to prison for machine-gunning some children who have been born to people I blame for selling my country down the river. This despite the fact that the opinion I want to voice may happen to be a lifesaving truth, and that the point I want to make by shooting the children may be valid in that their parents really did conspire, with persons yet unknown, to bring about my country’s social ruin to benefit themselves and their kith.
“Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his character much more carefully than you would a white,” an American journalist had recently written and lost his job as a result. He was proclaimed a “racist,” and obviously a “racist” should not work as a journalist any more than a tax collector should become an apostle. I must really be a conformist if I cannot bring myself to say out loud that on hearing stories like this—as one does almost daily—I begin to envy Anders Breivik his freedom, much as I once envied Ted Kaczynski his. His inner freedom, I mean.
It doesn’t make me angry enough to envy a killer that society forbids me to be a “racist.” What makes me angry enough to envy a killer is that the society which proscribes “racism” mocks family and marriage, encourages satanism and onanism, condones bestiality and pornography. It allows doctors to murder unborn children, permits singers to glorify adultery, heroin, and rape, and would never punish an artist who defiled a sacred image, yet it forbids me to “deny the holocaust” or to “say the N-word” in public.
One hardly needs proof that democratic society is permissive. How to reconcile this with the savage and irrational strictures that go by the name of “political correctness,” abrogating not only the freedom of action, but those of thought and expression—literally, Orwell’s “crimestop,” defined as the faculty “of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought”?
For the majority to which I tacitly belong, this is all water under the bridge. Old news, really, whether in America or in Russia. Just keep your mouth shut and your head down, and you’ll be fine.
And yet it is the minority who make revolutions. The maverick rats push the right lever, as in March 1933, and this time, lo and behold, the time is right. Do we of the silent majority want this to happen? If not, perhaps we had better become a little more outspoken.