Thursday, September 19, 2013

Orwell and Our Time

Orwell is one of those writers who everybody has heard of and practically nobody reads. This is a shame, because his ideas are some the the most useful ones in explaining political developments from his time to the present. He wrote a lot of things, and if you're not familiar with any of them I suggest you start with "Politics and the English Language," which you can read in just a few minutes right HERE.  Longer, but extremely readable, are Animal Farm and 1984 You may already know what "doublethink," "duckspeak," and "crimethink" mean, but you should encounter them in the original to really appreciate them.  This dictionary can be useful, too.  But if you want a quick intro, the Irish Savant explains what "Orwellian" really means:


The term Orwellian has been debased by over-use and misunderstanding. It's come to represent anything that's futuristic and unpleasant. In actual fact Orwell's understanding of where our world was heading was infinitely more profound than that. Here's what I understand by the term.

All power devolves to the State: Competing intuitions like religion, family, free trade unions etc. are suppressed. Control of citizens' access to information is micro-managed down to the lowest level of detail and reinforced by endless brainwashing.

Freedoms are systematically reduced until only those approved by the State are allowed.  State control is literally everywhere as exemplified by the 'Big Brother is watching you' motif. Whereas non-Orwellian tyrannies concentrated on controlling physical opposition, Orwell envisaged a time when actual thought would be controlled, hence the Thought Police.  Offenders, the lucky ones, would be sent to 're-education' centres for reprogramming.

The application of Doublethink and Newspeak: This is represented be the legendary Ministry of War being designated Ministry of Peace, control called support,  lies and propaganda disseminated by the Ministry for Truth and so on. Many people today think (to the extent that they think of it at all) that this device serves merely to sugarcoat the unpleasant.  It does, but it also operates at the deepest psychological level, serving to atomise society, undermine self-confidence making individuals easy prey for a powerful State.  I read somewhere of experiments with rats where the murine equivalent of Doublethink literally lead to some rats starving themselves to death. (Read the rest HERE.)

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