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Monday, February 24, 2020

FEATURED QUESTION: The Path To Destruction

In my homeschool World Literature class this year, we are reading George Orwell's 1984, the other outside-the-textbook readings being Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

I am reading 1984 again, of course. Until now, I hadn't opened the novel itself for over half a century! Naturally, my insights and interpretations are much different now, and I find myself occasionally gasping and frequently nodding my head.

Anyway, here is one of the famous quotations from Orwell's dystopian novel.



For discussion, this FEATURED QUESTION, in two parts: (1) How is the above Orwell quotation true and engulfing us in Orwellian Times? (2) How is the above Orwell quotation not true and therefore not engulfing us in Orwellian Times?

40 comments:

  1. The National identity is closely associated with the prevailing narrative wovern around its recent history. For example, America is still defined by the rebellious movement that resulted in its independence. Britain's still retains some of the understated assumed superiority from its empire, wrapped up with the plucky underdog mantle we picked up for WWII.
    These narratives need not be particularly accurate: in fact they cannot be, since they dwell in our subconscious, where there is little room for nuance. Nevertheless, they provide the foundations for the way citizens emotionally engage with the idea of their host countries.

    Anyone willing to spend a long time (1.5 generations or so) consistently reinforcing a preferred narrative can exercise a profound influence over that narrative. Those influences can come from without, but don't forget that this project can and often is undertaken by a country's own establishment. Aristocrats have been manipulating peasants in this way for millenia.

    So how Orwell is right is that modern technology assists in this process and engulfs us in discourse designed to affect our national narratives more than ever before. How he is wrong is that this has been going on to some extent since the idea of a nation first came about. Arguably this manipulation is a necessary condition for a nation to be born in the first place -- "peoples" are created by the same means that they are, according to Orwell, destroyed.

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    1. Nicely stated.

      The answer to both questions today in the US is illustrated by the disagreement over the NY Times' historically-dubious 1619 Project.

      Prominent historians have pointed out the many inaccuracies, false-charges and poorly-reasoned conclusions, giving voice to those who accuse the project's authors of "obliterating" our history, or at least, attempting to severely warp it.

      The pro-1619 people, along with the Howard Zinn crowd argue that the dominant narrative taught over these past two centuries is itself a denial and obliteration of the histories of peoples of color minorities.

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    2. I only just looked up the 1619 project, but it reminds me that for whatever reasons (some obvious) different races in America understand her history very differently. I would be surprised if either of the prevalent narratives were much more accurate than the other. Like Dave Chappelle said about George Washington, a black person and a white person would react differently if they went back in time and met him, and they're both right.

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    3. Jez, it is significant that intellectual heft of the scholarly push-back against the 1619 Project is from black scholars.

      https://quillette.com/2020/02/17/sorry-new-york-times-but-america-began-in-1776/

      The 1619 Project adds to our nation's historical quilt, but they go many bridges too far in their un-scholarly asserted conclusions and basic factual errors. This was clearly an agenda-driven propaganda effort.

      Nowadays, for every action, there is an unequal and unhinged reaction.

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    4. SF,
      The 1619 Project is in use throughout curricula in the United States -- in AP courses, no doubt.

      I suspect that any teachers who voice objections to teaching the project will find their jobs in jeopardy. Besides, most teacher contracts specify that the teacher will follow the Program of Studies. Trapped!

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    5. I'm a big fan (without being any good at it) of proper academically rigorous history, but I think we're looking at the interplay between history and myth, aren't we? IMO Orwell's "own understanding of their history" refers to the nation's foundational myth, and it's an error to mix up the two. Where sections of a nation's population hold conflicting myths, it's very easy to hold another myth to an academic standard which no myth could possibly meet, but it probably isn't very productive to do so. Dunno what to do about that: accommodate each others' myths, synthesize a new one, just live with the conflict? Any of those feels preferable to me than setting up a double standard.
      All the while, history as an academic discipline should be rigorous and dispassionate. (we typically fail, especially on the latter point: that's why a reading of any old history book reveals such a surprising amount about the era that produced it, often more so than the previous era it was ostensibly writing about.)

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    6. Jez, I like the use of the word myth, if we mean it in the academic sense: The actual facts may or may not be true, but the overall mythic story conveys some fundamental truth.

      "Who am I?" and "Who are we?" are fundamental and deeply important questions, usually defined by our past, individual and collective. Destroy that, and you destroy a people.

