I've been hard on Winston Smith, so far. And, I will continue to be so. In part, I'm arguing against the notion that Winston Smith is, in any way, more whole a person than anybody else in the text. A more important part is that Winston Smith is already a victim of Oceana, or at least of similar thought-control techniques to those used by Oceana.

We approach Winston's perspective and his flaws from three decades after the time in which the book is set, which is still approximately three and a half decades after it was published. Winston Smith comes at his world with a heavy amount of isolation. Even in that time of "freedom" he barely remembers from his childhood, much of a person's identity was chosen for them, far ahead of time.

Which isn't to say that 1950s London was just as unfree as Oceana, of course. But, he's not exactly coming at this from a place where anybody's helped him view other people outside of the life-scripts to which they had been taught, from early age, to adhere. And, that's in a society that genuinely wanted him to form connections to other people.

Oceana doesn't. He's left with only his imagination and an imperfect memory.
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It took us five parts, but we got out of Chapter 1 and now we're into Chapter 2, where Winston Smith gets to meet people and interact with them in a manner not entirely bound up in his own mind.

A knock on the door, plus panic, plus a desire not to smudge wet ink in his diary equals accidentally leaving the book open to the words "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER" repeatedly written and in full display. Luckily, it's not the thought-police or anybody interested in entering his apartment, but his neighbor.

It was Mrs Parsons, the wife of a neighbour on the same floor. ('Mrs' was a word somewhat discountenanced by the Party-you were supposed to call everyone 'comrade'-but with some women one used it instinctively.) She was a woman of about thirty, but looking much older. One had the impression that there was dust in the creases of her face.

Meet Mrs. Parsons. Not having read all the way through, yet (at least not since my first read), I don't recall if she gets much mention beyond this. Tom Parsons, her husband, will. But, she won't get much, if anything, beyond this scene. (Note: I may be wrong, so this is me putting, in writing, something for you to look back and mock me over if my memory was faulty here. I promise not to go back and edit it away... But, I could go back and... you know what? We get to that part when we get to it.)
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Part of the motivation for the previous tip is what may very well be what spells the doom for this pre-apocalyptic world. There is that desire for apocalypse, the desire for things to be burnt down so that we, as a civilization, can start over, of course. But, there's also that desire to exclude, to purify civilization so that it's only "us", "the right people".

All of this is vexing, not only because of the danger, because of how it gets debunked time and again. Each time, someone will repeat the same talking points that have been debunked, only to have them debunked anew each time. Each time, they will have the right to speak, but demand that they be debunked now, as though they've never been debunked before.
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I want to be clear. There are some times when purity can be something good. You'll want to look for pure water. If you've found a stash of stored supplies, you'll want to know if the packages are still pure sugar or pure salt. Even a vat of pure feces has the benefit of knowing that it isn't tainted with some kind of herbicide and can be useful in fertilizing crops.

The moment someone starts applying that word to people is a moment you should start to fear.

There's an oft-recurring fantasy that plays out in the human mind, both on the individual level and on the societal level. You've had this fantasy, too. It's almost impossible not to. It's also nigh-impossible not to mistake this fantasy for an ideal reality. "This civilization would be great, if only everybody were..."

You should recognize that as the "nice" way of saying it. The "mean" way of conveying the exact same information is "This civilization would be great, if only we got rid of all the..."
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(Note: This is a question I've asked of those who identify as pro-life and, only recently, gotten a real answer (as in one that actually answers the question rather than attempts to avoid answering the question with any clarity). Someone wanted this in convenient blog-post form, so here goes.)
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Okay, let's see if we can finish off the first Chapter, here. (This is why these deconstructions take so long.)

We're at the end of those Two Minutes of Hate, which seems to be both an obligation and a manipulation that's nigh-impossible to resist. And, while I said the Two Minutes of Hate represents something to be found in all cultures, it's never there just for its own end.

