Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Remolding

     I’ve sometimes speculated about the official mantras of various organizations and groups. Every group wants a phrase that concisely expresses the group’s philosophy and goals. It gives admission-seekers something to swear to and rally-goers something to chant. You know, like the Muslim terrorist’s scream of Allahu akhbar!

     Some perfectly acceptable groups with entirely wholesome agendas can’t achieve real concision. Take Christians, for example. Our mantra, if we may call it that, is the Nicene Creed, which is over two hundred words long. While it does nicely summarize Christian theology, and we all learn it at a fairly early age, its length makes it unsuitable for a chant at a public rally.

     On the other hand, some groups have no trouble with concision, but are uneasy about letting their mantra become publicly known, as they don’t want the general public to know what they’re really about. And on the gripping hand, there are groups with an unpleasant agenda whose mantra is concise and clear...and they don’t care whether you know it or not.

     Have a little Orwell to start your day:

     ‘Did I not tell you just now that we are different from the persecutors of the past? We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation. In the old days the heretic walked to the stake still a heretic, proclaiming his heresy, exulting in it. Even the victim of the Russian purges could carry rebellion locked up in his skull as he walked down the passage waiting for the bullet. But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out. The command of the old despotisms was “Thou shalt not.” The command of the totalitarians was “Thou shalt.” Our command is “Thou art.” No one whom we bring to this place ever stands out against us. Everyone is washed clean.’

     [George Orwell, 1984]

     Inner Party member O’Brien, whom Winston Smith had foolishly trusted, expresses in the above soliloquy the heart’s desire of every power-monger: not merely to compel obedience through force, but to have the fully willing compliance of all his subjects. It remains an “ideal” to be striven for, but it’s no less prized among today’s would-be dictators for that.

     A great deal of research has gone into the development of what Vernor Vinge termed a “You Gotta Believe Me” weapon: a mass brainwashing technique that persons on the receiving end would be unable to resist. No such technique has yet been discovered, but power-seekers everywhere are ardently on the hunt for one. Moreover, the experiences of the century behind us suggest that certain directions for research hold more promise than others. Irresistible persuasion might yet become a reality.

     If the possibility doesn’t terrify you right out of your socks, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.

     As they have not yet achieved a “You Gotta Believe Me” breakthrough, today’s power-seekers are largely fixed on removing freedom’s indispensable supports from others’ hands. Two above all have earned their unending ire:

  • Open, free communications among men;
  • Private ownership of weapons.

     In nations whose power elites are near to absolute control of all things, the populace is both afraid to speak and has been entirely disarmed. Consider the United Kingdom, for example. Men have been imprisoned and fined for expressing themselves in a fashion the power elite has classified as “hateful” or “offensive:” i.e., inimical to the regime or its favored ones. Effectively no one is armed there any longer, so resistance to the regime has been made next to impossible. Indeed, the regime rides so high over its subjects that it can disregard a popular vote that produced an unambiguous result, as was the case with the Brexit referendum.

     A recent, highly disturbing story underlines that regime’s bottomless hunger for absolute control over its subjects’ attitudes and thoughts:

     A man famously lauded as a “hero” in 2017 for fighting off terrorists on the London Bridge has been forced by British authorities to attend “de-radicalization” classes “over fears he may become extremist” after being stabbed eight times, British papers reported.

     Forty-nine-year-old Roy Larner became known as the “Lion of London Bridge” after three Jihadis in a van plowed into a crowd of people on London Bridge before stalking from building to building, killing seven people and eventually reaching the Black and Blue pub where Larner was drinking with friends.

     “They had these long knives and started shouting about Allah. Then it was, ‘Islam, Islam, Islam,’” Larner said. “Like an idiot I shouted back at them … I took a few steps towards them and said, ‘Fuck you, I’m Millwall,'” he said, referring to his favorite soccer team....

     He fought them off with his bare fists, sustaining serious stab wounds all over his body but allowing dozens of other patrons to escape.

     Larner has now been added to a terrorist watchlist know as Britain’s “Prevent” program after fears he could become an anti-Islam extremist, the Sun reported Monday.