      America has been slowly coming apart for decades as public schools sap the foundations of our common understanding. "E Pluribus Unum" and the great melting pot served us well in adding to this great nation's patchwork quilt, but progressive forces have turned assimilation into one more white man atrocity, and--as I observed many years ago--we are now a smelting pot, "where incompatible cultures separate under extreme heat, producing sulfurous odors, societal corrosives, slag and other useless byproducts.

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    7. I like a lot of your ideas (for example I agree that assimilation is preferable to the balkanized/ghettoized version of multiculturism that emerges too often), but one of the quesitons I almost always want to ask conservatives is, was the past really as good as you say it was? I'm no expert on America and I'm not implying any particular answer to these questions, but specifically, how well did the old melting pot really serve us, and to what extent does that depend on who "us" is?

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    8. @ Jez: "was the past really as good as you say it was?"

      Good question, but a leading one, unintentional, I'm sure.

      This is how the left frames it up here in the US: Conservatives love the old racist, misogynist past. Progressives want to lead us into a bright new rainbow future.

      It's not that simple. Do you know who Brendan O'Neill is? He discusses Brexit on his podcast, and he and fellow leftists express the notion quite well, that wanting to hold onto customs and traditions and maintain your distinctive "Englishness," "Britishness," or Americanism, is no crime.

      The rhetorical trick progressives continually play is to lump all that past together, good and bad, and damn it all.

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    9. It is a question that I pose sincerely, without heat or cartoonish context. No tricks, I promise. I don't want to summarily damn it all, but I do want to soberly evaluate the recent past.

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    10. WHY, Jez?

      What do you hope such an exercise might DO to enhance the quality of your life, that of your wife and children, your circle of friends and co-workers, the commuity in which you live, your country, and her place in the world?

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    11. If you ardent Theorizers and Speculators don't ask yourselves those basic questions, and can't come up with a coherent, convincing answer, all you're doing with all this high-flown rhetoric is engaging in MENTAL MASTURBATION.

      I see that as on a par with the traditional, purely physical variety of that activity –– i.e. it accomplishes nothing but a wee bit of temporary bit of relief from ongoing, everlasting, always troubling tension.

      Relief without Resolution in other words.

      Could that possibly be a good thing?

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    12. Because we are all to some extent involved with preserving customs and writing or at least voting for policies, and we have to choose which ones to keep and which to relax etc. To that end it is better IMO to be informed than to be uninformed.

      Also, for me curiosity is its own purpose. Pursue whatever interests you without regard for practical value; if that includes history then have at it.

      But do you mean to suggest that there is some practical value to *not* soberly evaluating the past? Don't you worry that we might thereby persist in old errors?

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    13. "There's nothing new under the sun." We ALWAYS do repeat the same old basic errors, Jez, and we always will –– as long as too many of us are bent on questioning, challenging, and making a career of doubting and INSULTING the eternal truth and timeless wisdom of Holy Writ.

      Thats the short answer, but I'm not trying to be flippant. I've never been more serious in my life.

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    14. That's ok, I like short answers.

      But I think there are *some* errors that we have learned to avoid, thank god, and whatever insult He had to endure while we learned those lessons, IMO any God worth his pillar of salt would take with good grace.
      I remain hopeful that we'll find ways to reduce racism and misogyny without breaching Holy Writ.

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    15. I came to realize a long time ago, Jex, –– after going through my OWN period of adolescent rebellion against rules and mores I, personally, found too confining that before one could REJECT the essential, bedrock truths revelaed in the Holy Bible one must first strive earnestly and wholeheartedly to make every effort to UNDERSTAND and APPRECIATE them –– along the myriad implications and infinite ramifications that would necessarily go with them.

      I'm still working on that, and still falling short, and probably always will, but I know at last –– after deades of futile floundering and foundering –– that I am on the right track at last.

      How could I possilby "KNOW" that without the kind of evidence that can be touched felt, weighed, measured and stored in a closet, cabinet or a file drawer?

      By the recent FRUITS my more enlightened labors have produced in the latter third of my existence.

      My life is now infinitely more satsfying and fulfilling than it was in my young "questioning" years.


      But that probably would not be the case if I had not had a thorough grounding in Christian educattion, active participation in church life, and excellent instrction in a fine public school system that had not yet been hoodwinked, suborned and seduced by the tragic influence Cultural Marxists brought to bear on naive, trusting, unsuspecting peoples in the West.

      A "simplistic" response to points you've raised, and doubtless unsatisfactory by your lights, because of the tremendous aculturated differences in both our age and background, but this is neither the time nor that place to write a TOME. ;-)

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  2. History has always been revised to suit the narrative of the bloc in power. That’s nothing new.......what is more recent with the information overload we now seem to embrace, is weaponized ‘newspeak’. Undefined, metric-less frameworks such as “deep state” and “social justice”.

