A Mind of It's Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, Animal Farm, Black Sexuality, Commandments, David M. Friedman, Essay, Eugenics, George Orwell, Idealism, imperialism, Literature, Mandingo myth, Penis, Philosophy, Politics, Social Contract
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
The Commandments of Animalism are often the most remembered passage from the novel Animal Farm. This is because they are easy to remember. Humanity enjoys orders and as Loki spoke in the recent Avenger’s movie, “It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation.” (This sentiment has been expressed in other forms but people seem to take notice of you should even mention the name Tom Hiddleston or his hysteria inducing screen counterpart). Some may protest and suggest that I am being ludicrous for suggesting that they have ever submitted their will to a command and dictate of behavior, but a simple analysis of our culture says otherwise. Come Easter at least ten channels feel compelled to broadcast the “masterpiece” of the Ten Commandments starring noted gun enthusiast (though poor party planner) Charleston Heston. Recent court cases have allowed for teachers to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in the classroom. Indeed there are some individuals in this country so misguided by their ravenous idealism that they would propose abolishing all the rights and liberties granted by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and instead foist up the Ten Commandments as the one and ultimate law of the land. As this is the concluding essay of the Animal Farm trilogy (think of it as an intellectual Return of the Jedi, my favorite of the STAR WARS films I might add), it seems appropriate to tackle the Commandments and to demonstrate why a society built upon such teachings can only end in disaster.
Within the text the commandments serve as “guidelines”, not just for overall behavior, but for the manifestation of all thought. For the sake of the reader I will provide them here:
The Seven Commandments
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings is a friend.
3. No Animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
Now observing these rules, even at a fleeting glance it becomes clear that these have been rushed and are reeking with idealism. The character of Mollie the horse (unfairly criticized by many of the other animals and feminist interpretations for her love of ribbons and sugar cubes) is perhaps one of the few realists in her party for she quickly abuses the commandments and eventually abandons the farm altogether, but we shall deal her “betrayal” later. The conflict with these commandments is that they impose too strict a code of thought upon the animals prohibiting even the slightest of joys. Orwell observes that the founding of the ideology is too rooted in a desire for like-minded conformity. Though we desire to be free, we will not allow ourselves unfiltered freedom. This of course damns the entire movement of Animalism.
We must consider the implication of a commandment and what exactly it is. The words” if we consider the definition”, should send shivers down the spine of any and all who read such poorly constructed arguments, for that in itself is demanding a kind of submission. “It’s a definition” and “it’s defined clearly,” attempt to outline the governance of thought concerning a word or idea. It is necessary at the beginning of some arguments to specify the details and expanse of meaning of some words, for certain philosophical jargon can get out of hand too quickly without such anchors(any who have taken an Introduction to Philosophy course have been bombarded with the meticulous and maddening conflict of trying to define what god is before they even begin discussing whether or not he, or it, exists). However, in the realms of political argument this line of reasoning can become malicious and vile very quickly. Language is a freely flowing and organic beast that cannot limited by the perverted desire of vile men that would rob it of its imaginative power. So rather than saying, “let us consider the definition”, I will instead consider the definition, but then also understand how the word operates on an empirical and etymological level.
A commandment in its most basic constitution is a mandate or order. This implies that those who subject their will to them must be prepared for sacrificing their total freedom to the mandate, and thus participate in the rules of the society governed by them. Is that such a crime? Yes and no. Chaos and anarchy are not the preferred states of society, and we Americans have often sacrificed (to our knowledge or ignorance over time) total freedom to maintain a healthy distance from these realities. It makes sense. I do not wish to have my home violated, my safety molested, or my beautiful wife to be murdered or raped in front of me. However there is a great difference between commandments and laws, which I shall discuss at the end. For now let us be content with the idea that laws ensure order is maintained, while commandments ensure certain parties of society are content. If that does not do perhaps an original maxim: Order is necessary for morality to be constrained.
It is at the first two that a problem arises. It is noted in the text that once Snowball has finished painting the commandments on the side of the barn the first two commandments are reduced down into an often repeated chant of “four legs good, two legs bad.” The hens and ducks protest this:
The birds at first objected, since it seemed that they also had two legs, but Snowball proved to them that this was not so.
“A bird’s wings comrade,” he said, “is an organ of propulsion and not manipulation. It should therefore be regarded as a leg. The distinguishing mark of man is the hand, the instrument to which he does all his mischief.”
