And from ‘The Orwell‘ to George Orwell…..see what i did there ?
This is of course one of my ‘Look to Windward’ series, the once a month post when i give myself free rein to talk about anything that i’m interested in and particularly in anything that’s going on in the world outside boats, although i have to ask : is there such a place ?
In the first one in the series i think i left the video quite suddenly (sorry about that, something popped up here that i had to deal with) on an actual mountain-side in New Zealand and when i was waxing lyrical about standing where Elrond stood mustering the Elves at the battle of the last alliance. That was a neat moment of recognition that happened almost accidentally during one of our trips to NZ.
The moment that really stands out as a sharp memory is when we drove out to Mt. St Sunday near Methven on South Island, that seemed like a very long drive along a dusty gravel road out towards one of the larger sheep stations. That just happened to be ‘Erewhon’ which i had kind-of heard of and couldn’t think why. While we were out there i managed to find out at an excellent secondhand bookstore down in Wellington where coincidentally we also first saw one of the LOTR film trilogy. I’ll leave a link at the end to a description of the book ‘Erewhon’
Anyway, for those readers who aren’t rabid LOTR fans, hardcore wilderness hikers or just simply Kiwi’s , Mt St Sunday in the Rangitata valley was the site used for the Rohan city of Edoras in the second and third films. ‘Rangitata’ in native Maori variously translates as “day of lowering clouds”, “close sky”, and “the side of the sky”. The word awesome gets badly over-used today, especially by millennials whom have never experienced real awe even once !. For this old outdoorsman standing by the dusty track in the Rangitata valley was a truly awesome experience with occasional sunlight lancing down between dark clouds……i took a few photographs but had neither the kit or the skill to capture the raw majesty of the place.
I had to borrow this one and it is only a small copy of the original.
In this post and video i want to write about, and talk about overused words and terms, and the under use of language.
I once said in a post that i consider myself to be an uneducated person because i just about got through school up to 16 but never did ‘A’ levels and certainly never went to university. There are certain things that i never learnt to do well in a formal sense : one being writing and the other being maths, both of those being cornerstones of a ‘proper’ education i think.
I’m not so concerned about the university aspect nowadays when i see the dross that many of them seem to turn out like so many brainwashed sheep. If i have had an education, and i think that i have, it’s partially because i have always read a lot, partially that i have had a vocational/apprenticeship training and lastly because i have gained lots of different skills and knowledge in the outdoors. At some time i will try to explain that. The other side of my real education, i think, has been as an outdoorsman, iv’e said that i was never good at maths for example yet seem reasonably competent with spherical trigonometry for example……that’s astro-nav to you landlubbers !
For the last couple of years i have consciously been trying to widen my mental bandwidth by attending Dr Jordan Peterson’s virtual classroom and by broadening my choice of reading. For those that haven’t heard of him Dr Peterson is a clinical psychologist , academic and tenured professor who has put a lot of his work online. I was pleased to see that i already knew quite a few of the books on his list of required reading so that was a good start especially as he refers to literature so much.
Also related to his work i have taken on the idea of writing , in his own words “as though it was important” and i have learnt a lot about the art of writing through his work. I’m not trying to be an academic writer : just striving to be engaging and interesting one at least some of the time. It’s funny that he in one sense, and me in another, use the idea ‘fast and dirty’ to describe the work of writing……except that it’s also how i get stuff done in the workshop too . You would have to go and watch a few hours worth of his video’s to understand what he is saying but my version is basically to really go at it “have at it” for a few hours a day and just blast those ideas through the keyboard. It doesn’t matter that the spelling and word order is terrible at first as that can be all tidied up in the edit : not that i always achieve that i have to add.
Peterson espouses a lot of what sound at first like radical ideas : that for instance learning to express ourselves clearly in writing (and speech) might not only affect the way we think but might even be, quite literally ‘mind altering’ even down to a structural and biochemical level. He also talks a lot about the value and importance of having goals , for example that we are happier, less stressed and more positive when we are consciously working towards a goal…..even if the thing we are taking on is very tough at the time. In my own experience i get a lot of that when i am at sea for example or when i am working on a project that i am deeply engaged with.
I can and do look at old posts of mine and think “crikey that was bad”, but that’s an improvement on last year’s “that was awful” . Maybe at some time in the future i will write a post or even make a video and think “not so bad”……for now !