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  3. Another useful and relevant quote - "Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism, both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved." George Orwell, 1945

    Both terms have been equally perverted by two political parties.

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  4. Interpretation of events, their causes and their effects is vital to the study of history and over many years we are likely to witness many re-interpretations of events because previously unknown information comes to us that demands reexamination. This is part of the discipline and is certainly not a new course. The fact of historic revision is not controversial. What is controversial is the masking of some elements of history while over-emphasizing other elements, to achieve a peculiar result.

    I offer two examples:

    In the first, there is an argument that there was nothing exceptional about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (as founding fathers) because they owned slaves. Did they own slaves? Yes and no. In both instances, the slaves were inherited by them through marriage. How “moral” would either of these men have been had they simply dismissed their wives’ slaves, and release them into an unfriendly world ill-prepared to confront it? Jefferson’s “affair” with Sally Hemings has been falsely presented in order to demonstrate that Jefferson was a racialist and a hypocrite, and therefore, unfit for our high regard in America’s independence movement. The facts are more humane: Sally was the half-sister of Martha Wayles, who was Martha’s property, who in appearance could have been the twin of Martha, and whom (after Martha died) Jefferson fell in love with because she looked so much like Martha. Does this, or should it, make Jefferson less “exceptional” as a historic figure? I hardly think so.

    In the second example, there is almost no mention at all in Japanese history books about its military aggression in China, Korea, and throughout Southeast Asia. Mention this to a well-educated Japanese and they assume that you’re a damn liar. The absence of such information allows the Japanese to maintain their somewhat inflated view of themselves, and in denying this information to its general population, maintain the myth of their superiority.

    I suppose we could also look at one of the other great lies of revisionism, that Islam is a religion of peace, but this is enough for now.

    We might therefore conclude that if the purpose of history is to learn from the past, then it must be the purpose of some revisionist efforts to hide the past, where no learning (or understanding) may occur.

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    1. Amen!
      Much of history and the people who move it forward is far more complex than the childish aphorisms and expectations of the left. Another unsung story is that of Robert E. Lee who, while head of the Army of N. Virginia, was in charge of adjudicating his deceased father-in-law's estate (Arlington). The FIL freed his slaves in his will. Since he was an art dilettante and poor estate manager he - like so many plantation owners - did not actually own his slaves. The bank did as collateral for an expensive hand-to-mouth lifestyle. It fell to Lee to bring the estate into order such that the banks could be paid off, take ownership of the slaves then free them. He did this AND while getting the estate in order he set up an open and notoriously illegal school for the soon to be ex-slaves to teach them how to read and write so they could made business agreements without being taken advantage of. He had no desire to have the slaves and worked very hard to free them in a manner that would made them better prepared to confront the world of freedom.

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  5. AOW.. Maybe show your class the movie "Minority Report."

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  6. Every grand narrative suffers from the paranoiac critical method. You see what you want to see and find meaning in whatever pre-existing bias' that you already harbour.

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  7. History has now been 'weaponized' (good word for it CI!). Probably not for the first time ... or the last. A narrative has been picked and 'facts' (and lies too) have been cherrypicked and re-arranged to fit the narrative. I think we'd be shocked to see how often that's gone on.

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    1. There was a time when American Civics was a required course in secondary schools. No more. The argument was that there were too many course offerings and not enough time to teach them, so something had to go. I cannot say whether civics was ever an effective foundational course in citizenship, but we can definitely say that no instruction in this area at all has had an unhappy effect on how the average citizen views their own role in an increasingly complex society. God forbid that we ever teach our children that voting in local, state, or federal elections is a right of citizenship because communist-inspired social studies teachers defeat such notions when they convince their students that everyone is a citizen of the world. Even if we could agree that civics instruction, like religion, is the responsibility of loving parents, the problem is that all parents today are victims of leftist and anti-American, pro-Marxist teachers who, after a dozen years of public education, succeeded in producing empty-headed people who vote emotionally, rather than intellectually, if they vote at all ... or that social justice demands that we allow people to vote early and often because “it’s payback time, baby.” Finally, civics instruction, which was fact-based rather than interpretive, made it difficult for teachers to weaponize history for their own purposes. So yeah, while the argument was successfully made that there was no room for civics instruction, the American constituency today is in crisis mode because we actually have people running for president who are offering inane policy proposals that only make sense to empty-headed voters, which number about a third of the voting population.

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    2. Mustang,
      A brilliant comment, my friend!

