Tuesday, June 29, 2010
On Appeals to Orwell -- UpSide Down, InSide Out, Round and Round
Nineteen Eighty Four is a dystopian allegory that clearly illustrates Orwell's distaste for totalitarianism. It's a cartoon, in many ways. Thus, it is ever popular.
It helps the continuing popularity of the work that at least some of what Orwell thought might be in store for the future of Britain in a post apocalyptic dystopian wasteland actually has come to pass, particularly the constant intrusive state apparatus to spy on the populace. While civil liberties extremists in the United States decry the intrusiveness of post 9/11 "security" measures, the United States government is a piker compared to that of Britain.
The protagonist of Nineteen Eighty Four is Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party and a functionary in the Ministry of Truth. The Inner Party is where decisions are made -- for the Good of All, of course -- whereas, outside the party structure altogether, indeed seemingly outside the very conception of humanity itself, are the mass of Proles whose simple, stupid lives don't matter a bit and hardly enter into the consciousness of the Party membership.
Periodic and seemingly random rocket bombs are exploded in the Prole sectors to suppress the constant Rebellion, and to thin the herd of inconsequentials.
All is well, all is as it should be. Big Brother is watching you.
Winston Smith takes a stroll in the Prole sector outside the Ministry of Truth and he makes discoveries. The Proles have lives, simple though they may be, and they live with emotions, with love, with rivalries, and even with laughter, all punishable offenses for Party members, Inside or Out.
The Prole world is a world turned upside down where nothing is as it is supposed to be. And yet something much deeper than the vapid technocracy of the Party endures among the Proles, a connection with real humanity which the Party has lost.
Outer Party members can aspire to become Inner Party members, but that is about it. Otherwise, their lives are constricted and narrowed to mere rote and repetition of nonsense and deception and chastity. For the Good of All, of course.
Glenn has made much of his insight that the real political division in this country is not between left and right but between inside and outside. So far as I know, he hasn't really developed that idea very much, but it is a fairly common understanding in the upper reaches of the A-List Lefty Blogosphere. The adepts have figured out that the left/right political dichotomy is phony, and they want everyone to know. Of course, at the same time, the left/right dichotomy is useful. So it is maintained. But it is phony.
Nevertheless in the insider/outsider world view, the Insiders make the decisions, the Outsiders try to penetrate the seals around the Insiders by finding out about and revealing their secrets. Exactly what this is supposed to accomplish, we never quite hear. But from appearances, the goal of tossing these grenades of "secrets revealed" from the Outside is to get inside the gate -- as Markos had it long ago -- and from Inside... do what?
Become a Player. Become and Inner Party member and thus participate in the decision making of the Inner Party and direct the actions of those Outside.
The act of Real Revolution is that which unmasks the Truth of the Inner Party.
Thus, someone like Julian Assange is hailed the hero for acquiring and distributing various "secrets" of the Inner Party, and the Inner Party in turn makes Julian into a cartoon character like Emmanuel Goldstein. In other words, it is a mutually rewarding enterprise. Julian gets the attention -- and apparently money -- he craves, and the State and/or the Party gets an Enemy to hound and denounce. No real secrets are ever revealed, or at least none that would seriously damage the Party and its apparat, and yet the semblance of Revolution is maintained.
But there is no Revolution. It's all a show.
Why would one believe that Unmasking the Truth of the Inner Party would result in anything beyond a momentary shrug among the masses? Knowing the Secrets of the Nomenklatura is to be privy to gossip, and what's the point of that?
Knowing the Secrets led to the impeachments of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, but did those acts result in a freer, fairer and more open government today? Hardly.
To what object do members of the Ruling Classes ever contend among themselves? And make no mistake, Inner and Outer Party are both part of the Ruling Class. They don't struggle on the Proles' behalf.
No, it is a struggle for Power, Influence, and Status, within the Ruling Class, on behalf of no one outside it.
And when those outside the Ruling Class recognize the System itself is the problem, the question of who is operating the levers of Power at any given time is of marginal interest at best. If the System is the problem and the System is to endure no matter who is in charge of it -- the situation we face today quite clearly -- then the only real interest in it we might have is to ensure that the least insane operators are at the controls, if we have any choice in the matter at all.
Orwell seemed to understand this state of affairs thoroughly.
Change, if it is to come at all, has to come from Outside, not from one faction on the Inside contending with another.