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1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2 
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
I actually came onto this thread (now that I am reading part 2) to discuss Orwell's observation that Smith would be participating in "the solemn foolery of a 'discussion group.'" (p 139). Might be another case of his experience with religion resonating with things he learned about communism. Earnest efforts to "raise mass consciousness" are part of both, and lead to discussion groups which are really lectures.

The line between an effective way to organize people through "mythology" and an enlightened worldview is a thin one. It may be that the more effective early Christianity was at getting people to care for one another, the greater the chance that it would be coopted by the empire as a way to keep order. (One priest can do the work of 200 soldiers, as Harari put it). And as a result, the more likely that it would come to be a force for the interests of the ruling classes.

On the other hand, I am charmed by the idea of "solemn foolery." The fool in a medieval court is the one who can get away with telling the truth to the king, as "King Lear" immortalized. By telling all the truth, but telling it slant (Emily Dickinson) the fool is a figure for playful thought about the ways we have fooled ourselves. Orwell finds totalitarian society terrifying, and at the same time a little goofy. It is staffed by profoundly stupid people who have been lobotomized by fear, or who are the only ones who can sustain the insufferable monotony of party thought ("Ingsoc in relation to chess" is the title of the lecture he attended after the discussion group and a triple dose of gin.) Religion can be somewhat the same: despite ideology concerning transformation of the person, divesting ourselves of every petty earthly concern and salvation of our eternal soul, the practice of it may be about how many pot luck dinners are too many, and whether the budget can go up by four percent.

At a deeper layer there is a profound disgust by people like Orwell (Oxbridge, in a word) for the ordinary folks who do not have inclination to read the newspaper and think about how things really work and how they really should work. This is surely a Jungian shadow side to democracy's empowerment of the ordinary folk. People who would have, in Mozart's day, seen themselves as entitled to some share in nobility by virtue of their intelligence and responsible diligence, have trouble believing that it should be possible to turn the piloting of the whole ship over to a person with no qualification except the smallness of soul to appeal to other small-souled people. Too much emotional work is required to overcome the obvious implications of their own superior understanding.

All the earnest indoctrination to try to get people to understand what democracy requires gets upended by one ruthless demagogue. No wonder it all seemed like "solemn foolery."



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Robert Tulip
Wed Sep 19, 2018 11:09 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Reading the first love scene between Winston and Julia brought an unusual train of thought. She is, more than anything else, a rebel. The fact that she glories in covering it up is, somehow, normal.

Now, Orwell(Blair) will have met women like that before (men, too, but apparently not sexually). And what they were rebelling against was propriety, normality, predictability, conformity. Today those women might have to get multiple piercings and shave off half their hair to get the same sense of self-expression. But in the time when Orwell wrote, society's conformity was very much in the hands of the church, and sex (especially willing, unpaid sex by women) was very much the terrain of rebellion against it. And all the more deliciously so for being private.

The sense of being watched, of having your thoughts policed, would have been part of the social environment that everyone took for granted. The church had no telescreens, but everyone would have been aware of possibly being seen going into some place they were not meant to be going with a person who was not their proper partner. I think it's a stroke of genius to enlist that secret rebelliousness in everyone as a way to feel his situation. Of course he makes good use of it in Part Three and that plan may have come before he realized he could use sex for a symbol of secret rebellion, but it may not have, too.

And then the part where the tender birdsong actually turns them to tender lovers, and his (slightly) old body finally responds. It's a beautiful road into the true humanity of the pair, and gives some substance to her "love" for him that probably amounted to spotting a fellow rebel up until that time.

His imagery of having dreamed the Golden Wood and the swift undressing by the girl is like a bit of magical realism, and serves to invite us to think in terms of symbols rather than just narrative.

And then comes the crushing declaration that "it was a political act." That they could not just be excited and adore each other with their bodies - it had to be mixed with hatred and fear and rebellion. Like the lovers in Master and Margarita, their souls had been degraded by the system and there simply was no way to totally rise above it.



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Sun Sep 23, 2018 2:53 pm
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Chapter 3 of part Two is a quiet gem. Winston Smith reflects on the meaning of it all.

Smith believes they may have a year, or maybe five, before the Thought Police catch them. He was already rebelling against this by keeping a journal. But for him life is a matter of snatching a brief bit of self-assertion here and there, and it was all doomed.

Some of this may be because Orwell's health was not so good. He had a bout of dengue fever in Burma ("breakbone fever" it has sometimes been called) and was seriously ill back in Europe at least twice, with lungs that kept him out of the Army and a diagnosis of tuberculosis by 1947. He may have had some sense of being on borrowed time.

