Monday, June 28, 2010
On Appeals to Orwell -- furthermore
I think it is fair to assert that George Orwell (né Eric Blair) was one of the strongest influences on English-speaking anti-Establishmentarians and contrarians in the 20th Century. His influence became even more profound after his death in 1950, growing significantly the closer we came to the iconic year of 1984, and then growing still more, it seems, the farther beyond that year global affairs continued.
To read him now is to delve into a world view that is in many respects quaint and anachronistic, in other respects frighteningly prescient.
Yes, the world today is the direct descendant of the world Orwell knew and wrote about so extensively between the world wars, during World War II, and for a few years in its aftermath. The physical, social, economic, psychological, artistic, technological, philosophical and political shocks and upheavals of the era seem to be neverending in retrospect. It was a world turned upside down over and over and over again, with hundreds of millions put to the screws by the various nationalist, imperialist and liberationist ideals, goals, and objectives of the ruling classes and multiple tens of millions sent to their graves by wars and suffering or to the ash pits of anonymous extermination in the various genocides of the era.
Looking backwards, it's amazing anyone had anything but a dystopian view of the first half of the 20th Century, and more amazing still that anyone could keep their sanity through the rest of the century.
And yet here we are. To yak about it, to yak about some of the leading lights of the times, and to consider what went wrong, what went right, and where to go from here.
The recent G8/G20 meeting in Toronto -- for good and ill -- is an example of the direct globalist development that can trace its origins to governmental reaction to the horrors unleashed during the first half of the 20th Century by the Powers That Be (whatever and whomever they might have been) acting out of, let's say, fervor for their own nationalist interests in contrast to all other interests.
The periodic "G" summits, and the commonalities of the ruling classes world wide that are found and developed within the context of these social and political fora, are the chief characteristic of elite rule today, in strong contrast to the way these things were not done in Orwell's time. The constancy of struggles -- the constancy of nationalist struggles between more-or-less giant polities and overweening political philosophies that characterized Orwell's time simply don't have a parallel today, in part because the global ruling elites have found far more common purpose with one another than they have found benefit in continuing ancient rivalries pitting peoples against peoples.
I for one would like to think that Orwell's influence was at least as strong on the ruling classes as it was on the Proles who took to his works and his cynical, almost hopeless, voice so strongly, especially after World War II.
Eric Blair was born in 1903 in British India where his father was an Imperial functionary (in the Opium Department wouldn't you know); his mother had grown up in Burma where her French father had... business... interests. Yes.
Blair was removed from India in 1904 by his mother who returned with him to Britain while his father stayed on in Imperial service for the British Raj in India.
(As a side note, and not to make too much of it, my father was born in the same era as Blair, into the American counterpart of Blair's "lower-upper-middle-class," and though there was no counterpart to the Imperial Service and the British Raj for most Americans to aspire or gravitate to, there were plenty of class and generational commonalities of interest and focus nevertheless.)
Despite Blair's class and the Imperial Service of his father, the family was not wealthy enough to send him to public school or university without scholarships. Ultimately, he went to Eton, but not to university; instead, he joined the Imperial Indian Police (for service in Burma, where his grandmother still lived.) He was in Burma from 1922 to 1927, returning to England after he contracted Dengue fever. He left the Imperial Service upon his return to his home in Britain.
To put it charitably, he was disgusted with the British Raj and the monumental levels of oppression of the Natives that was absolutely necessary to maintain the British Lords of the Empire in the style, comfort and convenience to which they were so thoroughly accustomed. He hated what he had to do as a representative of the Authority of that Empire, he hated what it did to the British people, and most of all, he hated what it did to the servile masses of Burma and the Empire in general.
It was a disgust widely shared among the British intelligentsia which Blair/Orwell soon joined as a writer -- with a specific eye on the condition and plight of the Lower Orders, a long and storied genre of British literature.
I've spent a little time on Orwell's background because his perspectives and insights cannot be divorced from his nationality, class and experience, and his predictions, prescriptions and conclusions grow out of what he knew. That's the fundamental truth of who he was, what he wrote about, and how he came to understand the Ways of the World the way he did.
Specifics next time...