Friday, April 30, 2021


One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. Orwell, 1984.
Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 are often contrasted with Huxley's Brave New World from about 15 years before. Orwell's hard totalitarianism is contrasted with Huxley's soft one, with the modern observer more often concluding that Western Civilisation in the 21st C is more in danger of the latter, with our Amusing Ourselves To Death. Ingsoc used strict forbidding, even torture, while Huxley's world had classes of people who embraced their status and "a good time was had by all." 

Or almost all.  I don't think the difference is that entire when one looks at both works. In BNW babies have the affections, curiosity, and other worrisome characteristics driven out of them with electric shocks, and there are types of exile that are not pleasant. Nor is 1984 devoid of soft measures.  The proles are the bulk of the population and are kept entertained. The boot on the face is for the few.

It is time to move away from this distinction. It had good use during the Cold War and retains some value even now.  But Huxley wrote in an age where the full evil of the Soviet Union was not yet manifest, and many of his circle considered the enticements of capitalism, leading to the worldwide* Great Depression to be just as dangerous, and more so.  Orwell had seen a different world, disillusioned about the gentleness of the left in Spain while observing the very harsh totalitarianism of Germany, Japan, Russia and allied countries, and the rise of violent communism in China. Were the two of them to sit down in London today, having read up on the events of the late 20th C together, there might be no distance between them.

They would likely both be alarmed and discouraged. Both would likely nod with deep approval at Bradbury's Fahrenheit 4-5-1, and squirm like bugs on a pin to escape the uncomfortable accuracy of Lewis's prophetic That Hideous Strength and its philosophical underpinning The Abolition of Man, because nothing Christian or even theistic should be creeping in to their discussion. Yet they were largely honest men intellectually, and the vacuity of Keith Roberts's Pavane , as if 20th C Britain were in some danger of being ruled by the Catholic Church, would not go unnoticed.

All this as a set-up for my conclusion related to my posts about motives for believing the untrue, and I sincerely apologise if you feel tricked by my circling back to this.  But I reiterate my position that the current racial conflict is not much about African-Americans. Kendi is a token shoved onto the stage.  The deep "anti-racists"  I have known personally and can listen in on in online discussions never bring him up. Ta-Nehisi Coates is nearly that, though at a more popular level.  In fact, he may be more respectfully regarded by conservatives who see him as an infuriating figure who at least hits some solid points fearlessly, however misguided he may be in general. Go to the comments sections of the big liberal sites and see how often anyone mentions him.

I don't know about the less-educated blacks and what motivates them.  I don't know them.  Half the black people I know are actually from Africa or the Caribbean, different in a dozen ways from African-Americans. But among the more educated African-Americans, they very much accept the statistics offered to them by the upper-class media, the same as other liberals do.  Few have the least ability to subject a statistic to scrutiny and ask themselves the necessary skeptical questions.  #1.They have personally experienced some prejudice in their lives. #2. Goodwhites playing with numbers tell them that their people are systematically oppressed. Those two ideas converge and they just accept what they are told. I suppose it is actually a mark of having risen in the world that they can be fooled in exactly the same way that white arts-and-humanities students can be. 

“Why you fool, it's the educated reader who CAN be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they're all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don't need reconditioning. They're all right already. They'll believe anything.” CS Lewis That Hideous Strength 1945
I should depressingly note at this point that I see no realistic solution to all this.  Save for the genetic interventions that might arise and become standard in the next two generations, the best I can see is that we muddle along angrily, getting richer and occasionally perceiving the the Chinese are the more serious problem and reality the actual playing field.

1 comment:

Korora said...

John Lennon's glurgy "Imagine" lays forth a vision that Brave New World had already weighed and found severely wanting--before there even WAS a John Lennon.