Why We Need To Read Books Like This
As despicable as I find this book, the world views expressed in it do represent views held by many people in the world; enough to pass Brexit and elect Trump. Had these views not been so summarily dismissed as unacceptable and undiscussable, they might have been better debated. The fears of the invading hordes that this book evokes might have been addressed rather than dismissed. There are some legitimate concerns. By not addressing them, liberals sent those with concerns to get answers from the likes of Raspail conservative talk radio and Fox.
Also reading about the process of social brainwashing that Raspail describes might have better and faster helped us understand and address the Fox News and talk radio propaganda tools that set the stage for Trump.
The World When The Book Was Published
“Georges Clemenceau, who had led France through the first world war, once said that 'America was the only country that had gone from barbarism to decadence without passing though civilization’” (from Americans in Paris)
“De Gaulle's government was criticized within France, particularly for its heavy-handed style. While the written press and elections were free, the state had a monopoly on television and radio broadcasts (though there were private stations broadcasting from abroad; see ORTF) and the executive occasionally told public broadcasters the bias that they desired on news. In many respects, society was traditionalist and repressive.”
But 'traditionalist' didn’t mean in France what it might mean in the US. From the same Wikipedia post:
“In the context of a population boom unseen in France since the 18th century, the government under prime minister Georges Pompidou oversaw a rapid transformation and expansion of the French economy. With dirigisme — a combination of capitalism and state-directed economy — the government intervened heavily in the economy, using indicative five-year plans as its main tool.”
In short, there was plenty for the French to be upset about. And Raspail seems to have taken his insight, twisted with a virulent racism, and created a fantasy apocalyptic novel. And the boat people and other refugees coming to Europe lend some prescience to Raspail. Though his tales are fantastical misrepresentations and omit key factors. For instance labor short Northern Europe, particularly Germany, had begun importing workers, and many of the immigrants were from former European colonies.
OK, Let's Look At Some Of The Book
The chapters jump back and forth from views of the west and views of the armada of Indians. It starts in the present with the arrival of the ships at Côte d' Azur. We bounce around a bit and then we're at the Belgian consulate in Calcutta which had been cherry-picking Indian babies for adoption back home. Until the masses of mothers bringing their babies in for adoption got too much and a huge mob is outside the consulate. This is where we are first introduced to the leaders of the armada as it prepares to leave India.
The Turd-Eater and the Monster
"Way back, behind the backmost women in the crowd, a giant of a man stood stripped to the waist, holding something over his head and waving it like a flag. Untouchable pariah, this dealer in droppings, dung roller by trade, molder of manure briquettes, turd eater in time of famine, and holding high in his stinking hands a mass of human flesh. At the bottom, two stumps; then an enormous trunk, all hunched and twisted and bent out of shape; no neck, but a kind of extra stump, a third one in place of a head, and a bald little skull, with two holes for eyes and a hole for a mouth, but a mouth that was no mouth at all—no throat, no teeth—just a flap of skin over his gullet. The monster’s eyes were alive, and they stared straight ahead, high over the crowd, frozen forward in a relentless gaze—except, that is, when his pariah father would wave him bodily back and forth." (p. 9)
"Can a man spend his whole life grubbing for turds in all the slop pots along the Ganges, shaping them, rolling them between his fingers, day after day, and not know something about the true nature of man? He knew all there was to know. He just never knew that he knew, that’s all." (p. 10)
These are the characters Raspail has created to lead the armada. And Turd-Eater and Monster is what they are always called. Reminds me a bit of Limbaugh's love for disdainful moniker's such as femi-Nazi as well as Trump's nicknames for his opponents. Though Trump's 'crooked Hillary' and 'Lyin' Ted' were tame in comparison to Raspail.
The Western Media And Its Consumers
"To appreciate the West’s opinion of the refugee fleet—or, for that matter, of anything new and unfamiliar—one essential fact must be borne in mind: it really couldn’t give less of a damn. Incredible but true. The more it discovers about such things, the more fathomless its ignorance, feeble its interest, and vulgar its own self-concern. The more crass and tasteless, too, its sporadic outbursts, fewer and farther between. Oh yes, to be sure, it indulges in flights of sentiment now and again, but cinema style, like watching a film, or sitting in front of the TV screen, poised for the serial’s weekly installment. Always those spur-of-the-moment emotions or secondhand feelings, pandered by middlemen. Real-world drama, served in the comfort of home by that whore called Mass Media, only stirs up the void where Western opinion has long been submerged. Someone drools at a current event, and mistakes his drivel for meaningful thought. Still, let’s not be too quick to spit our scorn its way. Empty drivel indeed, but it shows nonetheless how reading the papers or watching the news can provoke at least the appearance of thinking. Like Pavlov’s dog, whose slobber revealed the mechanics of instinct. Opinion shakes up its sloth, nothing more. Does anyone really believe that the average Western man, coming home from his ofiice or factory job, and faced with the world’s great upheavals, can eke out much more than a moment’s pause in the monumental boredom of his daily routine?" (p. 20 - emphasis added)
There are many on both sides of the political divide who might characterize parts of the media this way - though probably in less scornful tones. But this is clearly the message about the media that Trump fed his voters, though calling the media the 'enemy of the people' seems mild by comparison. Liberals believe, generally, the basic message when it's applied to Fox News and its audience.