The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep's bleat, and for an instant the face changed into that of a sheep. Then the sheep-face melted into the figure of a Eurasian soldier who seemed to be advancing, huge and terrible, his sub-machine-gun roaring, and seeming to spring out of the surface of the screen, so that some of the people in the front row actually flinched backwards in their seat. But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother, black-haired, black-moustachio'd, full of power and mysterious calm, and so vast that it almost filled up the screen. Nobody heard what Big Brother was saying. It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken. Then the face of Big Brother faded away again and instead the three slogans of the Party stood out in bold capitols:


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Trigger Warning for those who read the book: There's two sentences of a fantasy and those two sentences are stomach-churning. I won't be repeating them, but I will acknowledge them.

That said, even the rest of this is going to get disturbing. It's about hate, the influence of the two minutes of hate, and about how even those of us who imagine ourselves to be above it all, like Winston Smith, are easily swept up. It is a Dystopian novel and those are supposed to be disturbing. So, well done, George Orwell, well done.
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The List

Jan. 31st, 2017 07:12 pm
Here's a term I thought up a few months ago and, mainly, kept in my head. It was useful for me to organize my thoughts but I didn't think it'd need to be put into common use. Things being where they are, politically, I think this needs to enter common use, if only because it's something that needs to be discussed.

The List. You've heard the phrase, put in the mouths of youths looking to be intimidating, "you're on my list." You've heard of Nixon's enemies list. That's a good start. That list is a metaphor. The physical lists are controlled by one person. This List isn't controlled by any one person, but everybody in a culture gets a hand in crafting The List.

The List is all the people that will get agreement someone says "this country could do without..." or "things would get a lot better if we could get rid of all the..." or "we should do something about the...".

The List shifts with the times and with which specific culture you're talking about, who's in power, etc.
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The Two Minutes of Hate

There's a lot to unpack with The Two Minutes of Hate. Let's start with the general concept. Two minutes, every day, in which every citizen of Oceana is to spend targeting the enemies of Oceana, symbolized by one person, with their hatred. This specific hatred of this specific figure and all the figure represents is an integral part of patriotism to Oceana.

The parallels come easily. Communists and their sympathizers. Terrorists and their sympathizers. The gays. The devil. And, as I think Orwell was well aware, antisemitism.

1984 is about methods of control that you might not notice if you didn't have the language for it. And, Two Minutes of Hate is a good language to use. Hatred galvanizes, distracts, and tests. Because, within the culture, there's always a test to make sure that you have enough hate for the hatred. And, we might not notice because we put it freaking everywhere so that it's practically invisible.
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Establishing Shot: The tents of a semi-nomadic tribe of herdsmen as seen from very far away. Robed men with staffs tend to herds of goats. Too far to be recognized in specific at first.

Camera moves closer and also moves slowly from side to side. The sound of breathing up close. ((definitely not shaky cam!)) As the camera approaches the tribe, the goat herds move away from the tents. Women scream. Children cry.

Voice from just behind the camera gasps and breaks into a run.

Cut to inside the village.

Shenzi: Oh come on, now, really? For these stories, you should be used to talking animals by now! We're not even making a glance at your goats.

Banzai (quieter): Well, Ed's not exactly putting them at ease.

Camera moves to show Minotaur carrying Ed in the manner of an American Football. Ed glares at the goat-herders, snaps at them when they look in his direction. Beside him, Fenris sits... being Fenris.

Shenzi: And Fenris isn't exactly a calming presence.

Banzai looks around: Okay, okay, we're not here to talk to any of you. Here's our guy.

Camera turns to witness a largish man running towards the tribe, spear gripped to be ready for battle. He looks like he might be wearing a different kind of clothing from the rest of the tribe. But, the reality becomes apparent that he's wearing a loin cloth and is, otherwise, that hairy that you'd make the mistake.

Shenzi stands to all fours: Esau the man we want to see. We would have met you out in the wilderness but, well... you're a hunter and we're all various degrees of furred.
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This one's going to take a while to get to the point. Sorry in advance.

A while back, I talked about how, when you talk about non-believers in movies, books, magazines, and websites that are by and for conservative Christians, the rest of us are, effectively, in the room. We know what you're saying about us. We're right here and we can hear you.

That wouldn't be a problem if what you were saying was a part of an advancing conversation. But, from what I can tell, that conversation you have amongst yourselves about us isn't moving forward. It's stagnated.

