Friday, October 31, 2014

The Trouble with Orwell

Orwell saving a puppy during the Spanish Civil War
It is 30 years after Orwell's good bad back 1984 and the world hasn't exactly come to the dire state, which many felt Orwell "predicted" like some latter-day Nostradamus, taking this novel at face value.  It seems few have read his other books, like Homage to Catalonia, or his essays, which clearly outline a man who firmly adopted progressive causes.  Instead, there are many who somehow see him in the same vein as Ayn Rand and have adopted him as an ardent anti-Communist and neoconservative like themselves.

I say this because Orwell pops up a lot in conservative media.  Here is a writer for Breitbart using Orwell to defend the conservative view that the current mainstream media is state-friendly and is used to "reinforce the Democratic Party line."  A view reinforced by the conservative pundits at Fox News, the most popular news channel in America.  This writer sees the scandals that have engulfed NSA and PRISM as a product of a Democratic regime, failing to note that NSA was founded in 1952 and has been used by every presidential administration since to eavesdrop on Americans and foreign leaders.

Since Reagan was elected to a second term in 1984, the country has been in a strange state of flux, driven more by corporate interests than any particular political ideology. We've seen the rise of neo-conservativism and neo-liberalism, which more or less adopt this corporate view of the world that has influenced politics through successive presidential administrations.  Corporations haven't always been able to get their way, but thanks to a malleable Congress and a corporate-friendly Supreme Court they  have managed to shoot down attempts to contain their influence.

It isn't so much that one political party or the other has been able to establish dominance, as it is that corporations have been able to establish dominance in a way not seen since before World War II.  This is what Orwell fought against in Catalonia.  He was angered by the English and American embrace of Franco and his fascist forces, just as much as he was Stalin rejecting the cause of the Anarchists, who Orwell felt wanted to return power to the people.  Of course, he was critical of the Anarchists too, in their inability to come together on the battle front, but what can you expect.

Animal Farm, as illustrated by Ralph Steadman
A few years before his death, Christopher Hitchens tried to defend the Iraq War in Orwellian terms in his book, Why Orwell Matters.  Hitch saw his stance on the war as similar to Orwell's "power of facing."  Granted, Hitch had a far better grasp of Orwell than do many of the political pundits who evoke Orwell's name today, but his arguments fed right into the conservative "newspeak," with Hitchens himself writing a pro-war article for the National Review, which earned him the ire of the liberal media.

Orwell never saw himself as anything more than a pamphleteer, but his books have survived and have been passed down from one generation to the next in high schools across America.  Almost every American is aware of Animal Farm and 1984.  The books were used against the Soviet regime throughout the Cold War and now seemed to be turned against a "Democratic regime" in America, as depicted by contemporary conservative writers.  "Orwellian" has become an adjective to describe everything from NSA overreach to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision , often used as an epithet by both political sides to describe each other.

It seems very few took the time to read between the lines of these two allegorical novels, which have become so inculcated into our minds.  It's a good thing Orwell is not around to see how badly his books have been interpreted.

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