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1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1 
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Finished Chapter 7. I'm not sure I find it credible that the Party would want to extinguish all erotic joy, but it is certainly an interesting set of ideas. And not inconsistent with the policies of Communism in Russia, China and elsewhere. Prudish, to say the least.

I generally thought of the prudishness of communism as part of their cultivation of a sense of dedication and higher purpose. Armed forces tend to take the same view of the matter. But in Orwell's version it seems to be a danger for the same reason surplus words are a danger - they might encourage people to pursue goals not part of the overall system.

The erotic has a long history of being associated both with rebellion and with self-assertion. One thinks of David and Bath-sheba, of Guinevere in the Arthurian bardic cycle, (and Arthur's mother, who conceived him illicitly with King Uther), of Sappho and Cleopatra and Queen Dido and Theseus, of betrayed Medea and of Achilles and Patroclus, of Abelard and Heloise and Luther's secret love.

Eros is not limited to sexuality - it is about the longing for excellence as well - one might even say for meaning. None of that is of any interest to those dedicated to the pursuit of power. Women's reproductive capacity, like the muscles and minds of all, is just a means to keep the system going. Some of the recent literature telling the stories of slavery, from "Beloved" to "The Underground Railroad" have emphasized the longing for meaning as being intimately tied up with the erotic. The destruction of families under slavery is perhaps the foulest part of its many foulnesses (and, as far as I have seen, was essentially unknown in the slavery of the ancient world) in part because of the utter disregard for that most human urge to meaning.

One could take the view that the Inner Party has no moral culpability. Pursuing power is who they are, and thugs gotta thug (as Brooks said about Dear Leader last spring). Proles are people who can't help taking no interest in power (and anyway, the Thought Police weeds out the exceptions, like some ruthless Darwinian selection process). They are consumed by gambling and the struggle for a sliver of material comfort, and the Party makes sure they will never get enough comfort to be uppity.

But I think that allows both too little agency to the Inner Party, and too much. Too much because Orwell's creation would take a kind of focus and drive that is not really the driving force among the people who have actually risen to leadership in most of these systems, even including the completely psychotic such as Pol Pot. Instead we see that even at their most apparatchik degeneration, they are driven not only by a lust for power over others but also by some sense of larger purpose. The dynamics of those drives for larger purpose do seem to often create monsters, whether Robespierre and Marat or Mao and Stalin, but what is striking to me is that the dynamics do not settle into the inexorable drive for power that Orwell envisioned. Perhaps because they have to create a very strong ideology to launch such an enterprise, it seems to remain open to correction from within. Even Stalin believed in something greater than himself.

Too little agency, then, for a party supposed not to be able to help itself from becoming driven by the imperatives of holding power. In such a system, a sense of moral culpability may be driven far from the surface, but it does not disappear.

I am frequently struck by the way the corporate system has turned even leaders into morally helpless pawns in the forced moves of money-making, but you cannot go through the history of Enron, for example, without being struck by all the points at which moral reflection was possible, and probably actually took place. Jeffrey Skilling knew he had to hide what he was doing, even as the imperatives of "take the money and run" drove him to buy off anyone with the inside view to call him on his chicanery. He probably told himself narratives along the lines of "the system has to work over the long run, so if we just ride out another rough patch we'll be able to bring these losses back onto the books." Very similar to Nick Leeson whose rogue trades bankrupted Barings Bank, thinking the whole time like a compulsive gambler at the tables, that his luck was about to turn and he would make back all those losses. I think people who see themselves as in the grip of imperatives that are stronger than morality go through a certain process of denial about the likelihood that they will get caught. We saw the same thing a decade ago with Volkswagen. Moral agency may often amount to nothing fancier than a realistic view about the inability to hide the evidence of fraud.

Of course that is part of what makes 1984 chilling: Orwell posits a system in which effacing the record has become an obsession, and we are given reason to doubt that what is hidden will later be shouted from the rooftops. As an extension of what the USSR was under Stalin, it has the air of plausibility. But as a realistic evaluation of human nature, not so much.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
I have not re-read read this for this discussion. I have read it, and I have such a different take from all of you. What I noticed about it when I read it was the fluidity of the enemy. OH, that might be a part 2 thing. Maybe even part 3. I will hold off until then.

Ok, so I shall commend KindaSkolarly for pointing out the 13 hundred hours thing. I totally missed that. When I read this book I was so used to military time it did not even occur to me. Plus I'm not superstitious.

Harry Marks....yeah, there's a lot of thought policing going on. That's why so many comedians won't do shows on campuses. Watch a little Bill Mayer. He mentions that a lot. You know, the guy who used to have the show named Politically Incorrect. He's now on HBO instead of a network show and he mentions a lot that college people get too offended.

