Saturday, July 30, 2005

Let's party like it's 1948 (part two)

(warning, this is one of my looooooonger posts)

So, why am I thinking about George Orwell?

Well, earlier on this week I read this story

Osama bin Laden tried to buy a massive amount of cocaine, spike it with poison and sell it in the United States hoping to kill thousands, according to reports. The plot failed when Colombian drug lords decided it would be bad for business if they got involved in the deal. An investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration has examined how advanced the plot became when it was hatched a year after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

What struck me, as with most Bin Laden stories, is the completely uncritical reception it received. Every news organisation covered it; not one of them treated it as anything less than primo material.

The story is a patent fantasy but no one in the mainstream media could bring themselves to raise a single critical observation, comment or criticism.

And you’ve got to ask yourself why not?

Or rather you don’t.

Everyone knows OBL is the ultimate foe and capable of anything – he’s fanatical, ruthless, well funded, intelligent and supported by a huge, virtually undetectable, cell-based network of death crazy followers dedicated to overthrowing our way of life.

Osama Bin Laden is our Emmanuel Goldstein.

The parallels are nigh perfect, right down to the smallest detail. As with Goldstein, OBL was once on 'our' side, his face is iconic and he periodically issues videos outlining his insane philosophy. The videos are shown on our increasingly homogenous, state-compliant news networks, so that we can sit there in front of our screens fearing and hating him.

It’s the same fucking guy.

Orwell is deliberately unclear in 1984 if Goldstein and his network still exist in 1984, or ever existed at all, and makes the point that it doesn’t really matter. If Goldstein didn't exist the ruling party would have had to invent someone just like him anyway.

Sounds familiar?

1984 is an essentially factual work. Orwell was trying to communicate a warning about the nature of totalitarian states and the methods they employ. So, if there are parallels between Emmanuel Goldstein and The Brotherhood and Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda it doesn’t mean Orwell was spookily prophetic or that some shadowy conspiracy is actively mimicking his book. What it means is that Orwell may have identified a basic truth – one that is as relevant to 1448 as 1948, or 2005…

I’m not trying to write a belated book review here. What I want to express is my belief that Orwell did identify some basic truths that are totally relevant today. And not in some abstract, intellectual way. These truths have been shockingly manifest on the streets of London over the last few weeks and they are relevant to how we live, who we choose to believe and how we treat our neighbours.

And when I refer to truths, I’m not just talking about similiarities between Osama Bin Laden and some character in an old book. I’m talking about everything in that old book. Every day I see and hear things that resonate with 1984...

The concept of a war that cannot be won, its only purpose to destroy the produce of human labour and life.

Every major official from the Prime Minister to the London Mayor has declared that we are now engaged in a struggle that will ‘last for decades’. Of course it’s going to last for decades. We’re fighting Terror. How are we ever going to defeat Terror? And look at the daft way we’re fighing it.

The UK and US are spending more now on ‘Defence’ than at the height of the Cold War. And that money is being used in the most irrational way. We keep hearing about how future wars will be insurgency conflicts, centred in civilian areas and in situations where combatants and non-combatants will be hard to distinguish. So, what are we spending our money on? Nuclear powered aircraft carriers, stealth bombers and seventy ton battle tanks.

A typical cruise missile costs $1.3m and the US military happily lobs them at mud huts. A single B2 bomber costs $2,100,000,000. A Virginia class attack sub costs $2,500,000,000. That's just silly money. Right now, multimillion-dollar Abrams tanks and Apache gunships are being taken out in Iraq by RPG rounds costing a few dollars apiece. It’s insanely wasteful and truly does not make military or economic sense. But in an Orwellian world it makes supreme sense. Fuck it. If the Arabs weren’t blowing them up we’d just dump them in the sea and replace them with new ones every six months.

I could make a similar point about the colossal amounts of money being spent on homeland security in the US or UK, or point out that we live in a time of unparalleled technical productivity, yet people in the West are facing increasing job insecurity, record levels of personal debt and the prospect of having to work till they die.

And how many times have you heard someone say, or said yourself, ‘Yeah, you might have a point with all this stuff but I haven’t got time to worry about things like that. I’ve got bills to pay’?

That’s the plan Stan…

Doublethink - the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

There are plenty of examples of Doublethink knocking around but, for brevity’s sake, I’ll restrict myself to some of the more popular themes at the moment

  • Per Tony Blair, "Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working ... but this has the hallmark of that approach.", only sometimes Al Qaeda IS an organisation, when it suits Tony and Co.
  • When the terrorists do something clever it’s because they’re intelligent and organised. When they apparently drop a bollock it’s because they’re mad. Yes, fiendishly clever and insanely stupid, all at the same time. That makes sense
  • 'We mustn’t let terrorism change our way of life' and “You Will Fail”. Well, except for all those new laws, machine pistol toting police, increased homeland security, vastly increased inter-racial tension and all those naughty things we’re doing overseas in the name of our security
  • ‘We are not afraid’ but, actually, ‘we are terrified’.

BTW that We are not Afraid campaign really pissed-off a small, but significant, number of people in London and the rest of the UK. Most of those pissed-off people weren’t using the expression ‘Doublethink’ – words like ‘propagandist’ and ‘bullshit’ seemed to be more popular choices. No matter, they’re essentially the same thing.

Newspeak – the use of greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar with the aim of making subversive thought (thoughtcrime) and speech impossible.

You could write a whole dictionary of contemporary Newspeak. From new vogue military and security terminology such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘shoot to kill to protect’ through to the abuse of language by government and corporations that has thoroughly infected all aspects of daily life. Spending becomes Investment. Excellence becomes anything but excellent, and meaningless. A normal service becomes a good service. And fail becomes a ‘deferred pass’.

That ‘deferred pass’ concept currently being bandied around in some British schools really is 100% Newspeak. Here’s a quote straight out of 1984

’Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well... If you have a word like 'good', what need is there for a word like 'bad'? 'Ungood' will do just as well... Or again, if you want a stronger version of 'good', what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like 'excellent' and 'splendid' and all the rest of them? 'Plusgood' covers the meaning, or 'doubleplusgood' if you want something stronger still.... In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words; in reality, only one word.’

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