But Smith's resignation reminded me of a brief conversation I had once with an intelligent but unmotivated student, whose rich parents had put him in a different private school, more elite, from which he had been ejected (I never heard why). He was smoking off campus, which he knew was against the rules, (he was a resident student in the dorms) and quickly put out his cigarette when I showed up. I reminded him that breaking the rules was likely to get him caught, and he smiled his most charming smile and said, "Oh, you're always going to get caught." By implication, you were a kind of coward, or quitter, if you didn't go ahead and pursue your own pleasure despite breaking the rules.

Smith's fatalism reminded me of that determination. He says Julia is still young and expects something from life (she is 27, with "lines around her eyes" barely discernable). He, on the other hand, remembers passing up a chance to murder his dreadful drudge of a wife, who took all enjoyment out of sex and could not be imagined committing a thoughtcrime. She was Goodthinkful. Julia asks him why he didn't, and he can't really explain. From his jaundiced point of view on the other side of 40, he wishes he had.

But Smith believes in the cause. He relishes the hope that the Proles will rise up against their masters in the Party (can you imagine how that viewpoint must have hit the leftist community in the West? The Oppenheimer and Kim Philby and Arthur Miller believers who had always understood church and police to be enforcers against the people?) but sees that it can never happen. Yet to strike a blow, to continue to exert humanity in the face of the System, gives him a sense of purpose in life. There is not even a Harari myth, or counternarrative that he can sign onto - no freedom of thought means no narrative at all - just the levers of control.

Julia, on the other hand, believes in living. In being alive, and dedicating your powers to arranging little acts of pleasure-seeking in spite of every effort by the powers to subtract it from your life. Hysteria, the result of denied pleasure, is the Party's goal because it drives the hating and exercising and policing each other that make up the Party's structures of control. Talk about a sense of purpose without a sense of meaning! Deprivation of autonomy is complete.

In this same chapter is the observation that children may be loved by their parents (collectivism does not always endorse that) but the children will not love back, because they are enlisted in spying on their parents for the Thought Police. It's a chilling picture, and I have heard echos of it from North Korea, Cuba and Cambodia. But I don't really find it credible. To get such a thorough-going repudiation of human nature, as opposed to a portion of the population who can be twisted that way by their resentment of parental authority, I think you need more mechanism and intent than Orwell has assembled here.

Orwell married, but his wife died before their plan to adopt went forward. I think he might have had a more realistic picture if he had raised children. And I will take it even one step further and claim that all of these systems of social control are male impositions, and are not fully capable of subtracting the simple joy of raising children and the simple reflex of indebtedness to parents, from our animal life as humans. Nevertheless, any effort by the power structures that involves removing children from their parents, whether educating indigenous people for the dominant culture, or punishing refugees for thinking the country might endure them, or selling children on to another slaver, should be instinctively recognized as raw evil.



Mon Sep 24, 2018 6:00 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
I would like to continue chapter commentary.

Part Two, Chapter 1, opens the love story of Winston and Julia. The theme is how the totalitarian state completely suppresses freedom, privacy and autonomy, such that any simple human relationship between party members must be planned and conducted in complete secrecy, due to the constant terror of arrest for the slightest illicit suspicion. It is traumatic just to read how the pervasive presence of the Thought Police creates this atmosphere of fear, demanding that all conversation and friendship must assume unswerving loyalty, and assume that any deviation will be automatically reported to the authorities.

Julia contrives to slip a note into Winston’s hand in the office. Once he manages to read it, before consigning it to the flames, after carefully worrying about the omnipresent telescreens and the risk one of them will see it, he finds it says I Love You. Love is the great subversive force of the universe against the demons of control. This astounding contact comes as a complete shock for Winston, after he had imagined she was from the Thought Police and had targeted him for arrest.

His stunned agitation at this note must be concealed from the fatuous irritating imbeciles around him. An absurdity mentioned in this chapter is permanently monitored CCTV in office toilets. Orwell is imagining the complete elimination of privacy.

The next step is to arrange a secret conversation, rather difficult in a surveillance society. They finally manage to speak for a minute in the cafeteria, arranging to meet secretly in the crowd watching a triumphal parade of prisoners of war.

The rendezvous occurs near a statue of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the English Civil War who overthrew the monarchy, executed the king, and instituted puritan rule. Cromwell seems a fitting figure to represent the prim sexless world of 1984, except that the atheist world of secular reason has removed even the emotional comfort that puritans might gain from worship and prayer and ritual and song, replacing it instead with organised hate.

