Category Archives: George Orwell

Doublethink Doublethink: It’s Two Thinks in One!

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

— O’Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock’em-sock’em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam — held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces — Oceania and Eastasia — have gone from Cold to Hot.

Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn’t felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage — telling Gorby to “tear down that [Berlin] wall,” touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan’s flippant words (“the bombing begins in five minutes”) put the Soviets on edge — and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).

But it wasn’t all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump — Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached das kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese — and borschtroot — and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.

Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation — the president (“Fake News”), the MSM (“Putin’s Puppet”), the People (“they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn’t tell the difference”). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump’s 2017 Inauguration, “US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller.”

Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the “‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.’” It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with “alternative facts.” Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey’s citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the “doublethink” gobbledygook of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.

Like Dorian Lynskey’s previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell’s masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).

In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell’s creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces “the political and cultural life” of the novel, from Orwell’s death to Trump’s Inaugural.

Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. “The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would,” Lynskey writes, “but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him.” He’d come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil — writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness — but “[w]hat he found was ‘a bad copy of 1914–18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.’”

Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered “that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.” However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes, “Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.” A ‘cleansing egalitarianism’ (Brotherhood) is a key theme in his dystopian novel.

In another incident helpful to his fiction, he refused to shoot a fascist with his pants down, mooning melancholically, and noting of the brotherly Francophile that he was “visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” while he’s shitting. But in a later incident, Orwell is so rattled by a rodent that he opens fire, “thus alerting the enemy and triggering a fierce firefight,” that was nearly catastrophic to his comrades in arms. Rats turn out to be Winston Smith’s greatest fear, at the end of the novel, and the means to breaking down his ego.

Probably the biggest disappointment Orwell took away from the war was the behavior of the communists; he’d served with a Marxist militia unit (POUM) and saw their atrocities close up. Lynskey wonders:

Why did Orwell criticise communism so much more energetically than fascism? Because he had seen it up close, and because its appeal was more treacherous. Both ideologies reached the same totalitarian destination but communism began with nobler aims and therefore required more lies to sustain it.

The left hand of the Right clasped, behind the back, the right hand of the Left, in any photo shoot together — if you looked hard enough.

Orwell began reading up on Stalin’s regime, including American journalist Eugene Lyon’s description of Stalin’s Five Year plan, which included “the nose-thumbing arithmetic” of “2+2 = 5,” which is so crucial to Winston Smith’s brainwashing. He read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, whose depictions of purges and show trials (think, Goldstein, and, later, Winston Smith) further amplified his contempt for Stalin and his fear of totalitarianism. The two world wars, I and II, with the Great Depression in between, had drained civilization of its hope, vitality and wherewithal. Out of the morass rose ogres — Franco, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and arguably even Truman (if you counted the dread that the questionable use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented) — as if to finish us off.

However, no one had a greater influence on Orwell’s generation than the literary colossus, H.G. Wells. Prolific, prescient, extraordinarily innovative, and widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction (Mary Shelley just rolled over in her grave, uneasily), in some ways Wells was the perfect tonic for an age that had torn humanity apart with with world wars, tyranny, and economic misery disseminated across the globe.

“Wells predicted space travel, tanks, electric trains, wind and water power, identity cards, poison gas, the Channel tunnel and atom bombs,” writes Lynskey, “and popularised in fiction the time machine, Martian invasions, invisibility and genetic engineering.” He also developed notions of a “World Brain” and anticipated the World Wide Web (sorry, TimBL). Further, he was a force behind the establishment of the League of Nations. Wells was an inspiration in a time stuck in the human morass described by T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.

Wells, in turn, was inspired by early readings of Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, all of which required the reader to imagine with the narrator an alternative or new-and-improved world. Thus, Wells bequeathed us The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Outline of History, The Shape of Things to Come, and an enormous trove of essays and other public writings with enormous influence. All of these were enormously important to Orwell as he developed his own utopian visions.

But Orwell had seen what he’d seen in Spain, and knew the dark heart of Uncle Joe Stalin, and was, writes Lynskey, like “many writers [of his generation] consumed by the idea of decadence and decline.” H.G. Wells’ cautionary utopianism didn’t quite cut it for the lot of them. “It is no exaggeration to say that the genre of dystopian fiction evolved as it did because so many people wanted to prove H. G. Wells wrong,” Lynskey writes. There seemed to be something of the Wagner-Nietzsche competitive intimacy in Orwell’s approach to the Genius; while Wells emphasized Siegfried, Orwell and friends were all about the Götterdämmerung.

Orwell was a social democrat at heart, but he longed for something deeper and more radical, which seems to be why he was so devastated by the failures of communism. Plato had taught him that if humanity could see the Good, and the error of their ways, uncovered by dialectical reasoning, they would pursue it naturally, out of self-interest. This melancholic view (that would later infuse Winston Smith’s experience of his world) gets reinforced when he comes across the work of American Edward Bellamy — specifically, Looking Backward — 2000 – 1887.

As Bellamy’s title suggests, the novel moves backward, progressively, towards the squalor and dehumanization of the early Industrial Revolution. Lynskey notes:

When he looked around at the United States of America in the Gilded Age Bellamy saw a “nervous, dyspeptic, and bilious nation,” wracked by grotesque inequality. Millionaire dynasties controlled the industrial economy, while the labouring classes worked sixty-hour weeks for low pay in unsafe factories and sweatshops, and lived in foul slums.

In the novel, the protagonist Julian West falls into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a “socialist utopia,” where crime is regarded as a medical problem treatable with drugs. This got Orwell thinking.

But perhaps the single most influential piece of literature that Orwell came across, in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, was Eugene Zumiatin’s We. As Lynskey points out, by coincidence Orwell had already completed an outline for his dystopian novel when he discovered Zumiatin’s work. They share some structural similarities: each features a fall guy who becomes the focussed target of hivemind hatred; a shy protagonist driven astray from his social programming by flashes of free thought and a sexually-liberated female; thought police (Guardians for Zumiatin), and forced mind-mending (from ‘I’ thinking to ‘We’ thinking). Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley nicked some ideas from We.

But Orwell had a turn at the accusation as well. Lynskey writes, “Karma came for Orwell in the form of several critics who accused him of plagiarising We.” But Lynskey dismisses them, insisting that the genre itself is rife with such borrowings and intertextuality. He answers historian Isaac Deutscher’s claims thusly:

[Deutscher] accused the author of borrowing “the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story” from We… [but] Deutscher wildly overstated the similarities between the novels. Two: as we have seen, Orwell had already written his outline months before he read We. Three: Orwell made repeated efforts to get Zamyatin’s novel republished in English…. surely not the kind of thing that plagiarists usually do.

So there. “Originality is a vexing concept in genre fiction,” Lynskey adds.

But Lynskey is even more caustic with Ayn Rand, one of Orwell’s more vocal critics. Writes Lynskey, “There are critics who insist that Ayn Rand could have written her 1938 novella Anthem without ever having read We, and good luck to them.” Rand penned the novella “in three weeks,” and, Lynskey claims, it “is We rewritten as a capitalist creation myth, with paradise as a building site…The book’s working title was Ego.” He clearly objects to her Objectivism. Talk about getting hoiked into your own spittoon.

Later in his life Orwell faced more pressing criticism than the question of whether he plagiarized Zumiatin. Perhaps, so traumatized by what he’d seen in Spain and saw happening in Stalin’s Russia, Orwell developed a list of 38 writers — communists or sympathizers — that he turned over to the Information Research Agency, a government agency, that he recommended they not hire because of questionable allegiance to the Labour party. Apologizing for this behavior, Lynskey writes, “It is legitimate to be disappointed by the very act of sending such a list to a government agency (even a Labour one), but the edited version was at least largely accurate.” Hmm.

Some critics were having none of that apology. Lynskey quotes Marxist historian Christopher Hill who opined, “I always knew he was two-faced. There was something fishy about Orwell…it confirms my worst suspicions about the man.” But the late great polemicist (“Beat the Devil”) Alexander Cockburn “couldn’t disguise his glee: ‘The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch, an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.” (His full article is a fun read.) Does this spell the end of Orwell’s Truth? Should we never read him again? I don’t know, but, when you think about it, Winston Smith’s character takes on new dimensions with this incident — that final betrayal of all you love and everything, and all its implicit future snitching to protect We.

However one feels about Orwells’ late-life failures, Nineteen Eighty-Four has exerted its familiarity and gravitas since his death in 1950. We are all familiar with the terms of our engagement with his work. Lynskey writes:

The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth.

Of those terms, perhaps the answer to the equation “2+2=” may be the most pertinent to the contemporary political situation we find ourselves facing in Washington and around the world. How would you answer, brother?

Nineteen Eighty-Four’s principal concerns have been reprised in Western culture, in one form or another, for decades. For example, Lynskey describes the “aviphobic” David Bowie’s fall into “paranoia and panic” in the 70’s and how it affected his work (his Diamond Dogs album was originally meant to be called 1984.) Bowie was not alone in his feelings of demise. “IRA bombs…stagflation…a miners’ strike…an Arab oil embargo…blackouts, petrol rationing, reduced television service, and non-functioning elevators, Britain began to feel like the opening pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” writes Lynskey. In the 80s, with the advent of personal computing, even commercials, such as Apple’s highly controversial ‘1984’ Super Bowl Ad, were produced to reflect a desire to break free from mind-imprisoning Conformity. In 1990, a film version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released, which extends the Orwellian vision into what could be a near-future reality.

Today, Oceania is otherwise known as Five Eyes, and Oceania moves in history in a world of the wars, never-ending, destruction by remote drones and online corporate-government profiling, leading toward neo-fascism or some new unthinkable form of totalitarianism. It remains to be seen when the public should have begun its Orwellian panic, whether it was in the aftermath of 9/11 — or sooner — or with the Carnivalesque decay of Exceptional Democracy. “We are an empire now. We make our own reality,” is attributed a coy Karl Rove, and it sounds like a celebration of doublethink, a movement in the direction of 2+2=5.

Lynskey wants to locate it with the Trump Inauguration, with the return of Doublethink and Newspeak. But he does remind the reader:

Orwell’s fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world” is the dark heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gripped him long before he came up with Big Brother, Oceania, Newspeak or the telescreen, and it’s more important than any of them.

Lynskey’s words are well-taken, but I believe we must beware that Trump might be Goldstein and that hating on him has been preordained.

Toward the end of his life H.G.Wells lost his mojo for mankind. In his last published work, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells wondered aloud, as it were, if it wasn’t time to replace the human species with something more evolutionarily desirable. Like Nietzsche, Wells seemed to long for a Zarathustrian Übermensch; he tired of being a tightrope walker in the largely indifferent marketplace of conventional ideas.

