Friday, June 25, 2004

History Friday: Happy Birthday Orwell

Happy birthday, George Orwell! One of the greatest and most precient writers of English ever to have lived, George Orwell (born Eric Blair in 1903)was part of the long tradition of British writers who advocated a nation, and ultimately a world, becoming at peace with itself through social justice. He stood for fairness, moderation over extremism, and the negation of privilege in all its forms; be it the disproportionate influence of the monied classes in democracies or the iron grip of ideologues in totalitarian states.

His writing was so groundbreaking, "Orwellian" has become a (misapplied) cliche of both the right and the left used to describe the consolidation of power by the party in control of the Houses of Parliament, Congress, or the White House. Misapplied because to be "Orwellian" is to oppose and expose the mundane daily evil that underpins totalitarianism, rather than to incrementally adopt those same evils as ways of increasing one's power. However, this is a small semantic quibble. I am glad that in this time of functional illiteracy people still recognise "Orwellian" as shorthand for the abuses they read about in Animal Farm and 1984.

In getting ready to celebrate the birthday of one of my favorite writers, I stumbled across this fantastic site that does more than I ever could to illustrate the sheer brilliance of his writing and opinions:

George Orwell

If George Orwell had lived longer than his 47 years, I feel that he would have only become better as a writer. I have a hunch that he would have followed a similar evolution as Graham Greene, as the cynicism so evident in 1984 would most likely have grown as the cold war deepened and the global assault of the corporations picked up speed.

This wouldn't be a proper "History Friday" unless I included a parallel to today, so now to Orwell and the Bush administration. Bearing in mind the caveats outlined above, indulge me in the parlour game: which mythical totalitarian state are the Bushies more inclined towards? Is it:
a) Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
b) George Orwell's 1984

The answer is of course b). Yes, the Bushies are so stupid and arrogant, they don't even attempt to gild the bars of the cage they are trying to herd us into. At least Clinton realized that if the last vestiges of democratic control were to be slowly siphoned off into the hands of multi-national corporations, he might as well try to make the worker drones as fat and happy as possible. Hence, the 90s were all soma and sex: Huxley. Under Bush, people are poorer, more fearful, in a constant state of war, and a wealthy elite make very little effort to sugar coat draconian security measures they say are for "our own safety".

So happy birthday, Eric Blair. You helped shape my view of the world and my politics; thank you a thousand times.

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