Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I just finished reading Orwell's 1984.

I think we read excerpts in high school. There was a lot that I didn't remember, and a lot of sex. I read it because Jonathan has to read it for school. I am pretty sure that we did read Huxley's Brave New World, and I know I read We by Zamyatin in one of my Russian classes in college... I still have that one on the bookshelf.

1984 is a philosophically disturbing book.

The most frightening thing is the fact that a number of his predictions have come true and are surrounding us all the time, but we are like frogs in a pan of water that is slowly coming to a boil.

At its core, 1984 is about whether absolute truth exists. Winston Smith, the protagonist, believes that it does, and that he has proof that there is absolute truth which reveals that "the party" which rules his existence is evil, deceitful and dangerous. Because of his mistrust of the party, Winston rebels and tries to find a resistance movement. Instead, he falls into the hands of the party where he is tortured and brainwashed until he ultimately accepts that there is no truth outside of what the party teaches. There is a terrible scene where an inner party member, O'Brien, oversees Winston's torture while teaching him that 2 + 2 is not 4 if the party says it is 5. O'Brien somehow has insight into Winston's thoughts, and it is not enough for Winston to merely say that 2 + 2 = 5 if that is what the party decrees. He actually has to believe it, and O'Brien can tell whether he does.

Towards the end of the book, Winston is "intellectually purified," which means that he will accept and believe what the party says about anything. However, the last stage of his "purification" is emotional. He is not completely remade for the purpose of the party until he has utterly betrayed the woman he supposedly loves (at any rate, the woman with whom he has a satisfying sexual relationship; there is not any indication in the book that their relationship ever extends much beyond animal lust). He is subjected to a horrific torture that exploits his deepest phobia, and he has to wish that it would happen to her, specifically, instead of to himself in order to escape it. Of course, the pain and fear are so great, so expressly designed to be unbearable to him, that he betrays her in the first instant that he realizes that this is what will save him. He never even questions, "Can I betray her like this?" The only question in his mind is "How can I avoid this?"

Throughout the book, the party rewrites history to suit itself and everyone must always accept and believe the party line exactly is it is presented. There is a mantra: "He who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future." The party controls the present through fear, technology, violence and total control of all media at all times. The technology that Orwell predicted is laughable. Everything is in print, and old records are continually burned while revised records replace them as facts change according to the will of the party. Winston actually works in the "Ministry of Truth" burning old records and writing new ones, and the party expects him not to notice that this is duplicity.

One of the things that frightens me is this: they are already rewriting history textbooks. The Pilgrims, they say, came to America because they were unhappy about King George's taxation system. Freedom of religion? Religious persecution? Hogwash, they tell us now. That was just a cover to make the pilgrims (aka Rapists of Native American Culture) look good, except, actually, it was a pure fiction. The pilgrims were not Christian or moral people at all, and they committed every imaginable moral outrage both against the native Americans and against one another. This is seriously what the kids in school are being taught these days. This has been "discovered" and added to modern history textbooks, although for generations past it was "unknown."

And concerning absolute truth: in my experience in college, even though it was 25 years ago, there was already a denial of the existence of absolute truth. Philosophy classes scoffed at the idea that there could possibly be a universal, absolute truth outside of the perceptions of the individual. At one point in 1984, O'Brien tells Winston that he can do anything, he could float in the center of the room if he so desired, there is no absolute such as gravity. Later, Winston thinks back to the conversation and agrees with O'Brien because, he muses, if O'Brien believes that he is floating in the middle of the room, and so do I, then he is, it is true.

Modern philosophers believe this. I have met modern philosophers who believe this. They have already totally removed logic from the educational system. Logic is not only not encouraged, it is actively discouraged. I don't know what you want to call these people... liberals? modern intellectuals? philosophical educators? But whatever their name is, they scoff at logic and act as though it is nothing, baseless, useless. We are already living the nightmare of 1984, and we just do not know it.

Beyond that, these philosophies are fast creeping into educational philosophy. "Who are you to tell a student that his answer is not right?" This is commonly taught in secular education classes today. Teachers-in-training are encouraged (I am using passive voice because I do not know how to name the people who are doing this) to understand their students, to be open to any and every possible answer. If the student says that 2 + 2 = 5, then maybe there is some way that he is perceiving the problem that differs from your experience, and you need to be open to how his personal perception makes his answer correct. I am not making this up; I have a friend who actually sat through a college lecture where the professor presented this philosophy. And not only did the professor present it from a serious point of view, he was unabashedly critical of anyone who would be bigoted enough to insist that there was only one correct answer to a math problem.

This phenomenon is what 1984 society calls "doublethink." It has to do with actively accepting alternative truths in your mind without concern for how they contradict one another. The USA is on a fast track to adopting this world view lens. The abolition of logic was one of the first steps.

