Saturday, November 24, 2007

Upton Sinclair - Al Gore has been studying failed campaigns

This mornings ten minute research project? .... getting to the bottom of an intriguing quote.
At 8:30 a.m. I had my nose buried in a fascinating article, "Open-Source Warfare" [IEEE SPECTRUM online] how terrorist warfare is morphing into the ability of tiny groups to wage war on large nation states. I didn't find the article myself. It is flagged today in SLASHDOT, a news aggregator which is on my my morning check sheet.

The author of the SPECTRUM piece quotes Upton Sinclair, an American Socialist writer who was a personal favorite when I was still a young and impressionable student. I've read his brilliant novel THE JUNGLE (1906) at least twice. I have half a dozen of Sinclair's other works on my shelves, but not "Oil!", which has just been filmed. The buzz is that the movie, There Will Be Blood, is destined to be win Best Picture and Best Actor at the next Academy Awards.

What was the Sinclair quote and how was it used? "It is hard to get a man to understand something if his living depends on him not understanding it.” The author's thesis is that the U.S. military has been too slow to adapt to the agile and techno-savvy Muslim terrorists and worse, that the costly lessons learned will be quickly squandered once the Iraq insurgency is declared over and the U.S. military begins to shed Iraq and move on to new missions.

I wondered where a man with the author's cold background would find the time to read Upton Sinclair so I Googled his quote selection. It turns out the quote is from Al Gore's documentary essay AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Al may not have persuaded everyone as to his "truth", but it seems clear that he resurrected a dusty old American political quote and endowed it with a hip new currency. I noticed one odd thing though. Current users are tweaking Upton's sentence to suit their taste - "living" "job" "salary" etc.

It turns out that the exact quote is "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." The sentence appears in a book which Sinclair wrote about his failed attempt to become the Governor of California. It is entitled I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935). I think it reveals something more interesting about Al Gore and his reading habits (and his stealth campaign for the Presidency) than it says about the adaptability of the U.S. war machine.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair, 1935.

University of California Press reprint edition of Sinclair's 1935 book, and the source for quote used in Al Gore's bio-pic AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

And so I learned that the musings of a rather good man (and occasionally a terrific novelist), but who was also an unhappy, defeated candidate for the Governorship of California, were recycled by a very frustrated modern Democratic Party aspirant for the Presidency. That the quote is now found useful, deemed as some sort of "truism," by a specialist in Electronic Warfare... that is the leap in logic which I must wrestle with.

1 comment:

Klockarman said...

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary...."

I remember that quote well from An Inconvenient Truth, and I thought that it was rather ironic because I thought that Gore could just as easily be talking about himself.

I linked to this post on my blog here...

I thought you might be interested.