     I hardly need to comment on the ironies here. Britons don’t dare say a word about the Islamic invasion of the Sceptered Isle and what it’s done to their lives. That’s “hate speech” that can land you in prison. But Roy Larner, who defended others from homicidal Muslims who’d already killed seven people, must have his thoughts reshaped to prevent him from becoming “an anti-Islam extremist.”

     What does the regime really fear? That Britons might be thinking, “We’d be a lot safer had we not agreed to give up our firearms,” maybe? Or “These Muslims are destroying everything we hold dear, and the politicians are perfectly all right with it,” perhaps? Either one would threaten the elite. Therefore, anyone who exemplifies individual resistance to What Has Been Decreed From On High must be remolded. Roy Larner makes a perfect object lesson to the rest.

     Here in the U.S., we haven’t given in to the extent our cousins Across the Water have done. We still have essentially free speech, and we still possess some weapons. But needless to say, our national power-mongers would very much like to change those things:

     Yes, the First Amendment protects the “thought that we hate,” but it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.

     It is important to remember that our First Amendment doesn’t just protect the good guys; our foremost liberty also protects any bad actors who hide behind it to weaken our society. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 election, Russia’s Internet Research Agency planted false stories hoping they would go viral. They did. Russian agents assumed fake identities, promulgated false narratives and spread lies on Twitter and Facebook, all protected by the First Amendment.

     [Former State Department Undersecretary Richard Stengel]

     VIGILANTISM, WITH its alluring tingle of defiance and frontier justice, conjures a cinematic idea of American individualism. A similar impulse is at work among advocates of the so-called Second Amendment sanctuary movement, a trend in mainly rural counties declaring they will refuse to enforce restrictive state gun laws. Both are examples of individuals who, lacking legal authority, put themselves above the law, thereby promoting chaos.

     In Virginia, the movement has lately become a fad, spurred by legislative election results that will, starting in January, hand pro-gun control Democrats control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation. With a Democrat also in the governor’s mansion, some rural Republicans are raising the specter of mass gun confiscations — and pronouncing themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries. This is nonsense fanned by mischief-makers with an agenda.

     [An unsigned Washington Post editorial]

     Here we have two cases of persons with media megaphones – one of them a former federal official – criticizing the rights guaranteed to Americans by the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution. We may conclude that there are many in the halls of government and mass media who agree with them. But more to the point, the constant repetition of their notions in innumerable media outlets, whether print, broadcast, cablecast, or Internet, illustrates one face of their thought remolding technique. The other face is their allies’ efforts to silence those who disagree, whether by intimidation or “deplatforming.”

     When one proposition is repeated endlessly – when it becomes impossible to get away from it, and anyone who dares to express a contrary position is demonized – its persuasive power reaches its maximum. It’s the American version of Goebbels’ propaganda technique, except that in the Land of the Formerly Free, the media aren’t entirely under the control of the Omnipotent State...formally, at least.

     No, it’s not quite Vinge’s “You Gotta Believe Me,” but its effect in remolding the convictions of the gullible, especially those who lack knowledge of history, is both pernicious and formidable. Visit any college campus for an in-your-face demonstration.

     I opened this screed with a remark about the mantras of various groups. The two groups of interest this morning, media organizations and governments, have mantras they murmur within their own halls but seldom allow outsiders to hear:

  • Media: “Resistance is useless and dangerous.”
  • Governments: “We will break you to harness.”

     Beneath those mantras we can hear the ceaseless drumbeat of the drive for absolute and irresistible power. Media power and government power are indispensable complements to one another. The former shapes thoughts and convictions, while the latter shapes behavior. Why else would insurrectionists always target the newspapers, radio, and television stations above all else?

     Have just a wee bit more Orwell for a capper:

     ‘Do not imagine that you will save yourself, Winston, however completely you surrender to us. No one who has once gone astray is ever spared. And even if we chose to let you live out the natural term of your life, still you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is for ever. Understand that in advance. We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.’

     Given free rein, our contemporary power-mongers would make O’Brien look like a piker. Never doubt that what he did to Winston Smith – the complete destruction of Smith’s mind and self, to be replaced by a construct of the Party’s design – is what they intend for us.

     Each and every one of us.

1 comment:

Rick C said...

"Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love"

You know, this never occurred to me before, but isn't the last line of the book that Winston finally loved Big Brother? How can he love Big Brother (and, of course, the State) if he's incapable of feeling anything?