Is it bad that I just want to thank every post? So many thoughts, so much to process.

I want to thank Kinda again for pointing out the magnificence of the writing. It reminds me of the beginning of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tail...the beauty of her description of the removal of the chandeleir so they couldn't hang themselves...so familiar, don't you think?



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Sat Sep 15, 2018 3:39 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
scrumfish wrote:
Harry Marks....yeah, there's a lot of thought policing going on. That's why so many comedians won't do shows on campuses. Watch a little Bill Mayer. He mentions that a lot. You know, the guy who used to have the show named Politically Incorrect. He's now on HBO instead of a network show and he mentions a lot that college people get too offended.


You have to wonder if Will Smith or Trevor Noah would pass the test of sufficient political correctness on campus these days. But I am curious whether you think the ideas of the campus thought police would perish if everybody just expressed their own views? Do they really need enforcement?

That still strikes me as a lack of faith in the reasonableness of other people. I knew some of these types at university, and it seemed that mostly they wanted to raise a ruckus to raise consciousness - rather than let others be complacent in their prejudices. And that may be a valid goal - lots of people get through the most intellectually stimulating phase of their life, which is university, without bothering to think a challenging thought about the assumptions they came in with.


scrumfish wrote:
I want to thank Kinda again for pointing out the magnificence of the writing. It reminds me of the beginning of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tail...the beauty of her description of the removal of the chandeleir so they couldn't hang themselves...so familiar, don't you think?
Marvelous example. Now I will be watching for Orwell notes that sound as clear as that one.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Chapter Two
At post166550.html#p166550 Harry and I discussed current trends in indoctrination of children in Australia, in the light of critics seeing Orwellian echoes in these practices. Chapter Two begins with Winston accidentally leaving open a book on his desk where he has written DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.

While Winston reflects on the inconceivable stupidity of this foolish action, a colourless, crushed-looking woman, Mrs Parsons, asks him to unblock her sink. Mr Parsons is a “fattish but active man of paralysing stupidity”, and his two young children are dressed in the uniform of the Spies. With vicious demeanour, the nine year old boy accuses Winston of treason, spying and thought crime, deserving to be sent to the salt mines, displaying evident desire for physical violence, which the monster soon carries out via a catapulted stone to the back of Winston's neck.

This depiction of children entirely brainwashed by the state into a thuggish rejection of all traditional moral values is among the most extreme and pertinent parables in 1984. Winston Smith reflects how nearly all children today are horrible, loyal to the Party but contemptuous toward their parents. The glorious games of military ritual create a compulsory sense of identity and belonging, against which any thoughtcrime tendencies have no prospect, and moreover will be immediately reported by the little terrors to the authorities.

“Hardly a week passed in which ‘The Times’ did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak—’child hero’ was the phrase generally used—had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.”

Orwell is obviously exaggerating for effect. Yet debates today, such as those we discussed at the linked post, do open this question of whether parents have a right to inculcate their personal values in their children. Those who are hostile to religion often answer no to this question, seeing religious traditions as bigoted and backward. And yet Orwell is painting a caricature of the possible results of the opposite extreme, where parental rights have been extinguished, and all must worship the total conformity to values and ideology imposed by the authoritarian state.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Robert Tulip wrote:
With vicious demeanour, the nine year old boy accuses Winston of treason, spying and thought crime, deserving to be sent to the salt mines, displaying evident desire for physical violence, which the monster soon carries out via a catapulted stone to the back of Winston's neck.

This depiction of children entirely brainwashed by the state into a thuggish rejection of all traditional moral values is among the most extreme and pertinent parables in 1984.

I expect he got this from tales of the collectivist Soviet Union. But it shows real genius in combining the child's natural rebellious nature (which many children have) augmented by the empowerment of the state relative to parents, along with the state's encouragement to spy out deviations from orthodoxy. Orwell went to boarding school and probably recognized the potential for youngsters to become insufferable when they can become capos for the concentration camp.

This kind of turning of children against parents is hardly unique to totalitarianism. Hare Krishnas and Moonies, for example, and other cults do so, and the words of Jesus could be considered an effort in that direction. But these extract young people from the home, rather than enlisting them as agents of the state. Kibbutz collective childrearing, interestingly, makes no such effort. The children are cared for, during the work week, by specialists. They grow attached to their cohorts perhaps at least as much as brothers and sisters in private homes do. But in general they still love, and are loved by, their parents.