Orwell’s focus remains the bleak joyless brainwashed existence of modern conformity, the instinctive suppression of displays of feeling, the rejection of free creativity, and how comprehensively this monolithic existence destroys soul, undermining everything essential to the human condition. Of course this story is entirely inhuman, impossibly and deliberately so, to try to illustrate tendencies that are at work in our modern world, and what they could lead to if allowed full rein.

Winston’s contact with Julia inspires him to dream of the existence of the Brotherhood, organising opposition to Big Brother, presenting a glimmer of hope in an otherwise forsaken and destitute world.


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Harry Marks
Sat Nov 24, 2018 6:47 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Robert Tulip wrote:
any simple human relationship between party members must be planned and conducted in complete secrecy, due to the constant terror of arrest for the slightest illicit suspicion.

Chilling, yes, but isn't it interesting that only the Party members are repressed this way? Only those with enough comprehension of the ways of power to be a danger are policed and directed and cut off from human warmth like a cult member. Behind the curtain, the kids who showed leadership ability were recruited to be junior Party Members, in much the same way that conforming kids have always been given jobs as attendance monitor or organizer of the skit. In Orwell's imagined totalitarian society they are assigned partners to breed with like Moonies, and regimented and deprived and repressed until the culture changes into people like Julia, who just take it as a game to beat the system. They are punished for any sign of capability, really.

And of course one cannot help but notice the parallel to the way sex was repressed in the old society, by the church and the gossips. Look at what needs to be repressed to see the weak points of the society.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Love is the great subversive force of the universe against the demons of control.

But of course this is love taking the form of need for another, at this stage. Later they come to actually love each other, but the Party leaves no room for anything but rebellion and a taste of sentiment, as form for the love to take.
Robert Tulip wrote:
The rendezvous occurs near a statue of Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the English Civil War who overthrew the monarchy, executed the king, and instituted puritan rule. Cromwell seems a fitting figure to represent the prim sexless world of 1984, except that the atheist world of secular reason has removed even the emotional comfort that puritans might gain from worship and prayer and ritual and song, replacing it instead with organised hate.
This is a rich layer of symbolism, although it is not clear to me that such a statue would have been left standing.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Orwell’s focus remains the bleak joyless brainwashed existence of modern conformity, the instinctive suppression of displays of feeling, the rejection of free creativity, and how comprehensively this monolithic existence destroys soul, undermining everything essential to the human condition. Of course this story is entirely inhuman, impossibly and deliberately so, to try to illustrate tendencies that are at work in our modern world, and what they could lead to if allowed full rein.
I think it raises interesting questions about the life of party members in China or other one-party states. Is their self-assertion entirely restricted to power games? Are they beginning to ask what they want society to look like now that it is no longer a bleak struggle to meet the needs of existence for the common people? What will they do with the regimentation in the new social control systems?



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Sat Nov 24, 2018 10:54 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
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Winston picked his way up the lane through dappled light and shade, stepping out into pools of gold wherever the boughs parted. Under the trees to the left of him the ground was misty with bluebells. The air seemed to kiss one’s skin. It was the second of May. From somewhere deeper in the heart of the wood came the droning of ring doves. He was a bit early.


The opening of Chapter 2 in Part 2 of 1984 shows Orwell at his most lyrical and evocative, painting an idyll of bliss, as Winston and Julia meet for their secret rendezvous.

The lengths the lovers take to conceal their meeting reflect their extreme justified paranoia of a world where Big Brother is watching you, with the absurd danger of concealed microphones. This theme of the surveillance society, evolving from Bentham’s panopticon to make the whole world a jail, includes arbitrary official questioning of travellers, but luckily Winston and Julia evade such unwelcome attention. On the train, proles freely explain their interest in obtaining black market butter, a thoughtcrime inconceivable for a Party member.

The tension of their meeting reflects Winston’s extreme state of anxiety, produced by the totalitarian context. He hears Julia walk up behind him and his first assumption is that he will be arrested. She parts the bushes to lead him on to the secret place, like the Batmobile entering the bat cave. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5xt2z07ebk

This beautiful paradise, this grassy knoll shut in by tall saplings, has an air of unreality, a sense that this love is impossible and cannot last. After they kiss, with Winston feeling incredulity and pride, he explains his fear that she was in the Thought Police, which Julia takes as a tribute to the excellence of her disguise. Her black-market chocolate stirs powerful troubling memories. As they discuss the need to conform to be safe, she tells Winston she could see he was against the Party.

