Skip to comments.Orwell's Warning: Collectivism
Posted on 02/15/2003 11:13:56 AM PST by G. Stolyarov II
It is seldom that a figure of extraordinary courage and cunning insight emerges into the literary arena and foretells aspects of society decades into the future, unpredictable within the eyes of mediocrity, but in the foreground of the visionary's insight. It is granted that none has been able to precisely describe a futuristic world, yet the proximity to which English author Eric Blair (more commonly identifiable by the pseudonym, George Orwell) had arrived to portions of society at present deserves commendation at the least. It is granted, of course, that the United States of America at present is of a dramatically more pleasant atmosphere than the oppressive tyranny of Ingsoc in Oceania, and the restrictions of such a collectivist regime are unthinkable given current conditions within this country. But what are they compared to fifty-four years ago? Few persons in 1949 possessed the slightest suspicion that the turmoil of the "Sixties" (which Orwell had alluded to) would resonate throughout this nation, bringing with it tidal waves of fanaticism, regulation, suicidism, antiprogressivism, nihilism, animism, primitivism, and the ultimate foundation of them all, relativism. Within the struggle between the old proponents of logic and objective moral values and the "Live and Let Die" man-haters that were cronies of a longed for Big Brother, the advocates of capitalism and progress had surrendered ground continually. Our society stands now at the brink of a decaying dystopia similar to the one which the penetrating genius had feared would emerge. There are yet time and means to return onto the path of aspiration, but a necessary condition is detection of the threat. Indeed, the menace is all the more frightening since it originates from a source which at first glance would be exempt from suspicion but is in reality littered with corruption. Alas, from the violent anti-war (may the reader note the paradox in comparison to the events of 1984 and retain it in focus!) rallies of the Decade of Terror originated a generation of anti-intellectual intelligentsia, illogical professors, social regulators in the name of "free perception", anti-discrimination racists, collectivist power seekers. Although the tumult of the failed activism for decadence has subsided, these relics of the real Ingsoc continue to carry on such dogma as Orwell had feared and indoctrinate the most susceptible portions of this nation's populace, its youth. Following a more thorough examination, it will become evident that such a turn of events is precisely what the author of 1984 had described as the foundation of the Party Regime. For such a reason it is of urgent and substantial necessity for the proponents of free thought and prosperity to spot the applicable connections within the writings of Orwell regarding the present effort by many to establish a similar "eternal" hold upon the lives of individuals. Herein I shall endeavor to craft a line of essays in which the fundamentals of the dire situation forecasted by Mr. Orwell shall be examined, then connected with happenings in the world of the genuine present.
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The world of Ingsoc (English Socialism) is a tribalist's vision. In this society there exists not a single spot secure from the all-seeing eyes of Big Brother, the mythical figurehead of the dominant oligarchy. This creature, established for a symbolic purpose to a greater extent than a practical one, is the rallying point for the masses. From early childhood the populace is trained to worship him with fanatical fervor aimed in his direction, a destructive hatred aimed at all else. Juvenile groups, similar in many respects to the Pioneers of the Soviet Union and the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany, draft children for the purpose of transforming those malleable organisms into tools of the establishment. "What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother-- it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outward, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children." (p. 24) By absorbing the lives of the youth into the Party mechanism from their earliest years, an impulsive devotion to "the whole" or "the group" is fostered within them.
It may be of a striking character to the reader to become exposed to such a seeming contradiction, i.e. the precise aspects of behavior which have constantly posed a threat to societal order, viciousness, crudeness, stereotype, destructive inclinations, are utilized here for the maintenance of the dominant elite. Yet it is essential to note that this particular social order is not instituted for the purpose of preserving individual liberty and comfort, characteristics which have been the basis of government within the United States. The genuine motivation of the Party is unmasked by one of its most formidable, treacherous, and cunning proponents, one, O'Brien, in his conversation with a subdued rebel against the dictatorship, the principal character, Winston Smith. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" (p. 217) This misconstrued image of objectives and the faulty idol of power so worshipped by the Party is the cause of an order which thrives on chaos.