Five more years of Two-Minute hating on Trump should do it (maybe even just one). Like a soul orphaned in a mechanized world — like Winston Smith — I can almost hear a fat lady singing as it all comes out in the wash she’s hanging on the line:

Totallo!

Totallo!

I love ya

Totallo!

You’re always

A coup

A way!

Woof.

There is One God, One Faith, and One Church

On 1 May, International Labour Day (except in the USA),1 I happened to see the current prime minister of Portugal proclaim on television the next stages of the policing that began with the proclamation that the world was in the midst of a “pandemic”. He explained that masks would be obligatory in schools after they are reopened, that restaurants would be permitted to reopen in a limited fashion starting 18 May and gave other details as to how public movement and economic activity would be ruled in the foreseeable future.

Of course, opening on 18 May only applies to those businesses that have survived that long, without going bankrupt. Portugal is remarkable in many respects, for example, that it is almost entirely “chain-free”. One reason is that multinational restaurant chains — like those that have replaced virtually all restaurants in the US — are simply too expensive for ordinary Portuguese citizens. The other reason is the loyalty of the population to its own fine food culture. Portugal is one of the few places in the West I know where the food eaten by the rich and the poor is essentially the same — and by that I do not mean the fast food monotony to which Andy Warhol very poignantly referred.2 A city like Porto is still full of family-owned restaurants where the chipped potatoes are peeled and sliced in the kitchen and not poured from a bulk package manufactured by some Nestlé subsidiary. McDonald’s has had to compete not only in price but even in the style of bread used, yet is still too expensive for people whose average monthly wages are less than EUR 1,000. One has to wonder which restaurants Prime Minister of Portugal António Costa has in mind when he says that they will be permitted to open again after more than two months closure. Do we see here the result of another act to subordinate the last elements of Portuguese entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency in a country whose elite has always profited from Portugal’s quasi-protectorate status?

I do not have any new answers to that question. However, I have tried to surmise or by means of judicious investigation identify the rational criteria, which would compel those who have ordered this international quarantine to end it.3 Alas, in vain. At the end of four months there is still no evidence published anywhere that the progression of the so-called “pandemic” has in any way approached that of the seasonal influenza casualties of 2019 or any year prior to that. It stands to reason that if this were more deadly than the seasonal flu, then in the same period we would have to record far more deaths than in the previous year. Even with all the fraud and forgery, the death toll has not reached that level year-on-year. Nor have any truly new and impossible conditions arisen since then, which the SARS-CoV-2 virus can explain — unless one considers the obvious mental derangement and hysteria among the supposedly educated segments of the population.

The favoured argument among the “moderates” — those willing to listen to doubts expressed by ordinary citizens — is that all these steps are necessary to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing. In other words, the people who have been subjected to this covert state violence are themselves to blame for the inadequacy of the healthcare system. This was not the fault of parasitical corporations, bribery, privatisation, insufficient or no funding and resistance to any change of policy that would channel money away from investment banks to blood banks (unless, of course, those blood banks were also run for profit) — all abetted by elected and appointed public officials.

If responsibility is considered for any policy failure, however, it is only the lack of masks, HAZMAT suits and emergency equipment not the failure to maintain a solid general healthcare system including preventive, curative and palliative medicine. In other words, the “counter-terrorism” model is the only one available to government. Such emergency measures are just like the futile instructions to airline passengers about procedures that are virtually useless when an airplane crashes. I wonder seriously for whom is the emaciated healthcare system to be protected after more than thirty years of wanton destruction by those who claim their sudden concern. The defensive arguments and criticism can be compared to a group of arsonists advising the homeowner whose house they have set in flame that it really would have been a good idea to have more hoses and paid for more insurance coverage. What this really means is the State (actually those who manage it on behalf of its owners) wants us all to stay at home so that none of them has to accept responsibility for massive criminal negligence. Meanwhile we are burning with that very house they have torched.

In contrast the Chinese government built a hospital in two weeks to take up the slack in a city of some 11 million inhabitants, dismantling it once the mission was accomplished. While in Europe and the USA there are no public institutions left capable of delivering even the ordinary mails in under two weeks, let alone build a hospital and staff it.

There being no rational basis for the Western style of international quarantine, that leaves only two other mutually inclusive options: corruption and religion. For years I have argued that political science and many other academic disciplines practiced in Western universities are defective because of their failure to analyse the institutional foundation of the West: Roman Catholicism. Except in Catholic institutions, my assertion is usually dismissed. The basic sophistry used to ridicule my advice is that while the churches, and even the Church still exist today, they have an entirely subordinate role. Nobody believes that the pope in Rome has temporal authority, let alone universal power. Church attendance is just a private matter. The Reformation curtailed the power of the Roman hierarchy. These arguments even come from people who have read Michel Foucault or  Gramsci4 and therefore with a second thought or three ought to know better.

What many seem to forget is the Counter-Reformation or the Protestant witch burning, including the practices of Puritan New England. Moreover, the Christian churches together and in Europe the Roman Catholic Church in particular belong to the largest landowners in the West, usually tax-exempt, and often concealed through corporate shells.5  In any realistic appraisal of a political system ignoring major landowners like the Church is either a sign of incompetence or mendacity.

Elsewhere I have said 1984 has to be one of the worst books ever written.6  That is not so much a reflection of the author as it is of those who have read it over the past 70 years since it was published. Orwell created some modern terms to describe ancient phenomena that have been forgotten. Properly speaking they have not been forgotten but concealed. Given the explicit and insidious collaboration with the fascist aggression by the two Pius popes in the 20th century, including WWII, it is understandable that explicit references to the original totalitarianism of the West would be discouraged. In fact, much of the treachery and viciousness of Pius XII was only disclosed after his death and amidst the greatest of resistance both in the Church and beyond.7

It is helpful to recall that for most of Western history even possession of the mythology volume, known as the Holy Bible, was restricted entirely to clergy.8

Unauthorised possession or reading it among unauthorised laity could be treated as a capital offense. The Holy Office, also known as the Inquisition, had emerged not only as a central and secret police force for the Roman Catholic Church but a major economic player in every Christian dominion.9

To be accused of heresy or some other violation by the Inquisition was the same as being guilty. An accused forfeited all rights immediately — the right to own property, to conclude any kind of binding business or legal transaction — and was subject to confiscation of all property, real and personal. Those who spoke in favour of an accused could be punished as abetting heresy with the same penalties. The only appeal was to the pope in Rome — very difficult to lodge when one was chained to the wall of some dungeon and anyone who acted on one’s behalf could suffer the same fate. It would go too far to explain all that could and did happen under this regime. The curious are referred here to Henry Lea’s multi-volume works; e.g., The History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages.10

However, it is very important to distinguish between the popular and incorrect view of the Inquisition — that its primary job was enforcing doctrinal conformity. The Holy Office was established to control population and population movement and to assist those who owned the Holy See in their efforts to enrich themselves and the Church. The Inquisition was an espionage system that recorded every detail necessary to identify, observe, and pursue its targets throughout Christendom — that is most of Europe and the overseas possessions of Catholic princes. Heresy was punished — rather heresy was the pretext for punishment and control. Denying that one was a heretic was impossible. The only hope was that no one had motive to make a denunciation. To escape incarceration meant only that one became a legitimate target — like in the notorious “free fire zones” in Vietnam.11

My point is that Orwell did not discover or describe anything new or modern. In fact, as a propagandist in the service of His Britannic Majesty’s government, he was simply describing his working environment with the language of the day — albeit in a kind of roman à clef. Blair (Orwell) was for all intents and purposes Winston. He probably could not have written a story with the ancient foundations of Christendom at the centre.

Despite the heinous conduct of the Roman Catholic Church in the 20th century, it actually recruited successfully. Both the famous and the infamous have joined or returned to Mother Church.12  And a son of the fanatically Presbyterian Dulles family was even raised to the cardinal’s dignity.13  One can only guess why.

The (previous) pontiff emeritus was head of the Holy Office before his coronation. There should be no surprise that an obedient member of the Hitler Youth would make a great career in a Roman Catholic province governed by pro-fascist prelates under a fascist pope. Joseph Ratzinger went on to lead the persecution of heretics in Latin America, collaborating deniably with the death squad regime that murdered Bishop Oscar Romero while disciplining every important member of the clergy who opposed military dictatorships installed and maintained by the US regime. The ubiquitous corporation, which Ratzinger would then head as Benedict XVI, is recognised for having the oldest espionage organisation in continuous operation.14 Orwell could not have described the way the Church exercises power without drawing attention to those who still held it and whose successors hold it today.

Now I am not saying that the present condition — the crusade that is being preached throughout the Western Empire — is a creation of the Vatican State or the Roman pontiff, also a Jesuit. (At the same time I would not rule out their active, if discrete, participation.) It is surely an accident that one of the most fanatical and greedy prelates preaching this crusade is also a product of Jesuit education.15

What I am saying is that if we want to understand the structures, the rhetoric and the discourse along with the kinds of measures and the force being applied, we should look very carefully at the most fundamental institution that defines the style and substance of Western beliefs and statecraft. That original multinational corporation contains the blueprint — or to use fashionable genetics jargon, the “DNA” of the corporate state in which we live today.

It does not matter that the word “infection” is used instead of “sin” or that the intelligent, fact-based suspicions of the official story about the “virus” are called “denial” and not “heresy”. Orwell would have called these doubts “thought crime”. The infection is just as invisible as sin. The definition of health risk lies solely at the discretion of the clergy, wearing white coats or HAZMAT suits instead of cassocks. Although neither Mr Tedros16 of the WHO nor a medical official can order an arrest, incarceration or torture, they can advise or instruct “the secular arm”17 to act “in the interest of health” (i.e., in the interest of the Faith). As argued elsewhere recently, one of the world’s wealthiest individuals has assured us that we just do not know if we can ever prevent sin, whether we will ever have a chance of salvation, even if the auto de fé of vaccination is performed.18.

Social distancing, then (Photo 1) and in the “modern” age (Photo 2).19

Many people, who would refuse to hear a priest or minister who advocates witch burning, lend all their attention to clerics dressed like physicians or hospital technicians — reading from inscrutable reports devoid of consistency, coherence or any other base in reality. For example, when the Portuguese prime minister declares that restaurants will be allowed to open on 18 May, one could just as easily ask — why not 17 May or 19 May? The answer is that there is no substantive reason — at least none to which the public is privy.

