Monday, November 30, 2020

What's Your Vector, D-503?

From We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924):

    This is merely a copy, word for word, of what was published this morning in the State newspaper:

    "In another hundred and twenty days the building of the Integral will be completed. The great historic hour is near, when the first Integral will rise into the limitless space of the universe. One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors subjected the whole earth to the power of the United State. A still more glorious task is before you: the integration of the indefinite equation of the Cosmos by the use of the glass, electric, fire-breathing Integral. Your mission is to subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason the unknown beings who live on other planets, and who are perhaps still in the primitive state of freedom. If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy. But before we take up arms, we shall try the power of words.

    "In the name of The Well-Doer, the following is announced herewith to all Numbers of the United State:

    "Whoever feels capable must consider it his duty to write treatises, poems, manifestoes, odes, and other compositions on the greatness and the beauty of the United State.

    "This will be the first cargo which the Integral will carry.

    "Long live the United State! Long live the Numbers!! Long live the Well-Doer!!!"

    I feel my cheeks burn as I write this. To integrate the colossal, universal equation! To unbend the wild curve, to straighten it out to a tangent--to a straight line! For the United State is a straight line, a great, divine, precise, wise line, the wisest of lines!

--From Record One of We by Eugene Zamiatin (Yevgeny Zamyatin)
(Dutton paperback edition, [1959]), pp. 3-4

* * *

My thesis is that there is a dichotomy between infinity and entropy, between the circle and the arrow. That seems to be the dichotomy set up in We, with the man D-503 on the side of obedience and submission to an entropic Utopia in the form of the United State, versus the woman I-330 on the side of rebellion, an endless cycle of life, and no final revolution. He and the State seek happiness. She and her fellow revolutionaries prefer freedom. The same dichotomy--obedience and submission, which lead to a yearned-for happiness among humanity, versus freedom, with all of its inherent burdens and occasional and perhaps inevitable unhappiness--is also in the parable of the Grand Inquisitor.

* * *

The mission of the Integral is the selfsame mission of the historical and present-day Socialist/Statist. In summary:

To subjugate to the grateful yoke of reason those who live in a primitive state of freedom. Our duty will be to force them to be happy.

The Grand Inquisitor says that humanity yearns for unity and a unified State. The Well-Doer in We provides it, and it's the same goal that is afoot in the world today: unity, equality, and an equal distribution of all appearances, all abilities, and all things--not individuality, not freedom, not merit. As D-503 writes: 

"We" is from God, "I" from the devil.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the woman who disturbs his happiness bears the prefix I.

* * *

And so he sets out in the first of his records "[t]o unbend the wild curve, to straighten it out to a tangent--to a straight line! For the United State is a straight line, a great, divine, precise, wise line, the wisest of lines!" (emphasis added).

The entropic universe is one in which there are outward lines of force, an uncountable number of vectors or arrows pointing away from the Big Bang and an uncentered, unfocused Cosmos towards a definitive end to history. The entropic earthly State lies at the endpoint of History, at the tip of the arrow that flies through Time in its inexorable path. An arrow flies in an arc, though, its path being bent by the force of the feminine Earth. D-503 wants to unbend that wild curve: men draw lines, women move in circles.

* * *

Like Woman, infinity moves in circles that cannot be straightened. Like her, the Earth and its inhabitants are free, in their hearts wild and untamed. They--we--live in and will forever live in "the primitive state of freedom." We cannot be subdued. So get all of that out of your heads, those of you who would like to impose your will upon us. What you're trying to do cannot be done. It's a fantasy and a delusion. We are free, we are made free, and there's nothing you can do about it. Murder, torture, and imprison us: Free. Oppress us: still Free. Try to take away our rights, our individuality, our words, our way of life: Forever Free and Indomitable.

Finally a pertinent quote from a work of today:

In his objection to the idea of the fluidity and mutability of human nature, John Adams resonates with Czeslaw Milosz a century later, the Polish poet laureate who argues that the ultimate enemy of the Communist regime is not the propertied class, Kulaks, and capitalists, the nations and churches which prevent man from recognizing himself as purely proletariat worker, but "Man, This Enemy"--human nature itself, born anew in every generation, with its desire for truth and freedom, is the ultimate enemy of the totalitarian state. (Emphasis added.)

(From "How America's Adams Family Inherited And Preserved The Pilgrim Mind" by historian Susan Hansen on the website of The Federalist, November 24, 2020, here.) 

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have been writing about some not very happy things, including 1984, one of the most depressing and dispiriting books I have ever read. That's not quite right for Thanksgiving week, so I'll put it on pause. I have a little more on the topic, including at least one more quote, but that can all wait until next week.

* * *

I read the words of a writer on the Internet who wrote that he has over 46,000 unopened--or maybe it's unanswered--emails in his inbox. I don't feel so bad now. I have email messages, comments, cards, letters, and other things that have gone into limbo. They have been there for weeks and months, some for years. This isn't a good way to be.

If you read my lone entry from last month, you know that things have suddenly changed a lot for me and my family. Our situation from the last five years, which culminated in the death of our dad in August of this year, hasn't quite reached its end, but there has come an unavoidable and irreversible turning in our lives. As some of you know and the rest can imagine, this is a really hard thing to go through. I and we--suddenly orphans, all of us--are struggling every day. But not everything is so bad or so difficult. There are some positives in our lives and in the way things are turning. In any case, life goes on. My friend and his wife had a baby this month, for example, and life goes on. I hope that there will soon be a turning in our whole country, too, and that this will mean we can all go back to living lives again instead of the half-lives--or less--that we have been enduring in this sad, lonely, bizarre, and utterly stupid year.

