Thursday, June 13, 2013
Mr. Orwell, Please Pick Up The White Courtesy Phone...
Mr. Orwell was the author of some of the greatest anti-authoritarian novels of all time. Books like 1984 and Animal Farm will stand the test of time as classics, and he was also an accomplished essayist, book reviewer, and journalist. Orwell, despite the fact that he was a Socialist, is one of my heroes.
As if that were a secret? I only bust out an Orwell reference about every thirty seconds, sometimes.
He’s a hero to me because, unlike most writers of his day -- a good many of whom are given the honorific of ‘great’ for little to no reason beyond that they appeal to pansy academics -- he dared to speak the truth, plainly and as he saw it. He did not apologize for his political positions, but did do his best to convince you of their veracity and utility with a command of the language that has been matched by very few. Compared to Orwell, in terms of the use of the English language, Shakespeare was a drooling idiot.
I was reminded of George, again, as soon as the scale of recent Obama Administration Scandals (hereafter OAS, for brevity's sake) was made public. Or rather, I should say, that at least what anyone is wiling to tell us with regards to OAS, because I don't believe we'll be getting anything close to a full reckoning on any of it until Barack Obama is safely enjoying a lavish retirement paid for with stolen money in France, with the rest of the deposed African tin-pot dictators.
Anyways, the whole sordid mess spawned this particular headline which is both hysterically funny, and all-too-sad:
Sales of 1984 rise 6,000% overnight after news of NSA Scandal Breaks.
For the benefit of those of you who went to public school, or who grew up waiting for books to become movies, I'll explain why that is a such a shocking headline.
You see, 1984 was a novel, written in 1949, that told the story of one Winston Smith, a government employee who became disillusioned with his life within the Socialist Paradise. A Paradise led by a charismatic leader who wasn't real, who nominally sat at the head of a huge government apparatus which existed to provide all the necessities of life (at a barely subsistence level, of course), while using it's vast police and surveillance powers, and total control of the media, to enforce a regime of rigid political orthodoxy and mind control over every member of the population (or rather, that part of the population that actually mattered).
In Oceania (the fictional country in which Mr. Smith lived) there could be no thought, no word spoken, no activity, no belief, that did not start and end with The Party (the name of the major, in fact, only, political party in Orwell's Oceania, which controlled the government), and which did not involve total submission to the will of Big Brother (the non-existent charismatic leader through which The Party chooses to present itself to the public). This regime of complete control takes place against a backdrop of constant war, which is used as both an anesthetic and an excuse to force the people into accepting whatever perversion of thought or crime against humanity The Party believes is required at any moment.
In order to live in Oceania, individuals must practice a form of Reality Control, called Doublethink, in which it is necessary to make yourself believe complete lies just because The Party needs the lie to be true...until it doesn't...and then you can reverse the process, all while forgetting you've ever done so. There is no crime, per se, except one, which is Thoughtcrime, which is to say, holding any idea or belief that runs contrary to whatever political orthodoxy holds today. You live your entire life under a regime of political correctness that largely consists of consciously lying to yourself and denying physical reality.
Every aspect of your life in Oceania, including sex, is subordinated to the will of The Party. You will have no emotions except those which The Party requires you to have. Most often these are anger, fear and hatred. The only acceptable outlets for these emotions are either during the Two Minutes Hate (sort of like watching Rachel Maddow, only more therapeutic), or during one of the massive rallies The Party holds to create group solidarity.
The Party will chose your husband or wife for you, or may choose not to let you marry at all, if such suits it's needs.
Mr. Smith becomes un-enamored of life under the totalitarian rule of The Party, takes some tentative steps towards becoming a counter-revolutionary, and is then ensnared by the Thought Police (the arm of the Party charged with enforcing political orthodoxy), is arrested, charged with Thoughtcrime, tortured, forced to confess to crimes both real and imagined, and then subjected to a regime of political re-education in prison (brainwashing). Finally, he is shot, but only after he exclaims his love for Big Brother.
You'll need to read it to really get the gist of it all.
After the revelations of the last few weeks, it turns out that Orwell was a prophet. More accurate in his description of the future than Nostradamus, and closer to the truth about human nature than any of the Biblical Prophets.
Orwell's work was, in some part, based upon the work of another author, this one named James Burnham, who may be familiar to some by the title of his master work, The Managerial Revolution. In this book, Burnham foresaw the rise of a caste whose only concern in life was the accumulation and exercise of unlimited political power. Although Burnham's work originally had been something of a case study on the inner workings (and supposed superiority) of Nazi Germany, Burnham did make a prediction that has, in the light of recent events, become absolutely bone-chillingly real: the rise of an all-powerful, managerial state not unlike the Oceania of 1984 is probably more likely to occur in those countries which retain some semblance of democratic traditions. In other words, truly effective and efficient totalitarianism is more likely to occur not in a Socialist or Fascist repressive state, but within one where the people are under the false impression that they live under democratic rule.
Why? Because in retaining the idea of free speech and expression (or at least something that resembles them) the Managers hope to use criticism to avoid making the same mistakes all the other would-be dictators have made. They simply see open criticism and free debate as a means of making their tyranny ever-more efficient. All that matters is the continued accumulation and exercise of power; mere politics, philosophies, ideologies, parties, and so forth, mean absolutely nothing, and are, in fact, often little more than a means to an end.
