I’ve recently reread Orwell’s ‘1984’, prompted by a review of the book by a colleague here on Lit.Org.
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One of the most destructive things which the Big Brother entity does to the captive population of Oceania is to whittle down the English language over time, via successive editions of ‘Newspeak’; this digested form of the English language is meant to curb workers’ ability to think critically or question authority, limiting and eventually eliminating their ability to question and refuse the authority of Big Brother.
As the protagonist’s friend says to him early in the first part of the novel: “…by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now.” This means of course a conversation in which people evaluate the impact of Newspeak (or anything else). Therefore the highest level of human thought will have been eradicated and human beings will have been reduced effectively to highly capable animal servants, deliberately devolved to primates equivalent to chimpanzees.
Winston’s friend, Syme, who is helping Big Brother to whittle the language down into Newspeak in the novel, goes on to say most definitively: “In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking -- not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
If orthodoxy is unconsciousness, that means that faithfulness is subsentience. People will have been reduced truly to robots, automatons, and will have no capacity whatever for the level of thinking that took so painfully long for human beings to achieve: the ability to evaluate or critique anything in question. If you refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thought, you will find that this level of thinking ability is the highest on the chart, even higher than the ability to create or synthesize new concepts or new iterations of concepts.
Therefore, technically, the critic is assumedly more intelligent than the artist, although we know in this society that this isn’t always nor usually the truth, given the character of many critics. Many professional critics merely ape the art of critique… but in the case of those who truly possess the power of deep evaluation, we have geniuses.
Wherein a genius is willing to sacrifice his soul to the will of Big Brother to save himself, as the Thought Police agent O’Brien did in ‘1984’, one sees a mind that will sacrifice others like itself. O’Brien throws emerging thinkers like Winston into the fire for time simply to die in comfort rather than risk himself in the struggle for freedom.
This would be approximately the character of many people who worked for the Kremlin during the days of the USSR, or for the SS in the days of the Third Reich.
Today, it is more ominous that America has no such thought police nor thuggish enforcers patrolling its society and citizenry, yet has developed an atmosphere in which evaluative thought is being ruthlessly annihilated.
How is this accomplished? With no true entity resembling ‘Big Brother’, and with no Thought Police, instead Americans do it to each other and themselves.
How does this happen? How and when did it begin? How bad has it gotten and how bad can it get? The answer is much simpler than most people realize.
Throughout America’s history, beginning in the earliest pre-colonial times, the American People have been possessed of a powerful anti-intellectual streak that has long astonished Europeans (who are those most acquainted with us) and everyone else on the earth. Americans have long been drawn to admire the loudest and most obnoxious man in the room if he has the charisma to get away with being a boor. If anyone doubts this, I point to the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger; he absolutely had to be a Republican Party member to win the Governorship of California, because no Democrat could get away with his sordid brand of character and behavior and acquire any power base. Such people are also not found leading the True Left which eschews the two main political parties here. Twenty years before him of course was Ronald Reagan, who while characterized by hawkish warmongery and right-wing arrogance was still a powerful and civil public speaker capable of behaving with public grace and self-effacing humor. It will remain to be seen at this writing if ‘Arnie’ is capable of this deft deception.
What of Bill Clinton, then, if he is not a boor? Certainly he is, and he is as much of a warmonger and war criminal as any other US President: just ask the people of Baltic Eastern Europe. I have had a Southerner describe Clinton as the classic old-style Southern politician: “He’ll put his arm around you and piss down your leg at the same time.” Yet despite all of this the man is powerfully intelligent. The same can be said of Jimmy Carter, another Southerner and also a powerful intellect. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the same. While the Democratic Party has been just as deceptive a front for manipulative powers-that-be and just as great a deceiver of the working class as the Republican Party, it has been at least a place where one could find much more intelligent leaders at the visible forefront.
The truly intelligent personas in the Republican Party have apparently long preferred to lead from the rear. In the shadows lurk of course the leaders of both big parties. After all, observe who stands in the forefront: a nearly unintelligible speaker and moral coward like George W. Bush, simply standing in proxy for his sinister father George Herbert Bush to provide him with his lost second term in office.
America continually turns away from the real geniuses, even occasionally assassinating them, while consistently showing an outpouring of love for leaders who send their sons and daughters to die in wars for the benefit of absolutely no one but a handful of horrible people few of us ever see.
The only exception that I can name as I write this is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who while he was no saint, still led America with vastly more vision than the majority of US Presidents before him or after him. One minor exception: Dwight D. Eisenhower was guilty of permitting much of America’s corporate greed-inspired manipulation of foreign governments and setting the stage for the Viet Nam War. However, he still guaranteed, the best he could, our memory of the Holocaust (through his insistence on filmed documentation of its aftermath, while wryly predicting today’s phenomenon of ‘historical review’ – another tactic of ‘1984’’s ‘Big Brother’). He also warned the American People to beware the sinister corruption of the Military Industrial Complex.
Why did the American People turn to someone like Roosevelt if he were such a radical by everyday American standards? It was the morbid desperation of the Great Depression and nothing else. Desperation and hunger makes Americans think, as nothing else does, because we’ve experienced these things so rarely in our history. At any other time in our history we’ve been perfectly happy to conform and obey as long as the shelves are full and the house is warm. It means nothing to typical Americans, even if they are conscious of events in world affairs, that people are dying wrongly in our latest military crusade for capital, if business at home is being taken care of. Even then, that means strictly that their business is being taken care of. If Joe Six-pack still can’t see his johnson over his beer belly, a cold one is still in reach, and the Super Bowl is still on for Monday Night, all else is well in the world, period.