Now we are approaching —  if we have not already passed — the point where the secular arm can no longer retreat. The crusade has been declared for the health of Christendom. Whoever fails to make the sacrifice will be punished. For the secular arm to admit that it has erred is no longer possible without hastening its own demise. Hence like a thousand years ago, the secular arm — the princes of Christendom who owe their allegiance to the spirit of mammon, to that same god which ordained every pontiff and is the pinnacle of the great chain of being to which we are all subordinated — must continue to punish us or risk being punished or even destroyed by those whose lives it has ruined.

The inquisitors were well aware of this risk. That is why they were permitted anonymity, hired protection (paid from the profits of confiscation) and an absolute immunity from Rome. Our princes have their inquisitors and have equipped them with modern privileges, immunities and authority.

It seems therefore appropriate that a key dogmatic proclamation be revised to reflect the few minor but functionally significant changes in the 700-odd years since it was first promulgated.

Promulgated this time in Geneva,

Unam Sanctam

(Ecclesiam catholicam et ipsam apostolicam…)

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church (read State) is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,’ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3] (Capital). In her then is one Lord, one faith, one test and vaccine [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide; i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God (Capital), my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church (yes, the corporate state), He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23-24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Italians, or others should say that they are not confided to Peter (e.g. the WHO or other high offices of the Lords of Capital) and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords’ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church (in the State), since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard’ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered _for_ the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest and doctor of medicine; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest (banker and doctor of medicine).

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual (and medical) power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God (Capital) and the things that are, are ordained of God’ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual (and medical) power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms’ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual (medical) power; but if a minor spiritual (medical) power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God (Capital, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man’ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven’ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like any sane person alternative explanations, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for health (salvation) that every human creature be subject to those who control the World Health Organisation.

This bull****, slightly updated, was promulgated originally 718 years ago in November 1302 by the reigning Roman pontiff, Boniface VIII (1294 – 1303), less than a year before his death. Could he have died of a coronavirus?

  1. It is always worth recalling in the context of American exceptionalism that Labour Day in the US is the first Monday in September. Everywhere else (apart from Canada) Labour Day is celebrated on 1 May, in commemoration of the Haymarket massacre in Chicago! During a labour demonstration on 4 May 1886, a police provocateur detonated a bomb. Eight labour activists were arrested and tried, four were executed by hanging; one committed suicide and the remaining three were pardoned after six years in prison.
  2. Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and back again), (1975).
  3. Quarantine, originally meant 40 days (from the Italian quarantana, OED) applied by the Venetian authorities to ships arriving from abroad. 40 days is also the span of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter or the traditional period allocated to mourning for the dead in which a widow could remain in the home of her deceased husband. In Portugal many thought the economy would just be closed until Easter. This is no longer a quarantine but a form of massive house arrest.
  4. For those who have not the relevant titles are Madness and Civilisation (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1973) and Discipline and Punish (1975), Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) Prison Notebooks (posthumously 1947).  Gramsci, who was one of the founders of Italy’s Communist Party, devoted considerable thought to the problem of latent power (hegemony), particularly conspicuous because of the role played by the Roman Catholic Church in Italy — even after Italian unity. He especially analysed the function of intellectuals and culture in regime maintenance.
  5. I have read but unfortunately cannot find the citation that the Roman Catholic Church directly and indirectly still holds about a third of all land in Western Europe. In Germany it benefits from a church tax collected by the State. In some jurisdictions of Germany, the Church is still compensated with tax revenues for secularisation of property in the 19th century! Church property is generally exempt from taxation. There are schools, hospitals, and innumerable institutions operated ostensibly as charities and privileged financially or politically by the State; e.g., payment of staff salaries. This state support assures that the spiritual arm retains its capacity to share power with the secular arm.
  6. Looking for the Thought Police? Try looking in the mirror“, (1984 is probably the worst book of the 20th century) by T.P. Wilkinson/August 25th, 2017.
  7. Karlheinz Deschner, Die Politik der Päpste in 20. Jahrhundert (1991) also in God and the Fascists (2013).
  8. Canon 14 of the Council of Toulouse (1229): ‘We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old and the New Testament; unless anyone from the motives of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.’

    ‘Since it is clear from experience that if the Sacred Books are permitted everywhere and without discrimination in the vernacular, there will by reason of the boldness of men arise therefrom more harm than good, the matter is in this respect left to the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor, who may with the advice of the pastor or confessor permit the reading of the Sacred Books translated into the vernacular by Catholic authors to those who they know will derive from such reading no harm but rather an increase of faith and piety, which permission they must have in writing. Those, however, who presume to read or possess them without such permission, may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed them over to the ordinary. Bookdealers who sell or in any other way supply Bibles written in the vernacular to anyone who has not this permission, shall lose the price of the books, which is to be applied by the bishop to pious purposes, and in keeping with the nature of the crime they shall be subject to other penalties which are left to the judgment of the same bishop. Regulars who have not the permission of their superiors may not read or purchase them.’ (Council of Trent: Rules on Prohibited Books, approved by Pope Pius IV, 1564).

  9. Originally known as the Congregation of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, since 1542 it has been called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Previous to the establishment of the papal inquisition, the church police power was concentrated in the dioceses and exercised by the episcopacy (1184 – ). The papacy used the Roman inquisition (1230 – ) to suborn the episcopacy, especially in France, and as an instrument to establish papal supremacy. Popes deployed the so-called mendicant orders, principally the Dominicans and Franciscans, because their independence from episcopal authority or monastic discipline and their mobility made them ideal shock troops.
  10. Henry C. Lea, The History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages (1888) also The History of the Inquisition in Spain (1887).
  11. See “The First Circle” by T.P. Wilkinson,  April 24th, 2020; and A Fly’s Eye View of America’s War Against Vietnam, especially Part 3, 30 April 2015.
  12. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the first noxious example that comes to my mind.
  13. Avery R Dulles, SJ (1918- 2008), son of John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State and brother to Allen (CIA director), became a Jesuit priest, created a cardinal in 2001.
  14. The papal nuncios, Vatican ambassadors, prelates in various orders, especially the Society of Jesus, and what one writer identifies as the Santa Alleanza, the clandestine service to have been formed by Pope Pius V in 1566, all comprise an ancient espionage capabilities extending throughout Christendom and wherever the Roman Catholic Church has entry. The Holy Office itself managed an enormous network of spies and collaborators. This prolific espionage apparatus profits from cooperation with the secular espionage and clandestine services, too. The long-time head of counter-intelligence in the CIA, Catholic James Jesus Angleton, was reputed for his close relationship to Vatican offices.
  15. Anthony Fauci, the notorious promoter of the corona “pandemic” and profitable pharmaceutical products, is a graduate of the Regis High School in New York City and the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts; both are Jesuit institutions.
  16. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, the secretariat of the World Health Assembly, located in Geneva, Switzerland.
  17. The Inquisition was formally an investigating and policing institution with judicial but not enforcement powers. Condemnation by the Inquisition could incur penitential measures; e.g., compulsory pilgrimage, castigation, compulsory clothing marks (wearing a cross as a symbol of condemnation, lending another sense to the colloquialism: having “one’s cross to bear”) and incarceration. However, execution of the condemned was reserved to the State. Hence when the Church’s penitential measures were deemed inadequate, the “spiritual “ Inquisition could order the condemned remanded to the “secular arm”, a euphemism for the enforcement of the death penalty by the State.
  18. See “The First Circle” by T.P. Wilkinson,  April 24th, 2020.
  19. The dunce cap is very similar to the coroza those condemned for heresy were forced to wear in their auto de fé.

Orwell: Neocon Icon

How do you explain the fact that the John Birch Society used 1984 as its main office telephone number in the 1960s? Or that both Animal Farm and 1984, are force-fed to virtually the entire western world in people’s formative years in their teens, even as Big Brother jacks up repression and surveillance, and pursues ever more cruel and senseless wars?

A look at Orwell’s weaknesses reveals how Big Brother turn the tables on him, getting the last laugh.

Both Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949) are listed on the Random House Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th century (#31 and #13), and have been translated into more than 60 languages, more than any other novels. Orwell “helped prevent the realization of the totalitarian world he described”, according Jeffrey Meyers in Orwell: Wintry Conscience Of A Generation (2001). We are taught in school to revere his warnings against “Thought Police” and the supreme importance of individual rights and freedom of thought.

An antihero’s vaccine

On the surface, he looks oddly heroic—a scholarship to Eton, disdaining Cambridge to serve as a policeman in Burma; his gritty apprenticeship as a writer bumming around Paris and across Britain; escaping death by a whisker fighting fascism in Spain; writing his political allegories as he wasted away from the ‘poor writer’s disease’. The unrelenting pessimism of his work reflects his “inner need to sabotage his chance for a happy life”, observers Jeffrey Meyers in Orwell: Wintry Conscience Of A Generation (2001).

It is as if he wanted to suffer, and make his one love, his first wife Eileen, suffer along with him, first in an isolated, decrepit cottage in Wallington and then exposed to death in Barcelona. She predeceased him in a botched hysterectomy while he was reporting from liberated Germany in 1945, himself fatally ill. Within weeks of her sudden death, he was proposing to various women, but they rejected the clearly very ill Orwell, who insisted in living on a cold, rainy Hebrides island, Jura, miles from the nearest town, without electricity, in conditions guaranteed to kill him.

His identification with the poor and downtrodden, plus his sado-masochistic neurosis (colonial policeman, believer in the strap as teacher, willful destroyer of his own health, bungler in love) resulted in Animal Farm and 1984, which were immediately promoted by his own 1984 Oceania power zone—the US/British empire—as a powerful ideological weapon to fight the other zones—Eurasia (the Soviet Union and Europe, which Orwell assumed would be taken over in toto by a now-‘imperial’ USSR following the nuclear WWIII) and Eastasia (China and Japan).

In 1984, the ‘hero’ Winston Smith ends up an alcoholic, brainwashed into loving Big Brother. In our Oceania power zone, Orwell’s message is mangled, its dystopian reflection on modern society limited to the Soviet Union, which at the time was under Stalin’s harsh dictatorship. The novel was/is taught as a warning not about East and West, but only the East.

This is not what Orwell intended at all. 1984 was a parody of 1948 Labor Britain, now seen by Orwell as just another Soviet Union. Oceania ruled the world, and there was no hope left, East or West. There is no ‘happy ending’ in 1984.

So his message (a pox on both your houses) was lost, and the novel proved to be a devastating weapon only aimed at Oceania’s rivals, not at Oceania itself. Did Orwell help “prevent the realization of the totalitarian world”? Not by a long shot. Oceania is alive and well!

Even as schoolchildren are indoctrinated by Orwell’s gloomy social fables, “Newspeak” and “Thought Police” are more widespread than ever, and we remain under their control.