Standing in the shade of hazel bushes, the sunlight filtering through innumerable leaves, Winston has a shock of recognition, his dream of the Golden Country. A thrush pours forth a torrent of song before them, making obeisance to the sun. As they make love in the hidden grove, Julia flings away her overalls in a gesture by which a whole civilization seemed to be annihilated.

Winston’s sense that animal instinct is the force that will tear the Party to pieces leads him to see their embrace as a political act. When a pair of overalls symbolises civilization, representing the themes of austerity, production, conformity and shapelessness, 1984 draws us into the vast trauma of human life in the mid twentieth century. The confused puritanical ideologies and incompatible messianic visions of political progress have inevitably clashed in the great wars from which the world is still recoiling today.

Orwell himself observed this trauma at first hand, seeing British colonialism in Burma as a policeman’s son, studying with England’s social elite at the aristocratic Eton College, demanding a sense of reality through his studies of the down and out in Paris and London and the suffering of the poor on the road to Wigan pier, and most definitively, seeing the incoherence of progressive ideology as he fought with the Trotskyites in the Spanish Civil War, documented in his Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell’s greatest novels, 1984 and Animal Farm, are cautionary fables of the hypocrisy of communism. Yet they both retain a sense that communist ideals could be worthwhile if only some way of approaching them could be found that was compatible with human culture, without the appalling Procrustean twists. The awful incompatibility between totalizing Stalinist autocracy and human values generates the trauma of 1984, seen most vividly in this chapter in the great relief felt from a brief escape from the suffocating grip of the anonymous mass society of the modern world.


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DWill, Harry Marks
Tue Dec 04, 2018 1:57 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Robert Tulip wrote:
The awful incompatibility between totalizing Stalinist autocracy and human values generates the trauma of 1984, seen most vividly in this chapter in the great relief felt from a brief escape from the suffocating grip of the anonymous mass society of the modern world.

From another viewpoint, Winton would welcome anonymous mass society, probably. What a luxury, to be unregarded, even if suffering from anomie.



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Harry Marks, Robert Tulip
Tue Dec 04, 2018 9:21 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
DWill wrote:
From another viewpoint, Winston would welcome anonymous mass society, probably. What a luxury, to be unregarded, even if suffering from anomie.

Anonymity is an ambiguous concept. 1984 is a highly existential work, a plea against how the conformism of mass society destroys any sense of individual personality, freedom and authenticity. So paradoxically the public duckspeak of conformism is anonymous, lacking any individual difference and seeking validity solely in being the same as everyone else.

In existentialist philosophy, one way to explore the meaning of anonymity is looking at Heidegger’s moral challenge to this concept in Being and Time. His unitary vision of human existence defines authentic being in terms of state of mind, understanding and language, as explicit psychological tools enabling openness to truth. The corresponding inauthentic modes of being are characteristic of forfeiture to the anonymous mass, seen in the Orwellian duckspeak habits of ambiguity, superficial curiosity and gossip.

Winston would welcome privacy, but I am not sure that anonymity is the same thing. The right to be invisible has emerged in modern liberal society as a reaction against totalitarian intrusion, but this involves the pathological sense that everything we say and do can be ignored by the dominant society, a syndrome with its own mental health problems of social isolation and fragmentation.

As you note, the anomie of modernity is a hazard. I would add that the absence of meaning arising from a generalised lack of belonging to any group is a converse risk to the stifling conformism of 1984.


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Wed Dec 05, 2018 1:37 am
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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
Robert Tulip wrote:
Winston would welcome privacy, but I am not sure that anonymity is the same thing. The right to be invisible has emerged in modern liberal society as a reaction against totalitarian intrusion, but this involves the pathological sense that everything we say and do can be ignored by the dominant society, a syndrome with its own mental health problems of social isolation and fragmentation.
This strikes me as important. In smaller groups, the hunter-gatherer band, for example, each can have his or her own individuality without fearing that demands of large-scale coordination will force the person to conform. But the individuality is naturally somewhat humble, and there is no X Factor facsimile of celebrity to escape to. People still, in small-scale society, seek to conform out of a desire to belong, even to contribute, not out of a flight from authenticity.

The cultural split in America (and apparently, to some extent, in France and other places as well) seems to reflect this modern tension between the urban anonymity as a rejection of "duckspeak" conformity and the rural satisfaction with humble individuality. I would even go so far as to say the rural sense of crisis is partly due to the clash between the world they are presented with in entertainment, which seems to claim that the world "out there" is exciting, vs. the world they actually inhabit.

Robert Tulip wrote:
As you note, the anomie of modernity is a hazard. I would add that the absence of meaning arising from a generalised lack of belonging to any group is a converse risk to the stifling conformism of 1984.