* * *

Despite everything that has happened this year, we have so much for which we can be thankful. I am thankful for many things, large and small. I am thankful for whatever gifts I might have received in my abilities to think about, research, and write about the things that you read and see here. I am thankful, too, for the chance I have in this digital age to do the things that I have always wanted to do--to write, draw, and publish what I write and draw, all on my own and at little or no cost--things I might not have been able to do so easily in previous ages. I thank everyone who reads this blog and who keeps coming back to it, for whatever reason, whether for enjoyment or edification, or even if it's to find something about which to be angry, offended, or infuriated. You are welcome here as well as anyone. I want to say thank you to the people who have written to me, either on this blog or directly by email, in sympathy, support, and understanding, since I came back at the end of September. I will write back to thank you personally. I especially thank Randal A. Everts, who has been generous and supportive in offering information, photographs, and corrections from his vast trove of research, stored in "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis."

* * *

The American project began as an adventure, an escape from oppression, and a vision and ambition to found a place in which we and our posterity might live out and enjoy our lives in freedom. We haven't always done very well in all of that, but if there are arcs in history, the arc in ours is towards greater freedom, justice, and prosperity. Sometimes there is a drawing back, but always there is a going forward again, towards the goals and ideals of our founding. These are too big, I think, for any small person or group of people to overcome, let alone to defeat. It hasn't happened before, and it isn't going to happen now. Our country is built upon a rock, deeper, greater, and more solid than the one upon which the Pilgrims disembarked--an event that was at once, I guess, apocryphal and symbolic--400 years ago next month. No one is going to dislodge the rock or break it up, I'm convinced of that, and our nation will go on. We will not only survive the current hard times but come to thrive and prosper again. I'm convinced of that, too. And so I wish everyone life, freedom, and prosperity, and I say:

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Weird Tales, October 1930, with cover art by Hugh Rankin. This is an October cover so not quite right for Thanksgiving, but it has autumn leaves in bright colors. Just ignore the knife. 

Copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 22, 2020

To Entropy and Beyond!

Winston Smith has his tormenter in O'Brien. D-503, the protagonist in We, has his in I-330. She is a different kind of tormenter, though, for D-503 is in crazy love with her. We all know about the torments of love and what we will do for it.

I-330 says some interesting things. First:

"The 'last one' is a child's story. Children are afraid of the infinite, and it is necessary that children should not be frightened, so that they may sleep through the night."

Then, in response to D-503:

"Ah, 'evenly'! 'Everywhere'! That is the point, entropy! Psychological entropy."

D-503, still bound up in the United State (the One State in some translations), believes in the last revolution and the end of history. I-330, a true revolutionary, calls him out on the absurdity of such things. She chooses infinity. He would rather have entropy. Consideration of this dichotomy opens doors . . .

* * *

I-330 is a woman, passionate and full of emotion. She pushes. She coaxes and cajoles and harangues. As a woman she moves in cycles, and cycles roll infinitely through infinite Time. What is the last revolution--literally the last revolving, the last turning of the cycle? What is the last wave? The last reaction? The last transmission? The last star? The last universe? The last woman, turning and cycling through Time?

Her symbol is a circle. Or a cup, its mouth a circle. There is no beginning or end to it.

His is an arrow, with a head and a tail, flying in a line, straight through Time, with an origin and a destination. Or, pointed, a triangle, a blade--hard and angular rather than soft and rounded.

The flight of the arrow has its beginning--its initial burst of energy--and it has its flight and its bright flash in the sunlight as it flies; then, it has its end, at which point all of its energy has been expended. Meanwhile, the circle keeps turning.

She is a planet, Earth. His arrow follows a flightpath, bends in an arc under the influence of her gravity. Her gamete is a globe. Like an arrow, his has a head and a tail. It wriggles towards hers in its sinusoidal wave. Together they renew Life in its endless cycles . . .

* * *

History has two ways, the cyclic and the linear, the circle and the arrow. There will be either infinity--no end of history, no last revolution--or entropy, an end after which there can be no further revolution, no further turning. In entropy, in fact, there is no after. Time reaches its end. There are no further events.

We move through history, turning and turning. To disrupt that turning, D-503 and people like him under the United or One State--people among us, too, people in the real world--leftists, socialists, and statists of every stripe--seek an end to history, a final expenditure of energy, an even and entropic Utopia in which there is no further change, no further events, as D-503 sees it: "In the whole world, evenly, everywhere, there is distributed . . ." These are his words and theirs: evenly, everyoneeverywhere, unityequality, equity, distributionredistribution. To the rest of us, all of that means an even, gray sludge of humanity, a mass of undifferentiated zombies trudging over the earth and through their featureless lives, like in the Kate Bush video. To this we say no, as does I-330:

"Don't you as a mathematician know that only differences--only differences--in temperature, only thermic contrasts make for life? And if all over the world there are evenly warm or evenly cold bodies, they must be pushed off! . . . In order to get flame, explosions! And we shall push! . . ." [Ellipses in the original.]

As I-330, a woman of great passion and feeling, understands, Life is the anti-entropic Force. We live, and so we resist entropy. Dull, blind, mindless, plodding, entropy seeks the opposite, to end us, maybe not specifically but as a general process. But history will not end, for as long as there is Life, there will be cycles of Life and a forever turning . . .

* * *

Because there are two ways of history, there are also two ways of literature, or at least of fantasy and science fiction. One is entropic: Utopia, and its Mr. Hyde identity, Dystopia. (As I have written before, Utopia and Dystopia are the same thing, or, put another way, every Utopia is also a Dystopia.) Tales of Utopia were common and popular in the early days of fantasy and science fiction. I'm not sure that anyone would be so naïve as to attempt one now. (That should tell real-world utopian theorists--the socialists and statists among us--a thing or two about their prospects for bringing their fantasies to life.) Dystopian stories are still popular, though, even if they function as vehicles of satire or commentary, or as cautionary tales, or simply as escapist fantasies, rather than as serious possibilities. I see We as a satire and a fantasy, pointed to be sure but not necessarily an attempt at extrapolation or prognostication. In contrast, it's hard to think of 1984 as anything less than a nightmarish vision of our future. George Orwell may have written his novel late in life when his own prospects appeared so bleak, but he and his cohorts were still living in the shadow of totalitarianism, and the totalitarian mind and its ideas were still among them--and on the move. Stalin may have died just a few years later, but there were new totalitarian fantasies then slouching towards Babylon. We live with them today, and they stalk us everywhere we go.