In the late 90s, when I enjoyed the internet hangout of alt.atheism, we faced a number of Christians attempting to convert us. They would speak, often in very general terms as they wouldn't follow-up or even read responses, about how sorry they were for the tragedies that befell us to make us atheists. They would express empathy for our nihilistic depression. They would explain that our desire to sin without consequence would be for not and we should just admit that we already know that they're right and we're wrong. They would inform us that God would forgive us for hating him.

None of it was accurate. None of it was new or had been new for a long time. And, in the time since then, none of it has changed.
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We could go into more characterization of the society Winston Smith lives in (and we will), but I think we get the point enough that we don't have to focus directly. The story seems to want to use Winston Smith as a means of characterizing Oceana and this world, but let's let that be secondary for a moment.

We get a bit more characterization on the world, itself. The "Victory Gin" and "Victory Cigarettes" (labeling things "victory" was a common thing during WWII, if you grew your own vegetables in order to do with less for rationing to provide food for soldiers, you were growing a "Victory Garden") are of low quality, but Winston uses them in order to build courage for his, to date, greatest act of rebellion against an oppressive system.

He opens a diary. "This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death or at least twenty-five years in a forced labor camp."

This is a very small thing. It's a very small thing to risk such a big punishment. But, it's also a very small, very calculated risk. One taken only because of a set of unusual circumstances provided him with a telescreen that had a blind spot. He'd had the actual book for a while prior but hadn't worked up the courage to even grab that "Victory Gin" to work up courage until just recently.
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I've spoken about the perils of becoming a pre-apocalyptic society, that is a society that longs for the end of civilization. In today's society, some of those are represented within a subculture of those who plan to survive a civilization-ending event and its aftermath. These "Doomsday Preppers" ("preppers" for short) include a range of personalities and not all are fairly described as desiring of an apocalypse. They also range in the apocalypses they expect, the reasonableness and thoroughness of their preparations, and what they want out of the Apocalypse.

That last one is strange, but important. Some want the apocalypse to happen and, through their preparation, make themselves the ones who "come out ahead". In short, they want to be the winner and for you to be the loser.

Toward this end, they'll stock up on food and water, to be able to survive. They may think to stock up on medicine. They even might stock up on gold for trade. They will definitely stock up on guns and ammunition in order to fight off what they think of as the hoards that want to take what's theirs.
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Dystopias are on my mind for various reasons, not just political. Whether in fiction or in political, we reference ideas of various dystopias. The three books that make, I argue, the biggest impact on our discourse and our entertainment are 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid's Tale. So, I intend to go through a deconstruction of each of these in turn.

I'd read Brave New World first. I was in High School and I found it and I started reading and... well... I enjoyed it. It spoke to me for reasons that I'll get into when I get to Brave New World next. I first tried to read The Handmaid's Tale in college, for a class. It wasn't until much later, having saved my copy, that I gave it a full read. I've never been on the right, but I will say that, for someone as privileged as I was, I needed to take in a bit of education before I could see any truth to what The Handaid's Tale had to say.

For a long while, I thought of 1984 as a book people read just so they could make the references. To be clear, if only that, that's still valid. It's good to have a convenient set of references to make for linguistic short-hand. And, upon reading, I can say that it's a good read, but still valuable as a textbook of terms and language in story-form, one that gets its value from being a good example of storytelling.

I'm using the Nook version, in case anybody wants to read along (and is actually going to follow this).
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Setting: Down a road from the Multiverse Multiport... or up a road. North by south of the Mulitverse Multiport, and a little of an unspecified verticle direction stands The Total Theatre. The Total Theatre is large, boasting many movie theatres in which one can watch a variety of movies, particularly the movies referenced in fictions but that never make it into that semi-mythical land known as reality.

Camera pans slowly over various doors to theatres, signs displaying different movies.

From a theatre boasting a showing of Groundhog Day 12 stream five boys and a young girl, all minded by an older gentleman they, seemingly without disrespect, refer to as "Scary German Guy".

The next movie theater is about to show a film version of Bloodaxe and Ironhammer. On the way to, a man in somewhat shabby breastplate and helmet says to his well-dressed wife: I get that it's a romantic epic but...

