Big Brother or Big Mommy? In America, collective tyranny is advancing not so much because of Big Brother's heavy boot, but because of the sly, coercive cuddling of Big Mommy. (Opinion Past).
Collective Tyranny has had many names, and many slogans, but this is the first time in history that its slogan has been "Concern and Love." Formerly it was "Might makes Right" and such, and men's bodies were murdered ruthlessly. But the present criminals practicing it do much worse: They kill men's souls.
I prefer to call Collective Tyranny in America -- now so powerful -- not Big Brother but Big Mommy. Male or female, the oppressors are Mommy. They no longer bash a man's brains in -- at least not publicly -- but they stroke and soothe and seduce him, and coo while they are doing it, until his very soul is sick and his spirit wastes to mist. They don't send tanks against him -- at least not in America as yet -- they send social workers and psychiatrists and guidance counselors. And government bureaucrats with menacing writs and liens and threats, if he proves a little more recalcitrant than his neighbors.
The approach, then, is soft and deadly and far more terrible than the old variety. It can kill your mind and your will to resist as a man.
Big Mommy, of course, now controls our public schools. This is not new. She was flexing her muscles with "Concern and Love" for The Children at the turn of the century, and really swung into it around 1907. She was rampant, sorry to say, only in America. Europe was still sane and still immune to her -- especially my native country, England, where a kid was a kid and a damned nuisance and hardly tolerated, and not an object for Big Mommy's bureaucratic tenderness.
Yes, Big Mommy was already concentrating on corrupting American kids at the turn of the century, and was succeeding mightily. Her open field was the public schools, and teachers were newly being taught not to regard Johnnie and Susie sternly and as objects to be civilized, but as future servers of the Mommy State -- docile, meek, obedient, and mindless. Part of the indoctrination was called "sharing." I encountered it at an early age in the American public schools.
Now, I was taught, as a British child, that a civilized person is reticent about his private affairs and the affairs of his family, reserved in speech, unobtrusive, never intruding on another's right to privacy and dignity and his own opinions. But I learned almost at once, in America, that such an attitude was "not loving." "Not sharing." You must bare your heart and soul and inmost thoughts to the point of indecency, and let all your secret emotions show. If you did not, you did not "care." Not "caring" was unpardonable: It meant you didn't love the nasty little animal across from you, or the monster behind you, and "not loving" was a crime in itself.
No wonder the children of America grew up to be confused and distraught and bewildered -- reverting to the barbarism now called "Liberalism." Big Mommy, in America, had replaced Big Brother of all the centuries, and she was far more dreadful. Her syrup was full of spiritual poison and indignity.
As I have said, I encountered her at an early age, after I had been in an American school about a week or so. It was a Monday morning. Teachers, I had discovered, were not the severe but just taskmasters they were in England. They sang. They prattled. They cooed. I did notice that this appeared to hurt them somewhat and made them grimace. But Big Mommy had already gotten in her propaganda, and the sad teachers had no appeal. Occasionally the poor girls just couldn't stand it -- in the beginning. They forgot their new indoctrination, and slammed, and the air cleared miraculously if only for a little while. But the national climate had gone Populistic, thanks to William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt, and Populism is just another word for the old Collective Tyranny, now called "Liberalism."
Well, anyway, it was a Monday morning and Teacher smiled at us radiantly. (It did seem to cause her pain, but never mind.) She said, "Dear little children, we are going to play a new game today! We call it Sharing Our Weekend Experiences. That means you will all take turns telling all the rest of us what wonderful things happened to you on Saturday and Sunday, and what you did and thought, and where your dear parents took you, and what you said, and what you played. Won't that be fun?"
We kids stared at Teacher vacantly, and blinked. The old girl continued to beam at us encouragingly. Then she waggishly pointed to a little boy and sang, "Tommy, dear! Do tell us what you did this wonderful spring weekend! And what your mama and papa talked about 'So interesting!" She had a notebook open and a pen poised, alertly.
Tommy rose sluggishly and blinked. "Well, uh," he said. "Saturday I skated. Sunday, we went to Church. We, uh, had a big dinner. We all went to sleep. Then we went to the park and watched the airplane over the river. We came home and had some sandwiches, and then we went to bed."
Teacher wrote rapidly. "And what did you think about it all?" she cried.
Tommy considered. "I wished school was out. I wished it was summer, so I wouldn't have to go to school no more."
Teacher's pen flew. Her face became very serious. She said, "Don't you like school, Tommy?"
Now, it is normal for healthy children to despise school with all their barbarian little hearts, and even young children suspect those mates who declare they "love" school. They consider them to be either liars or fools trying to attract the favor of Teacher. They are quite right, of course, and a thorough dislike for school was once accepted as quite natural among teachers, who probably hated it, too. But Teacher had been taught by Big Mommy that a child was "in emotional difficulties" if he didn't like being tied to a desk all day and confined in a dreary space, while the sun shone outside invitingly.
