Friday, June 16, 2017

Fear Keeps Us All In Line


I haven’t heard Roger Waters’ new album— his first in 25 years, released last week— Is This The Life We Really Want?, yet, just the title track… which I urge you to listen to too. Sonically, the resemblance to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, will make you feel comfortable— and make the austere, even chilling, message, easier to digest and grapple with. I’ve been reading an anthology of essays, edited by Lori Perkins, 1984 In The 21st Century, which put me right in the proper head space for Waters’ music.

In his essay, How 1984 Can Decode Trump’s First 100 Days, attorney and self-described hacker with a Dali mustache, Alexander Urbelis, wrote of “the linguistic assault on, and blatant disregard for, the truth and rational thought by senior Trump administration officials and the President himself.”
We are now fighting a battle over who controls the very notion of what is real and fake, true and false. We cannot afford to mince words: President Trump and his staff have used and will use lies and deceit to create a false perception of reality that suits their political agenda.

They have espoused as truth unsupportable and untenable falsehoods on a daily basis, and it has become the near-full time responsibility of the media to call out the fictions of the administration. If we do not continue the struggle for basic honesty, we are warned by Orwell that uncorrected lies will be "passed into history and [become] truth."

1984 is a menacing tale about the fictional state of Oceania. It exists in a state of continuous and seemingly never-ending war, its institutions are notoriously revisionist and manipulative of public perception with no regard for historical facts or truth. Overseeing law and order and guarding against even minor rebellion is overt and omnipresent government surveillance; and in the seat of power directing all functions of state is Big Brother, a cult of personality demanding of the most intense personal and political loyalty.

Orwell's lessons, cautions and predictions have in my life never been more real and more serious than they are now. Those lessons and parallels merit serious consideration.

Much has been written about newspeak, the fictional language of Oceania, with its deliberately limited and constantly diminishing vocabulary, and how its assaults on truth and reason parallel Trump administration practices. The idea behind newspeak is that by reducing vocabulary it is also possible to constrict personal thought and the freedom of expression.

In Orwell's world, there is no such thing as the word "bad," it is instead "ungood." But could this very surface-level comparison between newspeak and Conway's characterization of Spicer's blatant lies as "alternative facts" really be spurring such a resurgence in interest in the 1984? Of course not. There is more.

In everything from his Cabinet appointments to the rationale for destabilizing executive orders, President Trump appears to have taken a cue directly from 1984’s fictional ministries, whose purposes are diametrically opposed to their names. Orwell's Ministry of Truth ("Minitrue" in newspeak), for example, had nothing to do with truth but was responsible for the fabrication of historical facts.

In that vein, President Trump has provided us, in the name of security, with a travel ban on immigrants and refugees from countries whose citizens have caused the terrorism deaths of no Americans, while leaving out countries whose citizens have caused the terrorism deaths of thousands of Americans.

He has provided us with Betsy DeVos, a secretary of education nominee who is widely believed to oppose public education, and who promotes the truly Orwellian-sounding concept of "school choice," a plan that seems well-intentioned but which critics complain actually siphons much-needed funds from public to private education institutions.

Andy Pudzer-- named to head the Labor Department, which is charged with promoting and protecting the welfare of wage earners-- has a checkered past with workers' rights and has actually praised the efficiency of robots over humans on account of automatons' inability to take vacation and file discrimination complaints.

And we cannot fail to mention that Scott Pruitt-- nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which has responsibility to protect health and the environment-- as Oklahoma attorney general devoted his office to battling the EPA, actively sought deregulation of air pollution requirements, and spearheaded the attack on Obama's efforts to reduce global warming, the Clean Power Plan.

What is truly terrifying is that President Trump and his people refuse to recognize the contradictory nature of their positions, which is the condition perfectly described in 1984 as doublethink. "[T]o hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing both of them," is doublethink. And most germane: "To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed," is doublethink.

Going hand-in-hand with the concept of doublethink was the notion of blackwhite: "a loyal willingness to say that black is white when party discipline demands." Blackwhite, however, is more sinister, in that it "means also the ability to believe that black is white ... to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed to the contrary."

