December 27, 2019

DISPATCHES FROM THE MEMORY HOLE. Mashable: 2010s = 1984: The decade we finally understood Orwell.

To be a totalitarian, he knew from his contemporary totalitarians, you had to seize control of truth itself. You had to redefine truth as “whatever we say it is.” You had to falsify memories and photos and rewrite documents. Your people could be aware that all this was going on, so long as they kept that awareness to themselves and carried on (which is what doublethink is all about).

The upshot is, Winston Smith is gaslit to hell and back. He spends the entire novel wondering exactly what the truth is. Is it even 1984? He isn’t sure. Does Big Brother actually physically exist somewhere in Oceania, or is he just a symbol? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Winston is what passes for well-educated in his world; he still remembers the name “Shakespeare.” He’s smart enough not to believe the obvious propaganda accepted by the vast majority, but it doesn’t matter. The novel is about him being worn down, metaphorically and physically, until he’s just too tired and jaded to hold back the tide of screaming nonsense.

Don’t call him Winston Smith. Call him Mr. 2019. Because it’s looking increasingly like we live in Oceania. That fictional state was basically the British Isles, North America, and South America. Now the leaders of the largest countries in each of those regions — Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro — are men who have learned to flood the zone with obvious lies, because their opponents simply don’t have the time or energy to deal them all.

As Tom Wolfe famously wrote about the far left versus the center-left LBJ administration in “The Intelligent Coed’s Guide to America,” as collated in his 1982 anthology of his nonfiction, The Purple Decades:

“For the past hour I have my eyes fixed on the doors here,” [Gunter Grass] said. “You talk about fascism and police repression. In Germany when I was a student, they come through those doors long ago. Here they must be very slow.”

Grass was enjoying himself for the first time all evening. He was not simply saying, “You really don’t have so much to worry about.” He was indulging his sense of the absurd. He was saying: “You American intellectuals—you want so desperately to feel besieged and persecuted!”

He sounded like Jean-François Revel, a French socialist writer who talks about one of the great unexplained phenomena of modern astronomy: namely, that the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe.

* * * * * * * *

By 1967 Lyndon Johnson may have been the very generalissimo of American imperialism in Southeast Asia—but back here in the U.S. the citizens were enjoying freedom of expression and freedom of dissent to a rather astonishing degree. For example, the only major Western country that allowed public showings of MacBird—a play that had Lyndon Johnson murdering John F. Kennedy in order to become President—was the United States (Lyndon Johnson, President). The citizens of this fascist bastion, the United States, unaccountably had, and exercised, the most extraordinary political freedom and civil rights in all history. In fact, the government, under the same Johnson, had begun the novel experiment of sending organizers into the slums—in the Community Action phase of the poverty program—to mobilize minority groups to rise up against the government and demand a bigger slice of the pie. (They obliged.)

And, speaking of community organizers, socialism, and Mashable’s aforementioned “obvious lies,” Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” for 2013 goes entirely unreferenced in their look back at the 2010s, which apparently started less than three years ago:

As Michael Barone noted in 2013, “More than all past presidents, Obama uses 1917 Espionage Act to go after reporters.” And yet, in Mashable’s article on the past decade, CTRL-F, “Obama” brings up zero returns.

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