Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?

The first story is Robert Heinlein’s The Year of the Jackpot.  A consulting statistician with the unlikely name of Potiphar Breen observes that many strange social trends are on a strong upswing.  One such trend:  young women removing all their clothes in public.  Potiphar sees one such disrobing in process, shoos away the police, covers the girl with his raincoat, then takes her home and asks her why she did it.  She doesn’t know.

Potiphar informs her that nine other girls have done the same thing, in Los Angeles alone, on that very day…and goes on to tell her that this is a small part of the overall pattern of increasing craziness that he is observing.  A man has sued an entire state legislature for alienation of his wife’s affections–and the judge is letting the suit be tried.  In another state, a bill has been introduced to repeal the laws of atomic energy–not the relevant statutes, but the natural laws concerning nuclear physics. Potiphar shows the girl (her name is Meade) the graphs on which he has plotted the outbreak of bizarre things over time, and notes that many different indicators, all with different cycles, are all converging in this very year.  Still, Meade wants to look at her disrobing episode on an individual basis:  “I want to know why I did what I did!”

“I think we’re lemmings, Meade,” Potiphar says.  “Ask a lemming why he does it.  If you could get him to slow up his rush to death, even money says he would rationalize his answer as well as any college graduate.  But he does it because he has to–and so do we.”  When Meade tries to defend free will–“I know I have it–I can feel it”, Potiphar continues with another analogy:  “I imagine every little neutron in an atom bomb feels the same way.  He can go spung! or he can sit still, just as he pleases.  But statistical mechanics works out anyhow.  And the bomb goes off.”

As Meade and Potiphar become romantically involved, Potiphar’s indices of bizarre behavior and events continue to climb. Transvestism by draft-dodgers has resulted in a mass arrest in Chicago and a gigantic mass trial–but the (male) prosecutor shows up in a pinafore.  At the All Souls Community Church of Springfield, the pastor has reinstituted ceremonial nudity.  Two weeks later, a hundred and nine other churches have announced the same policy.  California is suffering a major water crisis, but people continue watering their lawns as usual.  Hardly anyone is interested in the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions; all the excitement is about the revived Know-Nothing party.

Foreign affairs, too, are disintegrating into chaos…topped off by a nuclear exchange.  Meade and Potiphar manage to survive, and Potiphar’s cycle charts seem to indicate that things will soon get better…(read the story to see how it comes out.)

The fictional events of Heinlein’s Year of the Jackpot (set in 1952–it was written in 1947) don’t seem any more bizarre than the kind of headline stories that we are seeing every day in real-life:

College students cry ‘racism’ when served ‘culturally-incorrect cuisine’ in the cafeteria

The “Queen of YouTube, famous for eating cereal out of a bathtub of milk that she was bathing in , is granted interviews by both the sitting President and the leading democratic contender

Woman loses her job and is threatened with having her children taken away, because she let her three sons (11,9,and 5) play by themselves in a playground next to her apartment building.

Seven-year-old boy suspended from school for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun

Previously-male person selected as Woman of the Year


The second story is the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco.


In a small town in France, a rhinoceros is observed running wild…and soon, there is more than one.  People speculate about whether the rhinos are real or a figment of someone’s imagination; there is discussion about whether these are one-horned or two-horned rhinoceri, a logician talks about syllogisms and gives a long-winded and incorrect example involving cats and paws.

Soon, it becomes clear that the animals didn’t just appear–people are actually turning into rhinos.  

The leading character, Berenger, is a borderline alcoholic slacker who feels that just about everything in life is too much trouble.  When we meet him, he is being chastised by his friend Jean for his slovenly appearance, his lackluster pursuit of the woman he loves (Daisy), and his lack of interest in culture.  But Jean himself is not a very appealing character; he is quite arrogant and his visits to art museums and such are motivated not by genuine interest but rather by social climbing.  Indeed, Jean is one of the first humans to turn into a rhinoceros, and perhaps the transition in his case isn’t really all that fundamental…as the SparkNotes analysis says, “When Jean vows that, as a rhino, he will trample Berenger and anyone who gets in his way, it is clear that his transformation was a mere exchange of bodies, and not of morality.”

Some argue that the rhinoceros plague was simply made up by journalists in order to sell newspapers.  But the evidence becomes too strong to ignore, as rampaging rhinos spread destruction throughout the town.  Still, people continue in their accustomed ruts rather than planning and acting to solve the problem. When Mr. Boef, a worker at Berenger’s office, is transformed, the department manager is mainly concerned with deducting the change as a business expense.  Botard, the office skeptic who had earlier said it was all a made-up story by journalists, now asserts that he never said any such thing but rather that the rhino plague was instigated by “traitors.”

More and more people are turning into rhinos–even the firemen, who had earlier rescued Berenger and his fellow workers from their rhino-collapsed office–and increasingly, people who have not made the transformation begin making excuses for the beasts.  Their power is admired, they are said to be ‘beautiful’ (indeed, the stage direction says that the heads of the rhinos, which are shown only as shadows, are to actually be shown as increasingly beautiful), and one man refers to the rapidly-growing rhino population as the ‘universal family.’

As just about everyone else succumbs to the threat and the appeal of the rhinos, Berenger begins to find his own manhood and to resist the transformation.  Daisy finds herself increasingly attracted to him, and Berenger speaks hopefully about the pair becoming the new Adam and Eve, and regenerating the human race.  But Daisy, too, becomes powerfully drawn to the rhinos.  When she says, “We must adapt ourselves and try to get on with them…We must try to understand the way their minds work, and learn their language”…and Berenger responds:  “They haven’t got a language! Listen…do you call that a language?”…she snaps at him contemptuously:

“How do you know?  You’re no polyglot!”

At the end, Berenger is left alone, and the last words in the play are his:

“I’m not capitulating.”