Orwellian indoctrination, using Orwell as a kind of vaccine, helped Oceania not only to defeat communism, but to move decisively against the remaining enemies after 2001, invading the disputed Middle East/ Central Asia, with nary a peep from the proles. It seems that rather than waking people up to their chains, Orwell’s novels, and their incorporation into mass commercial culture, have acted as a kind of inoculation, inuring people to the totalitarian ‘dis-ease’ even as it metastasizes. How did this remarkable psychosomatic phenomenon come about?

Arrested development

Penniless, scruffy Orwell, so adamantly devoted to (his) personal freedom, so disdainful of capitalism with its commodity fetishism. As he lay dying in an elite London hospital, he fumed against an ad for a sock suspender on the leg of a classical hero: “Physical beauty is a sacred thing and should be shielded from the vile devices of advertisers,” he lectured Malcom Muggerridge. He had witnessed friends like Cyril Connolly sell out to live a sybaritic lifestyle.

Yet he turned against the only group that stood firmly against capitalism, his communist acquaintances. On his deathbed, he married a cynical Connolly groupie, Sonya Brownell bequeathing her his new, very lucrative name. A lifelong republican, he embraced the monarchy. A lifelong atheist, he pleaded for a church funeral and burial. Where and how did the ascetic, working class hero lose it?

Orwell’s neurotic, depressive character, his outsized ego, his repressive public school upbringing and cold, almost fatherless family life, are all there in his writing. He was a loner, and could never work with anyone, let alone a movement, for long. He refused to join any political group, and as the communists rallied around the dictator Stalin in defense of ‘real existing socialism’, it became impossible for him to work with his natural allies against fascism.

In his occasional teaching jobs in the 1930s, he was remembered as ‘liberally’ using a switch to poke and punish students, sometimes on the slightest account. At the same time, he taught some how to make explosives. So he was alternately a dictator and a naughty teenage gang leader thumbing his nose at authority. No room here for a social movement to unite people to overthrow capitalism.

He was haunted by his father’s career as a supervisor in the Indian Opium Department, preparing the deadly narcotic for export to China, and yet stubbornly pursued a similar career, as a policeman in Burma in service to empire, instead of going to university in 1922. He was forced to search out and repress activists in the Burmese national liberation movement, and defend what he came to see as a massive protection racket, under the phony pretext of forcibly civilizing backward natives.

His strongly anti-imperialist Burma Days (1934) was banned there. He got this right, but his uneducated revulsion against capitalism/ imperialism ultimately led him to his simplistic depiction of the world in 1984 of supposedly interchangeable empires brainwashing their masses into subservience, using “doublethink” and Thought Police. But they were not really interchangeable. Orwell’s anti-imperialism was skin deep. ‘Our empire’ was good; theirs—bad.

Even worse, Orwell sketched a future where the perpetual war between the “super-states” was purely for propaganda purposes, ignoring the real post-WWII struggles for national liberation, supported by Orwell’s Eurasia/ Eastasia (Soviet Union/ China).

Most damnable of all, what can only be called Orwell’s vindictive hatred of communism led him down the slippery slope of McCarthyism, providing names to British intelligence of people he thought were communists, even as he protested their dismissal by the post-WWII Labour government, Washington’s willing servant.

Like Salvador Dali, he casually exposed communist friends. Dali did this thoughtlessly to Bunuel in his 1942 autobiography. Bunuel was immediately fired from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and deported at the very moment he was delicately trying to acquire US citizenship. Orwell enthusiastically joined in the witch hunt in his 1949 list of 35 cultural figures who he considered crypto-communists for the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, people who Orwell felt “should not be trusted as propagandists”.

They included (with Orwell’s comments in brackets): Charlie Chaplin, Michael Redgrave, Orson Welles, Nancy Cunard (silly), Sean O’Casey (very stupid), Paul Robeson (very anti-white), John Steinbeck (spurious writer, pseudo-naïf) Shaw (reliably pro-Russian on all major issues), Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman (decayed liberal. very dishonest).

Can you believe this? Orwell playing the role of Big Brother’s Though Police. Biographer Myers uncomfortably excuses him, saying this was “necessary, even commendable”, and incongruously states that Orwell  “strongly supported civil rights”.

His analysis of the world was as simplistic, rudderless as that of his cardboard characters in 1984: Communism = Thoughtcrime.

Orwell, sex and perpetual wars

Winston, reacting against the Party’s desire to repress sex, mirrors Orwell’s own life, not the policy of either the capitalists, fascists or communists). He admires Julia’s promiscuity, the fact that she is not interested in loving one person but in freeing her animal instinct, liberating her “simple undifferentiated desire, the force that would tear the Party to pieces.”

It seems Orwell was actually embracing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931), where promiscuity reigns. 1984 does not allow pornography and prostitution, whereas Brave New World relies explicitly on sex and drugs to be manipulated and serve the status quo.

Orwell’s complaint to Malcolm Muggeridge about the sexy sock ad would have had greater resonance in his hated Soviet Union, where beauty was indeed considered sacred and where such ads did not exist. Soviet ‘ads’ exhorted workers to produce simple textiles cheaply and efficiently for mass consumption, without harnessing the proles’ sex instincts in the service of profit.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), Neil Postman argues in line with Huxley that our totalitarian social order doesn’t need to deny human rights like free speech, but rather conditions us not to use our rights, by filling our minds with commercial images and harnessing sexual desire to commodities.

The post-WWII wars were by the empire, Orwell’s Oceania, against communism (Orwell’s Eurasia and Eastasia) in competition for Africa, the Middle East, India and Indonesia. The war fever indeed was/is used to keep all the proles in line, but there were clear ideological differences: the wars were wars of liberation of Oceania’s colonies seeking freedom with the help of Eurasia (Soviet Union)/ Eastasia (China). Was this so difficult for Orwell, the anti-imperialist, to foresee?

What Orwell does best is intuit the logic of late capitalism, where war and war preparations by the military-industrial complex become the means to destroy the surplus produced by high tech industrial society, without allowing the proles to become too demanding and realizing that they don’t need a parasitic elite to control them. They are kept in poverty, producing military equipment which is never used.

In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. A Floating Fortress has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population.

Yes, ‘eat up any surplus’ but this is only the logic of Oceania. Orwell somehow forgot that the West was capitalist (based on surplus production and expropriation by the elite), and that the Soviet Union was not tied to this vicious circle of production/ destruction, that it was quite capable of distributing its surplus to its proles to improve their standard of living. 1984 posits three deformed ideologies (for Oceania, Ingsoc), where the proles inexplicably have to live forever in poverty. But the economic logic hered is capitalist, something that Orwell either overlooked or didn’t really understand.

This is unforgivable, as capitalism was alive and well as he wrote, and we expect Orwell to be our “wintry conscience”. America’s commercial culture, full of sexy ads, was apparent to Huxley in the 1930s—Marcuse’s repressive desublimation—the spider’s web to keep the proles captive. Couldn’t Orwell reflect on the sexy sock ad and put two and two together?

Hoisted with his own petard

Orwell’s Big Brother and Inner Party were made to order for Oceania after WWII, when the threat of revolution in western Europe was very real. A vaccine against communism was urgent. In our pseudo-reality, it’s okay to be cynical and critical about capitalism, as long as you don’t get infected with the socialist virus. The Thought Police used Orwell to vaccinate potential revolutionaries.

Late capitalism’s wars, while partly to keep the proles in line, do have other motives, primarily control of the world’s resource, which Orwell dismisses as passe. And the Cold War meant something very different to the Soviet ‘enemy’ and the struggling third world, who were fighting for their existence, not just as a whim of their “Inner Parties”.

Commodity fetishism (the real virus) and the ability of capitalism to manufacture desires (and sort-of satisfy them) eventually infected the Soviet Union and provided a powerful weapon to Oceania in its war to destroy Eurasia. Eastasia (China) abandoned its communist character before it could be destroyed, and has now swamped Oceania with commodities, threatening Oceania itself.

Orwell has come somewhat into his own only with the collapse of his hated Soviet Union and especially since 911 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. … It is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and … is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of DOUBLETHINK.

Missing the point

That Orwell misread political developments is an understatement. He was politically tone deaf. After returning from Spain in 1937, he adhered to the Independent Labour Party’s pacifism, refusing to support efforts for a common front with the Soviet Union against fascism.

When the Soviet Union was finally a war ally, like the anti-communist Churchill et al, he was briefly pro-Soviet, while broadcasting pro-empire BBC propaganda to India (his first full-time job since he was a policeman in Burma) and writing his anti-communist screeds. His hatred of the Soviet Union now meant opposing the end of empire, as the colonies would turn to the Soviet Union as a model, and like Churchill, Orwell preferred they remain British colonies.

The staunch republican became a fervent monarchist, as protection against the possible rise of a dictator, fearing the totalitarian values of Hitler/ Stalin. But were these dictators the real problem? We can now see that these regimes, which relied overtly on terror, were not so sturdy as Orwell’s dystopia leads us to believe, that human values survive under fallible dictators. The real totalitarian threat was/is the rule of money and commodity fetishism.

Orwell failed to see that the final brick in totalitarianism’s wall was an ideology not of hate and fear, but of sexy legs and smiling models enticing prole-consumers into pursuing will-o-the-wisp happiness in endless consumption. Big Brother’s Victorian strictures are no match for repressive desublimation, especially when the proles are vaccinated by a healthy dose of Orwellian criticism. Orwell’s anti-communist ravings fit the post-WWII West to a T.

Orwell became a model for writers such as Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451 (1953)), Angry-Young-Men John Osborne (Look Back in Anger (1957)) and Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959)), Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange (1962)), Paul Theroux, John le Carre, and ex-communist Doris Lessing, all of whom had an Orwellian critical view of contemporary society where there is no exit, but—just as important—no alternative.

The perfect ‘free’ culture for capitalism, proudly secular, postmodern, but where TINA (there is no alternative) rules, as famously coined by Margaret Thatcher. Orwell’s legacy proved flexible enough to allow neoconservatives to cite him as they invade countries where dictators are called ‘totalitarian’, or for liberals and leftists to cite him to support their (bland and hopeless) struggles for ‘human rights’. Any evidence of Orwell’s socialism has long been swept under the carpet.

When 1984 hit the stands in 1949, I Anisimov wrote in Pravda of Orwell’s “contempt for the people, his aim of slandering man.” James Walsh in Marxist Quarterly criticized his “neurotic and depressing hatred of everything approaching progress.” Indeed, as Orwell depicts them, the various non-pig animals in Animal Farm and the proles in 1984 are easily misled and cannot be relied on. Only individuals, misfits like Winston/ Orwell can see through the cant, and the possibility of their prevailing is nil. They have no alternative.

