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 Inquistor 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 Terence E. Hanley

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