The concluding line about hands inspires numerous masturbation jokes, but I will abstain for the time being and focus instead upon the inherent racism of the defense made. The irony of the fact that the pigs regularly manipulate other animals through use of their hooves and mouths is unfortunately lost on many of the farm animals. While the animals have suffered all manner of abuse from the “hands” of man, the Animalism defense is revealed to be built upon a sense of superiority and entitlement. Man possesses “hands” and is therefore demonstrated to be evil. This argument seems reminiscent of the “White Man’s Burden” so often employed through, and what has ultimately been realized over time, imperial genocide. A sense of innate superiority was bred in the European mind as necessary to justify the occupation and often slaughter of the local people’s. Often the cause of this superiority was due to complexion or some physical trait. Anyone familiar with the (most graciously outdated) pseudo-science known as Eugenics understands that point too well. For those don’t, Google it and your sure to find the most appalling tripe mankind has ever produced (though the current Men’s Rights Movement is a close fucking second in my opinion). This superiority was eventually turned on its ear with the abolishing of the Slave Trade and the rise of the “Mandingo Myth.” For those unfamiliar with the concept read the third chapter of David M. Friedman’s brilliant work A Mind of It’s Own: A Cultural History of the Penis. Friedman’s commentary on the white male perception of the African’s penis and it’s connection to Eugenic philosophy seems perfectly clear when he says,
“Differences in size were given weight by these theorists, generally in the “bigger is better” mode–with one glaring exception: The Caucasian’s larger brain proved his intellectual superiority and civilized status, but the negroe’s larger penis proved his intellectual inferiority and innate savagery […] Despite their different starting points, most racial thinkers based many of their most important conclusions on the same criterion—the African’s penis.”
In short the big black dick fucked with the white man so much that he was forced to create racial philosophy to justify enslaving, humiliating, torturing, and murdering him in all sorts of imaginative ways.
What do black dicks have to do with Animals in fiction? Snowball roots his commandment, his foundational philosophy in physical observation of the differences between humanity and animals. He argues to the birds that they possess “legs” rather than wings thus assuring them a place within the circle of their society. One can imagine imperialist despots turning away black lawyers, clerks, doctors, scholars, etc, because they possessed “smaller craniums.” The commandment is rooted in this kind of racial philosophy thereby banning human beings and neglecting a free interaction of society. A philosophy can only be improved by critique and application, therefore the insulating influence of this commandment will ultimately ruin the animal society because there is no one from the outside challenging it’s weaknesses. The only way we can progress is by receiving critique and thereby improving where fault is found.
If we move onto the next three commandments, we receive a slightly manageable effort to create a new society. Nevertheless, a commandment is an order rather than an agreement, rooted in authority rather mutual understanding. The animals are ordered not to wear clothes, sleep in a bed, or drink alcohol. The fifth commandment is the most obviously formed while also being the most delusional. Jones is described in the very first sentence as an inebriate.
“Mr Jones, of the Manor farm, had locked the hen houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.”
The effort to abolish alcohol can be recognized as an attempt to prevent the abuse suffered under the weight of previous authority. To be clear it’s the old burnt hands argument : If man touches a hot stove and burns his hand he’ll think twice before touching the stove again. The abandoning of the senses is a mass phobia perfectly manifested in the ongoing comical farce known as the War on Drugs, which was begun when the first hippie let a slip of his sideburns show. This dance of paranoid twits prosecuting stoned proselytizers possesses an all too familiar similarity to Sisyphus but I am breaking away from the text. The animals (perhaps it would be wiser to say the pigs) abolish alcohol thereby denying the labor producing masses a means of relieving the stress of work, outside dangers that threaten their safety, and the gradual buildup of the day. Alcohol is not a necessity; however it is a delightful distraction. The observance of getting drunk, tossed, pissed, smashed, or fucked up, allows the mind to release its grip on reality and just breath. By preventing the animals from consuming alcohol they are forcibly locked into the reality of the farm and government that is gradually wearing at their willpower.