This is the hypothesis about "thick" society being promoted by David Brooks. Meaning, direction, context for interpreting values, all can be provided by common enterprise within a group that a person actually looks at and listens to.



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
I loved it — http://alleannamariahblog.blog.fc2.com/ ... try-1.html



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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
“We are the dead”, said Winston in Chapter 3, explaining to Julia that a decision to turn against the Party was fatal.

This line is from the great World War One poem In Flanders Fields. Readers in Orwell’s day saw the allusion, and its rebuke. The poem continues ‘To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep.’ Orwell wrote 1984 precisely to describe this break of faith with the spirit of honour in the modern tendencies toward the 1984 nightmare.

Their second meeting is in a ruined church in a region devastated by a nuclear bomb. The secrecy of arranging it involves short clandestine intermittent conversations in the street, stopped whenever Party officials appear. Their only kiss before the secret meeting is enabled by the mayhem of a rocket attack.

Their conversation in the church about sex is illuminating, suggestive of Freud’s theory of sublimation. Winston realises Julia had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism, involving prevention of personal autonomy outside the Party’s control, and the effort to build hysteria which could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship. Nationalism is simply sex gone sour. Winston describes his wife Katharine as a frigid automaton whom he wanted to murder.

Their conversation continues, with Julia expressing faith in individual freedom, even while seeing the inevitability that the Thought Police would catch her and kill her. In her heart, she believed that it was somehow possible to construct a secret world in which you could live as you chose. Winston’s view, perhaps sotto voce, is that from the moment of declaring war on the Party it was better to think of yourself as a corpse. We are the dead.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
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“Privacy, he said, was a very valuable thing.”
The extreme deliberate irony of this statement by Mr Charrington, who runs the small old shop where Winston bought the paperweight, is that the entirety of 1984 is about the systematic abolition of privacy. The value of privacy is generally regarded in the dystopia as negative, a worthless obsolete concept to be obliterated, shunned and regarded with dread and suspicion. Now in Chapter 4 Winston is arranging his private affair here with Julia. A conscious suicidal gratuitous folly impossible to conceal, and yet they proceed.

This chapter then presents a simple image that has stuck with me as a defining picture of the book: “Under the window somebody was singing. Winston peeped out, secure in the protection of the muslin curtain. The June sun was still high in the sky, and in the sun-filled court below, a monstrous woman, solid as a Norman pillar, with brawny red forearms and a sacking apron strapped about her middle, was stumping to and fro between a washtub and a clothes line, pegging out a series of square white things which Winston recognized as babies’ diapers. Whenever her mouth was not corked with clothes pegs she was singing in a powerful contralto.”

However, I had misremembered the song she sang. It is doggerel written by a machine, whereas I thought it was Oranges and Lemons. That vaporised rhyme comes up later in the chapter, as the star-crossed lovers reminisce about lemons and Julia’s vanished grandfather who taught her the song.

Renting the room will lead to the cellars of the Ministry of Love, a predestined horror preceding death as surely as 99 comes before 100. A first planted omen, as 100 comes before 101. And yet their mad love drives them on, indifferent and defiant to their fate.

The irony continues. Winston wonders vaguely whether in the abolished past it had been a normal experience to lie in bed like this, in the cool of a summer evening, a man and a woman with no clothes on, making love when they chose, talking of what they chose, not feeling any compulsion to get up, simply lying there and listening to peaceful sounds outside. The idea that something so simple could become a forbidden transgression, together with their supper of coffee, sugar, bread and jam, continues the core theme that totalitarian trauma terrorises people into becoming automata, collapsing expectations into gibbering submission.

Orwell proceeds to plant several more clues in this chapter, Winston’s extreme fear of rats, and Julia’s comment that the picture has bugs behind it.


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Post Re: 1984 by George Orwell - a discussion of Part 2
One of the many ways the story achieves the status of literature, and not just extreme social commentary, is the aching evocation of the fact that we are all dead, in a sense reminiscent of Winston's observation. We snatch whatever pleasure or meaning we can from life, often in spite of the requirements of duty and the community.

A totalitarian system sucks the humanity out of everyone, most especially the Masters of the Universe who cannot help but pursue power, at the expense of every bit of fellow-feeling with others. Defiant assertion of the power of reason must be stamped out as empire must stamp out rebellion. Is it just me, or is Gorbachev a kind of living proof that Orwell had it wrong, and that humanity persisted after all? As Sting sang poignantly, "The Russians love their children too."



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