I think the threat to parents is overblown. There are people out there trying to de-Islamicize children, including by forbidding Female Genital Mutilation. This example is leading to more willingness to challenge traditional and religious upbringing. But in most cases it is limited to a careful introduction to secularism, restrictions on particularly pernicious practices (all child abuse by anyone is supposed to be reported, and there have been overzealous cases against parents, but I think everyone recognizes that the potential has to be there because some parents are so abusive) and a kind of positive welcome into general society.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Orwell is obviously exaggerating for effect. Yet debates today, such as those we discussed at the linked post, do open this question of whether parents have a right to inculcate their personal values in their children.
As far as I am concerned, parents have the right to teach their children that the earth is flat, if they are so determined. Parents are generally motivated to do the best they can by their children, and if they are really so confused that they are doing harm, it doesn't come out in foolish beliefs but in physical and psychological damage.

Generally schools are able to explain the reasoning for their difference from the child's upbringing. And they should leave it at that. Indoctrination is not the job of teaching. And all children have to make their peace with the differences between their parents and the general society, of which there will be some. Would we want a society in which parents were not allowed to teach their children pacifism, or respect for their ancestors, or hypnosis, or their grandparents' language, or some other such preference of the state?

This has come up in the U.S. with some of the Old Order Amish. They don't believe that advanced education is needed, and so when their children reach a certain age, 16 or 18 or something like that, they are sent away from the community for a while to experience the outside world, and then decide if they want to come back and be Amish or want to leave and go be mainstream. Many small-town residents, one of the basic mainstays of today's Republican party in the U.S., would recognize that rite of passage. Many of their kids go away to State College, some come back, many don't.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Chapter Three opens with Winston Smith reflecting on how his parents were “swallowed up in one of the first great purges of the 1950s.” As a prediction, this was a reasonable thing, given the success of Stalin in eliminating the entire leadership of the Bolshevik Party in order to achieve the hierarchical control he needed to win the Second World War, not to mention the reptilian attitudes that had held such sway in Germany.

The strength of western liberal democracy shuddered in revulsion against this communist method of tyranny, with magnificent books such as The Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper, Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek presenting a simple popular anti-communist message that stood alongside 1984 and Animal Farm as beacons of light in a world of darkness.

Winston dreams of his mother and sister drowning in an ocean liner like the Titanic, and reflects on how the political method of purging has transformed human psychology, making the concepts of tragedy, privacy, love, family and friendship obsolete. Orwell is inviting us to consider just how malleable is the human mind, and whether sufficiently aggressive tyranny actually could blast apart such fundamental values. I think we now know that such aspects of human nature are in some way hardwired into our biological instincts, and yet the primacy of spirit over nature means that obdurate social engineering has immense power to obliterate facts of nature through triumph of the will, to invoke another totalising trope.

We get the inklings of why Winston is a thought criminal, a heretic, as he finds the memory of his mother tearing at his heart, even though she was a declared enemy of the people. So the next emotion that Orwell declares redundant in the world of 1984 is human dignity, replaced by fear, hatred and pain. This extreme satirical mockery of the totalitarian mind aims to pursue these controlling state tendencies to their logical conclusion, a reduction to absurdity where they should collapse under the weight of extreme inhumanity. But the fear we have is that such collapse might take centuries, in view of the seductive resources and power of state unity.

Winston continues his midsummer night dream, now of Julia, walking naked in the woods, in a defiant gesture of grace that seems to him to annihilate the culture of the party, a gesture that makes him think of Shakespeare.

But how hard it was for him to remember history, against the massive weight of the alternative facts served up by the Party! Incidents are recalled in isolation with no connecting narrative. Now that the terms England and Britain have been comprehensively erased from public use, it has become difficult to recall even through living memory a time when they were accepted. Only what Winston calls furtive knowledge among those whose memory is not satisfactorily under control presents any hope of a glimpse of actual reality.

The chilling fear is that Orwell’s vision could have been possible. He explains what a surprise nuclear war was, how it transformed people’s thinking. We cannot really imagine what our politics today would be like if atom bombing had become widespread in the 1950s.

Hence Orwell explains the core theme of doublethink or reality control,
Quote:
who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past
. The colon here makes this frightening idea into a logical syllogism, showing how reason can so easily be twisted into its bloody opposite. Now that Aristotle has been forgotten, it has become so easy for Winston to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them. Only records establish facts, and memories can be reconstructed. O brave new world that has such people in it.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Chapter Four tells the story of Winston’s work in the Ministry of Truth. A story of withering and breathtaking cynicism, his job is the systematic falsification of history, colluding in mass fraudulent deception to maintain the façade of the Party’s omniscience and perfection. The massive resources devoted to the constant ‘rectification’ of the past are an astounding totalitarian dead weight on the economy, spreading confusion, conformity, control, corruption and compliance, completely destroying any concepts of honesty or consistency.