Well anyway lets get into the main material for the day.
Ok, so the title was a poor play on words and i only thought about it because my local river is the Tamar, i was thinking about Tolkien because of the link in the last video and then i remembered that last years sailing started on the east coast in the river Orwell so there you have how my mind works. Whether there is any connection between the man and the river i have no idea. The overall post connection here comes from thinking about the use of words and phrases, in this case from the novel 1984 by Goerge Orwell.
I don’t remember 1984 being a book on my school’s curriculum although we definitely did read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’. I don’t remember Animal Farm being particularly well taught but remember that many intellectuals at the time, possibly including our teacher, still thought that Marxism/Leninism was still a neat idea. I do though remember reading the book that blew that idea out of the water just a few years later and i will come around to that one in due course.
It’s possible that you haven’t read the book, if so that’s a shame because of the many expressions and concepts that have slipped into common use today stem directly from the book. I hardly need not mention ‘Big Brother‘ and the culture of continuous surveillance, ‘wrongthink’, 2 minutes hate, and the ‘ministry of truth’……all Orwellian ideas. Today George Orwell’s work is almost completely synonymous with the idea of a dystopian world , in fact ‘Orwellian/Dystopian often go together : one that is totalitarian and/or post apocalyptic.
I know that some people, at least in my own country claim that England is dystopian already, that 1984 is already here and the book is more training manual than novel. In this post i am going to explore that idea, spoiler alert though : most of it isn’t but maybe some of it is and more of it could easily be.
For those that haven’t read the book the basic story is this……England, in fact most of the world is in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic state after a brief nuclear war. During the war Colchester (England) was the target of a nuclear weapon….i did wonder “why Colchester”….it’s not that bad !. I jest, England has been annexed into a super-state and is now known simply as ‘Airstrip one’. There are only 3 super-states and they are in a permanent state of war with a continually shifting alliance between the 3. England has been taken over by a far left Stalinist like state, in fact Orwell’s idea was to explore what England under a Stalinist regime would be like.
Objective ‘truth’ has all-but disappeared, the ‘truth’ is what the inner party says it is and that changes on a frequent basis. When the current truth, which other side the state is aligned with for example changes, as it does…..then the record of the past is altered to show that has always been the case. The party essentially controls the past.
In 1984 society is stratified tightly into just 3 groups, first an inner party similar to the central committee of the Soviet Union,then an outer party, essentially the middle class and lastly the ‘proles‘….. uneducated workers. At the head of this is ‘Big Brother’ clearly a Stalin-esque figure. The country is run by 4 ministries : Ministry of Plenty (rationing and shortages) Ministry of Truth (propaganda) Ministry of love ( torture and brainwashing) and lastly the Ministry of peace (war and atrocity). Rationing and shortages are continuous and ongoing while at the same time the official propaganda is that things are continuously improving.
Society, especially the outer party/middle is largely under the continuous surveillance and control of the ‘thought police‘ via 2 way television-like ‘telescreens‘. A state of permanent war exists, public executions of enemy soldiers is entertainment as are graphic films of actual atrocities, these and the continuous bombardment of propaganda via ‘telescreens‘ and public announcements are all used to stoke hatred. Hatred is directly encouraged by the daily ‘2 minutes hate’ session which is compulsory and closely monitored. There is here a parallel with both the Stalinist Soviet Union and the North Korea of today in that public applause after the leader’s speeches is mandatory…..in fact nobody dare stop applauding until a public signal to stop is made.
I won’t spoil your (hopefully) reading of the book, rather i would like to examine the claim that England is already in an Orwellian/dystopian state.
A very good place to look at what other people say about this is the ‘Quora’ website on which anyone can go ask a question and anyone can post a reply. There are already many question and answer threads covering this kind of subject……for today though here is at least some of my take on the subject, so…..in my opinion….
We can dispense with the obvious things straight away. Firstly that we aren’t in a post apocalyptic, post nuclear strike era and neither are we under a Stalinist, one-party rule. We don’t have a ‘Big brother’ with a cult of personality, in fact our own politicians seem devoid of personality except for the buffoons and the inept. We definitely do have politicians though that still believe totally in the Marxist/Leninist ideology and who would still like to create a form of ‘ingsoc,
In my own view we don’t have a one party, one ideology state like the few remaining Communist states do, in fact if anything out own society seems to be flying apart and polarising more extremely to opposite ends of the political spectrum.