* * *

The other way of literature is towards the infinite. Nearly fifty years ago, Donald A. Wollheim wrote: "The essence of science fiction is that this is a changing world." He assumed an "Infinite Future" and urged "a belief in human infinity." The essence of science fiction would seem to be towards infinity: there is reason for hope, still possibilities for progress and change, for there is still life, humanity, and the human mind still at work in the universe. But that was fifty years ago. Where do we stand now? Does science fiction still "maintain a belief in human infinity"? Or have science fiction writers and readers come to prefer entropy?

* * *

Because it is about the future, science fiction easily becomes politicized. Science fiction may in fact be inherently political (and from there, perhaps inevitably utopian). There have certainly been political controversies among writers of science fiction and fantasy. Some if not all of these have to do with racial and gender politics, in other words, the fruits of critical theory. Totalitarianism is a many-headed hydra. This is just another of its heads. Believe it or not, there are still old-fashioned Marxists or socialists among the ranks of science fiction and fantasy writers, too. Evidently they haven't gotten the memo that they and their ideas have become outdated. They still seek Utopia and entropy. But isn't every socialist or totalitarian scheme, whether Marxist or post-Marxist, utopian and entropic in its ends? And if science fiction is about the infinite future, then how can these things be reconciled? Can there be a positive entropic science fiction?

* * *

In history, in literature, in politics, there comes an inevitable confrontation with the problem of good versus evil. A neverending problem, a neverending battle. Neverending. You already know this, but neverending means forever. For as long as there is Life, there will be inputs. There will never be a winding down. When we face evil, we must also be facing infinity. Maybe that's one of the reasons that tales of infinity must not be told, because they frighten children and the childlike mind.

At every page, in front of every image, I stop to catch my breath. And I tell myself: This is the end, they have reached the last limit; what follows can only be less horrible; surely it is impossible to invent suffering more naked; cruelty more refined. Moments later I admit my error: I underestimated the assassin's ingenuity. The progression into the inhuman transcends the exploration of the human. Evil, more than good, suggests infinity.

Those are the words of Elie Wiesel, who chose to tell stories of what he had witnessed and experienced. He has been looking at albums of photographs, a graphic record of the evil that man does to man. In these images, he encounters the possibility that evil may be infinite, a frightening one for all of us. (From "Snapshots" in One Generation After [Pocket Books, 1978], p. 62.)

* * *

The utopian theorist necessarily believes that good, his idea of good, can and will--of course!--triumph over evil. That is the purpose and endpoint of History after all. It cannot be otherwise, for History is an irresistible Force. Its ways and results are known. It has an arc (like an arrow flying through Time) that always bends the right way. It has a right side and a wrong side, and the wrong side must always lose. Once evil is overcome, we on the right side of History shall have Utopia. And entropy. They leave off that part. Either that or they yearn for it--the uniform coldness of evenly distributed bodies, filled with reason and drained of Life. In this vision, the infinite, the neverending and ever-changing, the endless cycling and turning, perhaps what O'Brien calls "the process of life"--Life itself--all of this must cease.

* * *

But even O'Brien is not so naïve. He understands that there will always be an enemy to overcome, that punishment must always be meted out, for human beings will not go easily into sameness and submission. He has nothing but contempt for "the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined." (Signet, p. 220) (Could George Orwell have foreseen the coming of Herbert Marcuse?) At first glance, we might think that O'Brien seeks an endpoint to history, that he, too, seeks entropy. (I assumed that the other day when I wrote.) After all, 1984 is a dystopian work, and Dystopia is seemingly entropic by definition. But O'Brien doesn't plan for stasis. He in fact believes in action, progress, change, refinement:

"Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain."


"But always--do not forget this, Winston--always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler." [Emphasis added.]

Remember, O'Brien's vision of the future is "a boot stamping on a human face--forever": the tense is the present progressive. You know this already, but forever means neverending. Not entropy but infinity. An asymptote, always approaching perfection but never reaching it. Always with inputs, never with any final expenditure. "Evil, more than good, suggests infinity." Human depravity knows no limit and no end.

* * *

Like history and literature, the cosmos has two ways: it will end either in entropy--an evenly distributed, red-black sludge of matter and energy--or with the beginning of a new cycle. Put another way, the question might be: Is the nature of the cosmos feminine or masculine? It all depends on whether or not there is enough matter hiding inside it to make it all fall back on itself. Or whether or not there is enough outward-flowing energy to make it expand forever. (Maybe these are both the same question.) If I understand things correctly, there is a tussle going on among cosmologists and astrophysicists who believe that there is versus those who believe that there isn't. There are more questions and hypotheses, too; there is not necessarily a dichotomy but maybe a polychotomy (my new word). I won't pretend to know the ins and outs of all of it, but to paraphrase an old saying, a psychologist is a man who watches everyone else when the question of dark matter and energy enters the room.

