Friday, July 30, 2010

What did Orwell really do?

What did George Orwell's prognostications ultimately do? Like many people, I like to cite him and even leave Orwellian quotes at the end of an email and stuff. But what did his "big brother" warnings and tales of the seductive relationship between power and corruption (among talking animals) really achieve? It seems that Orwell's warnings of big brother were pretty much ignored. Somehow, society and culture decided that technology was too useful to notice its encroachment on privacy and other "rights."

Brother's cameras, listening devices, search engines, tweets, legal cover, and public complacency are all over the place. The penetration is more than what we think. In a given work day, for example, the image of a law abiding person is recorded dozens of times and possibly kept in some digital archive in perpetuity. Carry a cell phone then our whereabouts can be traced rather easily. Does privacy have much meaning?

We are familiar with Animal Farm and 1984, insightful stories of human vulnerabilities and manias. The question though comes down to this (ok, maybe): do good ideas really matter as active forces that direct and reset courses of life and that expose unexamined presumptions? What recent narrative can we recall that really changed things beyond integument? Civil Rights perhaps? Not sure really.

Orwell did not waste his time. I'm not saying that. His non-fiction work (his essays and personal experience narratives) remain quite moving ... but only for a few people, elitist as this may sound. Beck and Limbaugh have broadcast pulses because they are supported by millions of viewers and listeners. If Orwell had a radio show today, he would be unplugged in a week. He couldn't compete with these guys. In the same vein, I don't really think the Tea Party movement will really last long (if it does, well the Mayans maybe on to something after all), but look at how the movement is changing the political game. Listen to their "ideas" and notice their racist bearing (Civil Rights really change the essence of things?), the dribble of their inspiration sources (Sarah Palin, for example), their unfocused and highly generalized aims (details disable things in a heartbeat), and the political fear they provoke.

What good idea out there today really matters as a challenge to our disabling paradigms?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Omar said...

Salam. I don't know if you've read this already, but, for me, Sherman Jackson's Muslims, Islamic Law and Public Policy in the United States makes a very persuasive argument on the efficacy of ideas.

Also, I really like Orwell because he simplifies complex ideas. Like his idea of Newspeak helped me in a small debate with someone about Islamism here. (Sorry I cannot summarize my debate here. I'm a little short of time.)

Finally, I think ideas should be judged by whether it's closer to the truth/reality or not. Why dumb ideas are popular is because they are black and white and made to be swallowed en masse.

Anyways, apologies if I'm misinterpreting your post in any way. I'm basing my comment on what you said here:

do good ideas really matter as active forces that direct and reset courses of life and that drop veils and expose unexamined presumptions? What recent narrative can we recall that really changed things beyond integument? Civil Rights perhaps? Not sure really.

7/30/2010 11:01 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

I'm looking forward to reading SJ's piece. My point is really not about the weakness of ideas per se, but the weakness of the public in receiving them. Courage too. Thanks for your note.

7/30/2010 3:45 PM  
Anonymous JDay said...

You need to take the long term Aunty approach. Sometimes great ideas take a long time to take hold and grow. You can't expect the acorn to turn into a big oak tree overnight.
It took women in the USA 50 years (about 2 generations- think about Moses here) to get the right to vote. This was despite rampant pinhead ideas such as "women have smaller brains and are therefore stupid", etc. However, despite the long struggle, they had full voting rights, once they got it.
Channel your inner Aunty. Cultivate your ideas in the younger generation.

8/01/2010 9:00 AM  

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