Let's look at the media's consumers as Raspail sees them, beginning here with the intermediaries - the priests and the teachers. First the clergy after hearing a radio commentary on the poor boat people headed toward Europe:
"Three thousand two hundred sixty-seven priests started frantically scribbling with an eye toward the following Sunday—ready-made sermon, delivered to the door, nothing to do with the gospel for the day, but who worries anymore about such minor details? (Among the cast of thousands we should note the presence of a certain married priest, Catholic and cuckold, wearing a pair of Christian horns, and aware of the fact—a situation so utterly new to the poor man, and muddling his mind into such disarray, that for over a month his Sunday sermons seemed to leave him at a loss. Durfort’s strong dose saved him from total silence. The therapy worked so well, in fact, that the antlered, oil- fingered gent forgot all about his sanctified horns and recovered that gift of thunderous fire and brimstone that made him the shepherd of the largest flock of masochists in the diocese. Perhaps we’ll see him again bye and bye ...)" (p. 27)
And the teachers:
"At the very same moment thirty-two thousand seven hundred forty-two schoolteachers hit on the subject for the next day’s theme: “Describe the life of the poor, suffering souls on board the ships, and express your feelings toward their plight in detail, by imagining, for example, that one of the desperate families comes to your home and asks you to take them in.” Irresistible, really!" (p. 27)
Precise numbers, even though totally made up, always give a sense of accuracy. And the kids:
"And the dear little angel—all simple, childish soul and tender heart—will spread four pages’ worth of infantile pathos, enough to melt a concierge to tears, and his paper will be the best, the teacher will read it in class, and all his little friends will kick themselves for having been much too stingy with their whines and whimpers. That’s how we mold our men nowadays. Because even the tough, hardhearted little brat, the one with all he needs to succeed in this life, is forced to take part, since children abhor standing out from the crowd. So he’ll have to play along too, and work himself into a hypocritical sweat over the same philanthropic rubbish. And he’ll probably write just as brilliant a theme, clever child that he is, and he may even wind up believing what he writes, because youngsters like this are never really bad, just different, that’s all, just untapped potential. Then he’ll go home, like his classmate, both of them proud of their fine compositions."
The right in the US certainly think this when they see kids talking about climate change. And those on the left feel the same about little kids talking about the earth being 6000 years old. But he takes these grains of truth and stretches them and twists them into grotesque parodies.
And the parents, whom he identifies as Marcel and Josiane, which I take as a generic French worker husband and wife, sort of like Mr. and Mrs Joe Six Pack. Remember, this all came out in 1973.
"And father, who knows what life is all about, will read the A-plus masterpiece, terrified (if he has the slightest imagination) at the notion of that foreign family of eight coming to live in his three rooms and kitchen, but he’ll sit back and keep his big mouth shut. Mustn’t frustrate the little angels, mustn’t shock them, mustn’t sully their innocent thoughts and risk turning them later into hopeless prigs. No, he’ll wallow, ensnared, in his gutless affection, and chuck his little angel on a cheek flushed with pleasure, telling himself that he’s really a dear, and besides, “out of the mouths of babes,” isn’t that what they say? ..."
Raspail describes Marcel further, a man who actually questions why the announcer is talking about helping the far away poor. Marcel himself is living in a pretty basic apartment. Shouldn't some of the help go to his family?
"Let’s give ear, in passing, to this discordant note. Good, canny common sense, a little uncouth and harsh—in other words, healthy— draws itself up to its dignified height and kicks up a fuss. Just a bit more effort and it could save the day. Marcel is no fugitive from the Ganges. He works, he wears shoes. He’s a hundred percent man, and make no mistake! With some prodding you could get him to admit that he’s part of a civilized country, that he’s proud of it too, and why not? Peekaboo, it’s our little white friend again, our foot-slogging soldier of the Western World, hero and victim of all its battles, whose sweat and flesh seep through all the joys of Western life. But he’s hardly the man he used to be. He only goes through the motions now. This volley won’t hit the mark. And there won’t be another. When the time comes, he’ll sit back and watch, as if none of it makes any difference to him. When he suddenly finds that it does, it will be too late. They’ll have made him believe it’s no skin off his nose, and that only the others—all the ones with money—will cough up and pay, in the name of equality, and brotherhood, and justice, or some such nonsense that no one dares question. And of course, in the name of the beast. But that’s something they won’t tell Marcel. Would he know what they meant?" (p. 27)
Sounds exactly like the voter that Trump targeted.