We might say that we aren’t in a state of permanent war although we do seem to be in a continuous state of high alert over the threat of terror….that one looks as though it will run and run with no end in sight. There is a reasonable claim that the threat of terror and the response to it has created several new encroachments on civil liberty for example. Some would claim that the continuous threat of terror is nothing but a state driven ‘false-flag’ even though Islamic terrorism is a genuine threat in most of Europe now.
We clearly enjoy a much higher standard of living than do the people in Orwell’s ‘airstrip one’, we don’t for example have continuous shortages and permanent rationing. Nor do we have as strictly stratified society as Orwell described. It gets slightly more difficult to claim that we are not subject to continuous government and media driven propaganda. Many might claim that what comes out of our state broadcasting service is nothing more than ‘group-think’ and is vastly at odds with reality. I think i could present a good argument that the ‘progressive’ media and government combined has created a kind of hegemonic ‘right-think’ which has become authoritarian although not yet totalitarian……and done so for seemingly laudable reasons.
One good example of how this can work comes not from the UK but from another, even more ‘progressive’ society , in this case Canada, who’s laws and culture were at least primarily built on the English model. The example i am thinking of is Bill C16 via which the government have made certain expressions not desirable but now mandatory in speech. That seems to be a good example where a good ‘progressive’ idea is taken to the level of mandatory/authoritarian but not (yet) totalitarian.
Where we are closest in the UK to the Orwellian nightmare today might be in the stifling of necasary oppostion to the central narrative and in the culture of surveillance. Add to that the lack of privacy and what could easily be described as thoughtcrime/wrongthink : it’s that idea that i am going to focus on today. What i sense in the UK, and what i have myself is a deep distrust of our own mainstream media and government which not not only mis-represents facts but actively propagates lies as facts.
In 1984, if you were one of the outer party/middle class you would be under continuous surveillance via your ‘telescreen’ at home and presumably something similar at work. Unlike your modern television you would never have been able to turn the telescreen off, only turn the sound down a bit. The authorities/thought police not only watch your every expression and sound you make but will also communicate with you directly through the same screen.
Obviously Orwell was writing before the time of a TV in every home (very nearly) and the internet hadn’t even been thought of then. Today there isn’t a whole government department actively watching you via your own TV or computer although the technology does exist. Today you are much more likely to have certain actions, speech or text, monitored but not individually in most cases but rather via sophisticated , near AI, computer algorythyms.
Many would claim that the UK is a surveillance culture and would cite the proof of that as being the sheer volume of CCTV camera’s seemingly on every high street, motorway or shopping centre. Add to those the thousands of ANPR camera’s, traffic ‘enforcement’ camera’s and the like. Add to the visible and hidden camera’s and recordings the more covert monitoring of your telephone calls, texts, tweets, facebook messages and internet pages and it all starts looking highly intrusive. If you don’t believe this then go and look at the Metropolitan police’s own website and statistics for so called ‘hate’ crime that has an online content.
To the best of my knowledge though in the UK at least, there is no centralised government ministry monitoring our every move and every tweet. Note though that there may be in other countries already. There might be central, and AI based, monitoring of mobile phone and text messages by GCHQ here and the NSA (national signals agency) in the USA. Generally CCTV is managed by local authorities and is claimed to be there to protect the public and deter crime, clearly it does neither and only seems to help marginally after a crime is committed. If there is anyone watching banks of monitor screens to see what you are up to it is much more likely to be at one of the motorway control centres or the security guy at the local supermarket.
If you want to see what a centrally monitored and tightly controlled culture actively linked to high-technology and totalitarianism looks like then go and study modern day China and it’s system of social credit.
Where this, in the UK, quickly breaks down though is in 2 areas, firstly the rising number of arrests and convictions for so called ‘hate-speech’ which, according to a reading of the home office website is given equivalence with violence against the person. You might disagree but i think there is a major difference between a physical assault and being a douchebag online. I also seem to be able to conflate online ‘hate-speech’ with personal hate-thought, wrong thought or Orwellian wrongthink .
