Friday, June 11, 2010

The Relevance of George Orwell

George Orwell, known for his anti-totalitarian novels 1984 and Animal Farm, has been deservedly regarded as a prophet of our times for describing with striking realism the horrors that an overly expansive government can be responsible for. His reputation as a prophet is not ill-founded. The twentieth century totalitarian regimes demonstrated that his conjectures are not simply a fictitious figment of the imagination, but an empirical reality. This is incontrovertible. But because words such as fascism and totalitarianism are often confused with just murderous governments of the past, and not its fundamental nature, most people fail to understand why Totalitarianism holds such an appeal. So appealing is the Totalitarian temptation that even in the predominantly capitalist West we see unmistakable signs of it.
To give an example, George Orwell described the world in which 1984 took place in as a global struggle between 3 superpowers, Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia. They warred with each other with the cryptic purpose of keeping each other in a permanent slump, where they produce the machine without raising the standard of living. This allowed the State to keep its citizens in an everlasting state of slavery and serfdom, keeping them dependent. There was no military purpose for the war; the only effect it had was to keep the people in an ever-patriotic state and gave the State and excuse to control them.
Fortunately, such a despicable idea has not pervaded the thoughts of our elected officials, but there is something that is almost as contemptible which runs rampart within our intellectual circles: that war is an inherent stimulant to the economy because employment is synonymous with wealth. This is typical Keynesian -- which is the model that guides most mainstream economists. Another similarity between Orwell's fiction and the West can be seen with the application of omnipresent monitor technology. In 1984, Orwell posited telegrams everywhere in the land that censored people for thought crimes and any suspicious behavior. But now not only are many hate crimes against the government banned, but in England there are actually cameras being placed almost everywhere, just like in 1984.
Orwell also talks about the concept of double speak or double think, where one can say something out of one side of his mouth and something contradictory out of the other. This sort of behavior is reminiscent of the relativism movement, where objective truth is abandoned in favor of subjective feelings.
And if one still harbors any doubts about Orwell's relevance, then his depiction of the revolutionary movement in Animal Farm should kill it off for good.
After the farm animals took over the farm from their human owner they set up 7 specific rules of abidance:

Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes up four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal
All animals are equal.

Over the course the story these commandments eventually mutated into:

No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
All animals are equal. But some are more equal than others.

One only has to know about the constant revisions that the U.S Constitution has undergone and the various pleas for further revision to realize how much of a parody this is.
But what is a more brilliant theme, however, is how Orwell depicts the revolutionary process. The animals overthrow a seemingly brutal dictator - the human. And then a leader of the revolution takes over and establishes an even crueler tyranny, a theme taken straight out of the historic horrors of the French Revolution to be sure.

So finely did Orwell depict the totalitarian tendencies of human nature, and so cruel have they been manifested, that it is unfortunate in how we have continually neglected to learn the lessons explicated by this great author.

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