We saw this firsthand when President Trump addressed staff members at the CIA. As he recalled his mental impressions of the inauguration crowd, he said, "I looked out, the field was-- it looked like a million, million and a half people." And I do not think he was lying. I believe that President Trump believed this because he had to believe it: The revision of events one day prior to his speech was necessary because it was the only way he could assert legitimacy to control the present moment. The worst, however, is not that Conway and Spicer so easily and willingly followed suit with their own acts of blackwhite, but that they really believed that we-- the media and the people-- would in turn do the same.
Perkins chose to lead off her anthology with David Brin’s George Orwell And The Self-Preventing Prophecy. “One of the most powerful novels of all time, published fifty years ago, foresaw a dark future that never came to pass,” he wrote. “That we escaped the destiny portrayed in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four may be owed in part to the way his chilling tale affected millions, who then girded themselves to fight ‘Big Brother’ to their last breath. In other words, Orwell may have helped make his own scenario not come true.”
[In] Big Brother — Orwell showed us the pit awaiting any civilization that combines panic with technology and the dark, cynical tradition of tyranny. In so doing, he armed us against that horrible fate. In contrast to the sheep-like compliance displayed by subject peoples in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it seems that a ‘rebel’ image has taken charge of our shared imaginations. Every conceivable power center, from governments and corporations to criminal and techno-elites, has been repeatedly targeted by Hollywood’s most relentless theme... suspicion of authority.

…History is a long and dreary litany of ruinous decisions made by rulers in all centuries and on all continents. No convoluted social theory is needed to explain this. A common thread weaves through most of these disasters; a flaw in human character— self-deception— eventually enticed even great leaders into taking fatal mis-steps, ignoring the warnings of others.

The problem is devastatingly simple, as the late physicist-author Richard Feynman put it. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself— and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Many authors have railed against the cruelty and oppression of despots. But George Orwell focused also on the essential stupidity of tyranny, by portraying how the ferocious yet delusional oligarchs of Oceania were grinding their nation into a state of brutalized poverty. Their tools had been updated, but their rationalizations were essentially the same ones prescribed by oppressors for ages. By keeping the masses ill-educated, by whipping up hatred of scapegoats and by quashing free speech, elites in nearly all cultures strove to eliminate criticism and preserve their short-term status... thus guaranteeing long-term disaster for the nations they led.

This tragic and ubiquitous defect may have been the biggest factor chaining us far below our potential as a species. That is, till we stumbled onto a solution.

The solution of many voices.

Each of us may be too stubbornly self-involved to catch our own mistakes. But in an open society, we can often count on others to notice them for us. Though we all hate irksome criticism and accountability, they are tools that work. The four great secular institutions that fostered our unprecedented wealth and freedom— science, justice, democracy and market— function best when all players get to see, hear, speak, know, argue, compete and create without fear. One result is that the “pie” we are all dividing up keeps getting larger.

In other words, elites actually do better— in terms of absolute wealth— when they cannot conspire to keep the relative differences of wealth too great. And yet, this ironic truth escaped notice by nearly all past aristocracies, obsessed as they were with staying as far above the riffraff as possible.

Orwell saw this pattern, perhaps more clearly than anyone, portraying it in the banal and witless justifications given by Oceania apparachniks.

How have we done with his warning? Today, in the modern neo-west, even elites cannot escape being pilloried by spotlights and scrutiny. They may not like it, but it does them (and especially us) worlds of good. Moreover, this openness has helped prevent the worst misuses of technology that Orwell feared. Though video cameras are now smaller, cheaper and even more pervasive than he ever imagined, their arrival in numberless swarms has not had the totalitarian effect he prophesied, perhaps because— forewarned— we act to ensure that the lenses point both ways.

This knack of holding the mighty accountable, possibly our culture’s most unique achievement, is owed largely to those who gazed at human history and saw the central paradox of power— what’s good for the leader and what’s good for the commonwealth only partly overlap, and can often skew at right angles. In throwing out some of the rigid old command structures— the kings, priests and demagogues who claimed to rule by inherent right— we seem to be gambling instead on an innovative combination: blending rambunctious individualism with mutual-accountability.

Those two traits may sound incompatible at first. But any sensible person knows that one cannot thrive without the other.

…Criticism is the best antidote to error. Yet most humans, especially the mighty, try to avoid it. Leaders of past cultures crushed free speech and public access to information, a trend Orwell showed being enhanced by technology in a future when elites control all the cameras. In part thanks to Orwell's warning, ours may be the first civilization to systematically avoid this cycle, whose roots lie in human nature. We have learned that few people are mature enough to hold themselves accountable, but in an open society, adversaries eagerly pounce on each others' errors. To preserve our freedom, we must not try to limit the cameras— they are coming anyway and no law will ever prevent the elites from seeing. Instead, we must make sure all citizens share the boon— and burden— of sight. This is already the world we live in. One where the people look hard at the mighty, and look harder the mightier they are.

Orwell's dark future can’t come true if confident citizens have a habit of protecting themselves by seeing and knowing… Despite repeated efforts by our own hierarchs to justify one-way information flows, the true record of the last generation has been an indisputable and overwhelming dispersal of knowledge and the power to see. People are becoming addicted to knowing.
A new poll from the Associated Press shows that most Americans think Señor Trumpanzee “has little to no respect for the country’s democratic traditions.” 65% of Americans think he doesn’t have much respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions or has none at all. “Nearly a third of Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican party think Trump has little to no respect for the country’s democratic institutions, and a quarter disapprove of the job he’s doing as president. Nine in 10 Democrats and 6 in 10 independents say the same.”