As dystopian novels go, Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World (1932, Modern Library’s #5) wins hands down as relevant today, taking Wells’s insight that it’s unbridled technology under capitalism that drives dystopia, and capitalism would use sex as a means of social control. Rebels Lenina Crown and Bernard Marx, a psychologist, travel from the World State to see native Americans living at Savage Reservation, the last remnants of people unprogrammed in the World State, where people are kept under control by the drug soma.

Losing his way

Orwell, the literary traveler/ adventurer, liked to compare himself to DH Lawrence, who also died young of consumption after a repressive upbringing and an unhappy struggle as a writer, but he is in fact closer to TE Lawrence. Lawrence of Arabia and Orwell were both ambivalent towards imperialism, suffered from sado-masochistic neurosis due to their troubled upbringing, and were harnessed to the needs of empire.

DH Lawrence, at least, struggled to overcome his British stiff upper lip, anticipating hippiedom’s ‘free love’ of late capitalism. This is far from Orwell’s experience; he scorned the “bearded fruit-juice drinking sandal-wearers of the roll-in-the-dew-before-breakfast school.” The Arabian Lawrence, like Orwell, unwittingly supported empire and succumbed to self-destructive feelings of guilt and personal inadequacy, famously dying in a motorcycle accident in 1935, consumed by remorse for how his legacy was perverted by empire. Lawrence and Orwell were both 47 when they died.

Like Orwell, Koestler was an adventurer, promiscuous and a cold fish, who also turned against his erstwhile communist comrades and turned out a stream of pessimist screeds that the empire picked up and promoted in its post-WWII Great Game against communism and third world liberation. Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940, #6 on the Modern Library list) and “The Yogi and the Commissar” (1945), like Orwell’s 1984, effectively supported our own Big Brother, who really didn’t need their talents to prevail anyway. Koestler’s suicide pact with his wife in 1983 recapitulates the despairing end of both TE Lawrence and Orwell.

They all lost their way on the imperial map, unable to chart a new course, or better, to draw a new map free of the imperial boundaries. Orwell almost got it right in Burma, but stumbled on his own neurosis, his lack of a clear (Marxist) analytical framework. He rejected any “smelly little orthodoxy” and ended up with a half-baked analysis of a complex political reality.

1984 ‘bad’, Animal Farm ‘good’

Orwell got things horribly wrong in 1984. Stalinism withered and the Soviet Union embraced humanism by the mid-1950s. It was not some totalitarian monster at work, but capitalism, which took over the world, and became ever more poisonous, despite nice, but harmless, critics in the “Outer Party” like Winston/ Orwell (today, Zizek, Chomsky, et al). Capitalism is the real totalitarian genius, fusing political and economic mechanisms in a system where infinite power can be amassed via money, which penetrates all aspects of life including Orwell’s precious “undifferentiated desire”.

This is in contrast to (albeit, failed) communist ideology, which rejected money as the social foundation, and thus had only a limited control over people, never reaching the level of soul and the unconscious, as does the West’s market-driven consumerism. There was no effective Soviet vaccine against the dis-ease of capitalism.

Unlike 1984, Orwell’s Animal Farm has survived as a compelling critique of socialism/ communism. There, the ‘proles’ (animals) have a revolution against the capitalists (humans), and are briefly liberated. Yes, the pigs begin to ape the humans and are seen as no better. This eventually happened, the British Labour Party’s welfare socialism, and later, the communist elites in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. But the ‘pigs’ (Labourites, communists) were overthrown, and the ‘humans’ (Thatcher, Russian oligarchs) took back the farm. A cautionary tale about ‘power corrupting’.

Israel Shamir takes Animal Farm to its post-communist logical conclusion. “Animal Farm revisited” documents how Stinky, the head pig, sells out the inefficient animal-run farm to a slick farmer bearing Marlboro cigarettes and nylons, and the “excess” animals are promptly carted off to the slaughter house. The few remaining escape to the woods and remember even their porcine tyranny fondly.

Shy and clumsy with people, Orwell was easily manipulated, didn’t really believe in ‘the people’, and never thought much about souls until the atheist panicked on his deathbed, calling for a Church of England funeral. His communist foes at least stuck to their belief in ‘the people’ as a force that would prevail. Oceania (the US) faces genuine countervailing powers (Russia, China, Iran, et al). The resurgence of Islam, and of socialism in the heart of the beast, are signs of a post-1984 alternative reality based on morality and social justice taking shape.

Tribalism, Reason, and the Challenges Raised by Global Neoliberal Capitalism

This is not an ordinary review or even rehash of George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism.” Rather, it is a reflection on and attempt to expand and re-contextualize the ideas expressed there with comments directly relevant to 2018. Orwell’s main points—the varied and ubiquitous nature of irrational groupisms (which he calls “nationalism”) and how they distorted judgment in the context of 1945—serve less as a direct focus than as a springboard to related considerations.

First, I do not use “nationalism” in the broad sense Orwell does. In its place I use the less-specific “tribalism”. Merriam-Webster defines this as “strong in-group loyalty”; its negative characteristic, extreme Othering, or strong out-group aversion, deserves emphasis. Of course, disparaging “nationalism,” or using it to stand in for other contemptible groupisms (as Orwell did) in 1945, can hardly be second-guessed.

Nationalism had to that point certainly demonstrated its capacity as a powerful and destructive form of tribalism—often with an attendant strong out-group aversion. It deserved, and deserves, condemnation for its irrationality and monumental crimes. However, it also deserves criticism for its modernist derivation—or, for what it says about modernism, for the lows to which modernism could be taken in the formation of irrationalist elitist-serving, and, in crucial ways, anti-modern political innovations. (This is one sense in which some postmodernists are right: the successes of irrationalism in the modern era, not its overcoming, is a core problem of the current world, despite the often interested, black-and-white simplifications to the contrary by really existing modernists.)

I will address one “nationalism” (or tribalism) discussed by Orwell, “color feeling,” (without prejudice regarding the other forms he mentioned, which other writers might find entirely worthy of comment) because it relates directly to contemporary political tribalisms collectively known as identity politics, which is problematic and contributes to the politics of the moment across the West. Other than that, I will follow the Orwell’s main idea in my own direction. A consideration of Otto Neurath’s (and Ben Franklin’s) take on rationality (always pertinent to tribalism and Othering) follows the comments on “color feeling.” Then, I take up a related look at the origins of black-and-white thinking. And finally, I will turn to the recent revival of nationalism (of a sort Orwell might have given some positive account); how it relates to what are called globalization and neoliberalism; and the seemingly odd alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives against a version of such nationalism in the US.

Mr. Orwell—writing principally, of course, about the English—calls “color feeling” an altered form of “the old-style contemptuous attitude towards ‘natives’,” putting “a belief in the innate superiority of the colored races” in place of a similar, older belief about one’s own group. Orwell said this attitude of “transferred nationalism” (in this case, reversed but fundamentally unchanged tribalism) “probably resulted more from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with” what Orwell refers to archaically as “Oriental and Negro nationalist movements”—a reasonable judgment about the sometimes romantic portrayals of Third World national liberation movements during the Cold War.

In Frantz Fanon’s 1952 book, Black Skin, White Masks, the Antillean revolutionary echoes Orwell, expressing nothing short of contempt for the line of reasoning Orwell called ‘color feeling’. Rather than tribalism and ‘color feeling’, Fanon said the purpose of the politics he envisioned entailed “nothing less than to liberate the black man from himself.”1 He derided then-novel forms of tribalism taken up by others, purportedly with the needs of Third Worlders foremost in their minds. Using as an example “former governors or missionaries,” Fanon said “an individual who loves Blacks is as ‘sick’ as someone who abhors them.” His focus was on liberation, not veneration. Toward the end of the book, Fanon took another shot at the sort of thinking that goes under the title left-wing identity politics today (leading with a passage from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire about the uselessness of “poetry from the past”): “The discovery that a black civilization existed in the fifteenth century does not earn me a certificate of humanity.” And Fanon’s liberatory thinking extended to everyone. “There is no white world; there is no white ethic—any more than there is a white intelligence. There are from one end of the world to the other men who are searching.” He wanted, as he invited others to seek for themselves with him, to invent himself into the future, not to seek his identity in the past. He considered this very much part of both individual and collective liberation. The importance of these passages, and of Orwell’s comments, are to be found in consideration of the sort of racialized thinking, tribalist thinking, bubbling up today on both the left and right, one feeding off the other.

What Orwell derided in 1945, and Fanon in 1952, modern left-wing identity politics embraces enthusiastically. I say left-wing identity politics to distinguish it from right-wing identity politics, which are often expressed in terms of traditional forms of nationalism and racism. Left-wing identity politics are often expressed in non-traditional inverted forms of nationalism and racism, or, sometimes, what Orwell called “transferred nationalism.” I also refer to left-wing identity politics as distinct from identity analysis. Determining how different forms of identity seem to intersect, complicating the detrimental impacts of social hierarchies for some compared to others, may serve an analytical goal. Too often, in the hands of real actors, identity analysis is deployed to justify the social and ideological inversion of social hierarchies as a political goal. (Michael Rectenwald, when he was still a left Marxist, discussed this in a helpful manner.) Embracing identities, rather than seeking liberation from them, is probably just as “sick” today as Fanon considered it sixty-six years ago. Today, of course, in a world increasingly saturated with some form of identitarianism, ‘color feeling’ is fully embraced on the liberal-left as cutting-edge progressivism. Fanon’s idea of liberating “the black man from himself” comes off as entirely, if confusingly, Euro-centric, colonialist, and racist precisely because in today’s terms the two options available, the only two options, are to elevate identity, to “respect” it, or to deride it. The idea of being liberated from identity is not just taboo; it is outlandish. In fact, to challenge the notion of celebrating identities is already in the eyes of some a sign that one has moved to the right (which, in some cases, appears true). How can it not be when so countless ideas and conversations today refer at least implicitly to ideological tribes, and that to apparently leave one is, ipso facto, to join the other? This suggests a species of black-and-white thinking, a matter to which I turn more generally.

Original incentives toward tribalism were probably complex and varied. However, one clear encouragement must be black-and-white thinking (as distinct from thinking that arrives at dialectical conclusions). In a 1999 paper published by the American Psychological Association, the writers declare that Chinese ways of dealing with seeming contradictions result in a dialectical or compromise approach—retaining basic elements of opposing perspectives by seeking a ‘middle way.’ On the other hand, European-American ways, deriving from a lay version of Aristotelian logic, result in a differentiation model that polarizes contradictory perspectives in an effort to determine which fact or position is correct.2

The writers essentially claim that Westerners reason until contradictions are eliminated—observing a sort of law of noncontradiction—while the Chinese feel comfortable considering a more complex final picture. These tendencies apparently arose as cultural adaptations millennia ago. More individualistic pastoral life-ways promoted “a strong stance in communication styles, resulting in stronger polarization.” Rice cultivation, on the other hand, “may have encouraged the expression of moderate statements.”3 The inclination toward black-and-white thinking—what might be called mental tribalism—directly relates to a tendency to create polarized groups.