In 1984, the party is creating a new language, called "Newspeak." The point of "Newspeak" is to reduce the language to a minimum of words that will make it virtually impossible for anyone to express any thought that is not in accord with party doctrine. Imagery, abstract thought and analogies are strictly forbidden. Although our government is not actively killing words, our society is certainly regressing in literacy, particularly in regard to vocabulary. Today's average student at the high school level is incapable of reading and understanding many documents that were written as recently as 50 years ago. Nobody reads the Constitution or the Bill of Rights anymore. Citizens under the age of twenty have an appalling lack of familiarity with most words of more than three syllables. In my own community, people do not understand jokes from Broadway plays that were written in the 1960's, as evidenced by the lack of response at the local high school's annual musical drama performance each year. Words that used to describe feelings, appearances, tendencies, etc. have now been replaced with the crassest of curse words. Twenty years ago I heard a man boast that he could use a particular four-letter-word as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. That was twenty years ago. Today it goes without saying, and nobody remembers what words anyone ever would have used instead.

Our society has rejected absolute truth, denigrated logic, and forsaken the very vocabulary of our language. Abstract thought no longer has purpose or value. I believe they even took the analogy section off the SATs (if not, they plan to do so soon). The people of our country are weak minded and unable to think. Have you seen any TV ads recently? They have nothing to do with anything; humor or sex is more likely to sell a product than actual facts about what something can do. Even churches, which should be bastions of truth, wisdom and illumination, cow-tow to the popular notion of super-simplifying everything because we don't want anyone to be bored.

The USA is ripe for something awful to happen. We have less defenses each decade. Those who try to think clearly are scorned and abased.

Our citizens think that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are theirs automatically. They think that these ideals are true the world over, simply because it is what they desire. They are surprised when people go to foreign countries and are not accorded the respect that they believe the American Constitution grants them. They think they have an automatic right to food, designer clothes, health care, and cable TV, regardless of their behavior, and that "somebody else" (probably the government, although they despise the government) will provide it.

I fear that we will have a rude awakening. I pray God protects His children in that day.

A couple of last things. In 1984 Orwell equates sexual repression with government totalitarianism, and unbridled sexual expression with freedom and love. He was completely wrong about this. Orwell thought that by removing the pleasure of sex, the government would break down the family structure and replace it with loyalty to "the party." He failed to realize that sexual purity--not repression, but self-control leading to faithfulness and loyalty--is what makes a family unit strong. If a government wants to break down the family structure, all it has to do is encourage the unchecked expression of sexual lust; the family will dissolve within a generation (this has already been demonstrated).

At one point near the end of the book, as Winston is being remade into a pure party member, he writes, "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY" and then, "TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE" and finally, as the last step in his progression, "GOD IS POWER." This really bothered me. The whole process of "purifying" Winston seemed like a perverted, sacrilegious view of the sanctification that takes place in a Christian through the power of the Holy Spirit after the Christian has accepted salvation from God through the death of Christ. It seemed to me that Orwell was poking fun at the idea of Christ saving us from sin so that we could be free from sin and, as Paul explains it in the book of Romans, slaves of righteousness, beautifully conforming to the image of Christ.

Probably I have spent more time meditating on Romans than Orwell ever did. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that he did not mean this as a direct attack on Christianity.

God does define the meanings of everything. God is power, or, as I prefer to say, almighty. But God doesn't change. He does not capriciously redefine things to suit His purposes. He doesn't need to! The Bible says more than once that God is unchanging, that He does not shift like shadows. His plans are perfect and eternal. God does not rewrite the past. Look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, and how God preserved them, intact, throughout centuries. God is truth. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me." Jesus also said, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." At one point in 1984, Orwell contemplates the Catholic Church and wonders why it held out with power for so much longer than most governments. Of course, he was probably an atheist, unable to consider that the Catholic Church might actually be based on something absolutely true, that universal truth might have something to do with its longevity even if the truth was observed and acknowledged imperfectly.

In conclusion, I cannot help but contrast Winston's instant capitulation to betrayal with Jesus' perfect steadfastness in obeying His Father and dying for the sins of the world. Winston had to face his deepest fear: rats. Jesus, only begotten Son of the Most High God, had to face something even worse: the consolidated sins of all humanity. Jesus was God in human flesh, and God, the Bible says, cannot even look at sin. Jesus not only looked at sin, he bore it, in His body. He experienced Hell. He was disassociated from the Father who had to turn His face away while it happened. For Jesus, rats would have been mere child's play in comparison. But He never once considered betraying His Father, or us. Because of His great love, Christ died for us. How thankful I am that He did. How thankful I am that He is the truth.

In 1984, the girl (Julia) tells Winston at one point, "They can't get inside of you." The end of the book proves that she is wrong, they got inside of Winston. They controlled his mind. Well, God tells us that they can't control our minds, if we belong to Him. I pray that I will ever love Him, ever be faithful to Him, ever follow Him... if I encounter torture, persecution, "truth serum" drugs, or even Alzheimer's disease. May my mind always belong to the Lord of truth and the God of my salvation.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, 'For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 8:35-39


Anonymous said...

This book reminds me, albeit loosly, of a movie my kid brought home many years ago (V for Vendetta). It also reminds me of parts of WWII. God willing the world will get better!

Ruth said...

Ruth, that's an amazing post. I often wondered what that book was about. Dark stuff. You are strong and sometimes blunt in what you say and I like that.
Well done.