Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’

Orwell, Trump and the definition of fascism

October 17, 2017

Back in 1944, George Orwell, my literary hero, worried about the misuse of language, including misuse of the word “fascism”.

As used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless.  In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print.  I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

George Orwell

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning.  To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic.

Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others.

Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it.  By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class.

Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.  That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

Source: George Orwell: What is Fascism? (1944)

I worry about the misuse of language, too.  During the 2016 election campaign, I fretted about calling Donald Trump a fascist.

This was because Trump’s movement lacked key elements of Mussolini’s fascism—a totalitarian ideology, a private militia, a parallel governing structure outside the official governmental chain of command.

My fear was that a real fascist movement will come along, perhaps something like the old Ku Klux Klan, and the word “fascist” will have lost its sting.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is certainly cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working class, as well as being a bully, and these things shouldn’t be accepted as normal.

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George Orwell is the writer I most admire

April 30, 2015

George Orwell is the writer whom I most admire.

George Orwell

George Orwell

He is not the writer with the greatest insight into things, he is not the most brilliant literary stylist, and he is not the writer who gives me the greatest pleasure.

He is the writer I would have most liked to resemble—in his honesty, in his fearlessness, in his clear writing (which is partly a product of his honesty and fearlessness) and in his affirmation of common life and ordinary people.

He is remembered for Animal Farm and 1984, but his essays and journalism are just as interesting.

He was a radical, but not the kind of radical who, like George Bernard Shaw, wanted to re-engineer human life into something unrecognizable, while leaving existing concentrations of wealth and power undisturbed.

Here is a passage from The Road to Wigan Pier, which is about the lives of unemployed coal miners in the north of England in the 1930s.  He wrote about what he saw from the window of his train as he returned to his home in the south.

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George Orwell and the death of truth

March 14, 2014

Reading differing versions of the Ukraine conflict reminds me of George Orwell’s recollections of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.  Orwell fought on the government side against rebels led by General Franco and was wounded in action.  Soviet Russia supported the government side; Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the rebels.

Here’s what Orwell had to say:

George Orwell

George Orwell

I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists.

But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.

Recently I drew up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present; there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right believed in the same stories simultaneously.

And stranger yet, at any moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday’s proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely because the political landscape has changed. [snip]

govtposterspainI remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding.  We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war.

Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.  I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened.

I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’. [snip]

fascistposterspainOut of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all over the world built up, let me take just one point — the presence in Spain of a Russian army.  Devout Franco partisans all believed in this; estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was no Russian army in Spain.  There may have been a handful of airmen and other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not.  Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions of Spaniards, were witnesses of this.  Well, their testimony made no impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set foot in Government Spain.

Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their ‘legionaries’.

I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.  After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written?   If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence.

But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written?  What kind of records will Franco have left behind him?  Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written?  For, as I have pointed out already, the Government also dealt extensively in lies. [snip]

Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted.  So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. [snip]

This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

Click on George Orwell: Looking back on the Spanish War for the full article, published in 1943, which also describes his experiences in the war and his thoughts on the nature of fascism.   Orwell did NOT think the answer to lying propaganda was to assume that “the truth lies somewhere in between.”

Two types of totalitarianism

October 14, 2013

orwell.huxley.fatpita (1952)

Maybe both of them were right.  An authoritarian state and a trivial mass culture are not mutually exclusive.  They are mutually reinforcing.

Hat tip to We are respectable negroes.

An American exception for drone strikes?

February 26, 2013

President Barack Obama and his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, William Brennan, steadfastly refuse to say whether they believe the President has the right to kill Americans on American soil even if they have not been charged with any crime.   The closest they will come to answering the question is to say they have no intention of killing Americans in the United States at the present time.

Obama and Brennan definitely should answer the question.  But if you think the President should be able to order the killing of anyone, anywhere in the world, based on his personal judgment of national security, why should an exception be made for American citizens?  Are we Americans some sort of master race who are obligated to respect each others’ rights, but can do as we like to people of other nations?

Here is the answer given by Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Price for his nonviolent struggle against white rule in South Africa.

