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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Short Story: "The Most Dangerous Game"

"The Most Dangerous Game" is representative of an era when reading was more prevalent.  You can tell this by the long lead in to the action.  The first two thirds of this elemental chase / man vs. man conflict is story buildup - background information and dialogue that skirts the edge of being considered jargon.  Sanger Rainsford washes ashore an island and he finds the aristocrat General Zaroff, a kindred spirit who revels in the 'hunt'.

Zaroff, however, is bored with hunting animals, and decides to hunt humans.  Rainsford is appalled at the moral degeneracy of this, and lets Zaroff know about it.  It is here where there is a key aspect of the story, and a window into Zaroff's beliefs. Note Zaroff's reply:
"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong. The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships--lassars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels--a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them."

Zaroff's wretched beliefs, unfortunately, are not uncommon.  There is a long history of this idea among the 'elite', or 'adepts', or 'elect'.  Here's what I covered today regarding the justification of this deadly class pyramid - how have the Zaroffs of the real world defended the indefensible throughout history?

1) The Priesthood:  "We are the priests and we speak directly to God.  Because of this you will follow, or you will be cast out of the clan, to die a miserable death.  Better to follow, do as you're told, and hopefully get to the mountaintop."  This is the most elemental use of fear and control - the most blunt use of ad verecundiam, the fallacy of authority.

2) The Divine Right of Kings:  "We are born into a line of Royalty, and we are closest to God.  Because of our birthright, it is obvious that there are upper and lower classes, and you are part of the latter.  You will obey."  The Magna Carta did a lot to end much of this, but it was a slow process.

3) The Scientific Explanation:  "It is apparent, through natural selection, that we are scientifically superior.  We even have a book, written by one of the wealthiest men on Planet Earth, that proves it called: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.  If need be, we shall sterilize or exterminate the lower order, as they are not of the best breeding stock, or one of the 'favored' races."  Zaroff subscribes to this philosophy - not uncommon among aristocrats of his day.

4) The All Encompassing and Benevolent State:  "The government will control and run all things in society.  School, Health Care, Retirement savings, Medical Care for the elderly, Automobile practices, Farming practices, even how high a fire extinguisher needs to be above the floor.  We are superior to The Masses in education, we went to the best schools and we 'care' for the huddled humanity for whom we so altruistically manage."  This is where we are today.  Most cannot imagine a different paradigm, and get angry at anyone who suggests not having government involvement.

Zaroff is often looked at as a psychopath by my students.  His beliefs are frighteningly common, and are with us today.

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