Friday, February 3, 2017

Orwell's "1984": The Novel To Read For The Trump Era

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge truth or falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."- John F. Kennedy

Emmanuel Goldstein - below- the Ultra "terrorist" in '1984'. Oceania's enforcers went crazy trying to ferret out all his allies for 'thought crimes'. Are we near such a future in the U.S.?

With Kellyanne Conway's recent defense of "alternative facts", it should  come as no surprise that sales of George Orwell's "1984" (written in 1949) are spiking beyond all expectations. It appears sensible people in the country wish to understand how governments can debase and mutate language in order to control thought. If a government is successful in controlling thought then it has a clear path to spreading propaganda and brainwashing many of its citizens.

In previous posts I've given examples of assorted deformations of language, mainly the substitution of political euphemisms for events or actions that don't need any soft soaping, because they are what they freaking are. Some examples:

"enhanced interrogation" for torture

"rendition" to remove someone to a hidden site for purposes of "enhanced interrogation"

"Collateral damage" - deaths caused to civilians when bombings or attacks are indiscriminately launched

And the classic:

"war on terror" - when one cannot make war on a mode or strategy. One makes war on a nation state.

Other examples of the uses of euphemism are well known - mostly employed by Republicans and conservatives for the purpose of mind-fucking, such as "DEATH taxes" for estate taxes, and "entitlements" for Social Security and Medicare, when people have to actually pay in for the former (out of each paycheck) and have to pay nearly $250,000 over a lifetime for what Medicare doesn't cover, including dental care.

Then there is the more recent  use of  "scandal" to replace "conspiracy". Thus, we are now supposed to accept "the Watergate scandal" as opposed to Watergate conspiracy, and the "Iran-Contra scandal" as opposed to Iran-Contra conspiracy. The effort here clearly to expunge the concept of political conspiracy from public consciousness.

With the ascension of Trump to power, along with the appointment of a long time propagandist (Steve Bannon) to a top security post, we are in a language skewering era that rivals or exceeds anything that came before, and may be one of a kind.  Trump's assorted spielers, like Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, can seemingly blurt anything they want without most media doing due diligence. Spicer actually had the chutzpah to accuse former deputy AG Sally Yates of "betrayal" for her principled stance to defend the constitution from a clearly lawless executive order. Some Trumpies, so smitten with language mutation, have actually gone off the rails totally and called it "treason". Well, they need to read Orwell's "1984" to get a grip. Taking a principled stand of dissent to defend the core of American values (in the Constitution) is emphatically not "treason".

The plot of the Orwell novel follows an everyman drone who lives in Oceania, specifically in a region formerly known as England. The tenor of the scenes and descriptions clearly shows a society in a state of perpetual war. There are bombed out shells of buildings all around, and Winston himself lives in a dilapidated apartment.

More to the point, the society of Oceania is controlled by an omnipresent, totalitarian agency (INGSOC) which monitors citizens comings and goings, as well as erasing and altering evidence of the past as it distorts the truth by continually altering the language - even in dictionaries. (The defining language being Newspeak).    Kids in INGSOC uniforms are mandated to report every bit of odd behavior detected in adults - whether 'proles' or those like Winston Smith, charged with altering the language to Newspeak in their little agency cubbyholes.

To fix ideas, throughout the novel readers are introduced to a litany of phrases and terms describing the Oceania government's actions such as: "doublethink" (believing contradictory things and "Big Brother" the ever present controlling image on every citizen's monitor screen.

The arch villain of the Oceania state and Big Brother is intellectual Emmanuel Goldstein. One sees that  at every interlude the hapless denizens of Oceania must sit in vast halls  as Goldstein's face appears on a screen  - whereupon they begin screaming  'TRAITOR!' until they're delirious and emotionally spent.

What vile deed did this "traitor" Goldstein commit? Well,  insisting that citizens think and reason beyond Big Brother's endless lies such as "war is peace'.  Instead Goldstein argued that continuous war was used to siphon off the wealth of society to keep people living at bare subsistence. Goldstein's exact words:

"The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. "

What or who represents Goldstein in the Trump era?  From what we've seen, it is anyone, or any group that  challenges what it is being told to believe by the so-called authority. Such dissenters  would be the "liberal" media as well as reflective politicians and all intellectuals worth the name. Thus, when Kellyanne Conway and other Trump lackeys (e.g. Sean Spicer) insisted the rest of us were wrong when we said his inauguration crowd was less than those for Obama (in 2009, 2013), it evoked the words from "1984":

"The party told you to reject the evidence of  your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

Compare that to Spicer's claim of "record breaking crowds" at his inauguration despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The takeaway here is that those who read "1984" are likely to be more prepared as the Trump blitz on language and evidence continues. These readers will see a fictional portrayal of what is playing out on many levels right now.

Professor Heath Brown, an expert in presidential translations at John Jay College in New York, quoted in today's Colorado Springs Independent, observed:

"The Trump administration is obsessed with controlling the message".

This we must resist with every fiber of our intellectual being. Those who haven't read Orwell's book, you might want to do so before the Trump first term runs to the conclusion of its first year. By then who knows how much havoc will be wrought on thought and  intellectuals who are the embodiment of 1984's Goldstein.

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