"I hate school!" said Tommy, with powerful emotion, and we almost applauded. At least we roared softly in affirmation.
Teacher's face was now really somber.
She made several more notes, then called on a little girl for her recitation of the Wonderful Week-End Experience. The child's recital was dull. So were the ones following. An ominous sleepiness began to overpower me. A delicious inertia was creeping over me, and a soft darkness, when Teacher's voice sharply awakened me. "Janet Caldwell! It is your turn to Share."
I stood up, crumpled as always, with my red hair over my face and in my eyes. I considered. The other kids had had uneventful week-ends, all seriously the same, and all tepid. Mine could have been gloriously different. Still, I hesitated. The British indoctrination of reticence had been pounded well into me at home and in British schools. Teacher fixed me with a hypnotic eye. "Well, well?" she said, with impatience. "Surely something happened at home, Janet, over the weekend that you can Share with us."
Kids, as a rule, have a pathetic belief in the omniscience of adults. I hadn't as yet discarded that belief, though it had begun to waver alarmingly when I was three. So, I considered that if Teacher wanted to know my Experience it was quite all right to crank up a really good one for her. Hadn't I been taught that one was to obey one's superiors?
In the two weeks I had been in that school I had already acquired a little notoriety among my innocent little playmates, so that the half-dozing class came to attention and stared at me. This was both flattering and unnerving, but even children love an audience. I brought the weekend experience to my inner eye and suddenly found it quite exciting, far different from the memoirs of my fellow sufferers.
"On Saturday afternoon," I said, "Mama almost brained Papa with a frying pan, and then she threw a knife at him, and then he went out to the saloon and got drunk and didn't come home until Sunday morning. He didn't look well. He had a black eye.
He told Mama it was worth it, and she hit him again. With the rolling pin, this time."
My school-mates were enchanted. They laughed and clapped, and I preened. But Teacher was pale with horror. She said, in a hushed voice, "Your parents used Violence on each other, Janet?"
I wasn't too certain what Violence meant, but the sound of it seemed to fit the case. I nodded happily. "But Mama can hit harder," I informed the class, who applauded again (especially the little girls). "Mama can hit very hard," I went on, "though she's little. Papa's afraid of her, though sometimes he hits back."
Teacher folded her hands prayerfully on the desk. The kids looked at me with envy. What had their weekends been in comparison with mine? Dullsville.
"Was your mother ... er, drunk -- too?" asked Teacher, almost whispering.
I considered. Now I come of two hard-drinking races and never will I lie and say that Liquor Never Crossed Mama's Lips. I didn't lie then, either. "Oh, Mama drinks, too," I said, airily. "But I don't think they get drunk. They don't fall on the floor, like the men I see coming out of the saloons sometimes. They just fight."
I am sure I made a Prohibitionist out of Teacher on the spot. She closed the notebook as if it were the Book of Doom, and rested her hand upon it and gently bit her lip. She stared into space. She said, "Spelling books, children."
That was a come-down, of course. Later, Teacher asked me, in a hushed voice, to remain a few minutes after school. This was annoying. Mama had no patience with tardiness, and I had to wheel little Brother in the afternoons, and Mama took no excuses. After the other kids had left the room at two-thirty, Teacher drew me tenderly and slowly to her knee and gazed deeply and compassionately into my eyes.
"Tell me, dear," she said, "did you cry and tremble when your mother -- did what she did to your father?"
I was astonished. "No," I said. "I thought she had killed Papa, at first." I was a little regretful. Not that I didn't have great affection for Papa, but murder is always dramatic and children are always eager for drama.
Teacher had begun to scribble in her notebook again, and for the first time a little apprehension touched me. Her pen was quite feverish. She said, "Janet, dear, didn't you just shake when you thought your Mama had killed your Papa?"
I thought this over, trying to remember. Hazy remembrance came to me. "Oh, I thought if she'd killed him she might be hanged, or something. Then he got up off the couch."
"Dear sweet Heaven," breathed Teacher. Her eyes were full of tears. She helped me on with my coat, something no adult had done since I had been three, and she took my hand and said bravely, "We really must talk to Mama."
Now apprehension rose to fear. I tried to pull my hand away. "Mama will kill me!" I exclaimed. Alas, as always, prudence came to me too late. And tears. I yelled with fright, seeing Mama's outraged face. "You made me tell the class!" I screamed at Teacher. "I didn't want to, but you made me!"
I had visions of police, and me in prison, iron doors clanging after me. Teacher had somehow pervaded my mind with criminality as well as terror. What had I done? I suddenly knew -- too late, as usual -- that Mama would not look kindly on my breach of reticence to entertain the class. How could I have forgotten that before my parents did battle they were always careful to close doors and draw draperies?
