Alfred North Whitehead said that all Western philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato. I often feel like blogging is just a series of footnotes to George Orwell.
Via Ace’s overnight thread, Bookworm:
As a writer, I hate passive voice and I hate euphemisms. Any sentence that hides the actor either by removing him entirely from the sentence or by throwing him in at the end as an after thought, and that uses euphemism to turn a heinous act into an anodyne one is a cop-out and a white wash. Examples of these cop outs and white washes include variations of all of these statements: “French people were killed” or “French people die in attack,”or “Paris hit by terrorist attack,” or simply “Poor France,” or “What a terrible tragedy,” or “Our thoughts are with France.” Each is a cowardly effort to avoid saying that “Islamic jihadists slaughtered more than 129 people in cold blood and wounded more than double that number.”
Leftism lives on euphemism. As we know, ignorance of history is liberalism’s flux capacitor:
It’s what makes faith in socialism possible.
And in many ways, as Orwell notes and Bookworm reiterates, euphemism is ignorance’s flux capacitor.
Expressed in plain English, Karl Marx’s “ideas” are the kind of gassy pothead nonsense that’d get you kicked out of a community college philosophy club. But Marx knew what he was doing; he knew exactly what a certain kind of bloodthirsty lunatic would make of his prose, and built it specifically for them. The abuse of language is pivotal to socialism. Orwell:
As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug….
…People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.
Marx said “man’s social being determines his consciousness.” In plain English, this means “you can only know what society allows you to know,” which is, as Orwell would say, sheer humbug. Logically, it’s a tautology — A = A. As a metaphor, it’s meaningless, since if we could only know what “society” allows us to know, society could never change. As epistemology, it’s self-contradictory — Karl Marx, as a part of society, can only know what it allows him to know, so how does he know that?
But because Marx phrased it that way, and surrounded it with a whole bunch more similarly obfuscatory verbiage, guys like Lenin took it to mean that people are infinitely malleable, because “society” can be changed by force — shoot everyone who isn’t part of Utopia, and whatever’s left is, by definition, Utopia.
Orwell also nailed modern intellectuals’ power-worship. We tend to write our Islamophile intellectuals off as merely cowards (or, in the case of feminists who don’t say a peep about Islam’s barbarities, horny cowards) , but Orwell argues that’s wrong. Writing about his fellow English intellectuals’ bizarre predictions for the course of World War II, Orwell says
If one went simply by these instances, one might assume that high intelligence and bad military judgement always go together. However, it is not so simple as that. The English intelligentsia, on the whole, were more defeatist than the mass of the people — and some of them went on being defeatist at a time when the war was quite plainly won — partly because they were better able to visualise the dreary years of warfare that lay ahead. Their morale was worse because their imaginations were stronger. The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it, and if one finds the prospect of a long war intolerable, it is natural to disbelieve in the possibility of victory. But there was more to it than that. There was also the disaffection of large numbers of intellectuals, which made it difficult for them not to side with any country hostile to Britain. And deepest of all, there was admiration — though only in a very few cases conscious admiration — for the power, energy, and cruelty of the Nazi régime. It would be a useful though tedious labour to go through the left-wing press and enumerate all the hostile references to Nazism during the years 1935-45. One would find, I have little doubt, that they reached their high-water mark in 1937-8 and 1944-5, and dropped off noticeably in the years 1939-42 — that is, during the period when Germany seemed to be winning. One would find, also, the same people advocating a compromise peace in 1940 and approving the dismemberment of Germany in 1945. And if one studied the reactions of the English intelligentsia towards the USSR, there, too, one would find genuinely progressive impulses mixed up with admiration for power and cruelty. It would be grossly unfair to suggest that power worship is the only motive for russophile feeling, but it is one motive, and among intellectuals it is probably the strongest one.
Power worship, he notes, makes present trends seem irreversible. Radical Islam (Nazism, Communism, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere) goes from triumph to triumph, wiping the floor with so-called democracies; our turn is right around the corner, so best to get on board now.
Note, too, that this explains the smart set’s universal allegiance to Social Justice. Social Justice, Political Correctness, what-have-you hasn’t suffered a meaningful defeat in 30 years. One is free to shout the worst imaginable abuse at conservatives while on the company clock, but wear a tacky shirt to work and you’ll get fired, even if you’re one of a few dozen people on the whole planet who can do that particular job. The SJWs appear invincible. So, too, with political parties — the Dems lose their share of elections, true, but when they gain power they immediately push through huge, high-visibility programs that affect everyone. The ideal conservative government, by contrast, would be so small and remote that, as with antebellum America, most citizens’ only contact with it would be at the local post office. Conservatism is designed to reduce government power, so it’s no wonder that wannabe-intellectuals — power worshipers to a man — vote Democrat.