I insist that anyone who takes issue with the above statement is someone who does not live like the vast majority of Americans, yet still isn’t investigating the veracity of the reporting of the corporate press. There are people in America, in massive numbers, who are truly socially functionally dysfunctional.
Returning to the ideas stated at the beginning of this article, Americans enforce conformity on each other and themselves. Joe Six-pack is an excellent enforcer of conformity on his peers and on himself, because everything is about the appeal of any concept to his adolescent sense of manhood and his desire for instant gratification. Even shortly after the American Revolution, the French writer and traveller DeToqueville wrote that he had never seen such a love of money and quick wealth anywhere as in America; this observation was powerfully echoed less than a century later by Mark Twain, who explained that America had always been a nation addicted to get-rich-quick schemes and instant gratification because these things were simply very easy to accomplish in the centuries leading up to that time: guns, numbers, disease and the eradication of the Native Peoples made access to the resources here very easy, as did slavery of Africans. The worst kinds of historical events and economic and social practices are wholly responsible for the fact that America is the most wealthy nation in the world, in its entire history. Why Americans as a whole never take stock of this and find it chillingly sinister is a statement about American character in and of itself. This is why many True Leftists in America say that they are “in the belly of the Beast.” This is why many people in other parts of the world regard us as ‘The Great Satan’.
From the intense conformity and brutal enforcement of dogmatism of the Puritans in the beginning of America’s ‘white’ history through the boorish, redneckish conduction of politics and social ethics of the early history of independent America; to the McCarthy-style denouncement of ‘things different’ and ‘red’ and ‘revolutionary’ throughout the twentieth century, even today (“You are either with us or against us!”), Americans have enforced conformity upon themselves and each other, because the culture tells them it is right. Politicians, religious leaders and industry captains consistently team up with each other to tell us it is so.
Again, at the beginning of my article I mentioned that my rereading of ‘1984’ brought to the fore of my thoughts the concept of whittling down the language in order to suppress criticism and rebellion in the working class for the benefit of the ruling class.
There is no doubt that this is being accomplished now. The lowering of standards in schools, consistent for many decades and happening especially now in the guise of the so-called ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy, is one aspect of this development. However when the captains of industry known as the Media Moguls knowingly fill up our television programming with mindless tripe like Reality TV and the endless, brainless rehash of the Situation Comedies, combined with a reporting slant on news that is meant mainly to evoke fear and obedience and barely to inform, we who understand the natural progression of these things see already: our childrens’ ability to handle the deep semantics of literature, history, world affairs, economics (a topic always ignored in America’s public schooling system) and morality is being permanently crippled.
I point out in particular how the morality of our children is being decimated by horrifically negative cultural trends such as gangsta rap: this music is being touted as the newest creation of African American musical genius, but it has nothing to do with the marvelous inventions of gospel, blues, jazz or rock'n'roll: it is merely the consolidation of the most salable elements of recent musical styles, meaning violence, sex, and danceable rhythms. It appeals to the most base element in Human moral character, and it is not a creation of the African American community. It's a creation of Corporate America and is meant to be easily blamed on the African American community because its most visible proponents are black. I will tell you that gangsta rappers are Uncle Toms doing exactly what the corporados want them to do: destroy African American and other Working Class minds. Of course, in '1984' Orwell warned of this when he described the lurid, unintelligent pornographic media dumped on the 'proles' (proletariats, or workers) of fictional Oceania in order to destroy them and supress them. Reducing people to animals intellectually and morally, while appearing to give them what they want, is an easy way to dominate them, and this is how America's leaders manage to avoid the appearance of the dictators they really are.
I challenge my readers to ask any older person they know who seems to be reasonably educated and well-informed: is the vocabulary of the average citizen as rich or expressive as it was thirty or forty years ago? Make sure you ask someone who is over fifty years of age. Also ask them this: are people as capable of critical thought (the ability to evaluate a situation or idea) as powerfully as they were thirty or forty years ago?
I’m only thirty-seven at this writing, and already I can tell you it is not.
Even when I was a teenager, I heard voices in the American Media complaining about the ‘Dumbing Down of America’. Today I’m not hearing about this at all, except in the rare debate about what is really happening in American Education.
Very soon, America’s corporate masters are going to have us right where they want us: frustrated with the fact that the Working Class, for the first time in history, is almost fully literate and owns its own base of literature, they have tried as hard as they can to manipulate our lettered minds with conformity, fear and brutality; the internet, to me, seems to be the last bastion of our ability to resist their efforts.
Is it a conspiracy or a trend? It’s a little bit of both, and it’s more simple technique of governing than conspiracy: it’s just ‘how it’s done’. This is one of the reasons people were kept illiterate during the Middle Ages, until the intellectual explosion of the Renaissance. This is one of the reasons African Americans and Women were kept illiterate in past centuries. This is one of the reasons why tried-and-true educational techniques are being thrown out of the classroom in favor of things that simply do not advance the intellectual ability of students, coupled with the insane negligence of the social welfare of an increasing proportion of the nation; the destruction of educational process along with the encouragement of the disintegration of the family unit (another favorite concept of ‘Big Brother’) is all part of ‘how it’s done’.
America is dying, and without the help of Thought Police or an official Newspeak dialect:
We have our All-American, inborn hatred of intellectuality, and we have each other.