I must have impressed Teacher with my terror, for she dived again for her notebook and wrote something in it. This released my hand. I wanted to run for dear life. And, believe me, I was sure it was my life. To this very moment the trauma of it remains with me: I never see Big Mommy in action or hear her voice in our suborned Press and on TV and in the mouths of politicians without that old feeling of sixty years ago, that feeling of imminent terror and despair, of absolute helplessness, and the desire to flee to some safe spot.
Teacher patted my shoulder. "All right, dear," she said, with deeper compassion. "Go home alone. It will be all right." I fled, trembling for the first time in my life, and sweating with dread and with the sensation that I had escaped something terrible. I had. Temporarily.
We occupied an apartment on quite a nice street in my home city, and Mama had brought treasured family antiques with her from England, including some fine tables and mirrors and an excellent Oriental rug or two. We also had beautiful lace curtains and velvet draperies, and Mama was a furious housekeeper, keeping everything shined and polished and scrubbed while she bewailed her lot in America at not having a maid-of-all-work as she had had in England. And there was usually something very savory simmering on the stove, and the house smelled of goodies and wax and polish and lavender all the time, and the windows glittered.
Home was a haven to me that afternoon, though usually it definitely was not -- being filled with chores I had to do after my stroll with little Brother. I was very subdued and didn't once complain. Papa, home for tea , gazed at me apprehensively. "Is the lass ill?" he asked.
Mama roughly felt my brow. "She isn't feverish," she said. "She didn't cause me any trouble today, and that's unusual.
Maybe I'd better give her a dose of castor oil and syrup of rhubarb, just to be certain."
To show my state of mind, I was even glad to take that horrible stuff, remembering Teacher and my narrow, escape from catastrophe. But later that night a policeman came to the door and requested an interview with my parents. I looked at him with absolute terror, because I was filled with premonitions.
To the British, the police are sacrosanct, and Authority, and are respected. That is, they were until comparatively recently. The Police did not come to one's house except under dire provocation. My parents were aghast. He was the Law. He was also a big young Irishman with a fresh face, and he looked about our nice and shining apartment with puzzled astonishment. I know now that he had expected a filthy slum and broken cartons and dirt and drunkenness and, possibly, blood on the floor. His eye fell on me, and he saw me glaring with fright at him, and he pursed his lips. (I can see it all as vividly as if it were happening just now.) He cleared his throat. He was embarrassed.
Papa, with a very white face, invited him to sit down and Mama queried if he'd like a "nice cup of tea." Her little hands were trembling. The young policeman, recognizing an Irishman when he saw one, sat down and thanked Mama for the tea, and she added some pound cake and fresh cream. He stirred his cup and thoughtfully watched the swirls in it.
"I tell you, Mr. Caldwell," he said at last, "there's been prowlers around this neighborhood in the past couple weeks, and we're looking for them, and I thought maybe you'd seen them around. Nice flat like this. Just what they're looking for." He admired the heavy silver teaspoon and weighed it in his hand. He looked at the lace curtains, and smiled.
Papa had always heard that America was a violent country, long before he had come here, and so he was not surprised. He almost regretfully assured the policeman that he had seen no criminals.
"And a lot of drunkenness gets reported to us," said the young man. "Mean neighbors, I'll be thinking. Lies! A body can't take a drap anymore without some Nosy, Parker calling the Po-lice."
Papa caught the drift at once, and so did Mama; but, thank God they didn't connect it with me. They were indignant, and nodded their heads. "Mind my words," said Papa, darkly, "they'll being stopping us from having a drop of the Creature one of these days. Will you have a drop?"
The young policeman did. When he rose to go he considered me. "Nice little girl you have here, Mr. Caldwell," he said, in a voice which denied the words, and his look at me was stern.
My parents couldn't have disagreed more, but they simpered politely. After the policeman was gone they discussed who the wretch had been who had "mentioned" that they kept a bottle or two on hand, and decided it was the unfortunate landlady. That's the kind of narrow escapes I have been having all my life, thanks to Big Mommy. And sometimes I did not escape.
My next memory of Big Mommy in Concerned-Love-Action came a couple of years later. She had decided that Health was Important for The Children, and it was not the affair of parents but of government, and bureaucrats. No matter how robust and rosy the kids were, Big Mommy was full of Concern for their well-being. So she put out a law that all kids must be vaccinated immediately against smallpox. She sent out Leaflets to our parents, sternly commanding them to show proof, within a week, that we kids had all been vaccinated "by your family physician." Failing that, we would be forcibly vaccinated in school, and parents charged one dollar.