And how do individuals gravitate to one or the other of these camps? By reasoning, of course; and reasoning is our most advanced form of decision-making. But is the reasoning we think about really a departure from pre-modern modes of decision-making? I’d like to think so. Calling this into question implicitly, Ben Franklin joked: “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

This might be more than a joke. Writing a century later, the Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath looked critically at rationality. Neurath determined4 two basic things in this regard. One, reason is, uncontroversially, one of humanity’s decision-making means. Two, more controversially, reason compares to older forms of decision-making such as religion and magic. Neurath said human beings need to make decisions quickly, often in the moment, and so often rely on limited information, and when faced with gaps in information or reasoning, resort to traditional notions or modes of judgment. He said, echoing Franklin, that many people practice “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Neurath claimed it was wishful thinking to believe that we could build a “rational home from scratch while inhabiting a contingent lodging.” He used other metaphors to make his case. He saw that rational-aiming men “were seamen on a ship destined to continuously renovate their leaking vessel at sea, in the middle of storms and tempests, with no hope of ever docking the truth.” In a similar vein, Neurath felt that decisions “would never cease to entail a measure of uncertainty and men would always err in the forest of Descartes, without any hope of ever exiting it.”

But how do black-and-white thinking and the primitive nature of really-existing rationality relate to nationalism (not the general sort discussed by Orwell, but the more specific sort)? I already mentioned nationalism’s modernist pedigree. Nationalism proved a useful compromise with, not a transcendence of, pre-modern forms of in-group devotion and out-group demonization. Nationalism sought a new (or, renewed, newly focused) reason to include and exclude on seemingly rational grounds as a means toward overcoming pre-modern social systems. (Or, today, to some extent towards overcoming liberalism, as a degraded or antiquated answer to liberalism’s perceived and actual failures.) Nationalism meshed with a tendency of (particularly, wealth) power in the Enlightenment to oppose it going ‘too far’. A central focus, or manifestation, of this tendency, was the preservation of the state, the Leviathan, towards wealth-defense via wealth-power’s partial and always tense retreat from direct power and behind the rule of law.5 As we have seen, nationalism meant in-group devotion on a mass scale and in a manner suitable to both modernity and the needs of powerful groups. The social contract has served, particularly after the French Revolution, as a license for elite interests with nationalism as the vehicle. But of late, that arrangement changed as some capitalist interests have begun to transcend and lose interest in both the social contract and the nation-state.

In the wake of this, others have found nationalism in the street and picked it up. And what kind of nationalism is on the rebound? Is it the kind that attracted and inspired people in the developing world a half a century or more ago? Is it the sort which provides a framework for people seeking their own way forward against elite models judged harmful? Or is it an uglier form like that which brought much of the world to ruin in Orwell’s day? The answer is probably not simple. It appears to be all of that at once. We have all seen the images of recent marches of right-wing tribalists in Europe and America. The participants often do not shrink from open and clear emulation of the exact hypernationalists Orwell’s England helped to destroy. But as George Friedman, and others, argue, much of what we have seen is not the return of fascism (though there has been some that, at least symbolically), but of a more defensive nationalism not unlike that which found favor with everyone from the liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as Third Worlders eager to stake out their own path to modernization in the 20th. This sort of nationalism is more like “patriotism” of Orwell’s sort. Patriotism, he said, is a “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.” Friedman refers to this type of nationalism in his description of its recent revival:

The nation-state is reasserting itself as the primary vehicle of political life. Multinational institutions like the European Union and multilateral trade treaties are being challenged because they are seen by some as not being in the national interest.

In other words, people are reacting to the steamroller known as neoliberal capitalism and its demolition of the “Chinese walls”, in this case, European and US national borders and sovereignties, standing in its path. This virulent form of capitalism leverages state power—or, certain sectors do—to institute and guarantee its own power and expansion while at the same time discouraging populations from looking to the state to protect itself from the visibly harmful effects of that expansion and power.

In a recent interview, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik explained that globalization has torn societies apart, as evidenced, he said, by increasing inequality, as well as increased “social distance” within societies (between those few who benefit from globalization and the majority who do not), and the final severing of corporate interests from the well-being of the communities where they once resided but have long since transcended. Rodrik added that the nationalist backlash against this has been mostly of the “right-wing ethnonationalist” variety. The reason for this, he claimed, is the “left has been missing in action and that the center-left and the social democrats [the New Democrats in the US, and New Labour in the UK] have essentially been complicit in many of these changes since the 1990s.” It should be no surprise that many people would react to this in the manner most familiar to them, with Orwell’s patriotism, if of a more right-wing sort for the reason Rodrik stated.

Relatedly, Marine Le Pen’s economic program could have been written by Bernie Sander’s economic advisor, Stephanie Kelton. James Petras writes (on May Day 2017, no less!) that Le Pen supported a “Keynesian demand-driven industrial revitalization,” increased taxes “on banks and financial transactions” and fines for “capital flight”, as well as “direct state intervention to prevent factories from relocating to low wage EU economies and firing French workers”, among other policies. In other words, she intended to do for France what the New Deal did in part for the US (and what many hoped Sanders would do again): help the population and discipline capitalists—as distinct from the neoliberal model in which the population is disciplined and the capitalists are helped.  But, of course, we all know Le Pen was the grubby, far-right throwback while her finely-coiffed and ultimately successful political opponent, Emmanuel Macron, was the champion progressiste facing down dark nostalgias (represented by the likes of Le Pen) on the shining path to a splendid neoliberal future. Except, as it turns out, and as was clear at the time, Macron the non-nationalist/non-fascist is the very champagne-soaked ultra-neoliberal, austerity-enforcing, NATO and EU fanatic Petras claimed him to be. In other words, he is not precisely an alternative to fascism, but is certainly an enemy of French patriotism of the Orwell kind.

Neurath’s view of economics is relevant here. He avoided the Austrian tribe. He considered economics a ‘felicitology’—a study of relative happiness. He said man should be happy, not rational. It is not difficult to infer here that the supposed “rationality” of capitalist economic decisions is often no more than “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of [a capitalist’s] choices.” Or, as lexicographer L.A. Rollins once put it, the invisible hand of the market is a “spook to which cowardly capitalists attribute responsibility for their actions.” Religion and magic, indeed.

But there is another angle regarding nationalism today over which Orwell might have bounded into the political breach. In the strange world of Trumpian America (strange both because of Trump and because of his mainstream opponents), the attendant rise of the so-called alt-right (old nationalism in a new bottle), and the threat that American empire might retreat, we find seemingly odd bedfellows aroused: Democratic Party-aligned liberals and progressives snuggling up with neoconservatives for a shared aversion to Trump. We know what bothers the Democrats; their star candidate (an adherent of the globalist neoliberal capitalism causing the widespread dislocation and alienation) lost. As for the neoconservatives, they hate Donald Trump not because he is race-baiting hero of the alt-right, but because, as James Carden put it, they are afraid “they could be frozen out of the corridors of power” for the duration of the Trump Administration.  (Of course, the appointment of John Bolton, also co-author or supporter of various neoconservative campaigns of deceit, as National Security Advisor, demonstrates the risk might be ephemeral.) Consummating this marriage, arguably, MSNBC host Joy Reid referred to neocon hawk Max Boot as one of her new besties; Ellen DeGeneres opened her couch to war criminal and dupe of neocons, George W. Bush; and the aforesaid Max Boot sent a love-letter to identitarian liberals confessing his “white privilege.”

In this Democratic-neoconservative fight against Trump, neoconservative Eliot Cohen, incidentally, and quite exasperatingly, leveraged the very Orwell essay mentioned here. In what he calls a modest plea for patriotic history, he cites Orwell’s idea of patriotism. He focuses on the idea that patriotism is “a devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world.” Cohen seems to like the passage for its apparent utility towards spreading dedication to American Exceptionalism. Cohen fails to note that Orwell called his sort of patriotism “defensive,” not expansive or imperialist, as it can only be in the hands of neoconservatives.

To further encourage an understanding of the disturbing nature of this coalition, a review of neoconservative behavior might help. They are quite a tribe and their resumé cannot but astonish. This group of fanatics engineered the greatest and most dangerous American propaganda operations of the late twentieth-early twenty-first centuries, which led to: the derailment of détente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, disruption of arms control treaties and the creation of a new arms race in the 80s and 90s, and the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.6 The neoconservatives have also called for war on behalf of Israel (against Iraq and, arguably, ongoingly against others, like Iran and Syria). They highlighted the supposed need—not too long before 9/11—for a “new Pearl Harbor” to justify ramped-up US war spending and belligerence.7

If these Team B8 narratives—all, essentially, lies—were anything, they were cases of men wielding “pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Choices based on untruths and which caused incalculable harm. These are the people with whom the Democrats have found common cause—because of Trump. Of course, beyond surface politics, it is not that strange that Democrats and neoconservatives might find some points of agreement. During the Cold War Democrats, like Republicans, more than once found exaggerated stories of foreign threats useful.

In any event, the anti-Trump alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives really serves to preserve and extend an extremist version of American Exceptionalism and imperial reach in the face of just the merest threat that it might be reined in. And this belligerent and greatly expansive version of tribalism, this Democratic-Neoconservative nationalism, is not being called that. In fact, it is not being called anything at all because it is mostly unrecognized or ignored.

So, what might this hodge-podge of facts and observations tell us about the subject at hand, tribalism, or what we might do about it? First, we might ask, do we construct opposites and categories less to understand than to sort and comfort? Do we know the difference? Have we missed the discontinuities as we gawk through the lens of continuity? For instance, why do new tribes, like the megatribe of Democratic-Neoconservative (trans)nationalism, arise? Why does old-style nationalism come into focus so readily while new formations seem entirely undetectable? Does our tendency to create polarized categories of ideas and people derive from a meaningfully rational process? Or, does it relate more directly to older—what we might consider primitive and irrational—social and intellectual modes?

Evaluating our reasoning processes along the lines of Neurath, we might find their similarity to religion and magic. We might begin to recognize this shortfall and exercise the ability to continually re-orient ourselves toward more genuinely rational modes of thinking. Stepping outside our tribalisms, outside our polarized manners of thinking, we may find that we have not confronted the present, nor much of anything, in a fully clear-eyed manner. Critically evaluating our cultural tendency to observe the law of noncontradiction, allowing instead for dialectical conclusions, might help to break up the mental and social reasoning processes that lead to polarization and tribalism. Instead of alternating between different tribalisms or formulating new ones (in the mistaken belief we have escaped them), we might find a way out of them entirely and know it when we do.