I’ll just leave you with a paragraph from Marc Polite’s essay, Controlling The Present: How “1984” Predicted “Alternative Facts And “Fake News.” He reminded his readers that “In our political discourse soon after the inauguration of Donald Trump, a very curious term slipped into the lexicon. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, in defense of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer giving out false statements about the size of the crowds at the inauguration, said that he was giving out ‘alternative facts.’ Not lies, but ‘alternative facts.’ The term Orwellian applies her aptly.”

Remember the Ingsoc Party slogan: “Who controls the past, controls the future… who controls the present, controls the past.” Why not listen to Roger Waters’ song again?

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At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice track up above. Poetry set to music. Meditative and scary.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someday, someone will note that the modern government serves as the bully boy for private profit. Big Brother rules the boardroom and lets a toady run the government.

As things now stand, Trump uses his government persona to ensure that his business persona continues to profit regardless of the methods used to acquire more wealth. For example, is there not an element of implied compulsion for all those foreign interests who have begun using Trump Hotels in DC instead of the chains they used prior to the inauguration? That ANY act this way means that ANYONE ELSE can expect to be "persuaded" to do the same thing via the abused power of the government if they don't.

Think of it this way. When the Nazis had occupied most of Europe (prior to invading Russia), they had no interest in dealing with the mundane day-to-day issues of the occupied nations. They expected the collaborators to deal with trash collection and parking tickets.

It would be thus with any corporatist power who dominates a government. In Trump's case, he's goading the Republicans in Congress to strip anything which benefits a mere mortal human and drop all of those responsibilities on the states. The only things he wants the national government to maintain control of are the military and the borders. The first to impose his will on those who don't cooperate, and the later to ensure no "unfair" competition which would lessen his balance sheet tallies gets to the people.

Standing Rock is the most recent example of the former I can think of on the spur of the moment. Trump exercised his will to impose his decision on the people affected by the XL Pipeline. Can one not expect the owners of the pipeline to show their gratitude in some valuable manner? After all, Trump defended their investment by attempting to instil fear into the protesters by essentially letting the "police" do pretty much anything they wanted. The owners owe him - and Trump will expect to be paid.

There is so much more I could add, but I believe I've made my points.

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Very well said.

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And again I remind everyone that we have all this knowledge and perspective from history.

Yet we humans, in this the 21st century, are still too stupid to learn.

It's one thing for a dictator with an army to subjugate by force/fear. It's quite another thing for a populace in a democratic situation to iteratively demand the hammer fall down on themselves.

The theory of democracy is that if the government gets horrible, it will be replaced by the electorate.

If the sub-sentient usa is any indication, that theory has been easily disproven.

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Control by fear! Oh, horrors!!!

But apparently it is just fine to be controlled by "bipartisan" fear of USSR/Russia ...
for >70 years?

John Puma

At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw Roger Waters in Oakland last weekend. The show has a very heavy anti-Trump theme. The visuals tie most of his songs, even his old Pink Floyd songs, to Trump. The songs from the album Animals fit perfectly with this Trumpian era. Trump is a perfect subject for Waters' dark views about politics.

At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not clear why a very public anti-war stance is to be considered a "dark view" of politics.
I'd suggest our current situation of perpetual-war-for-profit (combined with comprehensive domestic surveillance state and collapsing middle class) trifecta fit the description nicely, however.

Water's anti-war message was formulated well before His Hairness came onto the scene and applies to essentially every modern US president along with about every PM of his home country, previous global hegemon and inspiration/adviser (and ass-licker ) of the new one.

John Puma

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:30, wrt your Nazi analogy, the truth is they didn't care at all about any of those things in their occupied territory. All they wanted was their collaborators to keep the masses from interfering with their raping of all their useful resources.

In fact, once they ventured into Russia for their oil and farmland, the intent was to have only a minimal military presence to crush food riots as they removed all the farm product and shipped it into Germany. They INTENDED to have 25 million Russians die of starvation (saving a lot of bullets). One year of occupation. That's all it would take. Then everyone would be dead and they could give all those farms to Germans to manage.

Ironically, after the war Stalin did much the same thing as his army enforced collectivization, removed most of the food for Moscow and there were years of poor harvests due to weather and incompetent farming. Estimates go from 10m to 30m dead of starvation.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Holomodor was in the 1930s

Care to comment on the Bengal Famine?

Churchill ordered that nothing be done. Does he not merit deserved scorn?


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