Friday, February 27, 2009

Required Reading, III

The NYRB has an insightful piece on Orwell:

While parts of Barnes' analysis are rather harsh (it's always easy to lay the boots to the dead), he clearly demonstrates Orwell's flaws as a writer and a person. We are left with a portrait of a flawed yet humanized Orwell who, warts and all, is as relevant today as he was two generations ago. Barnes' article serves as a reminder of the need to avoid hero-worship. As Sheldon Kopp wisely noted, we should be wary of both victims and heroes:

Which brings me back to DW. His serial thuggery, vulgarity, and pettiness constitute a type of banal evil, but what is truly disturbing is the way in which large parts of the NL polity have willingly embraced his populist authoritarianism. The truly disturbing fact is not that he labels his critics traitors but rather that so many people actively or passively support such bullying. Whether on the web or the call-in shows, these hero-worshippers offer a frightening display of how people will willingly, freely, almost gleefully reject critical thinking and embrace political absolutism.

Unlike Big Brother, DW doesn't need a vast network of spies and police (though it's clear that he has a large and highly-active propaganda unit), but he has managed to intimidate his critics and to spread a virus of tribal rage and nationalist fantasy. This virus feeds off long-standing aspects of the NL polity but, under Dangovt, it has mutated into a new form of collective psychosis not unlike the type described by Adorno a half century ago. What's so striking about this social madness is not that DW claims a monopoly over the truth but that so many people passionately want to believe him. This collective psychosis remains in its manic phase but, at some point before Dangovt finally expires, it will turn depressive, nihilistic, and (if one takes many nationalist bloggers seriously) violent.

And that, in the end, is why we must write.

Non-Ironic Update:

Interestingly, this afternoon Burkie announced that the officially-sanctioned theme for Think Week will be WHO IS YOUR HERO (and I'm not making this up):

Judging from the Ministerial Proclamation, it looks like a trip to Room 101 may be in store for the unfortunate soul who either refuses to participate or names a Mainlander as their hero.

Suggested Reading Update:

Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Orwell overstates his argument in a number of places, it's still an important and enlightening (and short) essay:

It should be read alongside Strunk and White, still the best single book on how to write:

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