Instead of vacillating between capitalism and Marxism (absolute support for private property vs. absolute opposition to it), for instance, we might find a renewed interest in such nuanced political philosophies as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s Mutualism or anarchism—both much closer than anything else to fulfilling basic Enlightenment ideals. Instead of alternating between internationalism and nationalism in the ongoing confrontation with neoliberal capitalism (and certain other forms of tribalism), perhaps we can find or devise structures suitable to popular power and liberation while retaining the ability to prevent their distortion to the benefit of elite interests.

  1. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008).
  2. Kaiping Peng and Richard E. Nisbett, “Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning about Contradiction,” American Psychologist, September 1999.
  3. Michael Minkov, “Nations With More Dialectical Selves Exhibit Lower Polarization in Life Quality Judgments and Social Opinions,” Cross-Cultural Research 43, no. 3 (August 19, 2009).
  4. Neurath mostly wrote in German. These paraphrases come from Monika Poettinger, “The Uses of Rationality: Otto Neurath,” Paper presented at the 21st Annual ESHET Conference, University of Antwerp (Antwerp Belgium), May 18-20, 2017.
  5. See Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  6. Gordon R. Mitchell, “Team B Intelligence Coups,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 92, no. 2, May 2006, 144-173.
  7. Richard Perle, et al. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies – Jerusalem, Washington, 1996 and The Project for a New American Century, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” The Project for a New American Century, Washington, DC, September 2000.
  8. Team B refers to secondary intelligence analysis groups first initiated in 1975 during the Ford Administration. Effectively, such groups, controlled by neoconservatives from early on, serve to disrupt the flow of quality intelligence to policymakers (particularly the kind that lead to moderate policies) in favor of distorted, hawkish analyses.

Looking for the Thought Police? Try looking in the mirror.

1984 is probably one of the worst books of the 20th century because of its mis-interpretation!

a) Although Orwell was writing about ENGLAND, in fact, and not as allegory, the exigencies of anti-Soviet propaganda required that the story be defined as a dystopia about the world under Soviet control. Whatever Orwell may have thought about Stalin, 1984 was a story directly attacking the Labour Party and the policies that would become enshrined in Labour governments dominated by graduates from Oxford and to a lesser extent Cambridge. Anyone outside of Britain might be forgiven at the time for missing this but today the oversight is simply rooted in ignorance — willful or unwitting.

b) Orwell, who served in the colonial police in Burma, was well acquainted with the methods of social control used in Britain’s colonies — including torture and surveillance. He had no reason to draw on reports from the Soviet Union, true or false. He also worked in the British government’s propaganda department. The BBC was created in 1922 as a radio monopoly in part to improve the government’s campaign against organised labour. There the fabrication of “news” was daily routine, as it is today.

c) Post-war Britain was — in comparison to the US esp. — a disaster area. After two world wars, Britain was bankrupt. The empire which had subsidised the metropolitan standard of living was collapsing. Indian independence alone would mean an initial massive balance of payments deficit to the Union, not to mention debt to the US. The economy was more or less in ruins. The standard of living had sunk drastically for all but the very rich. It did not take any imagination to invent “Victory Gin” — Britain was nominally on the side of the winners but had lost everything. For someone like Orwell this was very obvious.

d) Too little attention is paid to the actual structures that Orwell describes. The Party and the Thought Police are most frequently mentioned. This focus distorts Orwell’s depiction of a complex mechanism of social control. Ironically many people who have read Noam Chomsky’s essays do not grasp the point which Orwell makes and Chomsky reiterates — albeit avoiding too much attention to this embarrassing point.

Orwell distinguished between the “inner party”, the “outer party” and the “prols”. This classification is very important for comprehending the whole process. Propaganda — that is the constant manipulation of data in forms to create what counts on any one day as “true” — is directed primarily at the “outer party”. The “inner party” is not concerned with what is actually true, this virtually invisible group is interested only in power. The “outer party” is governed by rigorous ideas of truth and virtue which have to be policed — precisely because the very idea of “truth” is a policing tool — not unlike sexual purity. The “truth” is of no material importance to the mass — the “prols” in Orwell’s depiction. But the “outer party” — the intellectuals, the bureaucrats, middle managers, functionaries of all types whether in the state or private sector, in short those who claim citizenship based on supposed intelligence and virtue/merit — need constant policing.

They must be told not only what is fashionable but what counts as true or as the acceptable/polite consensus. These people cannot be left in abject ignorance since they are needed to maintain the system. They are in short the “Gene Sharp factor” — the percentage of the population with which one moves the whole. (Ironically the first edition (1993) of Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy was published in Burma — where Orwell began his police career.)  They are too numerous in comparison to the “inner party” to be ignored but not as disorganized as the “prols” so that they cannot be beaten down physically as a mass.

Perhaps Noam Chomsky does not focus too much on his observation that it is the middle class intellectual/managerial class that is the target of most regime propaganda (most heavily propagandised) because he belongs precisely to that class. In fact, on some issues he might be confused with an asset of the Thought Police — coming too as he does from a central US Thought Police institution — MIT.

Orwell was an Old Etonian. Eton College is the pinnacle of the “outer party” cadre institutions in Britain. It is run for the “inner party” and many of the “inner party” are also Old Etonians but the English public school is notorious for enforcing class distinctions even among those of the same college. All Etonians are equal too, some are more equal than others.

e) Who is “Big Brother”? Big Brother is always supposed to be a kind of Stalin allegory. However, unlike the US, Britain has a constant figure who constitutes the focus of all loyalty and affection — the reigning monarch. The British royal family changed their name when war was declared against Germany in 1914. It became inappropriate to have a German king ordering illiterate British peasants and workers into war against another German king who was directly related for reasons that could not be admitted openly and still cannot. So the name “Windsor” was adopted. Edward VIII both before and after his abdication maintained a healthy relationship with blatant fascists of the old style.

This does not mean that the British royal family ever renounced its affinity for fascism (e.g. Franco and Salazar). Moreover it is almost impossible to criticise the monarchy substantively in the United Kingdom. The actions of its members, singularly or collectively, are beyond review or public reproach — except in matters trivial like taste or polite speech. The pretense that the most wealthy private individual in the country (and one of the world’s wealthiest), the reigning monarch, has no personal interest in the policies of the British government and has no practical influence over the government in defense of those interests is about as great a self-deception as one can demand of any person, let alone an entire country.

God save the King/Queen…

f) It is even arguable that Orwell was more concerned about the US because this was the country which switched sides and manipulated the war aims the most — without any cost to itself. During WWII it was clear that the Soviet Union was fighting a vicious war just to survive in the face of the Western onslaught. However, sober people also saw that the US stood to be the only beneficiary of the war. In 1945, this was obvious. No sooner had the war ended but the US proclaimed a war against the Soviet Union. Britain could not have afforded such a position — even if Churchill would have liked. He gave his deceptive “iron curtain” speech for Truman because of dependence on the US not because Britain could have afforded an anti-Soviet policy on its own.1 Orwell could certainly see the absurdity of an impoverished Britain having been on the side of the Soviet Union against Hitler now aligned with the US against the Soviet Union.

In fact, it could be argued that Orwell’s novel is very coherent with Roger Waters’ The Wall (and its sequel The Final Cut) in their specifically BRITISH views of mass culture and pseudo-democracy concealing party dictatorship. It has little, if anything, to do with Russian society, let alone politics. That is only natural. Orwell never lived in Russia and would not have been able to explain Russian society. For that one has to turn to Russians themselves; e.g., Tolstoy or Sholokhov or Pasternak. On the other hand many Americans believe that they understand British society — this is due largely to saturation with BBC programming. However similar Britain may appear to the US, it is actually a very different country and culture (except perhaps for the highest strata of the Anglo-American ruling class). The illusion that Britons are only more quaint Americans has done much to promote the mis-understanding of Orwell.

One of the great intellectual travesty’s of the 20th century is the ascendency of US liberal ideology — in its broadest sense.2

There is probably not a country in the world today with so much influence on intellectual and cultural activity from such a depraved and obscene level of general ignorance and stupidity. The capacity to saturate the world with this structural mendacity and almost genetic stupidity is probably worse than any other weapons system the country’s psychopaths have produced — because it is the basis for acceptance of all those weapons in the first place.

  1. Churchill, unlike Truman, had attended the meetings with Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta where it was agreed that the Soviet Union would occupy the Eastern European territories that had been absorbed into the German Empire, in part as a basis for war reparations due to the enormous destruction suffered by the Soviet Union — almost all of the European part of the country was razed to the ground. He knew that the Soviet occupation had been agreed by all the Allies. He also knew that the Allies were attempting to deprive the Soviet Union of the reparations due from Germany. In short he knew that it was the West that was hanging an “iron curtain” in front of the Soviet Union in the hope that it would collapse after WWII. Britain could not have afforded such a policy. Among other things the collapse of the empire would deprive it of its cheap access to all sorts of raw materials making it vulnerable to world market fluctuations.
  2. A more precise clarification of what might otherwise be called the ideology of the North Atlantic Establishment would exceed the scope of this brief note. Carroll Quigley’s The Anglo-American Establishment provides a fairly useful summary of its principles and the way it has been expressed through the 20th century. It should be noted that one of the key cadre institutions for academics according to Quigley is the All Souls College of Oxford University– where Gene Sharp also completed his doctorate.

Being and Politics

Gilad Atzmon has a new book just out titled Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto. The title probably is influenced from a book, Being and Time, written by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Atzmon has put forward his manifesto that attempts to synthesize various political, cultural, psychological, linguistic strands to explain why the western world finds itself in its current state of unfettered capitalism, crushed communism, the continuing Jewish occupation of and oppression in Palestine, supremacism, the West fighting Israel’s wars, and the discourse being manipulated (even within purportedly independent media).

In Being in Time, Atzmon pulls on many threads, including sexuality, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt school, cultural Marxism, cognitive partitioning, political correctness, language, identity politics, leftism, rightism, and more.

Identity Politics

I continue to dissent from how Atzmon characterizes the Left, which he divides into the Old and New Left. Fine, there are divisions in the Left. There are certain core principles that leftists adhere to: pro-human rights for all humans, accepting of diversity, anti-war, pro-worker, anti-exploitation, etc. But what must also be realized is that many persons may pose as Left but are not leftist in orientation. People who do not embrace core leftist principles are not leftist, they are faux-leftists. To criticize the entirety of the Left because a fifth column has undermined a segment of the Left speaks to the level of infiltration, the gullibility of certain leftists, or the fragility of social conviction among some leftists.

