So Said Orwell

I have been reading George Orwell’s Narrative Essays, a select collection of his narrative essays – some of them fairly long ones, some much shorter and a few that are really a series of articles on a particular theme. Most of the essays make for very interesting reading and it’s interesting to see how the idea for a masterpiece like 1984 originated in his ruminations in an essay on the Spanish Civil war. Clearly Orwell thought hard and long about the politics of his time and much of his thinking has been proven to be correct.

In one such essay written in 1946, aptly titled In front of your Nose, Orwell writes about our absurd capacity for holding two opposing thoughts in our minds at the same time, believing in both, when quite certainly only one or the other can be true. This is often aided by our ability to ignore obvious facts staring us at our face. Here’s an extract from this gem.

“Twenty or twenty five years ago, contraception and enlightenment were held to be almost synonymous. To this day, the majority of people argue – the argument is variously expressed, but always boils down to more or less the same thing – that large families are impossible for economic reasons. At the same time, it is widely known that the birth rate is highest among the low-standard nations, and in our own population, highest among the worst-paid groups. It is also argued that a smaller population would mean less unemployment and more comfort for everybody, while on the other hand it is well established that a dwindling and ageing population is faced with calamitous and perhaps insoluble economic problems. Necessarily the figures are uncertain, but it is quite possible that in only 70 years our population will amount to about eleven millions, over half of whom will be Old Age Pensioners. Since, for complex reasons, most people don’t want large families, the frightening facts can exist somewhere or other in their consciousness, simultaneously known and not known…

To see what is is in front of one’s nose is a constant struggle. One thing that helps towards it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong, but even one makes a correct one, to discover why one was right can be very illuminating. In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get rid of one’s subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one’s thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. In private life most people are fairly realistic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort  of subatomic or non-Euclidean world where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously. Hence the contradictions and absurdities I have chronicled above, all finally traceable to a secret belief that one’s political opinions, unlike the weekly budget, will not have to be tested against solid reality.

The state of our politics today only bears this out, more so than ever before.


Posted on August 30, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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