Raspail's descriptions of people - politicians, newscasters - are so detailed that I can't help but think he had real people in mind. For example:
"Albert Durfort was full of the milk of human kindness. (Machefer would have used a rather more vulgar expression. He always said the professional do-gooders turned his stomach. A little too harsh, perhaps, for Durfort, not a bad sort, really.) Constant crusader, he would gallop through radioland to the rescue, looking for supposedly desperate causes, barely taking the time to change horses between two campaigns, always panting for breath as he came on the scene just in time to deliver the downtrodden victim, expose a scandal, and lash out at injustice. A Zorro of the airwaves. And the public adored it. So much so, in fact, that some—the most obtuse—saw each nightly editorial as a serial installment: Durfort on skid row, Durfort and the Arabs, Durfort vs. the racists, Durfort and the police, Durfort against brutality, Durfort for prison reform, Durfort and capital punishment, etc., etc. But no one, not even Durfort himself, could see that our Zorro was flogging dead horses, flying off to the rescue ‘of issues long since won. Something else, strange but true: he was looked on as the model of the free, objective thinker. He would have been shocked and surprised to learn that he was, in fact, a captive of fashion, bound by all the new taboos, conditioned by thirty years of intellectual terrorism; and that,if the owner and general manager of the station that employed him entrusted ten million good Frenchmen to his care each night, it certainly wasn’t to use his talents to tell them the opposite of what they supposed they believed in."(p. 26) (emphasis added)
That's for a white French guy. Note how the news model seems to fit Fox News and one could probably make a good argument that it fits well for some of the more centrist and liberal news outlets. He also points out the contradiction between the professed concerns for the poor and the rich salaries the newsmen get.
Now let's look at an immigrant news man:
"The speaker was one Ben Suad, alias Clément Dio, one of the monster’s most faithful minions, concoctor in chief of the poisonous slops poured piping hot each Monday into the feeble, comatose brains of the six hundred thousand readers of his weekly rag, served up in its fancy sauces. Citizen of France, North African by blood, with an elegant crop of kinky hair and swarthy skin—doubtless passed down from a certain black harem slavegirl, sold to a brothel for French officers in Rabat (as he learned from the bill of sale in his family papers)—married to a Eurasian woman officially declared Chinese and author of several best-selling novels, Dio possessed a belligerent intellect that thrived on springs of racial hatred barely below the surface, and far more intense than anyone imagined. Like a spider deep in the midst of French public opinion, he had webbed it over so thick with fine gossamer strands that it scarcely clung to life. A cordial type all the same, given to great informative bursts if he chose, though always one-way, sincere enough to put his convictions on the line and draw the occasional fire of intelligent colleagues—of whom there were fewer and fewer, alas!, and whom people had all long since stopped reading. In those topsy-turvy days the Left sprawled out in abundance, while the rightist press, in a hopeless muddle, languished alone in its trenches, deserted. The home front, meanwhile, true to form, fraternized high and low, unabashed and unrestrained. Politically, Dio’s columns were something of a hash, whipped up with a proper dose of utopian pap. But most dangerous of all was his very special talent—unrivaled, in fact—for planting his mines through the waters of current French life, far and wide, just surface-deep, always finding those areas still intact, and larding them through with the deadly devices, spewed mass-produced from his prolific brain."
One last quote from early in the book - the mayor of New York talks to a consultant for the city after they hear the news of the armada.
"As consulting sociologist to the city of New York, he had seen it coming, predicted it to the letter. The proof was there, in his lucid reports, ignored one and all. There was really no solution. Black would be black, and white would be white. There was no changing either, except by a total mix, a blend into tan. They were enemies on sight, and their hatred and scorn only grew as they came to know each other better. Now they both felt the same utter loathing. ... And so the consulting sociologist would give his opinion and pocket his money. The city had paid him a handsome price for his monumental study of social upheaval, with its forecast of ultimate doom. “No hope, Doctor Hailer?” “No hope, Mr. Mayor. Unless you kill them all, that is, because you’ll never change them. How about that?” “Good God, man, hardly! Let’s just wait and see what happens, and try to do the best we can ..." (p. 7)
The 'scientific' proof that is supposedly buried in the report is, of course, fake news created by the novelist. The 'realistic' sociologist is Raspail's good guy in this scene, and the mayor who won't hear of killing off the blacks in New York is the fool. But there is lots one could write about overpriced consultants whose expertise often supports what a government wants to do, or is ignored.
This is supposedly an influential book for Steve Bannon, still running loose in the Oval Office and helping Trump figure out what to do on things like the Paris Climate Agreement. Despite the repugnant racism and disdain for the masses, there are insights worth noting. And my guess is that this has been and continues to be a blue print for those on the right. Fox News is the most obvious example. And Bannon is working to carry out Raspail’s mission from the White House now.
[An earlier version was posted at What Do I Know?]
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