As for the clothes and beds this can be accounted for as idealistic imaginings. At the start of any movement there is a high to see everyone participating and sacrificing for the majority will. We all should remember the rush of patriotism that followed the September 11th terrorist attacks. Flags adorned every surface of this country as people who had never considered their own safety let alone be bothered to learn more than three of the founding fathers names (there’s a Benjamin and then a couple of Peters’ in there somewhere I’m sure of it) suddenly found themselves praising freedom and memorizing the Bill of Rights. Rather than be careful and process the experience, we leapt into a passionate pursuit for our attackers only to be later satisfied (too little too late in some respects) ten years after the attack and fully bored with a war that was out of control. Let me be clear, it is not my effort to attack, or belittle the emotion associated with that day. We all have our own story and our own emotions. However the sentiment produced from that barbaric atrocity was unfortunately yet another platitude, “We will never forget.” Nine years following the disaster volunteers and fire fighters that literally saved lives while odious men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were too busy blaming abortion and homosexuality to actually help, were suffering from severe medical disorders including, but not limited to, lung trauma resulting in severe respiratory problems and some instances of PTSD. Rather than rallying around these heroes, America remained unobservant and uncaring while politicians argued over the bill that could gain them access to publicly funded medical treatment. I suppose someone could question why taxpayers should be bothered to pay for someone else’s medical expenses, but they would be idiots of the most detestable and revolting sort. At the start of a rebellion or mass movement there exists a unifying connection between all involved. The animals are all too willing to sacrifice potential advantages such as clothes that might keep them warmer during the cold season and protect their bodies from pests. The animals are all too willing to abstain from the opportunity to sleep in a bed and under sheets instead of the hard mats of hay that provide no insulation or relief from the bitter colds and heat. Their idealism pushes aside any opportunity to stop and truly consider what they are sacrificing, because the rush of independence, of this new world they are creating, blinds them to what they could have.
This sacrifice at first seems an honest commitment to an ideal, to the commandment. The conflict arises when humanity, or animality if you prefer, actually comes into play. The horse Mollie is a conflict for any reader of Orwell, for while she is an animal that escapes the farm, she is portrayed as selfish and indulgent. She enjoys having ribbons in her mane and feasting on sugar cubes given to her by Jones. Mollie is eventually discovered consorting with humans and hiding both sugar and ribbons in her cot, disappearing not long after this discovery. Mollie’s actions are rooted in her desire for “nice things that make her happy”, and we that live in a consumerist culture cannot fault the poor girl for that, lest we be reminded of that two hundred dollar cappuccino maker reminding us to shut up. Mollie’s escape from the farm is the only happy ending for any animal on the farm revealing yet another crucial lesson to learned from Animal Farm and about the danger in commandments in general. Though they will imply rigid instruction, commandments cannot possibly be followed by all. Communism and Utopia do not work. The twenty-first century has revealed that consumerism and capitalism are the only philosophies that succeed against totalitarian regimes. Mollie’s escape demonstrates that the commandment system will never work for there will always be dissenters who find them unbearable and simply escape to a more accommodating society. Mandates that prevent action absolutely, result only in open rebellion.
What about Commandment number 6 you ask? How exactly do you protest that? The answer is simple. I cannot. I can only attack the weakness of the commandment that it prevents nothing. Napoleon’s trained attack dogs chase Snowball from the farm upon his squeal (I’m reminded of Hitchens as he discusses the slaughtering of pigs in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle when he says, “There’s something about that squeal…”). The great slaughter, as I discussed it in the first essay, is perhaps one of most lasting images and most truly powerful scenes in the novel for the brutality. Orwell says it much better than me however when he says,
“When it was all over, the remaining animals, except for the pigs and the dogs, crept away in a body. They were shaken and miserable. They did not know which is more shocking—the treachery of the animals who leagued themselves with Snowball, or the cruel retribution they had just witnessed. In the old days there had often been scenes of bloodshed equally terrible, but it seemed to all of them that it was far worse now that it was happening among themselves. Since Jones had left the farm, until today, no animal had killed another animal”
The animals reel from the mass slaughter of their compatriots, for what they have witnessed was not war or passion, but cold-blooded murder made a spectacle by the political display of it all. It is spoken best in Harry Potter the Half Blood Prince, “By an act of evil—the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart.” The emotion stems from the betrayal of the commandment. No one will suggest that murder is justified. In order for society to operate smoothly all those involved must enter into the social contract which stipulates “I will not try to kill you as long as you do not try to kill me.” Let us move then to the final commandment.