* * *

There is the question of how the universe will end, either with a whimper or a bang (or, as Robert Frost--perfect surname--pondered, whether with fire or ice), but there is also the question of why people believe--or more precisely, why they want to believe--in one thing or another. Could there be among cosmologists the same divide as among the rest of humanity, including lowly writers of fantasy and science fiction? Could there be among them a dichotomy between infinity and entropy? Between the circle and the arrow? Between Utopia and the neverending push? Between an end of history and no end at all? In every belief, there is the question, What does holding this belief offer to the holder of it? Can this or that philosophical position or scientific postulate really be just a bit of wishful thinking? A desire to force the vast universe into accord with our own minute beliefs? Do you prefer entropy because it confirms some other belief that you hold, one too dear to give up? Do you run away from infinity because it scares you? Does the possibility of the infinite suggest a Creator of the infinite? Or maybe it can be used as a substitute for that Creator. Yeah, that's the ticket. For if the universe is infinite in Time, and if it simply creates itself, again and again, then we can dispense with any Creator seated above the universe. We can apply Occam's Razor--a blade--to the problem and keep our assumptions simple: the Universe itself is the Creator, and our beliefs and non-beliefs become thereby satisfied. We can thereby believe in and yearn for infinity in the Cosmos, as it suits us, just as we might believe in and yearn for entropy on Earth. And if there is no supernatural creator of the infinite, then we as human beings--as the incarnate minds of the Creator-Universe--may create our own infinitude. We may stop at nothing--there can be no limits to anything we might imagine or do, including any evil or depravity we might commit.

* * *

But where does that leave entropy? If we are to climb the Tower of Babel, seize godlike power, and become the creators of infinitude, then what are we to do with the possibility that the universe might go on expanding forever? Entropy might be perfectly fine for the pedestrian, earthbound imagination of the utopian theorist, but what about those whose imaginations wish to wander among--ultimately to create--the planets and stars? There may be infinity in entropy, for the final, entropic universe is also infinite, in Space rather than in Time. But how satisfying is that to the believer in--to the person who desperately yearns for--an endlessly cycling universe? Not very, I suppose. And maybe it's a little frightening, too, for what is the way out? What can there possibly be outside the universe that could somehow change things inside? What can we get to help us reverse this ultimate, crushing, depressing entropy? Nothing. There can be nothing. We must be believe in nothing.

* * *

Or maybe we can believe in ourselves and our ability to create our own Mini-Me universe in which we can escape from entropy or some other universe-ending disaster, like baby Moses in his basket or R2-D2 and C-3PO shot out of the Rebel blockade runner. Yes, that's an idea in physics. Credit goes to Dr. Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It might easily be an idea for a science fiction story: "Go ahead--go eat at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Meanwhile, we're going to work on our escape pod." It sounds like the origin story of Superman. It would also allow for new Life and the beginning of new cycles . . .

* * *

Draw any line long enough in a universe warped by gravity and it becomes a circle. And so here we have a circle: to the socialist or statist imagining an earthbound Utopia, entropy is suitable and desirable. It is, after all, the goal and endpoint of History and all of his own efforts. There will be a last revolution, History will end, and there will be no after. Consequently, tales of the infinite must not be told because they will frighten the children. On the other hand, entropy frightens the materialist taking the long view, for what is he to do with his belief in and yearning for the infinite-in-Time, endlessly cycling Creator-Universe if everything is to end in a completely uniform, dull sludge of matter-energy? There must be new beginnings, new waves, new cycles, the arms of new galaxies turning in the sky like the wings of a windmill . . . 

* * *

Maybe I have been setting up a row of straw men so that I might easily knock them down. Maybe I'm imagining beliefs and non-beliefs that don't really exist. Maybe things aren't so simple. But if they do and if they are, then I might point out that there are solutions to these problems for the seeker after earthly entropy or cosmological infinity, if he or she will only have them (more for him than for her, who may believe in and seek after the Infinite by working in the merely infinite): If the utopian will give up on his idea of creating heaven on earth and allow the true Creator his greater prerogative. If the materialist will simply transfer her belief in and yearning for the unseen or unknown from dark matter or dark energy or whatever other dark force to something more. If both will believe in Life and Love, recognize and embrace the infinite, the eternal, and the absolute, have faith in the Creator of it all, who exists outside it and above it forever, keeps it all going and turning forever . . .

There could be a solution if only they would have it.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, November 20, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984-No. 7

O'Brien speaks:

"How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"

    Winston thought. "By making him suffer," he said.

    "Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy--everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always--do not forget this, Winston--always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever." (Signet, pp. 219-220)

* * *

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a horror story, a frightening and depressing look into human nature and human history, a projection into the future of everything that a sad and damaged man near the end of his life had seen and had come to understand about his fellow human beings. It may be off in its particulars, but Orwell's vision of the future was not meant to be a prediction but an extrapolation, in other words, a work akin to science fiction, if it is not in fact a work in that genre. The particulars don't matter so much as the main thrust of the book, which is, I think, summarized in this quote from Winston Smith's tormenter, O'Brien. It's a long quote. Some of its points might be dulled a little by being knocked around in such a long, dense paragraph. But I wanted to give it in its entirety, better for the immersion, better, too, for an effect that threatens to overwhelm the reader before reaching its famous and despairing conclusion:

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever."

If you take it as a piece, you might think that O'Brien's plan has not actually been brought about in the real world. Maybe we don't have anything to worry about after all. But individual sentences and phrases might just as easily appear today in an op-ed or piece of reporting, in an interview, video, meme, policy statement, or social media posting:

"Obedience is not enough. [. . .] Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation."

"[Our civilization] is founded upon hatred."

"In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy--everything."

"We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman."

"There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party."

"There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy."

"There will be no art, no literature, no science."

"There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness."

"Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless."

That trampling on a helpless "enemy"--a woman, a child, an elderly person, a man in a wheelchair, a person who has been knocked senseless, a weak and defenseless person alone against a howling, rabid, demon-possessed mob--is going on every day and every night in our streets. I suggested the other day that O'Brien's ways may have been rendered obsolete by more efficient and insidious methods that revolutionaries began to develop in the 1950s. (That is, after the death of Stalin in 1953; Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud by Herbert Marcuse, a seminal work, or the seminal work of New Left and critical theory claptrap, was published two years later.) But maybe not. If you're attempting to exercise or seize power, violence and a mindless surrender to a hate-filled mass or mob can still go a long way.