Sybil: They're both dwarves, dear.

Camera continues to pan past the ticket counter.

Jack Slater: No, really, Stalone is great in it.

Camera finally pulls back to focus on two young men, each in their late teens. One with black hair, green eyes, and Mediterranean complexion. The other is fairer, blond with blue eyes, and wearing a noticable amount of green.

Percy Jackson: I don't have good luck with movies.

Magnus Chase: Let's just choose. If we choose a bad one, we're only out a few bucks.

Percy Jackson: You don't understand. You haven't been adapted for film.

A figure looking like Tom Hiddleston in a green suit leans down to poke his head between the two.: It didn't go all that great for me, either.
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My Own Worst Enemy, for the majority of the world that has forgotten, was a short-lived TV spy-show with a twist. The premise of the show was that some of the world's top spies underwent complex conditioning that gave them a case of controlled multiple personalities. While on missions, they were their spying, assassinating, dark-deeds-for-the-greater-good selves. While not on missions or not on that particular job, their other personalities would take over, making them happily standard members of middle American suburbia.

The conditioning of Christian Slater becomes unstable, again in the premise, enabling switches of personality. Thus, the conflict is set. On the one hand, we have Edward Albright, the lone-wolf doer of dark deeds in service to his country. On the other hand, we have Henry Spivey, the wimpier, but more moral husband and father. The two come into conflict with each other and the roles of each other as they accidentally slip between.

If I had to guess why My Own Worst Enemy was short lived, it would be that it had a tendency to be rather down on the work-a-day people who make up the bulk of civilization. Whether by intention or otherwise, it made the case that your life isn't as valuable as that of such a spy. When a show's basic message seems to include "your struggles and triumphs and failures just don't add up to all that much", I can see people being turned off.

Two items turned me off.
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I've been gone a long time from this blog (and from this series). A large part of the reason has been Pokemon Go. But, another part has been my difficulty in getting my thoughts together on this promised topic. What labels are rather than what they're not. I've both oversimplified and over-complicated it in my mind.

So, I'll keep it simple, perhaps more simple than I promised. If so, that's my error. Labels are descriptions. They can be accurate descriptions or inaccurate descriptions. But, they're descriptions, nonetheless. They can be influenced by the intent of those who adopt the labels as well as those who would seek to assign the labels, but they can't proscribe anything onto the labeled.
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Quantum Leap, for those not yet born in 1993, is the story of Samuel Beckett (no relation to the playwright) who invented and tested a time machine. It was a partial success in that it did send him back in time, but only into the lives of those in the past. And, he couldn't get back. All he could do was stay in one setting long enough to complete an unspecified but important task or "put right what once went wrong". Then, he would "leap" into another life at another point in history and geography.

Unlike some shows I've subjected to The Case, Quantum Leap made some fairly good use of its potential for its time.

For its time is an important caveat. Quantum Leap existed in the late '80s and early '90s. That gave it two binds that held it back from fully exploring its potential.
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Pride, along with feeling good, is very useful for a society. It can bind people to a society in general, make them feel good about being members of that society for reasons beyond mere survival. That's all good, things that you will need. So, for the obvious bit of advice, encourage and model pride in your community and society.

In so doing, you will want to be careful about the kind of pride you encourage and model. You want positive pride, rather than negative. Positive pride includes pride in personal or shared accomplishments and values. This can include the quality of life built, contributions to wider community, and, at first, basic survival against long odds.

Negative pride operates by lowering esteem in others. History, particularly the early part of the mid-20th century, has some stark examples of what happens when negative pride takes the foreground of national pride.
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A tactic that resurfaces every so often is the argument by which the apologist or evangelist claims that an atheist isn't an atheist, but actually an agnostic. This seems to happen more in popular theist claims of arguments they did make than in actual arguments, these days. The argument usually employs a dot and a much larger circle, representing total possible knowledge and total knowledge known by humankind on Earth respectively. The point of the argument is that one cannot claim to falsify a nonfalsifiable concept, like God, without knowing everything, therefore one cannot be an atheist.

This fails for multiple reasons, all surrounding how labels work, as a concept.

The first thing you should understand about labels is that they aren't magic.
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