ORWELL AND ME: ONE

February 5, 2007

George Orwell, Eric Blair to his friends, inspired me to my vocation. Until I was twelve I was headed to the sciences. I wanted to be a physicist: astrophysics or atomic. I couldn’t decide. I’d read quite a bit of quality literature by that time. The short stories of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allen Poe which I still love. Mainly I liked science fiction. Stories that were drawn from real possibilities opened up by the discoveries of the twentieth century: space travel, time travel. It was to satisfy this taste that I picked up a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four whilst a very unhappy boarding school student.

It was the first time I learnt a book can change your life. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a complex book. It isn’t merely a criticism of totalitarianism. It’s a satire deriding the self-image both of the new order visions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia but also of the Western democracies of it’s time. For Orwell there was very little separating them. The blind obedience to authority, the conveniently flexible memory, the demonising of enemies for doing exactly the same things one’s own army was doing.

Orwell started me on the path to becoming a writer.

After school I drifted into Campus politics and, for a while, I succumbed to ideology. I became a tape recording. It was not a natural disposition and it didn’t last long. I had a deep interest in social progress; in improving civilization to the extent that human lives would become more than just an exercise on the money machine. Naturall the ‘radical’ ideologies challenging the status quo interested me. Various political and artistic ‘isms’ that might carve a path to a better place to be.

This was the beginning of nineties and members of the 60s generation were everywhere ascending to authority. Change marked the culture. It was no longer just about football and beer. There were urbane people making sophisticated noises. Homosexuality became visible. Different points of view, different cultures were celebrated not concealed.

The downside came in the moral paranoia and secular puritanism collectively know as political correctness. Often this was just pure hatred expressed by the idiotic ranting of gramaphone minds. Common sense, good humour and courtesy were almost totally absent. Taste was not a matter of personal choice but an emblem of political and moral ‘soundness’. Free thought was purged. I found myself unable to say what I wanted among many of my peers.

The mindset had little to do with anything relevant or meaningful. It sabotaged the possibility of change rather than promoting it. What profit in declaring the law an unsuitable career for a woman on feminist grounds! The ‘reason’ – the field’s pervasive stench of masculinity. Better to go and weave baskets instead. Don’t laugh this was actually promoted at a conference I attended.

More the use of a pseudo-technical, virtually unreadable jargon became compulsory. I remember doing my post-graduate thesis using a thesaurus. I’d constantly be on the look out for a more complicated and less clear way of saying simple things. This language disease is an epidemic in my generation. I don’t point the finger I succumbed myself. It’s use of scientific symbols and words to make itself sound important, radical or deep created plain ugliness passed on to subsequent generations. English classes now teach the construction of narratives and discourses as opposed to simply writing stories and essays.

French theorists are worshipped and taken literally when often they are using wild hyperbole. Roland Barthes, in response to the New Criticism, declares the death of the author. He means to direct literary criticism away from biography to more textual questions. But that doesn’t sound quite dramatic enough so: the author is dead!

And we’ve taken him literally to the extent that a colleague of mine commenced her PhD thesis by declaring her thesis was going to argue such and such. Theses don’t argue. The thesis is the argument. The argument is made by a human. This is common sense but common sense is banned in the contemporary humanities.

I did it too, I confess: thesaurus abuse. the police should interfere. I had abandoned Orwell. Never use a long word when a short one suffices. Is it possible to cut a word, do it. Simple rules for the creation of clear a beautiful prose. I had forgotten.

Nineteen Eighty-Four reveals the nature of freedom of thought. Oceanic society is oppressive because reality is controlled by the collective human will to simply ignore what is inconveniently ‘out there’. People disappear for political reasons, the correct response is simply to forget they ever existed. Winston Smith writes correctly that ‘freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. If that is granted all else follows.” It is on this point that he suffers most greatly at the electric rack. O’Brian must make him see five where there are four.

Freedom in other words comes from believing what own senses regardless of what others think: ergo the empirical method. But the Left has taken cultural relativism way past the point of useful application Truth is held to be a completely human construct. Even scientific knowledge is a human construct. The implication is that chemical, biological, physical facts are actually culturally dependant. They are customary. There is no world outside the human mind.

Of course this is complete horseshit.

What Orwell understood so well is that the problem with the Left is that it does not have enough regard for certain ‘bourgeois’ traits. For example: freedom of speech, multi-party democracy, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the seperation of the judiciary, legislature, executive and law enforcement aspects of government.

These attributes of capitalist society represent real and important advances in human society. Why? Because they limit the power of the authorities over the individual. Indeed they ensure that authority itself must succumb to higher authority. It is a structure that allows people to think and speak freely and the benefits are enormous.

The Left often neither respects nor understands these things. I remember recently seeing a tiresome ‘speaker’s forum’. The ringleader was a woman railing at the government. She spoke of free speech and democracy as precious things threatened. Afterwards a man started to give a badly thought out case for Intelligent Design. He couldn’t be heard above the shrill, screaming of the former speaker effectively drowning him out. Funny, she’d just cited Voltaire: I don’t agree with what you say but I’ll fight for your right to say it. Fight? She could even shut up and listen like a civilized person.

The Right is in ascendency all over these days. Social welfare and public services rolled back for laissez-faire capitalism. Newspapers and media are stuffed with pompous Tory populism disguising itself as the thought of the common people. The Left is discredited and marginallised.

Sure there are fine Left-wing writers but they continue to plug into a select section of the Intelligensia without being heard by a wider public. Time was the Left knew how to talk to Joe Sixpack. Those times they changed. Meantime we have media polls asking ordinary people if they think torture might be okay in certian circumstances. How long will it be before we go back to the world that preceeded the Enlightenment?

Our world resembles Oceania more than we think it does. Institutions like the US National Security Agency monitor billions of daily communication, the internet provides the individual with a cheap method of global self-expression, but it also provides various institutions with a lot of information on the individual. The endless War on Terror bears a certain resemblance to Oceania’s constant war? True, we haven’t Newspeak or thoughtcrime. But obfuscation is the politician’s standard tactic. And so many opinions and very few facts make it quite difficult to find the truth out about anything. How does one examine the veracity of a standard edition of the morning paper?

I don’t know. What I do know is that democratic institutions must be defended and strengthened and that the left must do this. To do this the hysterical, fist waving march and rally addict must recede and give way to a more conscientous, civilized and intelligent figure. A figure like the tall, thin man in corduroy who once declared: the enemy is the gramaphone mind.

Wed Sep 13 2006

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