* * *

As an artist, I notice and am repulsed by the idea that there will be--and so often is in our world--no distinction made between beauty and ugliness. We are told and expected to believe and affirm--to shout out--that ugly things are beautiful and that beauty is relative, oppressive, obsolete, or just plain nonexistent. These are the ideas, I think: That the world is an ugly place. People are ugly, too, and ought to be hated. We as individuals ought to hate ourselves, too, and make ourselves ugly. There is no fixed and unchanging principle of beauty, certainly not of love. To believe in or appreciate beauty is delusional, even dangerous. We will have instead a society founded upon hatred, an anarchic, nihilistic, hate-filled world in which nothing must be created and everything must be destroyed.

These are visions for our present and future.

I don't know the year, country, or publishing house of this edition, but I know a Flash Gordon-style collar when I see one, and this is one. Cover artist unknown.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984 (and Before)-No. 6

From 1984:

"You understand well enough how the Party maintains itself in power. Now tell me why we cling to power. What is our motive? Why should we want power?"

[. . .]

He [Winston] knew what O'Brien would say: that the Party did not seek power for its own ends, but only for the good of the majority. That it sought power because men in the mass were frail, cowardly creatures who could not endure liberty or face the truth [. . . .] That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better. That the Party was the eternal guardian of the weak, a dedicated sect doing evil that good might come, sacrificing its own happiness to that of others." (Signet, p. 216)

Except that that's not what O'Brien says in answer to his own question. We'll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, let's hear what's on the mind of the Grand Inquisitor:

"They [humanity] will be convinced, too, that they can never be free, for they are weak, vicious, worthless and rebellious. Thou didst promise them the bread of Heaven, but, I repeat again, can it compare with earthly bread in the eyes of the weak, ever-sinful and ignoble race of man?" (Bobbs-Merrill, p. 30)


"No, we care for the weak, too. They are sinful and rebellious, but in the end they too will become obedient. They will marvel at us and look on us as gods, because we are ready to endure the freedom which they have found so dreadful and to rule over them--so awful it will seem to them to be free." (p. 30)

[. . .]

"And they will be glad to believe our answer, for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves. And all will be happy, all the millions of creatures, except the hundred thousand who rule over them. For only we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy." (p. 40)

So maybe George Orwell had read The Brothers Karamazov and kept it in mind as he was writing 1984. More than just decades had passed since the publication of Dostoyevski's novel, however. A clear-eyed witness to history, Orwell understood as much. Weary, benighted, naïve, trapped inside his story, Winston Smith does not. The Grand Inquisitor's motive, cynical as it is, wasn't quite cynical enough for 1948-1949, let alone for our own times, for here is O'Brien's answer to his own question:

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; only power, pure power. [. . .] We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish a dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" [Emphasis added.] (p. 217)

* * *

There are still those among us who seek power for its own sake, for the opportunity to exercise their will over all. Like the poor, they will always be with us. But maybe the age of the Grand Inquisitor, the Benefactor, Lenin, and O'Brien has passed. Then again, maybe not. It's worth noting here that seventy years separated the initial publication of The Brothers Karamazov from that of 1984--and that seventy-plus-one separate us from the publication of Orwell's novel. In that first seventy-year period, the Grand Inquisitor's motives appear to have been rendered obsolete by O'Brien's naked, cruel, and cynical will to power. At least the Grand Inquisitor imagined that what he was doing was for the good of humanity. O'Brien says: "The object of power is power." Now another seventy-year period has passed. What of O'Brien's ideas now? Have they been rendered obsolete, too?

I'll answer that question in a hurry: I think that the aspiring tyrants in our midst have come to understand that murder, torture, imprisonment, starvation, and all of the other overt and vulgar methods of early- and mid-century socialism aren't nearly as effective as one might have hoped. After all, the Nazis were defeated in 1945, 988 years short of their goal, and Bolshevism failed at the end of its allotted threescore and ten. The lessons of the totalitarian epoch seem obvious: If there is going to be power concentrated in the hands of a few revolutionaries, it will have to be gathered and held in a different way. Tyranny by force is inefficient. More efficient by far is for people to tyrannize themselves and each other, for them to participate willingly, even joyfully, in their own oppression. The locus of power can then be moved away from the State, and oppression by the State becomes unnecessary. The governmental clown show can continue, but the real action will be somewhere else.

Enter cultural Marxism, critical theory, political correctness, identity politics, and the New Left, which, at age sixty or so, is actually pretty long in the tooth by now. Despite the fact that their repast has gone bad and now stinks to high heaven, a lot of Marx, Freud, and Gramsci inspired revolutionaries have gone to the buffet table of leftism/socialism/statism and come away with a big heapin' helpin' of that kind of thing. But how well is that going to work? These revolutionaries might tear each other apart over real or perceived transgressions, but that's their own fight. They're really just sitting at the kid's table--at a highchair actually, because, boy, are they infantile. The real work is being done by a new kind of revolutionary. Like Lenin and O'Brien, these new revolutionaries are serious, driven, ambitious, arrogant. They are confident and ruthless in the extreme. They are also in control of a new technology that puts O'Brien, Ingsoc, Oceania, and all of their trappings to shame. Orwell had inklings of them and it when he wrote:

"Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. [. . .] With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen [. . .] could be kept under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time." (p. 170)

Substitute the phrases "digital technology" or "social media" or "the Internet" or "smartphones" or "search engines" or "Internet commerce" or maybe all of them together plus some more--substitute all of these phrases for "television" and you approach our current situation.

* * *

O'Brien says: "But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable." Winston Smith resists that idea, but his resistance is weak, for he is a non-believer, or, more accurately, he doesn't see the truth, which is that human nature is in no way malleable because it has not been made by human beings. Put another way, nothing that is made by God is alterable by human beings, and nothing made by human beings out of relationship with God and our true nature can be made permanent. In his naïveté, O'Brien believes something different. But that was seventy years ago. The new kind of revolutionary of which I speak may have recognized the same kind of shortcomings that the old kind has, namely, that mid-century methods don't work very well--and that they were probably never going to work very well. Like I've said, if you're going to gather power to yourself, you can't do it very easily or efficiently by force, a thing the old revolutionaries have come to understand. You also can't do it by trying to change human nature, just as the new revolutionaries, looking at the past failures of O'Brien and his kind, now seem to understand . . .

