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?"

    "No."

    "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?"

    "Yes."

    "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.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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