In the first instance i checked with the home office data for hate crime and then the Metropolitan police’s own website for their data on arrests for such things as race or religious related ‘hate‘ speech. After several hours of trying to interpret graphs and data i think i have worked out that something like a nasty tweet for example is grouped with hate crime but with an online element. To me there does seem a clear difference between a smack in the nose and an offensive online message but that doesn’t seem to be the case according to home office data. Did you also know for example that anti-semitic hate (speech) is regarded as a crime as is anti-islamic (speech) but strangely our own ‘native’ Christianity isn’t protected in the same way.
That’s going off topic a bit but when i see a newspaper article claiming that around 9 people a day are charged with online based ‘hate’ speech crimes then i sit up and take notice.
The legal situation in the UK is , i think, complicated by us not having something like the USA’s first amendment right…the right to free expression. In the UK freedom of expression is essentially a negative right and the various pieces of relevant legislation even seem contradictory but hey ! i’m not an expert, hardly even competent to pass opinion.
The second area that i would like to mention is the corporate world and it’s apparent willingness to be the arbiter of speech, expression and therefore expression of thought. In my previous post i highlighted the de-platforming, ‘un-personing’ if you will of youtuber Sargon of Akkad among others. He wasn’t the first though, before him Alex Jones was taken down by nearly all the major online tech companies and seemingly in collusion…..although they claimed there was no such concerted action.
A similar thing happened to some bloke called Robinson in the UK. Now you may say that Jones was just a rabid nutjob and Robinson had links to the far right in the UK. However as far as i know guilt by association isn’t a crime, yet, in the UK but seems to be if you listen to many MP’s and mainstream media. In that case it’s very apparent that if you hold a ‘wrongthink‘ opinion, as it seems some 78% of us do then we are just regarded as Knuckle dragging bigots and retards.
The post needed a boat….i thought.
A very good question to ask in the UK might be “is truth suppressed” and in my opinion the answer has to be a solid yes. I will only refer to one example and that is the appalling political and police (among others) suppression of the facts surrounding the grooming, rape and trading of young English and Sikh girls by Muslim gangs , mainly but not totally in the area i used to live and during the time i lived there and heard nothing about.
Anyway. let’s move this on.
So, here’s an odd question : what happened in the year after 1984, in literature that is ?, actually no, here’s a broader question : along the lines of my recent little slide show in ‘The Golden age” what things did happen in 1985 ?
George Orwell’s novel is, as it should be, very well known. It even makes the grade for JBP’S list of most important books so i can honestly say iv’e read at least one of them. Orwell’s novel 1984 has been reviewed , critiqued and dissected by far more capable commentators than me and more than one of those writers considered that Orwell had got it wrong….that a totalitarian regime wasn’t the most efficient way of controlling a population. Alduous Huxley, for example, thought that a population could be better controlled if it was allowed to self-seek just enough pleasure, in a letter to Orwell , Alduous Huxley wrote
” Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.” (wikipedia)
However….what about 1985 ?…….from Burgee to Burgess perhaps ! ok, i’ll get me coat….
This morning, as this post was due to go live i was still struggling to find a way of concluding the piece. Part of the problem with that is that i have been working every hour on the boat and then disappearing into the workshop at night to continue the work there. All that means is that i haven’t been sitting at the computer for hours and hours of tapping away at the keyboard.
I was trying to find a way of segueing from the state tyranny of 1984 to the lesser but more pervasive cultural and corporate hegemony/tyranny of 2019 : for sure that would take an entire post just to explain but here’s a couple of spoilers if you will.
I mention the corporate hegemony/tyranny because of the way that the tech giants of silicone valley have been behaving recently : everything from de-platforming and de-personing dissenting voices to shifting into a highly political stance on censorship and ‘acceptable’ lines of thought and ‘correct’ speech….hmm….shades of wrongthink again, and all from a the one part of the world culture that should absolutely be championing freedom of expression.
The last word, for today, comes from the UK and features a truly bizarre use of police time and the completely inappropriate arrest and temporary inprisonment of a ‘TERF’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Now, here’s a surprise : me defending a ‘TERF’….but….
The person in question, Kate Scottow, a 38 year old mother was arrested at home, in front of her children for the heinous crime of calling a biological male a man…and also calling him a fake lawyer. The ‘man’ in question is of course a ‘trans-male’ and an activist for so called ‘trans’ rights. Yes…seriously….arrested, charged and held in cells for holding and expressing an opinion in the ‘inclusive’ culture of the UK.
As we sailors say “you couldn’t make this shit up” !