And that's why you must change what it is to be human.

Human beings are a pesky problem if you're an aspiring tyrant. How are you supposed to handle them with all of their desires to be free and unruly? To think and speak and act as they please? To be unpredictable, un-programable, un-machinelike? To think about and act on something other than your project? To love and be loyal to somebody--anybody--rather than you? You can't change their nature. You have already figured out that part of the problem. What to do? What to do?

"I've got!" cries your minion, an underpaid guest worker who is living on a shoestring in the interstices of your digital-elitist enclave. "We will make them into something other than human!"

And so you get to work. The great thing is that you have so many options--or so you think. You can genetically reengineer them. You can turn them into cyborgs or zombies drugged up on some kind of digital smack. You can upload their consciences into computer servers or android bodies. You can feed them digital pablum and harvest their data, thereby reducing them to inert generators of information, kind of like in The Matrix. (In We, everyone volunteers or is forced to undergo an operation to get rid of his or her sense of "fancy.") Most promising of all, you can build the greatest AI the universe will ever know and do something with it. You don't know what it will be just yet, but one way or another, you're going to use it to outsmart God, Man, and all of Creation. You will make all of them superfluous, obsolete. Human beings will be gone forever from the universe. At last your problem is solved. At last you can rest, like Thanos on his idyllic planet, happy in the knowledge that the universe is exactly as you wish it to be.

* * *

The overarching goal, I think, is to establish a transhumanist society, a posthuman universe, an attempted eradication of the pesky problem of an unchanging and uncooperative humanity. If only we can succeed in this, we will have, as O'Brien and our new tech masters promise, immortality. Not individual immortality, mind you, but digital-collective immortality. (O'Brien's promise is political-collective or Party-collective immortality.) That's still immortality, right? This is all still doable, right? And not just doable but desirable, right?

Well, wrong, I think. We have tried all of this before. It seems to be a part of human nature--to feel that we are or ought to be gods, that we can make of ourselves something other than what we are, that we can escape from time and achieve immortality, all on our own and under our own power. Transhumanism and posthumanism seem to be just the latest iterations of these age-old desires. If I'm right, they, too, are doomed to failure. In biblical times, reaching for heaven and godhood, we set about building the Tower of Babel. We all know how that turned out. Anyway, if you doubt that the masters of digital information and communications are working on this problem, watch a video called "The Selfish Ledger" on the website The Verge, dated May 17, 2018, and accessible by clicking here (for now). Assuming it's real and not just a spoof or a sophisticated bit of trolling, it is the most perfect horror movie ever made.

As I have said before, we as human beings have never stayed our hands: everything that we have imagined--and many things we have not yet imagined--we will do. And so we will have a new Grand Inquisitor, a new Benefactor, a new Lenin, a new O'Brien for our new age, and once unleashed, perfect horrors will tear across the world like a storm.

A French-language edition issued by Le Livre de Poche in 1969 with cover art by Michel Siméon (1920-1998).

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984-No. 5

     "We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable. Or perhaps you have returned to your old idea that the proletarians or the slaves will arise and overthrow us. Put it out of your mind. They are helpless, like the animals. Humanity is the Party. The others are outside--irrelevant."

    "I don't care. In the end they will beat you. Sooner or later they will see you for what you are, and then they will tear you to pieces."

    "Do you see any evidence that this is happening? Or any reason why it should?"

    "No. I believe it. I know that you will fail. There is something in the universe--I don't know, some spirit, some principle--that you will never overcome."

    "Do you believe in God, Winston?"


    "Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?"

    "I don't know. The spirit of Man."

    "And do you consider yourself a man?"


    "If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are non-existent."

--From Chapter Three, Section III, of 1984 by George Orwell (Signet, p. 222).

* * *

We recently witnessed a spectacle in which members of "the world's greatest deliberative body" interrogated a prospective supreme court justice. Each senator was stupider, more ignorant, more incompetent, more repugnant than the one before him (or her). The judge ran circles around them and people marveled, the reason being, I think, that we don't ordinarily see smart, competent people in public life. They marveled that she worked without notes, not even stopping to think that that's what smart, competent people do. If they had been interrogating a good plumber or car mechanic (or forester), they would have found that he could work without notes, too. Incredible! Impressive! Anyway, V.I. Lenin must be turning over in his grave, or I guess on his catafalque where he has rested like a dead pharaoh these many decades. "These are the people who are going to carry on my glorious revolution?! Ridiculous!" They are in fact ridiculous, and neither they nor any of their Mini-Me's, wherever they happen to be, is an equal to Lenin, or to George Orwell's fictional Party-man O'Brien. If the revolution is to rely on people like them, it's going nowhere fast. Luckily for them and their cause, there are smart and competent revolutionaries working outside of government towards their own ends, which overlap those of the parade of horribles in government, if only by a little. Dozens of authors have imagined fictional Dystopias, but has anyone imagined that it would not be the State but the men behind digitized information and communications who would become our exploiters, manipulators, and oppressors--the new Lenin, O'Brien, Grand Inquisitor, and Benefactor (or Well-Doer) from Zamyatin's We?