All Animals are Created Equal. I based the title of these essays around this commandment in part because it seemed clever. There I have an ego, let’s move on. But despite my own self promotion of supposed cleverness there is a point in it. Sitting down to write this I understood that Animal Farm carries great weight with it, as does the name Orwell. Suggesting that a work, world, or society is “Orwellian” is becoming stale. The mountains of young adult dystopian literature (stemming from that adequate but not quite fulfilling work The Giver) belittle the term until, like all icons and ideas in our fast paced modern world, it becomes meaningless. This commandment is almost a platitude delivering this wisdom and then being a good little phrase and fucking off dispensing little satisfaction and wisdom. Nevertheless it is an original commandment to the creatures of Animal Farm and the utmost important, for it is the heart and soul of the ideology that shapes the events of the rebellion. The end of hope in the novel arrives when the animals look up to the barn to discover all the commandments have been painted over leaving only one that lingers in the readers soul:
There was nothing there now except a single commandment:
ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
The pigs begin to wear clothes and carry whips. They walk on their hind legs. Napoleon struts about in Mr. Jones’s best suit while his “favorite sow” wears a dress belonging to Mrs. Jones. In short every commandment is broken and re-written to benefit one aspect of Animal society.
The fault in the original commandment is the same for all the others. They are orders, rather than invitations. Social contract, some may argue, is no different from a commandment, but they have missed everything I have said thus far. A contract implies a quid pro quo (something for something for those uneducated in Latin), a mutual understanding that both parties involved receive something from the bargain. In a commandment there is only an oppressor and those oppressed. The character of God in the Old Testament gives his commandments to the Hebrews, so that they may obey them. There is no understanding that the Hebrews receive anything in the bargain except “his love” (and given the history of the Jews one wonders how much longer they’re going to continue to buy this “deal”). A social contract is entirely separate because it does not attempt to be idealistic. Instead it recognizes the fault within ourselves and attempts to provide some form of restitution should the contract be broken. The animals of Manor farm attempt to order their society, rather than negotiate it. Open rebellion is necessary when oppressive forces have taken their power too far, but in the instance of a new society we do not need commandments, we need agreements and guarantees of rights.
The tragedy of Animal Farm is not that the animals are just manipulated, it is that they are the victims of their own idealism. Animal Farm is not just a metaphor for the Russian Revolution that left a country in starvation and terror, it is a human allegory for the penchant to believe that life will always be fair and kind to us. We will never have a fair world, but we can do our best to have an adequate one.
Finally, for those who wish to feel the real emotional tragedy of the animal farm I’ve provided one last quotation from the book. Immediately following the mass Slaughter performed by Napoleon and his trained dogs the animals gather on the hill and the Horse Clover considers, what is in my mind the most powerful moments of the text. I will say no more here, for Orwell’s words speak for themselves.
The animals huddled about Clover, not speaking. The knoll where they were lying gave them a wide prospect across the countryside. Most of Animal Farm was within their view, the long pasture stretching down to the main road, the hayfield, the spinney, the drinking pool, the ploughed fields where the young wheat was thick and green, and the red roofs of the farm buildings with the smoke curling from the chimneys. It was a clear spring evening. The grass and the bursting hedges were gilded by the level rays of the sun. Never had the farm, and with a kind of surprise they remembered that it was their own farm, every inch of it their own property, appeared to the animals so desirable aAs Clover looked down the hillside her eyes filled with tears. If she could have spoken her thoughts, it would have been to say that this was not what they had aimed at when they had set themselves years ago to work for the overthrow of the human race. These scenes of terror and slaughter were not what they had looked forward to on that night when old Major first stirred them to rebellion. If she herself had had any picture of the future, it had been of a society of animals set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak, as she had protected the lost brood of ducklings with her foreleg on the night of Major’s speech. Instead, she did not know why, they had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes. There was no thought of rebellion or disobedience in her mind. She knew that, even as things were, they were far better off than they had been in the days of Jones, and that before all else it was needful to prevent the return of the human beings. Whatever happened she would remain faithful, work hard, carry out the orders that were given to her, and accept the leadership of Napoleon. But still, it was not for this that she and all the other animals had hoped and toiled. It was not for this that they had built the windmill and faced the bullets of Jones’s gun. Such were her thoughts, though she lacked the words to express them.
At last, feeling this to be in some way a substitute for the words she was unable to and, she began to sing Beasts of England. The other animals sitting round her took it up, and they sang it three times over, very tunefully, but slowly and mournfully, in a way they had never sung it before.