The Book!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

1984: Oldthinkers Unbellyfeel Postmodernism

Many have debated whether Orwell was a prescient prophet: after all, the world he warned of in 1984 did not come to pass, did it?

It did. It happened in 1948. The very year the book was written.

As William Blake said, true prophets do not predict the future. They point at tendencies in the present and draw them to their logical conclusion. This often ends up forecasting the future, but that is not the point. The point is to warn of present behaviour.

Orwell’s references to eternal war in 1984 are actually transparent references to the Second World War, just concluded as he sat down to write—and segueing naturally into the Cold War. The great victory on the African Front towards the end of the book is El Alamein. Oceania is the Western Alliance: Roosevelt and Churchill. Eurasia is Hitler. Eastasia is the Japanese Empire.

Ingsoc, “English Socialism,” was in fact in power in England when Orwell wrote: the activist Labour government of Clement Attlee.

And many things really have gone on the way Orwell feared in 1948, when the book was written. Remarkably, Orwell seems to have predicted the inevitability of such a three-cornered power struggle. Stalin easily replaced Hitler for the Cold War, and Mao took over from Hirohito; and the alliances continued to shift. In the “War on Terrorism,” a similar three seem to emerge: Bush’s “coalition of the willing” matches Oceania well, the France-Germany-Russia bloc at the UN matches Eurasia, and the “Axis of Evil” looks like Eastasia.

The relativism that is the dogma of the modern elite, now called “postmodernism,” is exactly the philosophy of Ingsoc in Orwell’s book. The postmodernists would be very happy to agree with O’Brien that two plus two does not equal four, but whatever is convenient for the sake of achieving power. As Allan Sokal demonstrated in his famous hoax, postmodernism does not any longer even accept scientific truth: “The law of gravity is nonsense,” as O’Brien explains to Winston Smith. “If I think I float, and you think I float, then I float.”

So too we have Newspeak, the language devised in 1984 to make it impossible to express any politically incorrect thoughts. That is exactly what “politically correct” language is all about, starting with the elimination of all references to sex—sorry, “gender.” To speak or write in Canada now requires the acceptance of certain specific political dogmas.

Note again the current pedagogical insistence on “collaborations” or “group work.” As O’Brien explains, “no book is individually produced.” Last summer I sat in on a lecture on the very latest educational philosophy. All work in the classroom, according to the now-dominant “contructivist” approach, must be collaborative, and anyone not going along with the group is declared a “bully.” With punishments for that offense fast becoming quite serious.

This makes it easier, as Orwell explained, to enforce a dominant ideology. “Lunacy,” in the world of 1984, “is a minority of one.”


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I always thought 1984 did come to pass: in 1984, in the Soviet bloc.

But your take is more interesting (how did you come to this?) and more relevant for today. Not to mention far more studied. I read the book 25 years ago and probably should go back and do it again. Orwell was a genius.

Posting as "Anonymous," but it's really Eugene :-)

Hi, Steve!

Anonymous said...

I always thought 1984 did come to pass: in 1984, in the Soviet bloc.

But your take is more interesting (how did you come to this?) and more relevant for today. Not to mention far more studied. I read the book 25 years ago and probably should go back and do it again. Orwell was a genius.

Posting as "Anonymous," but it's really Eugene :-)

Hi, Steve!