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1984

May 11, 2017

I started making my way through Jordan Peterson’s list of books to read “to properly educate” yourself. (It comes with a wonderful trigger warning: “These are the most terrifying books I have encountered.”) I just finished George Orwell’s 1984, somehow for the first time.

So much has obviously been said about this book; I don’t anticipate offering anything new or illuminating from a literary perspective. But I’ll share some of my thoughts on completing it.

Firstly, I hadn’t been fully aware of just how many concepts I hear bandied about these days are actually references to 1984. Big Brother, newspeak, doublethink, 2+2=5,  that awesome Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, and on and on. If nothing else, I’m always happy to expand my cultural literacy.

There are four lights!

1984 is also impressive in its simultaneous condemnation of both leftist and rightist totalitarianism. At the extremes, both share a central quality of the book’s Party: power is not a means, it is an end. And therefore many of the dystopian government tactics Big Brother uses are reminiscent of both fascism and communism.

It’s certainly easy to see why there’s so much outcry against President Trump and many of his actions in the name of 1984. Especially newspeak like “alternative facts” and most Sean Spicer pressers.

[Personally, having just read the book, I’m actually somewhat less worried about our imminent fate as a nation. As troubling as even a few first steps down the road to totalinarianism are, we’re nowhere near the tipping point. For one thing, I subscribe to the Veep model of explaining Washington outrages rather than to the House of Cardsmodel. Incompetence explains a whole hell of a lot of what we’ve seen, and that’s enough for me not to think Trump is an evil mastermind. Not that that’s necessarily all that comforting, haha.

For another thing, I see just as much danger in the continual decrying every week of the latest buffoonery. I am getting seriously desensitized. I mean, I love Morning Joe. I watch it every morning. But I’m not sure how many more times I can handle them saying “NOW it’s REALLY the WORST THING IN THE WORLD. I MEAN it this time.” If there does happen to be method to Trump’s madness, it’s in getting the press to cry wolf. At this point, my knee-jerk reaction is just to assume the press–or, god help us, my Facebook feed–is overreacting. That’s been the case every time so far, and probably will be for a long time down the road. If something really, really bad does happen, I’ll be sleeping in my bed while the wolf eats the town flock.]

On the other side, and likewise wanting to refrain from blowing this one out of proportion, I see just as much to be worried about in, say, the Ontario Human Rights Commission dictating the language Jordan Peterson must use. Talk about Party tactics right out of 1984! It’s probably not right to say that the objective truth is gender is entirely binary. But it’s definitely not objectively true that there’s a certain right way to talk about it. And if it were so true, why would the law have to require it? Again, I don’t mean to say the end is nigh because of it. I do, however, find uses of state power like this just as troubling as Trump’s outrages.

So yeah. Good book, that 1984. Lots of stuff to make you think. I suspect it has felt relevant ever since its publication, and will continue to feel relevant for years down the road. Read it if you haven’t.

From → Books

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