The Left is not a monolith, and neither is the Right a monolith. Hence any criticism leveled at the entirety of a political orientation is only valid when the entirety of a political orientation espouses an identical platform.

Atzmon considers that identity politics characterizes liberalism and progressivism. (p 8) He names, for example, LGBTQ, feminists, Latinos, Blacks, and Jews as forming exclusive political alliances. However, a major plank of the Left is solidarity as it is widely understood that to bring about some greater form of socialism the masses must unite. Ergo, strict allegiance to identity politics is contrary to leftist principles. Atzmon further notes that patriotism is secondary among leftists. Jingoistic nationalism is an enemy of the working class, and it is certainly anathema to anarchists. Therefore, insofar as patriotic sentiment prejudices one’s attachment with wider humanity, it serves to divide rather than unite peoples.

Yet rightists also engage in identity politics as Whites, militarists, religious sects, and anti-abortionists attest. In the case of the US politics, Amanda Marcotte of Salon writes, “Democrats are always accused of playing ‘identity politics.’ The reality is that Republicans do it far more.”

Left-Right

I wonder what exactly Atzmon means by post-politics. I assume this refers to the “fatigue” he points to in the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump, as well as the discarding of Left and Right politics.

He sees Left and Right as “now indistinguishable and irrelevant.” (p 9)

According to Atzmon, the Left is focused on “what could be” and the Right on “what is.” (p 13) Atzmon argues, “The Right does not aim to change human social reality but rather to celebrate, and even to maximize it.” (p 13)

But the Right has engineered this “social reality” through neoliberalism, imperialism, and militaristic violence, and the only ones really benefiting from this so-called maximization are the capitalist class. That the Democratic Party in the US, the Labour Party in the UK, the Liberal Party in Canada are in step with this engineering of “social reality” adduces that they are rightist parties.

“The Left,” continues Atzmon, “yearns for equality, but for the Right, the human condition is diverse and multi-layered, with equality not just tolerated but accepted as part of the human condition, a natural part of our social, spiritual and material world.” (p 13)

The imprecision of what constitutes a chunk of Atzmon’s manifesto is annoying. The Left “yearns”? This might be written in a less biased manner as a “desire.” But it is not simply a desire for an undefined “equality.” The Left calls for an equality of conditions, opportunities, and access to resources. Why not? Should an inequality of conditions, opportunities, and access to resources be accepted? Should one class of people be accorded privileges over the rest of humanity? Is this not supremacism – which Atzmon deplores? And for most of the Left – most (and for anarchists, likeliest all), respect for diversity is a valued principle. Diversity is recognized by the Right, specifically, pecuniary diversity. But American society historically has been considered a melting pot rather than a celebration of diversity.

Atzmon sets up the parameters for discussion,such that the “post-political” author can diss both Left and Right. He does not discuss in the Left-Right context as to what constitutes “the human condition” and whether the rightist perspective is indeed “a natural part of our social, spiritual and material world.” I find such a statement ahistorical. The economist Karl Polanyi presented a compelling historical perspective in his book The Great Transformation that elucidates how communitarian human society was changed.

Atzmon writes, “For the Right ideologue, it is the ‘will to survive’ and even to attain power that makes social interactions exciting.” (p 13) The sentence strikes this reader as platitudinal. There is no example or substantiation provided. Which ideologue from whatever corner of the political continuum does not have a will to survive or seek exciting interactions?

Atzmon sums up the Left-Right schism as “the tension between equality and reality.” (p 13) If one cannot accept the definitions, and if the premises are faulty, then the logical structure collapses.

One flips the page and the Left is described as dreamy, illusory, unreal, phantasmal, utopian; thus, it did not appeal to the working class. Atzmon asserts, “Social justice, equality and even revolution may really be nothing but the addictive rush of effecting change and this is perhaps why hard-core Leftist agitators often find it difficult to wake from their social fantasy. They simply refuse to admit that reality has slipped from their grasp, preferring to remain in their phantasmal universe, shielded by ghetto walls built of archaic terminology and political correctness.” (p 14-15)

Atzmon is also abusive of the Right, seeing the Right ideologue as mired in biological determinism. (p 17)

Atzmon says he wants to push past political ideology. I am unaware of his professing any political leaning, so I guess he is, in a sense, already post-political. This strikes me as illusory since in western “democracies” the corporations still pull the strings of their politicians.

Atzmon applies the noun democracy recklessly. Without defining what is a democracy, through using the word (as so many people do), he inadvertently reifies something that does not exist in any meaningful sense.

Atzmon writes darkly, “Symptomatic of the liberal democratic era was the belief that people could alter their circumstances.” (p 19) Yet contemporary politicians still play on that sentiment, witness Barack Obama in the US and Justin Trudeau in Canada whose political campaigns appealed to such a belief. Does Atzmon think people cannot alter their circumstances?

Atzmon points to how the Labour Party under Blair became a neoliberal, warmongering party. He concludes, “The difference between Left and Right had become meaningless?” (p 24) I would describe this as the Left (to the extent the Labour Party was genuinely Left) being co-opted and disappeared by the Right — a political coup.

Atzmon says the political -isms and free markets are empty. He does not specifically target anarch-ism, however. Besides mentioning anarchist professor Noam Chomsky, one supposes anarchism is too fringe for Atzmon, but also it is beyond much of the criticism he levels at the Left. And as for the notion of a “free market,” there never has been one. Polanyi wrote in The Great Transformation: “The road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled interventionism.” (p 146)

Why has the genuine Left never attained power and brought its vision to fruition? Rampant capitalism has allowed 1% to profit grotesquely relative to the 99%. The 1%-ers have the money and the power that money buys: media, corporations, resources, and government. With the government controlled by the 1%-ers that puts the state security apparatus also under their control – and paid for the 99%-ers (because the rich all too often escape paying tax) to keep them in place. The police and military is, in essence, socialism exploited to protect capitalism. The few countries that have brought about Communism (Cuba, China, USSR, Viet Nam, etc) have found themselves under incessant militaristic and economic threat from capitalists who fear the example of successful socialism. This is missing from Atzmon’s analysis.

Atzmon even proposes that socialism can also be considered greedy because “… it promises that neither you nor anyone else will possess more than I.” (p 25) Really? Where is this stated and by who? Anarchist economics does not propose such a premise.1

Political correctness

Political correctness (PC). What is it? Atzmon calls it “a tyrannical project. The attempted elimination of essentialism, categorization and generalization… in opposition to human nature.” (p 38) Basically, it is the avoidance of language that stigmatizes other groups. Who wants to be stigmatized? Nobody. I can agree that PC has been pushed to extremes. PC also does not distinguish between intention and denotation. Should it? I confess when younger that I, close friends, and colleagues would call each other “gay.” It was actually a term of affection we used for each other. No negative sentiments were felt toward any sexual orientations; in fact, many of us were frequently in the company of LGBTQ. But we were not PC.

Atzmon finds that self-censorship is an outcome of PC: “Initially we don’t say what we think; eventually we learn to say what we don’t think.” (p 39) Perhaps. But sometimes it is better to bite one’s tongue and say nothing. I prefer to think of PC having encouraged a more respectful discourse, but PC should be criticized when it becomes excessive. There are plenty of non-PC examples among those who affiliate with the PC crowd, such as denigrating people who demonstrate for Palestinian human rights as “anti-Semites” – probably the most abused anti-PC term. PC becomes a tool of indoctrination when not practiced with equanimity and sincerity.

Is PC a freedom of speech issue? In some cases, yes. For instance, why is it okay to label someone a “holocaust denier” when questioning the veracity of certain aspects of WWII history? No serious person denies that Jews were among those targeted by Nazis; and no serious person denies that Jews were among those people transported to and having died in concentration camps.

An inordinate focus on PC can be vexing; there are much bigger issues in the world than a focus on whether to call a female “girl” or “woman.” It seems simple enough to raise awareness of inappropriate use of language. Most people will come around to a polite request to avoid words that may offend.

Miscellania

Being in Time finally begins to hit its stride when focusing on manipulations to grab and maintain power. The author is unafraid to point a finger and criticize identitarian groupings that create and exploit divisions.2 The stride is bumpy though, as Atzmon discusses sexuality, LGBTQ, feminism, Left abandonment of the working class, psychoanalysis and the scientific method, Athens and Jerusalem, severe criticism of Marxism, etc. The depth and breadth of the manifesto is beyond a book review.

The scope of Being in Time even looks at a 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family, which Atzmon sees as having “succeeded in pushing the liberal agenda into every American living room.” (p 109) Atzmon calls it a “sophisticated” “cultural manipulation.” (p 110)

Atzmon sees Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as an institutional failure “embedded in progressive and liberal thought.” (p 120) Describing the ardent neoliberal Clinton or her supporters as liberal or progressive is classic mislabeling.

Atzmon is razor sharp when discussing aspects of Jewishness identity and what the different aspects mean for being a Jew. However, when discussing the political spectrum, political ideology, and society, his definitions too often seem contrived to support his thesis.

In the final pages of Being in Time, Atzmon speaks from deep familiarity with the subject matter: capitalism, Mammonism, and tribalism. With a closing flourish, Atzmon poignantly dares to ask, “And isn’t it correctness, pure and simple, that stops us from mentioning that the protagonist [in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brotherhood leader Emmanuel] Goldstein is, himself, Jewish?” (p 208)

Final Comments

In the typical human perspective, Being proceeds in a linear fashion. But from a cultural, historical, linguistic, ethical, scientific perspective Being is clearly multi-faceted and not confined to linearity. Atzmon is fully aware of this, nonetheless his Being in Time tackles myriad issues in a rather binary fashion.

There are arguments presented in the book that I diverge from, but Being in Time presents points of view that deserve contemplation and a threshing out. Over all, it is a manifesto that I find unrefined; in dire need of definitions that are substantiated, not merely asserted; and (although I believe Atzmon would state this was beyond his remit) it would be fruitful if the book erected a promising structure, rather than simply tear down structures with little left standing. Being in Time comes across as an interesting foray to understanding and twining politics, power, and ontology that deserves deeper development. A dialectical approach might be most illuminating.

Alas, politics is not yet dead.

The Dream of a better world is not yet dead either. But one day the Dream must end because the Dream must be made a Reality. That is my simplistic two-sentence manifesto.

  1. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s parecon posits balanced job complexes, remuneration based on effort and sacrifice, and decision-making empowered for all workers, but people are free — according to individual preferences — to work more or fewer hours to pursue interests or acquire material goods.
  2. He has been much, and unfairly, maligned even in purportedly progressive media for his arguments. Recently, Aztmon tells of being attacked by three antifa. These people are unprincipled and not what I would call Left.