Leaving the play for the actual world, it increasingly seems that talking with a typical “progressive” is about as effective as attempting to have a conversation with a rhino.  And especially those leftists who call themselves “social justice warriors” are showing the destructive instincts of Ionesco’s rhinoceri.

These tendencies can also be found in some of the more conspiracy-oriented corners of the extreme Right, but in general, rhinoceros transformations are a lot more common today on the Left.

16 thoughts on “Are We Living at the Intersection of These Two Stories?”

  1. Was brought up in Africa for almost 4 years, so I’ll accept that. I’ve always loved Rhinos.

    It’s Heinlien’s Crazy Years, he wrote quite a lot about. For me it’s the madness and moral bankruptcy, that is a large part of American culture, coming home to roost.

    Has popcorn and a comfy chair.

  2. Yes Pen Gun something is happening.

    Sensing their Doom is nigh Progs are throwing all caution to the wind and trumpeting their madness in every direction. Over here their issuing talking points to ruin the family Christmas and Thanksgiving Dinners and shortly enough surely Easter we’ll be reminded it’s really a pagan holiday.

    But what’s really happening is Mr. Jones hears you and sees you for what you are at last.

    You’re dead men Pen Gun.

  3. Progs in real life as opposed to the media, academia and on line are not only not even a mile wide but not an inch deep.

    As Trump, Putin, LePen and many others are demonstrating the people [with the benefits properly secured in wise politik] are deciding to live, and not live in madness.

    Nor have every holiday systematically marred by the family tragedy these people are…never mind have them running things.

    So cheer up.

    No we won’t talk our way out of this but it’s only the end of the world if we let these maniacs end it.

  4. All is proceeding as it has in almost every previous “civlization“. (250 years, give or take)

    To whit:

    “The impression that it will always be automatically rich causes the declining empire to spend lavishly on its own benevolence, until such time as the economy collapses, the universities are closed and the hospitals fall into ruin.
    It may perhaps be incorrect to picture the welfare state as the high-water mark of human attainment. It may merely prove to be one more regular milestone in the lifestory of an ageing and decrepit empire.“

    The quote is from here:

  5. We are definitely seeing a collapse of the old order. Virtually everyone I talk to senses it, even if they can’t define it. Civilization in the black community has already collapsed, and a tribal thug culture has replaced it. People sense a coming chaos and I think that explains the dramatic rise in gun purchases far more than the left’s endless attempts to outlaw weapons.

    The marxist left has spent the last century undermining every value and tradition of Western Civilization and now no one, the young especially, know what to latch onto. The school system is becoming Orwellian. The political class, with a few exceptions, seem more like an organized crime syndicate than anything resembling community representatives in a constitutional republic. TV pop culture, produced by New York and LA leftists, from what little of it I see, seems consumed with brutal violence, while university professors parse and criminalize microaggressions out of the basic tenets of civilization and the founding American ideals. The European and American left seemed completely sold, at a moments notice, on the idea of importing thousands or millions of immigrants whose ideology is completely antithetical to everything they claim to believe in and who have sworn to kill them, destroy their way of life, and replace it with barbarism. All the while twisting themselves into pretzels of logic to justify it.

    I don’t see the old order ever being restored. It would take a generation or more to do it, and around 1/2 of the population wants no part of it. The young are completely indoctrinated in the spectacularly failed ideas of marxism via the government school system, and even many private schools seem on board with the basic tenets, probably through the influence of marxist academic associations and unions. So the future holds more insanity, not less. After the Roman Empire fell, the Dark Ages lasted 1,000 years.

    I would not be surprised to see North America civilization fracturing into various political units, basically a marxist-collective unit and a free capitalist unit, and that may be a best-case scenario. China may be a rising empire. Asia and the Western Pacific may come completely under their control in the next century.

  6. I wonder why Heinlein chose to name his protagonist “Potiphar,” after the chief of the palace guard in the biblical story of Joseph?

    Also, there is an interesting omission in the Amazon Kindle version of “Jackpot.” In the original version, Potiphar is feeling very self-satisfied after shooting some enemy parachutists who have landed in the wake of the nuclear exchange:

    “Apart from mathematics, just two things worth doing–kill a man and love a woman. He had done both; he was rich.”

    This passage is missing from the Kindle version, along with some surrounding text.

    Eliding part of a book without any comment on the part of the editor/publisher that this has been done gets us a little too close to Orwell’s “Memory Holes.”

  7. “You’re dead men Pen Gun.”

    As are we all, my friend, as are we all.

    “issuing talking points to ruin the family Christmas and Thanksgiving Dinners and shortly enough surely Easter we’ll be reminded it’s really a pagan holiday”

    I guess reality is hard, but talking points are not going to ruin anything for sane people.

  8. This is not “The Year of the Jackpot”. Potiphar Breen finds imminent peaks or troughs in a very broad range of statistics, not just oddball incidents, due to long-standing cycles. This confluence drives perfectly normal people like Meade (the girl) to do oddball things totally inconsistent with previous behavior.

    Neither of those conditions exists at this time. I would further note that the apparent rise in eccentric behavior is in large part a matter of perception: mass media are searching for and reporting eccentricity as a form of entertainment.

    Neither is this “The Crazy Years”. Yes, there are some notable social follies going on. But every era has those. What the “Crazy Years” had was substantial acts of blatant folly by major institutions or social groups.

    If this was the Crazy Years: Oregon would make vegetarianism compulsory (i.e. ban meat). Stanford) would require all faculty and students to go naked. The Lutheran Church would embrace polygamy. Eating contests would become a major professional sport, with million-dollar prizes awarded weekly. That kind of thing, which has not happened.

    What has happened: borderline craziness by mainstream actors, and outright craziness by borderline actors.

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