* * *

"You are outside history," O'Brien says to Winston Smith, echoing an idea from before his own time and presaging one still afoot in our world. I have already written about it, the idea that history is a Force, irresistibly moving towards a foreordained endpoint during which there will be complete stasis--an escape from time, I guess, something for which we have always yearned and the hope of religious people everywhere--or Christians everywhere, at the very least. O'Brien says:

"Alone--free--the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal." (p. 218)

In other words, O'Brien and socialist or statist revolutionaries everywhere are simply seeking the thing that would be readily available to them if only they would believe in God. Winston isn't a believer; he is unable to complete his equation. O'Brien easily knocks down the idea of a "spirit of Man." Without God, there is no spirit of Man. That's my opinion. But it seems to be O'Brien's opinion, too, and it follows pretty easily from the way he looks at the world: the religion of leftism/socialism/statism, as fervent as any, rests upon a non-belief in God, and its cause is essentially (if that's not a contradiction in terms) atheistic and materialistic. Reality exists within the mind. Human nature is not fixed but infinitely malleable, thus perfectible. Human beings are merely material; there is no spirit. The State is God. Earth is heaven. The Party is priesthood. Happiness, salvation, and immortality are attainable for all merely by their submitting to its control. But we knew all of this already because the leftist/socialist/statist, proud and sure as he or she is of his or her intellectual superiority over us, has already told us all about it. And at the extreme--well, just look at a scene from a real-life version of The Exorcist in which a woman screams in a believer's face about what she calls "your bible papers." I'm not going to repeat what she said. Just do the search yourself and see what these people are about. And keep this in mind: they are about to assume executive power in our country.

* * *

"Outside of history," as O'Brien puts it. On the wrong side of history--irresistible historical forces--historical inevitabilities--demographic destiny ("Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors.")--the arc of history that always bends, by the way, in my direction--The End of History and the Last Man--we hear these phrases again and again and are supposed to believe that there are or will be such things. (O'Brien's and Francis Fukuyama's use of "the last man" echoes, ironically or not, the original Nietzschean phrase, to whatever effect.) Maybe we're being softened up. As O'Brien knows, words make certain ideas real and certain others literally unthinkable. Take it all as a test, though: if O'Brien is right, then history can reach its end; once it has attained power, the Party can never be overthrown (p. 216). And if he--and Winston Smith, too, by the way--are wrong, then there will not be--nor can there be--any human-engineered end to history, and no power exercised by human beings can ever be made permanent. Permanence is within the power of just one being and he ain't us.

* * *

That's more than I had planned to write for today, but as it turns out I'm going somewhere with all of this. I didn't know it when I started, but I do now. There will be more quotes and more thoughts, ideas, and speculations along the way before the arc of this series bends towards Weird Tales.

A German-language edition of 1984. Note the categorization by genre: "Ein Utopischer Roman." Literal translation: "A Utopian Novel." Actual meaning: "Science Fiction Novel," more or less (I think). The link between Utopia and science fiction has been lost in English but persists in the German. I will have more to write on this idea in the future. Thanks to Hlafbrot for pointing this out.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, November 13, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984 (and Before)-No. 4

"To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies--all this is indispensably necessary. [. . .]

    "All past oligarchies have fallen from power either because they ossified or because they grew soft. Either they became stupid and arrogant, failed to adjust themselves to changing circumstances, and were overthrown, or they became liberal and cowardly, made concessions when they should have used force, and once again were overthrown. They fell, that is to say, either through consciousness or through unconsciousness. It is the achievement of the Party to have produced a system of thought in which both conditions can exist simultaneously. And upon no other intellectual basis could the dominion of the Party be made permanent. If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one's own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes.

"[. . .] In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane. [. . .] World-conquest is believed in most firmly by those who know it to be impossible. This peculiar linking-together of opposites--knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism--is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. [. . .] For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way can the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be forever averted--if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently--then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity." [Emphasis added.]

--From The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein as quoted in Chapter Two, Section IX, of 1984 by George Orwell (Signet, pp. 176-178).

* * *

Again, here is the subject: permanence, a fixed, knowable, and inevitable endpoint of history. That is, I think, what the real-life seeker after the permanent or last revolution has planned. In We, I-330 calls it "psychological entropy":

"Ah, 'evenly'! 'Everywhere'! [she says in reply to D-503] That is the point, entropy! Psychological entropy." (Dutton, p. 163)

--a kind of stasis in which there neither is nor can be opposition or dissent. All think and believe exactly the same things. This stasis--a vast and flawless conformity--requires that human beings be made perfect, therefore that human perfectibility is a possibility, in other words that human nature, which has in fact been created not by men but by our Creator, is alterable by men:

"We control life, Winston, at all levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable." (Signet, p. 222)

Those are the words of O'Brien, Winston Smith's tormenter and eventual conqueror. I believe something different, and so I write.

Again, there are those among us who believe that human nature is not fixed but alterable, that human beings are perfectible. There are those who want to extinguish opposing and dissenting speech, and by that, opposing and dissenting thought. One is everybody's favorite dingbat congresswoman, who wants people who disagree with her to be excluded from employment and I suppose from society at large. Another is a man who wants to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for the people who think differently than he does to be brought before it, either to recant or be punished I guess. His name, fittingly, is Reich. A third, a well-known newspaper columnist, wants an entire political party to be burned down. She is Jewish. Her own people in living memory were nearly destroyed by socialists of the national variety who you might say sought a permanent--or at least thousand-year--revolution and an end to history. Her people were literally burned up. Now she wants others to be burned down . . .

. . . the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.

* * *

There are those among us, too, who believe that the source of their unhappiness lies somewhere outside themselves. "If only the world were as I wish it to be," they seem to be saying, "I could be happy. If only everyone were to believe as I believe, there would be peace and perfection." That, I think, is behind the desire to suppress opposing thought, words, and belief. "[T]he craving for universal unity," says the Grand Inquisitor, "is the third and last anguish of men."

