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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.



Fri Sep 14, 2018 3:26 pm
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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?



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.



Sat Sep 15, 2018 1:44 pm
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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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Mon Sep 17, 2018 8:03 am
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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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Mon Sep 17, 2018 11:41 am
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