In that same essay, Orwell nails the quintessentially American parochialism that makes us so baffling to enemies and allies as we blunder about on the world stage.
Whatever happens [in World War II], the United States will survive as a great power, and from the American point of view it does not make much difference whether Europe is dominated by Russia or by Germany. Most Americans who think of the matter at all would prefer to see the world divided between two or three monster states which had reached their natural boundaries and could bargain with one another on economic issues without being troubled by ideological differences. Such a world-picture fits in with the American tendency to admire size for its own sake and to feel that success constitutes justification… It is a ‘tough’ or ‘realistic’ worldview which fits in with the American form of wish-thinking. The almost open admiration for Nazi methods which Burnham shows in the earlier of his two books, and which would seem shocking to almost any English reader, depends ultimately on the fact that the Atlantic is wider than the Channel.
Guys like Steve Sailer argue that the so-called “deep state” (by which he almost certainly means “Teh Jooooos!”) is responsible for the fact that Barack W. Obama’s foreign policy looks remarkably like George Hussein Bush’s. But it’s simpler than that — Bush and Obama, like Hillary and Romney and just about every other politician of both parties, has no problem with Vlad Putin re-annexing the Ukraine. They don’t really have a problem with Iran as the Middle East’s nuclear-armed hegemon, either (though, as Sailer types will tell you at migraine-inducing length, Republicans have slightly more of a problem with it because Israel). They just wish Vlad and the Mullahs wouldn’t be so farshtinkener gauche about it. Cut a few deals, dial up a few air strikes, send in some special forces, and present it as a fait accompli in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. That’s how we do it, and everybody makes a few bucks with minimal fuss. They simply can’t grok that “make a few bucks” isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list.
Finally, Orwell’s essay “Inside the Whale” nails the infantilization of our politics. I’ve discussed this before, and a key passage of the essay is worth re-quoting:
Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships—an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence….It seems likely, therefore, that in the remaining years of free speech any novel worth reading will follow more or less along the lines that [Henry] Miller has followed…in implied outlook. The passive attitude will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before. Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism—robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale—or rather, admit you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the world-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the campaign of one Bernard Sanders.
A Bernie Sanders type has been running for president every four years for the last six decades. Sixties flower children had Gene McCarthy; George McGovern was the kumbayah kid of the 1970s; Ralph Nader captured the moonbat imagination in the 80s and 90s; Dennis Kucinich and his “Department of Peace” hung around in the Bush years… but those guys were all third- or -fourth-party jokes (except McGovern, I guess, though he should have been; the dude carried one state against Tricky Dick Nixon. In 1972). It’s only now that a Sanders type — and honest-to-god Socialist, running on out-and-proud Socialism — is finally viable.
Now, before you rush in to tell me that’s because Hillary Clinton is the lousiest, most corrupt candidate this side of Robert Mugabe, please note that she still leads most Republicans in most nationwide polls. And before you rush in to tell me that’s because the GOP’s candidates are also historically awful, please note that the leader of that pathetic pack may well be Ben Carson…. and if it’s not, it’s Donald Trump.
The American electorate, in other words, is living in fantasyland. Nobody even pretends to be voting for a competent elected official. How could they? The only candidate with significant electoral experience is Sanders, and a Chicago city alderman makes bigger budget decisions, affecting way more people, than a Vermont senator. Hillary Clinton spends most of her free time dodging subpoenas from her limited government service, and Carson and Trump have never been elected to anything, anywhere. As late as 1992, the American public would’ve laughed itself into an aneurysm at the proposition that any of these clowns, or all of them combined Voltron-like into one uber-clown, could possibly be qualified for the Presidency of the United States.
As with Europe in the 1930s, America in the 2010s is a place where only national security matters… and these jokers’ main selling point is their utter inexperience in foreign affairs. Now, y’all know I’m not one to fetishize a resume, but think about it — would you like to sit down at Versailles with Vlad Putin, knowing the tanks are gassed up and ready to roll? Well, you have exactly as much international relations experience as Carson, Trump, or Sanders, and as we’ve noted, Hillary’s experience is such that it takes the entire MSM working round the clock to keep her out of jail over it. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, Hillary’s doing her best Evita routine, Trump and Carson are as clueless as they are on foreign policy, and Sanders is promising us an entitlement state that was laughably unaffordable back in 1919, when America made basically all the things in the world and taking charity made you a social pariah.
George Orwell, I’ll remind you, died in 1949. We are well and truly fucked, amigos.