Saturday, March 28, 2009

Has Orwell's "1984" been superseded by "1985", a voluntarily accepted "Soft Totalitarianism"?

Pat did a post recently called 1985. He was quoting an article in the British Spectator about voluntary Orwellianism, where it's not forced on people but voluntarily embraced by them. Creepy.

This article at the Brussel's Journal had a similar theme, and in part, examines how voluntary Orwellianism works:

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Political Correctness, and Soft Totalitarianism
[...] Bradbury, a man of letters, grasped with admirable certitude the fundamental relation of literacy and literature to the civilized order. The written word functions impersonally and abstractly: it mediates non-resentful relations between individuals and helps the individual to understand whether the institutions of his society are fulfilling or distorting their mission. The written word supports objectivity, criticism, and analysis: it enlarges and depends awareness and thus supports the civic order of the modern republics, as they came to be at the end of the Nineteenth Century. Literacy is a presupposition of the free circulation of values in the modern market. The spoken word, on the other hand, is, as it has been immemorially, personal, agonistic, and emotional. The theoreticians of orality and literacy associate the spoken word with primitive society, with tribalism, and with shame-culture – or frankly with the crudity of political propaganda. In a modern context, as Bradbury sees it, any lapse from cultivated literacy in a critical, cue-giving nucleus of the educated population represents a lapse from civilization, a deterioration of the social scene, and an instance of decline towards new savagery.

Big-screen, high-definition television sets therefore do not a civilization make, either in our actual world or Bradbury’s prophetic representation of it from fifty years ago. Conformity, on the other hand, television is good at establishing, and along with conformity all the bullying totems the taboos that hedge in thought and discussion and so disarm the society from taking critical stock of itself or judging the leadership or its policies rationally. The dictatorship of Fahrenheit 451 is a confidently self-regulating one that insures its continuity through the methodic inculcation of regressive taboos and infantile totems that render people no longer capable of examining or doubting what the state tells them. Our own political correctness is a system of regressive taboos and infantile totems that bludgeons people, by state-reinforced priggishness, into self-betraying cowardice and insipidity. With its readiness to denounce by hurling epithets, pandemic intolerance maintains obedience as effectively as a police force with automatic weapons. The fear and envy of small people who compensate for their feelings of inferiority by banding together are what drive and sustain dictatorial conformism. The state seizes on that fear and that envy and harnesses them cynically to its own schemes to secure and increase its power. The elites are driven as much by fear and envy as the masses; they enjoy leveling things out, which is for them a supremely moral experience, but they are more culpable than the masses because they know what they are destroying.

In this way the society in Fahrenheit 451 strikes one as more plausible today than its Orwellian alternative or indeed as having already been partially (and more than partially) realized in Europe and North America. Political correctness, whether it is in Bradbury’s imagined dictatorship or in our own therapeutic nanny state, permeates the society through the channels of commercial mediation that the state has co-opted. [...]

I think this goes a long way in explaining how "1985" Orwellianism becomes voluntarily accepted; as people become less literate, less imaginative, and more passive and more image-oriented, critical thinking suffers.

The whole article is rather long, and offers many more observations, including how Bradbury's book itself has had to be protected from the politically correct, dumbing-down process the very novel itself describes. Yikes.

Here is an example of the Soft Totalitarian principle in action at UMass:

Hecklers Ruin Free Speech Talk

The Big Brother enforcers, doing Big Brother's job, voluntarily. Welcome to the New and Improved Orwellian "1985".

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