      The ugly truth about America's electorate in the 21st Century:

      the problem is that all parents today are victims of leftist and anti-American, pro-Marxist teachers who, after a dozen years of public education, succeeded in producing empty-headed people.

      I feel doom.

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  8. ONC MORE UNt THE BrECH, DEAR FRIENDS . . .

    UNBIDDEN BUT PERTINENT ANALYSIS, IF YOU HAVE THE INTELLGENCE TO SEE THE CONNECTIONS and PARALLELS:

    Leftist Activists –– and Dogmatic Legalisic Unimginative Conservatives Who Lack Breadth of Vision –– tend always to be loud, ferociously insolent and unfailingly obnoxious. They don't really give a rat's rump about Justice, Trees, Animals, Children, Clean Water, Conservation, or Public Health and Safety. If they did, they'd turn their attention to finding and implementing effective ways to provide good alternatives for the Homeless who've turned the once proud cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere into OPEN CESSPITS.

    This growing population of derelict drug addicts, alcoholics, gang bangers, and chronic ne'er-do-wells are literally making our cities UNINHABITABLE by reducing the local standards of living to Third World levels –– often harking back to the horrors of modern day India, Southeast Asia, or Mediaeval Europe, and worse.

    Terrible, of course, but these loud, aggressive "activist" types are simply ADDICTED to the unlimited expression of NOISY, ABRASIVE, ACCUSATORY, SELF-RIGHTEOUS expression of RAGE and CONDEMNASTION.

    Their only tangible accomplishment is to make a bloody NUISANCE of themselves often while provoking sensless VIOLENCE.

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    1. Unembellished agreement always seems to halt further conversation, but i do the you, AOW, fo at last ACKNOWLEDGING my comment –– something no one has has deigned to do –– a sort of SHUNNING process I can't help but regard as deliberately, calculatedly INSULTING.

      No help for it, of course, we live in an ag where expression unbridled Rudeness and Contempt both active and passive have become THE standard method of interrelationship certainly in the blogoshere, but also Beyond.

      Most regrettable, but it s what it is and, apparently, can't be helped.

      As I've said many times in many ways the words of the old Negro Spiritual "Soon Ah Will Be Done - a - Wiff de Troubles ob de World" certny apply to me as I'm nw within a year of my EIGHTIETH birthday.

      (:-o

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  9. I'll be very interested to hear what your students think of the book and hope you will post their main thoughts.

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    1. Kid,
      As the culminating activity after reading 1984, my students have to write an argumentative essay on this particular featured question. Each student must argue for either the first part of this blog post's featured question or the the other part of this blog post's featured question -- after one paragraph of acknowledging the opposite position and using specific evidence and direct citations from 1984 to support the position chosen.

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    2. Kid,
      Here's one interesting comment from one student (not about this featured question):

      "I read the whole book weeks ago. I liked it the first time I read it, but I don't like it now that I'm reading the book for the second time."

      I'll have him elaborate next week during our class discussion.

      BTW, this same student mentioned in class yesterday how wrong it is to take down Confederate statues: "destroying history" were his exact words.

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    3. Those essays will be interesting to read.

      Destroying history. I wonder how many get it. And it's the democrats destroying their racist history to be more succinct.

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    4. Kid,
      All the students in the class, a group of four (I'm semi-retired now), come from politically-conservative families. Most are Trumpers to at least some extent.

      One student, however, is taking AP History, so I'm not sure how she will handle the essay prompt for 1984.

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  10. Viz. 1: That history's been replaced by something called "social studies." And 2: Replace history with theology.

    With history and continuity of glory in mind, watch 45's ceremonial entrance to the Viceroy/President's palace in New Delhi. Remarkable and amazing.

    History, it appears, lives on. Sorry, commies.

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    1. Immortal, Immutable TRUTH lives on, LSP, no matter what the cynics, the sophists, the scoffers, the malicious mythmakers, and the devious seditionists, and the aggressive atheists and nihilists would have you believe.

      People hardly ever talk this way anymore, but I believe that G_O_D ,,,IS T_R_U_T_H and that T_R_U_T_H is the S_O_U_R_C_E of all that is GOOD.

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  11. A HAPPIFYING NEW HEADLINE at NEWS FORUM HOMEPAGE:

    Trump Administration Lunches New Unit to Strip US Citizenship from Foreign-Born Terrorists, Criminals (Fox)

    THE ONLY THING WRONG WITH THAT IS ITS FAILURE TO INCLUDE N_A_T_U_R_A_L-B_O_R_N AMERICANS WHO'VE GONE OVER TO THE DARK SIDE.

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