Burnham basically predicted that when the super-invasive, spirit-crushing, ultra-efficient dictatorship finally arrives, it will have been voted into office by a populace under the mistaken impression that they were acting in their own self-interest. The population will always vote to slit their own throats under the guise of safeguarding their security and comfort.
Judging the events of the last few weeks through the lenses of Orwell and Burnham, what have we seen with the recent spate of OAS's?
The organs of government are used to squash political dissent, whether it is the IRS targeting political groups in opposition to the current regime, or the security apparatus being able to literally blackmail any citizen into compliance by simply exploiting the computerized history the government has compiled on them against their will and without their knowledge (and at their expense!). The powers that be are not only openly brazen about this, one gets the distinct impression they almost wish to brag about it.
The government and agents thereof will lie, repeatedly, about everything and anything it/they feels it/they needs to lie about (Benghazi, warrantless surveillance, NSA capabilities, the state of the economy, etc). The bureaucracy will be retooled to fit this lie: statistics will be fudged, reports will be re-written, or not written at all, files will be classified or lost, narratives and timelines and talking points will be published, strategic leaks will be made to certain journalists or publications, other journalists will be investigated or prosecuted, red tape will present a major barrier to any who delve too deeply.
Those organs of media not already owned or controlled (through political affinity) by the government will be hammered into compliance with the official line by means of the legal system (naming journalists as criminal co-conspirators, seizing their personal correspondence, tapping their telephones).
The Legal System will be subverted to protect the State (or the Leader) against the individual, and not the other way around, whenever that is deemed necessary. The Chief law Enforcement Officer in the country will openly perjure himself before any court, or Congress, to ensure that Justice is not only NOT done, but perverted and made to serve the purposes of the regime.
The Great Leader himself, much like Big Brother, does not actually exist. he is a figurehead, a mere character in a great kabuki play of power. He apparently doesn't know what goes on within his government (unless there's a boost in his poll numbers to be had for announcing you shot a terrorist in the fucking face). When he does know what's happening, or it appears as if his fingerprints are all over whatever stupidity we're debating today, his playbook first calls for full denials, then half-hearted admissions, to be followed by a mock display of anger and petulance, which is alternately either followed by an accusation of racism, 'playing politics' with the issue, or 'for the children', and ultimately, with a persecution and public slandering of his enemies..
We are supposed to love Big Brother because of his 'unique' racial heritage and his 'amazing' (made-up) backstory, but we're never to look behind the Great and Powerful Oz's curtain to see the truth of the matter. Adulation of The One is to continue unabated, despite your knowing just what a POS he really is. Failure to comply gets you a visit from the FBI.
The country is slowly, inexorably, being 'managed' right into the toilet, but this is a feature and not a bug to those who are doing the managing, for their sole purpose is NOT to do the right thing, or to make life better for us all, but to ensure their own grasp on the levers of power. It does not matter if people are unemployed, sick, bankrupt, in prison, up to their eyeballs in children they can't feed, uneducated; all that matters is that Messers X, Y and Z get to remain in power, whether that is a political office or a permanent seat in a federal bureaucracy.
There is no accountability when something goes horribly wrong. The people who do these things, sic the IRS on an opponent, harass reporters, listen in on your phone conversations, track your movements through GPS systems, are largely anonymous. You wouldn't know one if s/he stepped on your foot. At any moment, any American may be looking directly at an agent of our own version of the Thought Police, and be totally unaware of it. Because these people are largely anonymous and their activities are kept secret, no one can ever be held responsible for anything. The federal government is a Behemoth with Byzantine layers of overlapping bureaucracy that can use it's own powers to discourage investigation, punish those who probe too far, arrest and abuse those whom it dislikes; no one is ever held responsible for anything, and in truth, it is nearly impossible to assign responsibility or blame to any individual or group of individuals.
And even if one could manage to pin the blame for some of the greater abuses on someone, that person has the vast array of protections built into his/her job to shield them: they are empowered and protected by obscure parts of law, they have powerful unions that can come to their aid, the overlapping responsibilities ensure that anyone who is actually ever caught has at least another person or agency which is likewise interested in covering it's own ass or avoiding prosecution. When all else fails, the regime simply stonewalls, or slaps a "National Security" or "Executive Privilege" sticker on the abuse turning it into a sword rather than a shield, and then demands that the entire thing go away. Which is easy to do when you have literally no one to answer to, and you have a press that is either totally compliant, or who can be made that way by sticking a phony request for a search warrant in front a nodding-and-winking judge.
Yes, it would seem that Mr. Orwell knew quite well what the future held. His vision of a future, with it's Telescreens, it's Thought Police, it's massive government bureaucracies that re-wrote not just the narrative of the present, but History itself for it's own purposes, the elimination of words and narrowing of thought, the enforced orthodoxy, the Welfare State that sees to no one's welfare, has all come to pass. The sad part is that when Orwell wrote 1984, he had two actual totalitarian governments in mind -- Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union -- not the United States.