I could rave about Adam Hochschild’s book, King Leopold’s Ghost in many ways. Most of those ravings are summed up by the numerous congratulatory remarks decking its front and back covers as well as its entirely full “Praise” page. I’ll let you, dear readers, discover those comments for yourself.
Hochschild lays out the stunningly brutal conduct of King Leopold’s regime in a concise and efficacious manner. He employs vivid characterizations of key players, renders scene with a sense of life almost unbelievable in historically precise nonfiction, and lends a voice to an area of history that is often neglected by the general public, simply because the majority of the history that we have was transcribed by the oppressors of peoples who utilized the oral tradition over the written.
I could go on, but then again, my goal here is not to summarize or characterize the book. That is a task left to the reader. What I would like to do is draw attention to areas that I found to be quite interesting.
Mark Twain is mentioned quite frequently, as he was one of the primary activists representing the plight of the native Congolese to the American public. He wrote a pamphlet in 1905 entitled King Leopold’s Soliloquy, which paints a less than attractive (and justly so) portrait of King Leopold of Belgium. One of the more interesting points made in the pamphlet, which is primarily an energetic recitation of previously published criticism pouring murderously from King Leopold’s own mouth, is made in the closing element.
Leopold reads from unknown author’s material: “We see this awful king, this pitiless and blood-drenched king, this money-crazy king towering toward the sky in a world-solitude of sordid crime…but we do not wish to look; for he is a king, and it hurts us, it troubles us, by ancient and inherited instinct it shames us to see a king degraded to this aspect, and we shrink from hearing the particulars of howit happened. We shudder and turn away when we come upon them in print.”
Leopold then responds to his own recitation: “Why, certainly — THAT IS MY PROTECTION.. And you will continue to do it. I know the human race”.
This is the truth of the matter. We have the material now to understand what happened in the Congo, but the people of that time had the material as well. And for some reason, this happens over and over and over again. “Some reason” is a semi idiotic way of putting it. We look aside for every reason, for every reason we can possibly think of. I, as writer, can’t claim moral superiority by saying I exclude myself from that practice. I know it all too well. It is an ingrained part of our human structure: the impulse to preserve the idea of the world in which we imagine we live by refusing to accept new information as true. We are prisoners of our own minds. I could tell you, dear reader, to wake up. I could tell myself the same thing. But we are functioning in abstractions here.
The only solid conclusion I can make from this information is that that practice of absorbing information, whether that is through YouTube videos, online news channels, or books, is the most effective means of generating awareness. Lack of education, or interest in self-education, creates a sense of apathy that may be comfortable, but that is ultimately destructive on an individual and community level.
I urge you to read shit.