"Mankind as a whole [he continues] has always striven to organize a universal state. There have been many great nations with great histories, but the more highly they were developed the more unhappy they were, for they felt more acutely than other people the craving for world-wide union. [. . .] Hadst Thou [the Man whom the Grand Inquisitor addresses, whom we can only assume is Jesus Christ] taken the world and Cæsar's purple, Thou wouldst have founded the universal state and have given universal peace. For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? We have taken the sword of Cæsar, and in taking it, of course, have rejected Thee and followed him. Oh, ages are yet to come of the confusion of free thought [. . . .] But with us[,] all will be happy and will no more rebel, nor destroy one another as under Thy freedom. Oh, we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us. And shall we be right or shall we be lying? They will be convinced that we are right, for they will remember the horrors of slavery and confusion to which Thy freedom brought them. [. . .] But the flock will come together again and will submit once more, and then it will be once for all." [Emphasis added.] (Bobbs-Merrill, pp. 37-39)

Again, permanence, and as good an explanation as any as to why there cannot be an end to history--for we are free and are created free, not by men but by God, and so there will forever be choices and battles between good and evil, between rebellion and submission, between freedom and slavery. I would add that if God had wanted us to be slaves, he would not have made us free. And I would say, like Winston Smith, that you, the tyrants among us, cannot win because your certain failure is baked into reality. Finally, it occurs to me that the Grand Inquisitor and O'Brien speak more or less with the same voice. But then the nature of the tyrant, as with that of humanity as a whole, must be fixed and unchanging.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984 (and Before)-No. 3

Chapter 1.


    Throughout recorded time [. . .] there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. [. . .]

    The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim [. . .] is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they either lose their belief in themselves, or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. [. . .]

The Middle, so long as it was struggling for power, had always made use of such terms as freedom, justice, and fraternity. [. . .] In the past the Middle had made revolutions under the banner of equality, and then had established fresh tyranny as soon as the old one was overthrown. The new Middle groups in effect proclaimed their tyranny beforehand. [. . .] But in each variation of Socialism that appeared from about 1900 onwards the aim of establishing liberty and equality was more and more openly abandoned. The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century [. . .] had the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality. [Italics in the original.] These new movements, of course, grew out of the old ones and tended to keep their names and pay lip-service to their ideology. But the purpose of all of them was to arrest progress and freeze history at a chosen moment. [Emphasis added.] The familiar pendulum swing was to happen once more, and then stop. As usual, the High were to be turned out by the Middle, who would then become the High; but this time, by conscious strategy, the High would be able to maintain their position permanently.

--From The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein as quoted in Chapter Two, Section IX, of 1984 by George Orwell (Signet, pp. 166-168).

* * *

    [D-503 speaks:] "It is inconceivable! It is absurd! Is it not clear to you that what you are planning is a revolution? Absurd because a revolution is impossible! Because our--I speak for myself and for you--our revolution was the last one. No other revolutions may occur. Everybody knows that."

    A mocking, sharp triangle of brows.

    [I-330 replies:] "My dear, you are a mathematician, are you not? More than that, a philosopher-mathematician? Well, then, name the last number."

    "What is . . . I . . . I cannot understand, which last?"

    "The last one, the highest, the largest."

    "But I-330, that's absurd! Since the number of numbers is infinite, how can there be a last one?"

    "And why then do you think there is a last revolution . . . their number is infinite . . . The 'last one' is a child's story. Children are afraid of the infinite, and it is necessary that children should not be frightened, so that they may sleep through the night."

--Italics and ellipses in the original. From Record Thirty of We by Eugene Zamiatin [sic] (Dutton, paperback edition, p. 162).

* * *

Now I speak. I have been away, but even in coming back, I have stayed away. I haven't been up to writing very much myself, but maybe I can ease back into it by quoting the writings of others.

It seems to me that there is an idea that the history of the future is already set--that there is a knowable and foreordained endpoint of history after which nothing can or will change. It's the permanent revolution in Emmanuel Goldstein's description of it, the last revolution in D-503's formulation, or, as I-330 derisively calls it, "psychological entropy." (p. 163) There are those among us who believe in and seek that endpoint, those in pursuit of the permanent revolution. They will soon come to power without realizing that they are ridiculous and their power temporal and fleeting--that the grand edifice which they seek to build can be raised only upon a foundation of slime.

The idea of an end to or endpoint of history is, I think, a liberal idea, but also a Marxist and deconstructionist idea--as well as a Marxist and deconstructionist critique of the liberal idea. Liberals always fail to understand that leftists and socialists are not their allies--that they in actuality despise them and are against them; fail, that is, until the left, having outflanked them, arrive in their rear, soon to rout and destroy them. The outflanking is in fact happening in this country as we speak. Whether leftists and socialists have the power to carry out their revolution--whether they can do in their own versions of Robespierre or Condorcet--is another matter.

Life is against entropy and is not fixed. (I-330 asks: "Don't you as a mathematician know that only differences--only differences--in temperature, only thermic contrasts make for life?") There can be no fixed or permanent endpoint of history, for nothing made by men is permanent. There will always be struggle, turmoil, and convulsions, ebbs and flows, winds and flames, waves and masses, washing from us and moving over the earth, because those things are in us and can't be gotten out by anything we might do. Children may be afraid of the infinite, but the infinite is before us.

A final quote for today, words of the Grand Inquisitor, whose spirit lives in the tyrants and aspiring tyrants of today:

"We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever [. . . .]" 

--From The Grand Inquisitor and the Nature of Man by Fyodor Dostoevski (Bobbs-Merrill, 1948), p. 39.

More quotes are on the way.

Original text copyright 2020, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984-No. 2

News Item: "Could heated talk over the dinner table become a HATE CRIME? Lawyers call for offence to be extended to private dwellings--meaning conversations at home could spark police probes and prison sentences."

--Daily Mail, November 3, 2020 (here)

* * *

The way she [Julia] put it was:

    "When you make love you're using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don't give a damn for anything. They can't bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you're happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?" [Emphasis added.]

    That was very true, he [Winston] thought. There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account. They had played a similar trick with the instinct of parenthood. The family could not actually be abolished, and, indeed, people were encouraged to be fond of their children in almost the old-fashioned way. The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.

--From Chapter Two, Section II, of 1984 by George Orwell (Signet, pp. 110-111)

A later Signet edition (1959) with cover art by Paul Lehr (1930-1998). 

Compiled by Terence E. Hanley, 2020, 2023.