Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Audit Of Orwell

Perhaps the best career move that George Orwell ever made was dying when he died. His reputation would most certainly not have survived one of those embarrassing lurches to the right which seem to afflict leftists in their old age, once the knighthood’s in and the Nobel’s on the mantelpiece.

I’ve recently finished reading ‘1984’ for the first time. Although it was at first disquieting to realise that one is reading a story about a 39 year old man with a dud leg and bad teeth, upon completing it one realised that there may be some limited value in performing an entirely subjective audit of where we stand now in relation to his vision of the future, after 12 years of New Labour and 3,000 New Criminal Offences on the books. It is doubtful whether anything that is written here has not been said elsewhere, by writers steeped much more deeply in scholarship of Orwell – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a bash.

Like ‘Brave New World’, like ‘A Man for All Seasons’, ‘1984’ seems to be one of those works which children must suffer when introduced to at too young an age, which in turn causes the work to suffer as a result of being introduced to children of too young an age. As far as young readers in 2009 are concerned, this is something of a pity; if only because they’re the ones living the nightmare.

The adjective ‘Orwellian’ is overplayed – one might just as well use it to describe the misanthropy of anthropomorphic pigs as the dystopic world of Oceania. As adjectives go, it’s been so overused it’s now in serious danger of needing to be re-soled. One of the more delicious ironies which arises from reading the book in 2009 is to think of those libertarians who complain about the erosion of civil liberties being ‘Orwellian’, and, in the same breath, describe the process as being the result of ‘a cock-up, not a conspiracy’; a classic example of doublethink, the process of being able to believe that two contradictory contentions can both be true at the same time without which his imaginay world could not function.

Where are we at? The principal flaw in the book is that Orwell, who was writing as a good socialist in the days of a Labour government, did not raise, perhaps did not or even could not countenance, the possibility of liberty not being lost as a result of revolution, but counter-revolution. IngSoc never materialised to set up telescreens in every home; but neoliberalism, the counter-revolution of the chartered accountants, did rise to set up the CCTV cameras on every street corner. It is apparently not only those on the left who have believed that power is not a means, but an end in itself.

He was in the business of providing warnings about political systems; not attempting to become a visionary of the future in the mould of Arthur C. Clarke. Accordingly, being able to assess the role that technology can play in oppression was beyond him; after all, who needs telescreens when you have cookies? If he had survived to write the book in 1975, his vision might have been very different. The microprocessing revolution of the 1950’s and ‘60’s could have led him to believe that oppressive states of the future would seek to chip humanity as a way of ensuring that their whereabouts can be monitored at all times. On the BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ programme of 15th November 2009, it was reported that recent EU regulations have directed that all donkeys be chipped. It is unknown whether any of these poor monitored beasts are in fact small wooden boys, with noses that grow longer when they tell lies, transformed into donkeys against their will, and whose only real desire is to be living, breathing boys.

In no particular order...

The philologist Syme tells Winston plainly that Newspeak is designed to be the only language in the world with a diminishing vocabulary; in the Principles of Newspeak, to make impossible any modes of thought other than those approved by The Party. This process has been at work on the English language, certainly as spoken and written in the UK, for many years. In ‘Free at Last’, his last set of political diaries, Tony Benn describes his irritation at taking a train journey and being described for that purpose as a customer; and he was quite right, because, as he said, he was a passenger. Anyone who has had dealings with the Department of Work and Pensions in the recent past will appreciate the same disquiet at being described as a customer when one is both a citizen and claimant. The increasing use of the word ‘customer’ to describe very different kind of relationships is classic Newspeak in action, making it impossible to imagine the user of a service having any kind of relationship with those who provide the service, any service, other than as a customer. Attempts to reduce all interactions to commercial transactions are attempts to reduce ways of thinking. This is ‘1984’ in action.

The concept of doublethink, the ability to hold two simultaneously conflicting views, is critical to all that the book describes. In recent years, we have been governed by a Labour Party which has been fanatical in its implementation of a ‘flexible labour market’. Its only tangible result has been growing disparity between the rich and the poor. The guys who cooked up the Speenhamland Act had nothing on Tony Blair, CEO of Reds Inc.

For a party to simultaneously believe in both the redistribution of wealth and in the benefits of a flexible labour market is classic doublethink. We should perhaps have seen that one coming.

By the same token, the desire of the UK’s two-and-a-half main political parties to rule Britain while advancing European integrationism at the same time is, again, classic doublethink. Do they wish to rule, or not?

In Oceania, the ‘proles’ live in a state of permanent peonage, hated by The Party but providing the labour without which it could not exist. They are not ‘secret people’, but almost entirely invisible. It is here that Orwell is at both his most perceptive and most blind, his desire to create getting in the way of his socialism. The proles live for the Lottery, which they believe to be the only means available to them of escaping a life of deadening labour – bang on. They are sustained by a junk diet of bad, quite literally manufactured, music and sexually violent films – bang on. The women are obese – a very hit and miss prediction. Orwell believed that this would be the result of a combination of overwork and over child bearing, which, in these sylvan days of Income Support and social abortion, would be viewed with distaste in many quarters. Then again, he was in the business of producing warnings, not prophecies.