Here we see the mind-numbing bureaucratic mentality of the spin doctor taken to its grotesque extreme. Public Relations has been converted into the ultimate echo chamber, the hermetic bubble universe where no mere facts may obtrude into the logical system. An army of moral sanitarians, including Winston, are mobilised to propagate the fantasy.

Big Brother has praised a man who later became an unperson, so the archive copy of the newspaper must be deleted and replaced with a completely different story. Winston takes quiet professional pride in his ability to concoct craven nonsense that will win the assent of the Inner Party organatchik who wields the secret power of decision in central planning. How intensely sad that a person of some literary talent, the alter ego of Orwell himself, can allow his skills to be perverted into peddling pure lies, in the knowledge that resistance is futile. Winston can only maintain any morale and self-respect by going along with the charade, maintaining this threadbare pretence of productivity to avoid being purged by this vast Moloch, this ‘memory hole’ devoted to the total destruction of all authentic existence and memory.

The existential ethics of 1984 emerge quite vividly in this episode, with Orwell’s critique of the anonymous mass society whose sheer size and momentum gives it the power and need to create fake news. The public world must generate a mythology whose primary characteristic, like all mythologies, is that its adherents find it a coherent, systematic, acceptable, comforting, moral explanation of reality.

The existential heretics are those who puncture the equilibrium of doublethink, pointing out the blatant and subtle logical contradictions that must be ignored to legitimise the myth.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
.
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"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
-Robert A. Heinlein


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
In Chapter Five, Winston meets a philologist in the work canteen, eating sour metallic stew and drinking gin, ten cents a nip. Orwell’s deliberate irony, considering Politics and the English Language, in calling Syme a philologist, is that this discipline is the love of language, whereas Newspeak is the hatred and destruction of language.

After some sordid lying beggary about the shortage of razor blades, Syme opens a venomously orthodox conversation about public hangings, and they go to share their meal resembling toxic spew. Syme explains with passion the Newspeak objective of simplifying and destroying language in order to prevent thought. The beauty of destruction begins with verbs and adjectives and moves onto nouns, with all synonyms and antonyms ripe for the chop. His animated explanation of the removal of useless shades of meaning exults in a shrinking vocabulary and range of consciousness, making thoughtcrime impossible due to devolved inability to think.

Of course this applies only to the Party, since the proles are not real human beings, according to Syme. And literature will be converted to Newspeak versions, which of course contradict all their original intents and meanings. We might find it hard to imagine Shakespeare in Newspeak, but Syme assures us it is possible. As soon as Syme says that orthodoxy means not thinking, Winston ruminates that such blatant expression of the real intent of the Party is highly dangerous, meaning Syme will be vaporised for being too intelligent and speaking too plainly. His disappearance is written in his face.

Next we encounter duckspeak, the ability of meaningless quackery, the highest praise when directed at those one agrees with. Pure unconscious orthodoxy, duckspeak is the approved mode of Party discourse. Syme’s impending death is due to his inability to quack like a duck, devoid of meaning. Despite his conscious orthodoxy, Syme lacks the saving quality of protective stupidity, a quality that Orwell will later define as crimestop, the ability not to entertain heresy.

Orwell’s intense contempt for the stupid becomes the theme of the next case study, Parsons, whose child fired a stone with a catapult into Winston’s neck in Chapter Two. Parsons' repulsive conformity is directed now to obtaining Winston’s voluntary funding subscription to Hate Week, and proudly explaining how his daughter informed on a spy. The unrelenting lying leads Winston to fear he is the only person with a memory, like the only living boy in New York.

Fat inscrutable faces with scuttling eyes are the only ones who flourish under Party guidance, like mindless beetles. All will be vaporised and denounced except the eyeless quackers and dumpy beetles, and especially not Julia, she of the ultra-orthodox appearance at the Two Minute Hate.

Who then should Winston find looking at him but Julia herself, gazing with curious intensity. Winston fully understands how to avoid facecrime, never allowing one’s real intentions to be revealed through facial expressions. But has he succeeded under Julia’s scrutiny?

This love story of the human spirit in a situation of pure oppression is a sublime account of the power of creative integrity. Orwell's existential authenticity reflects his focus on truth, his principled opposition to how mindless conformity is extending its malignant hidden tentacles throughout society, driven by the power of anonymous technology.

I wonder, under the power of the internet iPhone matrix, is vocabulary now growing or shrinking?