I am deeply, deeply disturbed at the suggestion … … that possible judicial review of President Obama’s decisions to approve the targeted killing of suspected terrorists might be limited to the killings of American citizens.

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu

Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.

I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.

Desmond Tutu – NYTimes.com.

Now I don’t think it would be an advance if the United States government came to hold the life of American citizens as lightly as it holds the lives of people living in the killing zones of Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, which I think this is a distinct possibility.

Rather the point is that if you and I think we have a right not to have our lives snuffed out without knowing the reason, we ought to recognize that people of other nationalities, cultures and religions are just as human as we are, and have the same right.

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Creating “un-people” at Guantanamo

October 29, 2012

George Orwell in his novel 1984 coined the word un-person.  When the regime of Big Brother turns you into an un-person, you not only cease to exist, but all record and memory of your existence cease to exist.  This was inspired by the old Soviet Union, where, when the regime turned against a prominent person, they not only disappeared, but all reference to them in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was eliminated.  Winston Smith, the central character of 1984, has a job of “rectifying” the records.

Now Wikileaks has uncovered records that indicates the authorities at the Guantanamo Bay detention center had a policy of turning inmates into un-people.  Julian Assange said in an interview last week with CNN that a 2005 Guantanamo Bay manual, recently revealed by Wikileaks, show that military authorities had a policy of not identifying the inmates as individuals, not even by a number.  That meant a person could be made to disappear, and there would be no record that the person was even present at Guantanamo.

Now perhaps there is a logical explanation for this policy other than the one Assange gives.  Perhaps the present policy is different from what it was in 2005.  But U.S. government spokesmen refuse to explain, confirm or deny.  They say it is a matter of security.   The only way that I can see it would be a matter of security is that the truth really is Orwellian.

Click on Embassy life like a ‘space station,’ Assange says for the interview and a summary on the CNN home page.

Click on The Detainee Policies for Wikileaks’ press release on the Guantanamo documents.

 

New links: Wikileaks, meritocracy, etc.

July 1, 2012

If you find my posts interesting, you should find the articles, blogs and web sites in my links menus even more interesting.

Here are the latest additions to my links menus.

Articles

What exactly is Obamacare and what did it change?   The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is an extremely complicated law.  This is an objective, detailed and understandable rundown of what is in the law.  I intend to leave this article in the Articles menu for as long as I need it as a reference.

Sergey Brin’s Search for a Parkinson’s Cure.  I’ve posted about dangers of abuse of data mining, but this article from Wired tells how data mining can be used to speed up life-saving medical research.  Hat tip to Bill Hickok.

Dear America: You Should Be Mad As Hell About This.  Working for Gannett newspapers taught me how charts and graphics could be used to present facts and figures.   This post from Business Insider is a great use of charts and graphics to illuminate the U.S. economic plight.

The Age of Illusion: an Interview with Chris Hayes The author of Twilight of the Elites (which I haven’t read) told how the illusion of meritocracy blinds the wealthy elite to the consequences of their actions.   Hat tip to SB.

Articles of lasting interest

George Orwell: Politics and the English Language.  George Orwell in this classic essay described how obfuscation in language leads to political hypocrisy and deception.

Dimitry Orlov: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the USDimitry Orlov is a Russian-born American who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In this slide show, he compared the present-day United States with the old USSR.

Documentaries.

WikiLeaks: the Forgotten ManThis documentary, aired on Australian television June 14, gives good background on the Bradley Manning case and how it ties in with the U.S. government’s fight against WikiLeaks.  It is 45 minutes long, but worth watching.

Notable posts

End game for Julian AssangeThe saga of WikiLeaks shows what happens to individuals when they interfere with the reign of secrecy and arbitrary power.   Julian Assange’s fate matters, and I’m going to update this post for as long as it is in the links menu.

How white people can stay in the majority U.S. Census reports say that non-Hispanic whites will cease to be the majority of the American population within the next few decades.  I hope this will lead to a decline in racial / ethnic prejudice, but I think what probably will happen is that the definition of the majority group, which once was limited to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), will broaden out even more.