Without war, there could be no Party; and in the section in which Winston reads Goldstein’s ‘Principles of Oligarchical Collectivism’, it is made clear that the only reason why the three powers make quite desultory efforts at warmaking is to control the labour supply available in the Third World. This is one prediction which Orwell got badly wrong – again, he might not have had a crystal ball, but his failure to predict counter-revolution meant that he could not see any circumstances in which the Third World’s labour could be opened up to Western exploitation by any means such as ‘The Washington Consensus’, one of the most effective colonial policies ever devised – it is very much more efficient to dominate a country by destroying its economy from within and calling it ‘freedom’, than by invading it from without.

Some time ago, I mentioned that the current wave of immigration from the Third World was what scholars of the 19th Century would have called a ‘Volkerwanderung’. I’ve revised that view – the ‘Volkerwanderung’ of the early Christian era were the result of the Roman Empire’s internal collapse. This one has been the result not of an internal collapse, but as a result of the wanderers’ own economies and societies being collapsed as a result of outside pressures. Europe is now full of people with nowhere else to go; not economic migrants, but financial refugees. Through blindness and stupidity, We the People colluded in this, for no reason other than our desire to consume. While it is perfectly natural to feel sympathy for doctors and nurses having to migrate to Europe to clean toilets and serve fast-food, the idea that this is not a natural state of affairs brought about as the consequence of previous policies does not seem to occur to anyone with the slightest degree of responsibility for the management of affairs; another example of doublethink.

That it might also lead to dissent and the threat of internal collapse is, of course, another possibility that they did not seem to consider; their stated belief that all the world’s people are only interested in the same things, an idea Orwell himself found absurd, has had any number of quite avoidable consequences, such as the appearance of a bloody great hole in the ground where the World Trade Centre used to be and the rise of Nick Griffin; of whom more later.

Yet in our times of endless war, that ‘war hysteria’ which Orwell described as being at its most acute at the top of society, is manifested only, er, at the top of society. ‘We must stay the course in Afghanistan!’ scream the ministers and the newspapers. Staying the course in Afghanistan seems to mean securing the supply of cheap heroin in Glasgow, and little else. Those lads will wander around in their jim-jams with tea cosies on their nappers from now ‘til Kingdom come, and no amount of blood spilled trying to democratise them is going to make a blind bit of difference. That’s their thang – it’s what they do. Afghanistan is, and always will be, an historical oddity – a civilisation more in need of ‘Top Man’ than Tocqueville.

Yet the Afghan War (how many have there been now? Is anyone keeping score?) is illustrative of The Party maxim that ‘He who controls the present controls the past; he who controls the past controls the future’. We went there to destroy Taliban; now we’re there to ensure, well, something or other, but destroying the Taliban seems to be a non-starter – besides, if things keep going the way they have done recently, we’ll be having Skeikh Al-Khazi round for Tiffin in no time at all. In a period of time which in the span of history will be nothing but the blink of Mullah Omar's good eye, Manhattan’s aforementioned bloody great hole in the ground will be considered to be less important in the scheme of things than the pursuit of gender equality in some mountainous hellhole. Perhaps we have arrived at that point already.

We shouldn’t really be surprised that historical narrative has become so deliberately muddled, perhaps even been sabotaged, that it can only be interpreted through the lens of Orwell’s aphorism. The British national narrative du jour that we are ‘a nation of immigrants’ is entirely false, yet it has been being pushed on the public for at least a decade now. Remember – he who controls the present controls the past, while he who controls the past controls the future.

While being tortured by O’ Brien, Winston is told that his mere death will not be enough. He must be crushed so completely that he comes to accept, indeed love, the system which will shoot or vapourise him. The Party’s inability to control and monitor thought processes is viewed as being a weakness. ‘Crimethink’ is taken so seriously that Parsons, the most avid Party man Winston knows, ends up in the Ministry of Love for saying ‘Down with Big Brother’ when he is at his most vulnerable; in his sleep. He is turned in by his daughter.

The advance of laws prohibiting ‘hate speech’ are nothing but attempts to introduce ‘Crimethink’ into our culture. The more bovine type of rightist will bluster about an Englishman’s right to say this, that or the next thing – flapdoodle. They will bitch and moan about the number of Equality and Diversity personnel that local authorities are compelled to hire, when what really gets their goat is the amount of money such folk are paid – this is doodleflap (a sight really worth seeing would be a group of one-legged black lesbian diversity co-ordinators standing outside the Kensington & Chelsea Conservative Club waving their wedges and shouting ‘Loadsamoney!’). Blimp has never been shot down; and his bovine insistence that ‘it’s a cock-up, not a conspiracy’ means that he has been as blind as a newborn puppy to the social engineering going on around him. The folk he complains about are not there to ensure that we all live the right way; but that we think the right way. Blimp has been kippered by the very forces he’s supported ever since he started believing that trade unions were A Bad Thing.