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Oct 11, 2018 5:00 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Litwitlou wrote:
"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
-Robert A. Heinlein
I have never resonated with Heinlein, an armed forces guy who opted for California libertinism. But he illustrates the great insight behind this thought by being forever interesting. He has trouble not being interesting.

People who want other people to be controlled are usually for respect for the property of others. They don't approve of getting stumbling drunk as a way of overcoming inhibitions. They don't approve of lying to get ahead, and think others should be held accountable.

I daresay a lot of people with "no such desire" to control others might agree with these sentiments. I think the main difference is that the "libertarians" (if I may call them that) do not see the teeming chaos of their own emotions as a glimpse into the horrors of Mad Max anarchy uncontrolled: perhaps their childhood meltdowns were never a threat to anyone in their family of origin, or perhaps they are mostly later-borns rather than uptight first-borns, or maybe it's all epigenetic transmission of neurotic wariness, or lack thereof.

The issue raises the question of what is going on in IngSoc, or by implication, in Soviet Communism. Is it the same kind of mindless tribalist conformity that leads ordinary Israelis to deny the humanity of Palestinians (and vice-versa), or it is some more sinister evolution in which systems which can oppress others lead inevitably to reins passing into the hands of those whose purpose in life is to control others? Is the idea of a cause greater than oneself always just a cover story for a need to oppress, or is that cynical accusation itself a cover story for those who don't want their greed for power to be recognized?

We live in perilous times. But the shape of the peril is difficult to distinguish. Human motivations always seem to be mixed (thus my skepticism of Orwell's postulated "Inner Party"). So it is very possible for those who are possessed by fear of The Other to be convinced that they stand for liberty the whole time they are striving to take it away from others.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Harry Marks wrote:
what is going on in IngSoc, or by implication, in Soviet Communism.
I remember when I was reading 1984 in Year Ten at school, and I commented in class that Big Brother was a satire on Joseph Stalin, and for some reason the teacher took exception to that view. Having read an enormous amount of Soviet history since then, and most of Orwell’s books and essays, I remain firmly attached to this initial impression. The themes of rule by terror, of doublethink, of thoughtcrime and snitching, the gross hypocrisy of claimed abundance in the midst of pervasive poverty, are all drawn directly from Orwell’s observation of the Soviet Union and the warning it posed to the West.
Harry Marks wrote:
Is it the same kind of mindless tribalist conformity that leads ordinary Israelis to deny the humanity of Palestinians (and vice-versa), or it is some more sinister evolution in which systems which can oppress others lead inevitably to reins passing into the hands of those whose purpose in life is to control others?
The Israel situation is far more complex. A small free Jewish democracy is surrounded by physically large but culturally primitive Islamic states, forcing Israel to take extreme punitive measures to survive and prosper. There is nothing mindless about the existential concern that Israelis have for national security, since their past experience of trusting their Arab enemies has worked out badly. As a pointer to the multiple cultural gaps, a 2008 UN survey found that the average Arab in the Middle East reads only 4 pages of literature per year, while the average Westerner reads multiple books annually.
Harry Marks wrote:
Is the idea of a cause greater than oneself always just a cover story for a need to oppress
No it is not. In the case of Israel, the cause of bringing higher civilization and modern values to the Middle East, together with the legitimate wish of Jewish people for a national homeland, unfortunately requires an oppressive security apparatus due to the mindless hatred expressed by Israel’s enemies.

To be even more provocative, Chile is now the most advanced country in Latin America, a result that would have been impossible if the Marxist Allende regime had been allowed to remain in power, or to institute a communist dictatorship as it planned according to the democratically elected President Aylwin.
Harry Marks wrote:
or is that cynical accusation itself a cover story for those who don't want their greed for power to be recognized?
This gets to the nub of Orwell’s analysis in 1984, that the accusation that others have nefarious motives can readily be used to conceal one’s own duplicity. So the quacking about Goldstein serves as a cover for the corruption of the Inner Party.
Harry Marks wrote:
We live in perilous times. But the shape of the peril is difficult to distinguish. Human motivations always seem to be mixed (thus my skepticism of Orwell's postulated "Inner Party").
I find the sociology of the Inner Party compelling, if too brutally simplified. Its model of a 1:10:90 ratio of rulers, enablers and masses dates to Plato’s ideal state in The Republic, and is similarly reflected in modern situations where a 1% elite wields power with the assistance of a larger group of employees, while keeping the masses under control.
Harry Marks wrote:
So it is very possible for those who are possessed by fear of The Other to be convinced that they stand for liberty the whole time they are striving to take it away from others.
The conundrum in Chile of whether Friedman and the Chicago School were agents of oppression or liberation expresses this dilemma. http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-chichile.htm attacks Friedman, while https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracle_of_Chile shows that at the end of the dictatorship in 1989 Chile had growth of ten percent while Latin America averaged zero. Pinochet's stated aim to "make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs" reflect this pact, like in China, achieving economic wealth while supporting political stability.

