Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Me and Julio Down By the School Yard

The Differences Between Left and Right Are Cosmetic

Historian Richard Overy argues in his monumental comparison of Stalin and Hitler that between these two men and their respective regimes there was far more held in common than difference.  Hitler, of course, represented the Right.  Stalin was one of the most extreme Leftists of all times.  It turned out that in practice they were kissing cousins.  Their ideological differences amounted to little more than superficial, minor variants. 

This should mean that we treat ideological differences with a great deal of scepticism.  In the end, the ideologues of Left and Right shared a common ambition: power--absolute power--over their subjects. 

This reality is often not well understood.  Dorian Lynskey has written a biography of Orwell, entitled The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984.  It has been reviewed by George Packer in an essay published in The Atlantic.  The review is entitled Doublethink is Stronger Than Orwell Imagined: What 1984 Means Today

After reviewing the cultural impact of 1984 over the last forty years or so, reviewer Packer asks:
What does the novel mean for us? Not Room 101 in the Ministry of Love, where Winston is interrogated and tortured until he loses everything he holds dear. We don’t live under anything like a totalitarian system. “By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Lynskey acknowledges. Instead, we pass our days under the nonstop surveillance of a telescreen that we bought at the Apple Store, carry with us everywhere, and tell everything to, without any coercion by the state. The Ministry of Truth is Facebook, Google, and cable news. We have met Big Brother and he is us.
The Left panicked when Trump was elected.  The Right Wing, the Fascists, were taking over.  Orwell had painted an exceedingly grim picture of the Right.  But the deeper, harder truth was that the Right now, in the West, was being facilitated by the Left.
We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment. The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves. Totalitarian propaganda unifies control over all information, until reality is what the Party says it is—the goal of Newspeak is to impoverish language so that politically incorrect thoughts are no longer possible. Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division—not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions. [Emphasis, ours]
It turns out that the Left, in reaction to the Fascisti, is becoming more totalitarian, more, well, Fascist by the day.
We stagger under the daily load of doublethink pouring from Trump, his enablers in the Inner Party, his mouthpieces in the Ministry of Truth, and his fanatical supporters among the proles. Spotting doublethink in ourselves is much harder. “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,” Orwell wrote. In front of my nose, in the world of enlightened and progressive people where I live and work, a different sort of doublethink has become pervasive. It’s not the claim that true is fake or that two plus two makes five. Progressive doublethink—which has grown worse in reaction to the right-wing kind—creates a more insidious unreality because it operates in the name of all that is good. Its key word is justice—a word no one should want to live without. But today the demand for justice forces you to accept contradictions that are the essence of doublethink.

For example, many on the left now share an unacknowledged but common assumption that a good work of art is made of good politics and that good politics is a matter of identity. The progressive view of a book or play depends on its political stance, and its stance—even its subject matter—is scrutinized in light of the group affiliation of the artist: Personal identity plus political position equals aesthetic value. This confusion of categories guides judgments all across the worlds of media, the arts, and education, from movie reviews to grant committees. Some people who register the assumption as doublethink might be privately troubled, but they don’t say so publicly. Then self-censorship turns into self-deception, until the recognition itself disappears—a lie you accept becomes a lie you forget. In this way, intelligent people do the work of eliminating their own unorthodoxy without the Thought Police.
Here is the clanger:

Certain commissars with large followings patrol the precincts of social media and punish thought criminals, but most progressives assent without difficulty to the stifling consensus of the moment and the intolerance it breeds—not out of fear, but because they want to be counted on the side of justice.  [Emphasis, ours.] 

So the Left is fundamentally joined at the hip with the Right.  This should not surprise any Christian.  For the Right is evil, born in sin.  But so is the Left--also evil.  Also born in sin.  That is the fundamental truth of 1984.  In the end, the dictators Hitler and Stalin were the same.  Their differences were matters of minor moment. 
“Nothing is gained by teaching a parrot a new word,” Orwell wrote in 1946. “What is needed is the right to print what one believes to be true, without having to fear bullying or blackmail from any side.” Not much has changed since the 1940s. The will to power still passes through hatred on the right and virtue on the left. 

1984 will always be an essential book, regardless of changes in ideologies, for its portrayal of one person struggling to hold on to what is real and valuable. “Sanity is not statistical,” Winston thinks one night as he slips off to sleep. Truth, it turns out, is the most fragile thing in the world. The central drama of politics is the one inside your skull.
The drama--the central drama--is straightforwardly plain.  Will the Left control the Right?  Or vice-versa.  However, both alike are wicked and corrupted.

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