But that is not the supreme irony of this situation. That honour goes to the diversitators themselves, by habit creatures of the left, who, in doing their very level Boy Scout and Girl Guide best to impose one worldism on us, have been the unwitting stooges of ‘globalisation’, whatever that might be; for whatever it is, it’s the most avaricious, rapacious form of capitalism the world’s ever seen.

As C. S. Lewis remarked in ‘The Four Loves’ the abolition of friendship in favour of companionship would be considered a great advance by those who wish us to be suspicious of each other. The diversitators’ insistence that criminal record checks be necessary for parents who wish to participate in the school run has been an achievement of British totalitarianism that not even Orwell could have anticipated. As he remarked in ‘England Your England’, the most hated term of abuse in the English language is ‘Nosey Parker’. The transformation of his England into a nation of midden-rakers, trawling through other peoples’ trash in pursuit of misdeeds such as trying to get your child into a better school, would have been entirely beyond his imagination.

Not even Oceania could destroy the family, so it didn’t even try – however, the increasingly fungible nature of human relationships, facilitated by corrosive propaganda and unnecessary laws, means that, again, life has outperformed art.

In Oceania, nobody can be permitted to obstruct the system’s march to dominance; and as far as we are concerned, it is at this stage that hope appears.

Although a deplorable impulse and one which must be overcome for all our sakes, the desire to hate an individual is entirely natural; yet hate is subject to entropy. If spun out too widely, it can’t be kept going for long. In Oceania, they acknowledge what they believe to be its power; but they only do it for two minutes at a time. When attempts are made to generate hate against whole groups of people, they usually backfire. It might have been a cock-up, it might have been a conspiracy – but if it was the latter, it’s been a cocked-up conspiracy.

The anathemisation of entire groups of people such as the white working class and the British National Party, their self-appointed, shaven-headed champions, have done nothing but increase support for that group to such a level that its leader now appears on mainstream television. As much as he might itch for the job, Nick Griffin will never be the equivalent of Emmanuel Goldstein (no irony intended). He is already too widely known. His party has too much support to enable it to be suppressed. Perhaps the mistake that those who directed this hate made was in thinking that their constituencies would swallow the party line at all times and under all circumstances. For many years, the constituencies downed it like foie gras. But in forgetting their own humanity, in pumping themselves full of doublethink and abusing and attempting to criminalise those who questioned their motives, those in command of policy assumed that their constituencies had none of their own, that they would suffer being lied to and done down indefinitely – which must make their rejection by their constituencies in favour of a sometimes inhumane individual even more bitter, and them more vengeful.

There are, of course, huge flaws in the book. Orwell doesn’t get round to explaining how IngSoc conquers America; a pretty big omission. Yet his biggest omission of all is his failure to address the question of religion.

Presumably not being religious himself, he fails to explain how Oceania has made religion disappear. Nobody in Oceania seems to feel the need to invoke any authority higher than Big Brother. I’ve got a feeling Orwell didn’t understand either religion or the religious very well – his invocation ‘God is Power’ is, of course, a bastardisation of ‘God is Love’, and he references the Catholic Church twice in ‘The Principles of Oligarchical Collectivism’. Yet it perhaps shows that his ambition over-reached itself by failing to mention religion at all, when the one thing that no dictatorship anywhere has ever been able to do is stop people praying. If anything, living under dictatorship is more likely to make you start.

Are we in the world of ‘1984’? No. Does it seem like it? Yes. Could it get worse? Yes. Will it ever win? No. God the Father trumps Big Brother every time. There is always hope.

4 Comments:

Blogger James Higham said...

Revelations does present a scenario where, at least on this planet, Big Brother does win but at the 11th hour, JC appears and snatches the faithful from under BB's nose.

17 November, 2009 15:48  
Blogger Dutch Boy said...

I don't know - the Soviets did a pretty good job at eliminating religion in Russia and the neo-libs and Eurocrats are finishing the job in the rest of Europe. Perhaps Orwell was most prophetic here.

17 November, 2009 23:05  
Blogger PJMULVEY said...

Martin: The religio-cult of political correctness is the tool of newspeak. It will kill nations because through its weird logic, patriotism is the ultimate no no - how do you dare think that we are better or more superior to another nation? Once of two more generations of 'public' education will finish off the job of mind conversion as the the rest of us who 'remember' will be pass on....voluntarily or not! The plutocrats will then have what they desire - globalized serfdom - as they rule from Utopia. Orwell was right....control the language and you get control of the people.

18 November, 2009 23:15  
Blogger Martin said...

Patrick,

It's interesting to read his essays in tandem with '1984'; in a column he used to write called 'As You Please', he admitted to bowdlerising the second edition of his novel 'Burmese Days' to remove what he thought was offensive language. Early PC at work.

When reading Orwell, it's always useful to remember at all times that he was an Old Etonian colonial policeman who, even in the days of rationing, had 11 golden rules for the making of a cup of tea, and who was Jesuit-like in his fastidiousness to personal hygiene.

19 November, 2009 05:48  

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