1984, the description of a nation of proles where all entrepreneurial spirit is squelched, is primarily a cautionary parable of the dangers of leftist government.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Winston is writing in his illegal diary, in Chapter Six, about having sex with a prostitute, painted, toothless and old, a terrifying event devoid of joy. The puritanical aspects of this episode have a political meaning, revealing how Orwell sees a continuity between Oliver Cromwell and Big Brother. Cromwell’s puritanical revolution of the roundheads in the Civil War from 1642, culminating in the decapitation of King Charles in 1649 and Cromwell’s dictatorship as Our Chief of Men and Lord High Protector, showed the levelling moralism that for Orwell represents the stultifying death of all creative freedom.

This puritanical theme in English politics is reflected in Orwell’s debt to Thomas Hobbes, the great anti-hypocrite whose reflections on the English Civil War produced the original Big Brother, Leviathan. Continuing this riffing drift, I see Runciman has a book Political Hypocrisy, The Mask of Power from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, but back to the chapter.

Winston reflects in his diary entry on the hypocrisy of the Party in its uneasy puritanical tolerance of prostitution, allowed for Party members as long as they don’t get caught, a sort of Baconian wisdom balancing honesty and deception among the hazardous wiles of state intrusion into privacy, a release valve amidst the pervasive zealotry of public life in 1984. The pure consistency of unliveable perfection abjures all compromise, and it is easier to posture than be principled. As Orwell explains, the Party tacitly encourages instincts that can’t be suppressed, while ensuring sex remains furtive and joyless and despised, intercourse as enema.

Winston’s wife, he recalls, was a stupid, empty, vulgar sloganeer. They separated after being unable to conceive, with Winston feeling sheer horror at her attitude to sex as Duty to the Party. The rubbish dinned into Party women had driven out all natural feeling, condemning desire as thoughtcrime.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Harry Marks wrote:
Litwitlou wrote:
"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
-Robert A. Heinlein
I have never resonated with Heinlein, an armed forces guy who opted for California libertinism. But he illustrates the great insight behind this thought by being forever interesting. He has trouble not being interesting.


I doubt anyone can agree fully with Robert A. Heinlein. He had an opinion on everything and most of them involved butchering sacred cows. The word iconoclast comes to mind every time I think of him.

He does resonate with me is my point.

September, 1980, freshman year of high school, I was sitting in my friend's living room and we were talking about sci-fi. My friend's brother, who'd just been discharged from the Navy where he'd served on an SSN, walks in the room and tells us, "You guys don't grok. If you don't grok you don't grok science fiction." I figure the U.S. Navy doesn't allow dummies to serve on nuclear subs, so I took him seriously. And that's how I came to read Stranger in a Strange Land at 13.

Heinlein did not so much want everyone to agree with him -- he wanted people to form their own opinions and be prepared to defend them. He taught me a new way of thinking. So resonate is the perfect word.

And just to stay on topic, 1984 is one of my favorite books.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Robert Tulip wrote:
I remember when I was reading 1984 in Year Ten at school, and I commented in class that Big Brother was a satire on Joseph Stalin, and for some reason the teacher took exception to that view.
I'm kind of surprised to hear that, really. I thought it was understood by everyone. Or if not of Stalin in particular, of Russian Communism at least. It was introduced to me in a summer school class by a teacher whose family had been victimized in the Armenian genocide by the Turks. (There are many Armenians in Southern California - it once counted as a concentration of them, before so many other groups joined them.) He was very clear that it was about communism, but also that such industrial scale intrusiveness was not necessarily limited to communism.

Robert Tulip wrote:
A small free Jewish democracy is surrounded by physically large but culturally primitive Islamic states, forcing Israel to take extreme punitive measures to survive and prosper. There is nothing mindless about the existential concern that Israelis have for national security, since their past experience of trusting their Arab enemies has worked out badly. . . .the average Arab in the Middle East reads only 4 pages of literature per year, while the average Westerner reads multiple books annually.
Yeah, and the Jews have been treated so well by the educated country of Goethe and Beethoven. Education doesn't have that much to do with the issue - Palestinians, like Egyptians, have supplied the educated work force in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Frankly your oversimplification is no better than mine was.