My parents had seen some horrible results of vaccination in England, such as people dying of septicemia or losing an arm or becoming extremely ill for a long time. In 1910, vaccination for smallpox was no light thing, and left hideous scars on the arm -- two huge craters. Mama said, with that restraint so characteristic of her, "Janet is not going to be vaccinated! What sort of a country is this, that the government can tell you what to do, under threat?"
You see, in those days, there was no Internal Revenue Service, no electronic bugging, few bureaucrats, and Washington was still weak and far away. But coming closer, kiddies, coming closer.
Mama's British spirit of independence and outrage against governmental interference were aroused. She marched to school, threw that Leaflet in Teacher's face, and warned her, and everyone else within hearing, that if I were vaccinated "I'll sue you for the last penny!" She meant it, too. Mama never uttered a threat without carrying it out with vigor, and the enemy never forgot her, either.
Mama, then, in front of trembling Teacher, told me in a very carrying voice that if I "permitted" anyone to vaccinate me she'd "give you the thrashing of your life." I was to leave school at once and go home at "the very first word."
A determined citizen, in those days, could oppose and confront bureaucrats and win, if he had an indomitable spirit -- and Mama had that, and more. It has just occurred to me that if several million citizens, even now, passionately opposed some governmental "ruling" or oppression, Big Mommy might be made to back down. Even now. I know it happened on that day when Mama marched to school. I was the only kid in class, alas, who wasn't vaccinated, either by the family physician or by force in the principal's office. Americans were already growing soft and fearful of bureaucrats. Or perhaps they were just stricken mute with incredulity at such high-handed interference with the health of their children.
My parents, of course, didn't believe in Family Physicians and "yearly checkups." That was partly due to frugality and partly due to the fact that no one dared get sick around Mama. (Something psychological about that.) Our forbears lived into their late nineties and hundreds, without benefit of Modern Science, and my parents firmly believed we'd do the same if we didn't "dose yourself with pills." In fact, when I was eighteen, I had my first child with no medical assistance and was back at work in four days, and never had a doctor for myself until I was thirty-one. Poverty has some benefits, you see. I couldn't afford a doctor; not that I ever needed one. I don't decry the Medical Profession, of course. Some of my best friends are doctors -- but they'll get me into a hospital only when I am dying and unconscious. To me, hospitals are the place where you die, and who wants it?
Well, when I was about thirteen the Word went out from Big Mommy that no child would be permitted back to school in the autumn without a letter from his Family Physician that he was in excellent health. I was delighted. I saw free and happy years ahead of me, with no school. I had a thousand joyous projects in mind.
Mama, of course, wrecked that. I would go to school--without the blessing of Family Physician, because we didn't have one and Mama thought the very idea hilarious. "A country of weaklings," she remarked. "They'll put up with Anything. Haven't they any gumption?"
If parents couldn't afford a Family Physician -- and a kid had to have that in writing from home -- he would be tenderly sent to one at city expense. Now people, no matter how poor, were proud in those days and to accept "charity from the city" was the very depths of degradation. So thousands of desperate parents, strapped for money and barely able to feed their young families, were put to the expense of a private physician. It never occurred to them to rebel. It certainly occurred to my Mama.
I know, now, where I got my literary talent from; Mama could write a very fiery and passionate and eloquent epistle. And she did. I took it to Teacher, who shrank and whimpered a little when she read it. Then I was marched off to the principal, who read the letter and looked shaken. "I never read anything so abusive in my life," he said, in a weak voice. "These foreigners!"
"We're not 'foreigners,'" I said, much vexed. "One of my ancestors fought with George Washington. Did yours?"
"As bad as her mother," sighed Teacher, who really did have a "foreign" name.
I was still hoping for the best. I said, "I don't have to come to school anymore, do I?"
The principal regarded me without affection. "Yes, you do," he said. "As for your mother - I am afraid that the lady doesn't understand that We Have the Best Interests of The Children at Heart. She doesn't understand This Country. Well, go back to your class. I will give you a note to give to your mother."
"She'll burn it' I promised.
Mama did just that. I was the only kid in my class, again, who wasn't either examined by Family Physician or sent to a public one. The latter poor kids didn't hold up their heads for months, and what about that trauma, Big Mommy? Or are you certain, now, that you have so corrupted the American people that they will take charity from all and sundry, with eagerness and craven servility?
I am proud to say that Mama battled bureaucrats until the day I joyously left school and was on my own. I think, and hope, that I have inherited her indomitable spirit. At least, I go on fighting Big Mommy. -- and I have seen some instances when she has neatly stepped out of my way.
Taylor Caldwell (1900-1985) was a best-selling author who wrote over 30 novels, including Dear and Glorious Physician, A Pillar of Iron, and Captains and the Kings. This article (abridged) originally appeared as "Big Mommy -- How Big Brother Has Been Replaced" in the February 1969 issue of American Opinion, a predecessor to THE NEW AMERICAN.
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|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Jun 3, 2002|
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