A paradox? Alas, such an abomination is a genuine possibility. In what manner can this societal system be founded upon chaos? Let us venture on the following chain of reasoning. It is evident that human beings are organisms of immense complexity, the intricacies of their biological mechanisms and the trillions of chemical interactions occurring every second within their minds rendering them capable of prospering and thriving in the Absolute Reality. The maintenance of such complexity results in a state of comfort, or a lack of immediate threats to the cohesion of one's organism. Such a condition permits a human being to transcend the realm of activity intended for the mere purpose of warding off these threats to the structure of his system and toward deeds which interact with the world for such aims as those which would acquire an amelioration of the individual's present situation. If a totalitarian state is to emerge which wishes to attain the absolute dominance envisioned by O'Brien, it must, of course, curtail the capacity of such persons to exist in settings of comfort, where the individuals are masters of their own lives and not obsequiously dependent upon Party bureaucrats. Another segment of conversation between O'Brien and Smith secures the validity of such an insight. "-'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?' Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said." (p. 219)
Whereas a society which holds as its foundation the value of such an amelioration, known in individual terms as self-improvement, in global terms as progress, respects the necessity of comfort for an individual, a society which deems to be its central precept power for its own sake and defines power by its capacity inflict misery upon individuals will inevitably contribute to the decline and devastation of the said organisms, whose complexity is necessary for the maintenance of comfort. O'Brien expounds upon this doctrine of undermining the order present within complex structures. "Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid, hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy-- everything... There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no employment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always-- do not forget this, Winston-- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-- forever." (p. 220) Not merely will the complexity of the human organism be degraded through the imposition of immediate menaces to the individual's welfare, but also will the intricate institutions of beauty, the arts and the sciences, into which thousands of men have poured and do pour countless hours of their lives in order to establish products pleasing in utility and aesthetic quality (all founded upon scientifically verified mathematical patterns within these objects of marvelous complexity), become annihilated as an obstacle to what? The ability to inflict suffering, the warped definition of power which the Party elite had crafted for itself. This power, by destructing order, eliminating refinement, crushing ascension, establishes a lowly system which is the direct opposite of the above qualities, i.e. one of chaos, or a lack of the attitudes and techniques required to further the cause of amelioration. Yet for such a simple and frightening task as the Party bureaucrats had defined for themselves, the very existence of complexity is a hindrance!
Hence it is possible to comprehend the exploitation of negative impulses in children that a totalitarian regime would undergo, since such emotions are a desired end within the autocrats of these societal "orders". Chaos is their method of inflicting suffering because chaos is suffering, and suffering is their impression of "power". Yet this chaos cannot be extracted from the populace unless the populace is coerced into a state of instinctive simplicity, where the species or the tribe are the sole considerations instead of the individual. If this is the case, then such "power", the capacity to inflict suffering, is required for the cohesion of an artificial whole, embodied within the Party, which instincts frequently exert themselves upon. The Party blatantly rejects individualism, noting that it is the foundation of the precise ascension that cripples its dominance. "Can you not understand, Winston, that the individual is only a cell? The weariness of the cell is the vigor of the organism. Do you die when you cut your fingernails?" (p. 217)
Thus states O'Brien, verifying the irrefutable link between collectivism and chaos, the former being a vital means for the latter. It is this view which causes the oligarchy to perceive collectivism to be a necessary condition to power as well. "-'We are the priests of power,' he said. 'God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan, *Freedom is Slavery.* Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone-- free-- the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body-- but, above all, over the mind. Power over matter-- external reality, as you would call it-- is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.'" (p. 218) Thus, a significant insight concerning this and all totalitarian societies has been reached. A collective system inevitably derives its power from the deprivation and suffering of individuals.
Yet is such a definition of power as the capacity to inflict suffering and manipulate human beings genuine? O'Brien uses as a justification the fallibility of the individual in his transience and seeks to therefore rationalize the Party's aspiration for an immortal "whole". Yet the immortality of a whole, the human species, this author will argue, is on the verge of becoming assured in perpetuity, withdrawing therefore any need for such a structure as the Party to exist. The human species as whole will continue to persist so long as even a single couple remains. If it is a possibility to evade any natural calamity which the hostile environment would hurl upon them, there is no greater menace. Provided that mankind can transfer itself onto other worlds and settle in a diversity of locations, local or even global cataclysms, themselves improbable, will not destroy the objective of men's instincts (which, according to the idealized Darwinian theory strive for the survival of the species). What can accomplish such an objective? Advanced spacecraft, terraforming technology, genetic engineering (to institute less flawed DNA sequences), machinery, automatons, in summation, technological progress. Yet technological progress is a possibility only in such instances where no immediate threats exist to the individual's organism, i.e. a condition of comfort. The primitive hunter-gatherer groups which had stalked nomadic critters for a million years prior to the advent of agriculture did not possess the luxury of leisure. They struggled every fleeting moment of their unbearably concise existences for the procurement of bare-minimum sustenance. The agriculturalist, enjoying a food surplus and a freedom from immediate duty, was free to expand his realm of dominance to attain greater proximity to such a point where man's survival as a species becomes assured. This is precisely because the agriculturalist was no longer to an absolute degree oppressed by nature. Where he was oppressed by human tyranny, in Mesoamerica, in Celtic Europe, in Oceania (note the parallels between the conditions in such a wilderness and those of its namesake in 1984), the society remained in a technologically backward state until such a time when it became civilized by more cultivated neighbors. Thus, it has been demonstrated that a repression of the individual is a repression of progress, which is a repression of the greatest whole that is of significance, the human species. If survival of the human species is not guaranteed by such a stalling of progress as the Party envisions, then the Party, a subdivision of the human species, will fail and bring about the collapse of man. This is for the reason that the Party embraces collectivism, which, as is the next logical derivation, leads to the collapse of man.
An apt description of Ayn Rand whose "Atlas Shrugged" is much more influential than Orwell's "1984."