My basic take is that Jews had to carve a homeland because of the way they were treated by, you know, the civilized world. Whether or not anyone blames them for that is irrelevant - survival trumps morality virtually every time. However, the Pan-Arab intransigence on the subject has victimized the Palestinians as much as the original ethnic cleansing did, and the Palestinians should have gotten over their sense of grievance a long time ago and gone on to make a life. (So many of them have, but the ones left behind were therefore even more likely to be radicalized.)

All that said, none of the Arab guilt or the Palestinian self-sabotage justifies the way Israelis learned to use "terrorist" for all Palestinians, and have pursued with determination a policy of settling the West Bank and making life as unbearable as possible for its Arab residents because their goal from the start included having that land as part of Israel. It is heavily ironic that the original European Jews of around 1960, and their descendants, favor peace with the Palestinians, but the Likud bloc rides the waves of ignorance from the Israelis ejected by Arab countries post-1967, of blinkered religious extremism by the Ultra-Orthodox, and of cynicism by the emigrés from Russia, to publicly proclaim an interest in peace while privately being determined to pursue ethnic cleansing. Netanyahu, at least, justifies it as a requirement of security, but the assassination of Rabin made clear to anyone who was willing to reflect on the matter that security is not the main issue for the Israelis opposing peace. They still see the Palestinians as an obstruction to their goal, not as human beings with as much right to pursue happiness as Jews have.

I'm not about pointing fingers. If the issue is blame, I still think the Palestinians have way more responsibility for their plight than the people who fought them and won. But I stand by my original characterization, that tribalist rejection of the humanity of outsiders is the dominant case on both sides.

What really matters here, for all of us, is that we learn to see exaggerated sense of threat as a morality killer. Does it make Hitler's actions acceptable that he and his followers thought they were victims? If anything, it adds unacceptability on grounds of irrationality to moral unacceptability. And this brings me to a new realization that this piling of irrationality onto immorality is the way of the world. Something about group dynamics leads a lot of people to deliberately block rationality because of, not despite, their choice being knowingly immoral. The cognitive dissonance becomes a barrier to reflection even about the practicalities.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
Is the idea of a cause greater than oneself always just a cover story for a need to oppress
No it is not. In the case of Israel, the cause of bringing higher civilization and modern values to the Middle East, together with the legitimate wish of Jewish people for a national homeland, unfortunately requires an oppressive security apparatus due to the mindless hatred expressed by Israel’s enemies.
There was a time when a critical mass of Israelis saw themselves as enlightened emissaries to the world. No longer. Such people labor on in near isolation, increasingly attacked by the government itself. It is all they can manage to maintain dignity for women in a society increasingly under the Orthodox thumb.

If you are interested in explaining their shameful treatment of Palestinians with "an oppressive security apparatus" as though that is all that is going on, then explain the settlements, please. The ethnic cleansing goes on, in gradual increments, and the Israelis have become no better morally than the Iranian Ayatollahs.

Robert Tulip wrote:
To be even more provocative, Chile is now the most advanced country in Latin America, a result that would have been impossible if the Marxist Allende regime had been allowed to remain in power, or to institute a communist dictatorship as it planned according to the democratically elected President Aylwin.
I seriously doubt if Allende was a proto-Castro or even a proto-Chavez. I will accept the verdict of more industrious professionals, but the fact remains that both sides saw their strike as pre-emptive, and so of course both were right about that. The US needs to look to its own division to make sure it doesn't get into the same quandary, or even to the degeneration that Brazil is going through. And those who give thanks that the CIA and ITT were involved in protecting American investments by overthrowing democracy display a shocking lack of perspective. Anyone who thinks it is better to discard democracy than have their rival ideology elected is deluded both morally and rationally (a theme I touched on above.)

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
or is that cynical accusation itself a cover story for those who don't want their greed for power to be recognized?
This gets to the nub of Orwell’s analysis in 1984, that the accusation that others have nefarious motives can readily be used to conceal one’s own duplicity. So the quacking about Goldstein serves as a cover for the corruption of the Inner Party.

I would have said the ruthlessness of the Inner Party. Corruption is hardly a consideration, since they are not busy enriching themselves but dominating others for domination's sake. In the end that is what I am having trouble with about Orwell's position.

