Saturday, September 23, 2017

1984 is Not an Instruction Manual

I know it's been awhile since I last posted. The political climate knocked me back and left me unable to create. So, fittingly I'm coming back with this article on George Orwell.

[But first I want to share that it was a dream that got me back in the blogging saddle. I awoke this morning in that hypnagogic state between dream and waking to see a track runner jumping over a hurdle. On the hurdle were slats with the names: Pete, Orwell and two others that don't apply to this post. I quickly wrote them down and when I got up did a bit of research that led me to writing this article. Pete Wehner and George Orwell]

George Orwell’s classic book “1984,” about a dystopian future where critical thought is suppressed under a totalitarian regime, has seen a surge in sales, rising to the top of the Amazon best-seller list in the United States and leading its publisher to have tens of thousands of new copies printed. (New York Times, January 2017)

The country has been reading George Orwell’s 1984 because he struck a nerve. What exactly is that nerve? Is it the fear that we’re going down that path that will lead to war or our loss of freedom? But how much freedom do we actually have now? We have been sliding into a haze of forgetfulness, driven into divisions by the power hungry men of the world, while we bicker among ourselves. Time for a change.

Peter Wehner (First Things 9-7-16) wrote about Orwell and the lessons we can take from him.
Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia,
“…no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan...having seen only one corner of events. And, beware of exactly the same thing when you read any other book.”

“This doesn’t mean that objective truth doesn’t exist,” writes Wehner; “it simply means that neither you nor I can fully ascertain it.” Quoting his friend, Steve Hayner, “We need to make room for other perspectives. We “should hold more lightly to our capacity to perceive truth.”

We are all so sure we know the truth, because we’ve experienced it--or god forbid, we've been told what is truth without experiencing it. Like the story of the group of blind men exploring the large elephant (traceable to the Buddhist text Udana 6.4, dated to about mid 1st millennium BCE.) we only see the part our experience and senses allow and come to completely different conclusions. “Humans have a tendency to project their partial experiences as the whole truth, ignore other people's partial experiences.” Wikepedia

Wehner goes on with this take away, “to be open to accepting that views besides our own have validity, or at least are worth listening carefully to. We might be wrong, or partially wrong, or less than fully right, even on matters we feel passionately about, and that, as a general matter, we should speak with a touch less certitude and a bit more humility.” How often have we prejudged people we could have learned from? 

Orwell at one point in his life dressed in rags and went to the slums of East London to live with the homeless and poor, where disease, overcrowding, alcoholism and crime existed in overabundance. This experience defined his writing career—thereafter he used his words to fight social injustice and authoritarian rule. 

Orwell showed courage in telling the truth as he saw it—acknowledging that it was only one man’s truth. "Given where things are just now," as Wehner points out, "our country is increasingly divided, our politics despoiled, and the animosity directed against those not in our tribe being sky-high—we need Orwell's sensibility now more than ever.

(quotes taken from Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.)

What do you think? 


#GeorgeOrwell #tolerance #truth #dreams #1984


Cheryl said...

Some fifteen years ago I took a class in which one exercise stood out above all the others. The exercise was about story/perspective/truth. It was simple really, working in pairs we were told to write down our story, everything we could possibly come up with, about an issue that was keeping us stuck. Why can't I lose weight? Or, why did my boyfriend leave me? Whatever. When we were done, we sat in chairs facing our partner and read our story to them, over and over again, until we could see that it was just that, a story. Some people were so stuck on believing their words, their version of the truth, it took nearly an hour for them to give it up and make room for other options.
What is the truth? I like to think of it this way - say a dog runs into the street and is hit by a car. The owner of the dog might be upset at the driver because clearly they sped up when they should have stopped. The driver might be horrified because they tried to brake, their foot was on the pedal, but there just wasn't time. A bicyclist riding by might be laughing because he heard the scream of brakes and the owner calling out, "Oogity-Boogity, no!" but he was too far away to see the aftermath and realize a tragedy had just occurred. The vet who just happened to be walking by might have a have a pounding heart and a distorted view of the situation because of the adrenaline surge when she jumped in to save the dog only to realize it was too late. She might be angry with the owner for using a retractable lead without locking it and with the driver because he was speeding. All of these reactions are stories based on their individual viewpoint and what they believe happened. But the truth - a dog ran in to the street and was hit by a car.
People forget that we all have different backgrounds and points of view. It's human nature to protect our beliefs like they are the only truth, but it's important to listen to others, to accept that maybe we all see truth through our biases. Until we can communicate and see other's points of views, we all lose.

Bryan T Clark said...

Great blog! Glad your back Cora.

Cora said...

Thanks for the visit and comments Cheryl and Bryan. And thanks, Cheryl, for your story about the dog--that really illustrates the point perfectly!