A Tale of Two Sources, portions of which are used in the following five sections. Both are favorites of mine that have been on my mind for much longer that just the days following the election. The full episode of TZ is below. I have been reading from Self-Reliance off and on since the summer.
- The Obsolete Man, episode #65 of The Twilight Zone (June 2, 1961)
- Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance (1841)
It was only this morning that I noticed with some bemusement that the main character (portrayed onscreen by Burgess Meredith) was named Romney Wordsworth. I can assure you that is not the reason why I favor this episode or am using it today. I would have used it if Meredith’s character was named Barack Wordsworth. It is immaterial to this post and purely coincidental.
— 1 —
The Narrator: You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future; not a future that will be, but one that might be. This is not a new world. It is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advancements, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: Logic is an enemy, and truth is a menace. (Camera switches to the convicted man) This is Mr. Romney Wordsworth, in his last forty-eight hours on Earth. He’s a citizen of the State, but will soon have to be eliminated, because he’s built out of flesh and because he has a mind. Mr. Romney Wordsworth, who will draw his last breaths in the Twilight Zone.
“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.”
— 2 —
Chancellor: Since there are no more books, Mr. Wordsworth, there are no more libraries, and, of course, as it follows, there is very little call for the services of a librarian. Case in point: A minister. A minister would tell us that his function is that of preaching the Word of God. And since it follows that since The State has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister quite academic as well….
Wordsworth: There IS a God!!
(Crowd jeers in shock. The chancellor looks angry)
Chancellor: You are in error, Wordsworth. There is NO GOD! (To the crowd) The STATE HAS PROVEN THAT THERE IS NO GOD!!
Wordworth: You cannot erase God with an edict!
(Crowd is even more in shock at Wordsworth)
Chancellor: You are obsolete, Mr. Wordsworth!
Wordsworth: A lie, no man is obsolete!
Chancellor: You have no function, Mr. Wordsworth. You’re an anachronism, like a ghost from another time….
Wordsworth: I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages!
Chancellor: You’re a bug, Mr. Wordsworth. A crawling insect. An ugly, misformed, little creature, that has no purpose here, no meaning!
Wordsworth: I am a human being…
“My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady.”
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
— 3 —
Chancellor: It’s not unusual that we televise executions, Mr. Wordsworth. Last year in the mass executions, we televised around the clock. (Proudly to the cameras) Thirteen hundred people were put to death in less than six hours.
Wordsworth: You never learn do you? History teaches you nothing!
Chancellor: On the contrary. History teaches us a great deal. We had predecessors, Mr. Wordsworth, that had the beginnings of the right idea…
Wordsworth: Ah, yes, Hitler!
Chancellor: Yes, Hitler.
Chancellor: Stalin, too. But their error was not one of excess. It was simply not going far enough! Too many undesirables left around and undesirables eventually create a corps of resistance. Old people for example, clutch at the past and won’t accept the new. The sick, the maimed, the deformed, they fasten onto the healthy body and damage it. So WE eliminate them! And people like yourself, they can perform no useful function for The State, so…we put an end to them.
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.”
— 4 —
Wordsworth: How does a man react to the knowledge that he’s going to be blown to bits in a half an hour? Answer: (turning back to Chancellor) that depends on the individual. As for me, I’m going to sit down (heads towards safe in his room and pulls out a grubby, old Bible) and read my Bible.
(Wordsworth clutches his Bible like a lost treasure. The Chancellor is slowly moving towards him as if unsure how it would look in front of the cameras to force him to open the door and then stops)
Wordsworth: It’s been hidden here for over twenty years. It’s a crime punishable by death, so it’s only thing I have that has any value at all to me. So I’m just going to sit down and read it…until the moment of my death. How will you spend your last moments Chancellor? (Sits down in chair once more)
Chancellor: (Trying to hide his fear) This is insane Wordsworth let me out of here! (Heads to door and tries to open it) Let me out of here! Guards! Someone!
Wordsworth: You’re cheating the audience. You aren’t facing the camera.
Chancellor: (Heads toward window at end of room) Guards! Somebody down there!
Wordsworth: There’s no sense in raising your voice. There’s nobody there, that’s one of the rules you made up yourself. Isolate the person to be liquidated. That’s what you said! Oh, no, no, no. I think there is no one there, so why don’t you face the camera? It’s important, you said so yourself.
“The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”
— 5 —
The Narrator: The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He was obsolete, but so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for mankind—in the Twilight Zone.
“The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle. He has a fine Geneva watch, but he fails of the skill to tell the hour by the sun. A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky.”
“Society is a wave. The wave moves forward, but the water of which it is composed does not.”
— Postcript —
And so America has chosen, for now, dependence. A stark contrast to the independence she chose 236 years ago. What is next for her? Wither goest those men and women of self-reliance? Is there a place for them anymore in these Divided States of Dependence where whatever they do earn is envied and coerced from their hands by the state? I have always said and still believe that words mean things. I hold people to their words whether they mean them in idle gossip or in the demonization of their political opponents. Therefore I take the words uttered by even close friends and family who may not have meant them the way they came out very seriously. Or…perhaps they did mean them. I have thought a lot about what was said and written over the past few years, and as I said yesterday it all hit home while watching the cheering media and crowds in Chicago on election night: I am now their enemy because they have deemed me so. They have said so themselves.
But in these days where we now must seek harder than ever those things that unite us I have to ask them: What will they do once men like me cease to exist? Who will they turn to? Who will they turn upon?
You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth’s. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavor to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife, — but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own.