Communists did not invent the effort to justify the means on the basis of the end. They did not invent secret police or show trials or manipulation of the truth to serve the powerful. I think he rightly discerns a flattening down of culture by Communism, as Miguel de Unamuno and others have observed. The opposition to human joy as wasteful bourgeois frivolity was a real thing, present at the beginning as Emma Goldman's (apparently apocryphal) "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of the Revolution" reminds us. But Orwell sees it as all about power, seeing everything through the lens of the Stalinist purges, rather than engaging on a more subtle level with the appeal of Puritanical judgmentalism and its natural alliance with movements to create a better world. Well, as has been observed by others here, he exaggerates for effect, but we should be careful about what is left out.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I find the sociology of the Inner Party compelling, if too brutally simplified. Its model of a 1:10:90 ratio of rulers, enablers and masses dates to Plato’s ideal state in The Republic, and is similarly reflected in modern situations where a 1% elite wields power with the assistance of a larger group of employees, while keeping the masses under control.
That may be a useful model of how power works through the incentive structures of society, but it doesn't imply mindless obsession with control by the One Percent. One of Marx's many failures was his lack of prescience about the way corporate organization would come to dominate (rather than an owner class). To be fair it had really not made its appearance by the time he wrote, but it is striking how large scale organization has come to "manage" the wealth of the world, and private fortunes play little role in perpetuating power structures. Of those on the Fortune list of Richest, only the Waltons and maybe Bill Gates represent the results of inherited wealth.

So Orwell wants us to read Stalinism as a potential for "scientific" rule to elevate the most ruthless, and motivation by idealism to be at most a vehicle for such ruthlessness. Given that Stalin is hardly the only example of horrible dictatorship through a single party dedicated to refashioning society, there is certainly some food for thought there. But Castro and Mao and even Stalin himself were not without motivation to improve the actual lives of people. Instead of just focusing on what is in fact a rather remote threat, (handing over power to those who want it for the sake of power alone) I would rather get some reflection on the dynamics of idealism turning to oppressive need for control.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
So it is very possible for those who are possessed by fear of The Other to be convinced that they stand for liberty the whole time they are striving to take it away from others.
The conundrum in Chile of whether Friedman and the Chicago School were agents of oppression or liberation expresses this dilemma. Pinochet's stated aim[/url] to "make Chile not a nation of proletarians, but a nation of entrepreneurs" reflect this pact, like in China, achieving economic wealth while supporting political stability.

1984, the description of a nation of proles where all entrepreneurial spirit is squelched, is primarily a cautionary parable of the dangers of leftist government.
I don't think there is a resolution for this quandary. The Friedmanite principles of Free Market growth actually set Chile back a lot initially. Much of the high growth later touted was a result of the bounceback and much of that came after Pinochet let go of power and democracy returned. Chile's right wing also pioneered in heedless exaggeration of inequality, suppressing labor rights ruthlessly and systematically denying opportunity to indigenous Chileans. This lack of opportunity, symbolized by dreadfully bad schools in the countryside of an affluent country, has become a serious drag on an otherwise dynamic economy.

As Scandinavia has amply demonstrated, an economy needs both support and freedom, in order to have real opportunity.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 1
Robert Tulip wrote:
the levelling moralism that for Orwell represents the stultifying death of all creative freedom.
For me, Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" was the definitive comment on this issue. But I would just like to point out that Calvinism and Cromwell, supposedly so repressive for removing Christmas and maypole dances, actually brought a flowering of creativity. By endorsing middle-class values of hard work and careful thought, and most importantly of education, they brought us Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon and James Watt, all of the "Scottish Enlightenment", and the flowering of capitalism in the Netherlands of Rembrandt. These did not emerge from "levelling moralism" but from replacing emotional moralism (easily dropped when emotions change) with rational commitment to, e.g. keeping one's word. Harari is good on this subject, in his last section of "Sapiens".

People need support as well as freedom.

This nexus of self-assertion with eros is a pivotal issue in human life, and one that, for his own reasons, I think Orwell got wrong. Rollo May, the great psychologist and essayist, looked at it in "Love and Will" and took those who care about spirituality down a road of investing in others and taking relationship to a level beyond either romantic rejection of pragmatism or pragmatic rejection of romanticism. To put it simply, we love through the lives and values of others.

The fulfilling passion that gives meaning to life, whether it be in family, in the arts, in creative business enterprise, or in any of the many fields of human endeavor, arises not from efforts to be superior to others but from efforts to fulfill a social enterprise. We are doing a thing together, and we know it to be a worthy thing. If someone happens to be magnificent at it, we are all enriched by that.

"Amadeus" by Peter Shaffer, looks at the darkness in which Salieri's pride and ego has overcome his commitment to the common enterprise. And in the end Calvinism was not about controlling others so much as it was about a certain common enterprise toward life itself, to give "glory to God."

Orwell is interested in the sex side of eros, which May did a good job of distinguishing from the urge to do well and pursue excellence. As an urge to rebel, any rock and roll fan can tell you, sex leads to pushing against society's pressures to conform. And that is why Orwell structures his story around it. But it is far more levelling than the urge to give glory to our ideals, as the ultimate contrast between shallow, calculating Julia and despairing, caring Winston shows.



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