Friday, September 22, 2017

The Unaddressed Question Of 1984 why did it happen? What was George Orwell’s conception of the train of developments that led to the ascendancy of IngSoc, the Party, and the all-enveloping totalitarianism that ultimately consumed the people of “Oceania?”

     A writer who manages to take a handful of your guts and give them a good twist, as Orwell does in his most famous novel, writes from a sense of mission. He has a theme in mind that has engaged his passions, and which he intends to present to his readership in fictional form. If he’s good at his trade, his readers will be just as engaged with that theme. Where he exulted, they’ll exult; where he shuddered, they’ll shudder. Eric “George Orwell” Blair was one of the best of his day.

     A bald reading of 1984 suggests that Orwell’s major aim was to depict the horrors of an all-encompassing totalitarian state: a state whose masters will be satisfied with nothing less than controlling the thoughts in its subjects’ heads. There’s an obvious utilitarian reason for the power-mad to want such control: it precludes all possibility of rebellion. If it were possible – and I shan’t suggest that it absolutely isn’t – it would be the ultimate totalitarian wet dream. But how would a relatively free society get to IngSoc, The Party, the ubiquitous telescreens, et cetera? Did Orwell have a sociopolitical path in mind?

     Closely associated secondary question: Does it matter?

     The critical passage in 1984 is one that has appeared here before:

     ‘And now let us get back to the question of “how” and “why”. You understand well enough how the Party maintains itself in power. Now tell me why we cling to power. What is our motive? Why should we want power? Go on, speak,’ he added as Winston remained silent.
     Nevertheless Winston did not speak for another moment or two. A feeling of weariness had overwhelmed him. The faint, mad gleam of enthusiasm had come back into O’Brien’s face. He knew in advance what O’Brien would say. That the Party did not seek power for its own ends, but only for the good of the majority. That it sought power because men in the mass were frail cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth, and must be ruled over and systematically deceived by others who were stronger than themselves. That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better. That the party was the eternal guardian of the weak, a dedicated sect doing evil that good might come, sacrificing its own happiness to that of others. The terrible thing, thought Winston, the terrible thing was that when O’Brien said this he would believe it. You could see it in his face. O’Brien knew everything. A thousand times better than Winston he knew what the world was really like, in what degradation the mass of human beings lived and by what lies and barbarities the Party kept them there. He had understood it all, weighed it all, and it made no difference: all was justified by the ultimate purpose. What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?
     ‘You are ruling over us for our own good,’ he said feebly. ’You believe that human beings are not fit to govern themselves, and therefore-’
     He started and almost cried out. A pang of pain had shot through his body. O’Brien had pushed the lever of the dial up to thirty-five.
     ‘That was stupid, Winston, stupid!’ he said. ‘You should know better than to say a thing like that.’
     He pulled the lever back and continued:
     ‘Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others ; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’

     It is in those six hundred words that Orwell truly strikes to the heart of the power luster’s mindset. Whatever he wants you to think of his motives, his true aim, even if he’s never consciously admitted it, is absolute and unopposed power over all things, forever.

     The totalitarians of 1984 might have been the successors of earlier “reformists” of some more conventional stripe. They might have been the reformists themselves. The salient point about them is that they are present in every movement that demands power over others, and their ascendancy to the summit of such a movement is inevitable.

     Ayn Rand’s Dr. Floyd Ferris – “We’re after power and we mean it” – is an echo of Orwell’s O’Brien. The two are fully conscious of their true aims. Indeed, once a dictatorship has been established, only persons animated by that aim and frankly conscious of it could possibly rise to the top. They’ll do so because they’re completely without moral constraints. They’re willing to do anything to get there, and anything to stay there. He who has even a single scruple remaining to him will be helpless before them.

     All else is methodology: the selection of the most efficacious means for attaining their end.

     These past two months I’ve written thrice about Nice-Guyism:

  1. The Feelings Blob Part 2: Getting Tough
  2. Nice-Guyism And Ethical Imperatives
  3. Nice-Guyism Continued: Offering Cookies To Mice

     My friend and colleague Dystopic has written similar pieces about weaponized empathy, a highly useful term for political outreach. Perhaps he grasped the overriding importance of this phenomenon from the first; I didn’t.

     The point here is that our desire to be “nice” and to be evaluated thus by others is a useful weapon to the Left...and nothing else. Inversely, if we wanted to be seen not as “nice” but as “heartless,” the Left would have mounted a campaign that uses that motivation as its weapon. In either case, the Left’s covert program would be the same: unopposed power over all things. The weapon is independent of the aims of its wielder, something a gaggle of firearms-rights enthusiasts will easily grasp.

     By corollary, the wielder cares nothing at all about the weapon but whether it will serve his purposes. Once he’s attained his true ends, his only interest in the weapon will be whether it might be useful in preserving them. He’ll discard it if the answer is negative.

     There is so much import in the above that it’s almost a shame that I feel a need to summarize it. Yet it achieves its greatest impact when reduced to a schematic.

     In a relatively free society, they to whom power is the true and only end will act as follows:

  • Identify the dominant motivations of the persons of that society.
  • Identify a Cause which couples effectively to those motivations.
  • Marshal “activists” around the Cause and use it as a pretext for seeking increased State power.
  • Demonize all who oppose the method (increased State power) as enemies of the Cause.
  • Use any grants of power to solidify possession of that power-seat and to penalize opponents.
  • Should the Cause not be well served (i.e., the usual case), blame the opposition and demand more power.
  • Gradually ease out “true believers” in the cause, especially at the power-wielding echelon.

     Needless to say, this schematic can be used by several Causes simultaneously. Those Causes might be consistent in some respects. They might be wholly disconnected from one another. They might even conflict; indeed, this is commonly the case, and more useful to the power-luster than one might imagine. Yet the true aims of those at the Causes’ several tillers will be uniform.

     Perhaps Orwell was supremely insightful in neglecting to specify the sociopolitical currents that led to IngSoc, The Party, et cetera. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter at all.

     A final note: At Return of Kings today, John Carver presents Twenty passages from 1984 that have been realized in essence. Compare those developments to the demands of the various Cause-related groups active in our time. Can you trace the threads that connect their Causes to those developments...and to one another?

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