[personal profile] wingedbeast
We're into Chapter Seven, now. It's a small chapter, but it's dense, so we're taking it in parts again. It starts off with as much of an announcement of theme as we can get.

If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles


Proles are the non-Party members of Oceana. They don't work in any of the four ministries. They don't have political power. They don't make any of the big decisions. They are the bulk that any society needs in order to survive and, simultaneously, the people that history often forgets.

There's an old saying that I first encountered in the Discworld novel Thud. By approximation, it goes "It takes ten people with their feet on the ground to support one man with his head in the clouds."

Those ten people are, in fact, more powerful than that one man with the head in the clouds. That's a basic, fundamental reality. Yet, despite the Great Men theory of history being debunked, we hear about the great men, and less about complex logistical networks that make anything they do possible. As such, revolution by the masses can be imagined to be a nigh-irresistible force.

He remembered how once he had been walking down a crowded street when a tremendous shout of hundreds of voices-women's voices-had burst from a side-street a little way ahead. It was a great formidable cry of anger and despair, a deep loud 'Oh-o-o-o-oh!' that went humming on like a reverberation of a bell. His heart had lept. It's started, he had thought. A riot! The proles were breaking loose at last!


On the other hand, to say that the proles are more powerful than The Party is similar to saying that the entire rest of the animal kingdom is, collectively, more powerful than humans, and not for reasons of intellect. In pure numbers, its true. But...

When reached the spot it was to see a mob of two or three hundred women crowding round the stalls of a street market, with faces as tragic as though they had been doomed passengers on a sinking ship. But at this moment the general despair broke down into a multitude of individual quarrels. It appeared that one of the stalls had been selling tin saucepans. They were wretched, flimsy things, but cooking-pots of any kind were always difficult to get. Now the supply had unexpectedly given out. The successful women, bumped and jostled by the rest, were trying to make off with their saucepans while dozens of others clamoured round the stall, accusing the stall-keeper of favouritism and having more saucepans in reserve. There was a fresh bout of yells. Two bloated women, one of them with her hair coming down, had got hold of the same saucepan and were trying to tear it out of one another's hands. For a moment they were tugging, and then the handle came off.


Here's the thing about proles, animals, and humans. We're a little busy, at the moment, with trying to not die. I have the time and the energy and the access to write this blog because I live in a privileged place in both history and geography, on top of my context-dependent demographic privileges.

Coming together to foment a rebellion is difficult enough just trying to navigate the cultural signals of your neighbors. Is this neighbor, perhaps, open to discussing white privilege? If so, is the other neighbor who's radio is often tuned to Rush Limbaugh near enough to shout down the conversation if he catches sound of something liberal being discussed? How much time and energy does would it take, right now, compared to what I have to spare, to deconstructing the "all lives matter" response to BLM?

Take all of the social issues of which that example barely scratches the surface. Now, instead of making it a potentially peaceful revolution, one in which no violence takes place and nobody loses any wealth or prestige or social standing, a violent revolution as rebellion against Oceana would require for the Proles.

Now, add in the fact that those saucepans are a survival tool. Cooked food isn't just a luxury. It's an essential. We, as a species, cook our food for fuller digestion of food and killing of germs. (Side note: There is a theory of the evolutionary ancestry of humanity that cooking, as a practice, had to develop before we could reach the point where we would be identifiable as Homo-Sapiens, rather than some related species.) Particularly in the rationed and deprived nation of Oceana, you can't roast everything over an open fire... because that would take more fuel than you have.

I think Orwell wants us to see, here, people with amazing power that could be used destroy their oppressors and rebuild a virtuous society in its place instead turning that power on each other for minor matters. But, I want to be clear that cookware is not a minor matter to those with need and not access.

I guess what I'm saying is, about the next bit, fuck you, Winston.

Winston watched them disgustedly. And yet, for just a moment, what almost frightening power had sounded in that cry from only a few hundred throats! Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered?


Well, excuse the fuck out of them, George Orwell and Winston Smith both of you! But, who declared that you were the grand high judge of what really mattered? When did you decide that a family's capacity to cook the rice and beans so that, collectively, they can survive didn't matter? When these families are re-purposing the tin mugs you use for gin and still only manage to cook a single serving of anything at a time, a saucepan, even a cheap one, is worth far more than your smug satisfaction!

Maybe I'm being too cruel. Maybe they should be more focused and think about the larger scope of things. In so doing, they could work out a system whereby an apartment building could share out a single saucepan, with people bringing food to, cooking, then leaving for the next one. That would allow them to take care of that need and be able to reserve energy for the revolution. How about you offer your kitchen to the cause?

Oh, I forgot. Your contribution the revolution that would bring us to a great world is writing, privately, in a book that, maybe, some future people can read and pontificate on how great you are for smugly writing in a book rather than doing something! Oh, sure, you'll write about the story of how this happened, how Donald Trump got elected, you'll put it up on your blog in the hopes that someone will compliment you on how you've got a grip on things, but have you ACTUALLY DONE SOMETHING?!?

Wait...

Excuse me while I catch my breath.

...

I'm back.

Okay, I really am being too cruel... just not by much. There is a point to what Winston writes in his diary.

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious


Here's where I'm going to repeat, again, my view that what Orwell is showing us in Oceana is the sins of all nations, all governments, and all cultures. In this quote, right here, we have a big one.

The very act of becoming aware of the ways in which your culture or society harms you is, itself, an act of rebellion. This is true no matter how open your culture may claim to be regarding critique of its flaws from within. If want evidence, there's that discussion on white privilege, above.

Something more specific to me is atheism. I am an atheist and, to whatever mild degree, I'm for movement atheism. That is, I'm for a movement that critically evaluates the claims of various religions. I'm for a movement that pushes for a stronger separation of Church and State. I'm for a cultural change wherein we, as a people, focus more on logic, reason, and science, as means of dividing truth from falsehood, and less on faith.

But, I also have to admit that, as a movement and a label, I have to deal with T.J. Kirk (among many who label themselves as anti-SJWs), Sam Harris and Bill Maher (who seem to want atheists to join Christians in a 21st century Crusade against Muslims), or a litany of anti-feminist attitudes large and small. It bugs me to have to do that because, to do so, I am, to a small degree, opposing my own tribe and my own ends.

Now, I think it's good opposition, one that makes my movement better for having to recognize these faults and correct them. But, I do have to rebel against an idealized image that I'd like to have of movement atheism in order to do so.

Contrast this against against a culture like the one that produced The Encounter or God's Not Dead, movies made with the assumption that the film-makers and their target audience represent the only people who are capable of being half-way decent human beings. That gets us closer to Oceana, where acknowledging any imperfection in the leadership and the culture or the cultural assumptions, even if only internally, has immense cost.

Now, I think that Orwell and Winston are looking at a reason why the proles/common folk don't rise up against oppression like they think should happen. I think there's no small amount of contempt in Winston's internal voice when he writes this down, and, potentially, the same for Orwell.

I would like to present an alternative response to this notion, which is a bit of compassion... a bit, don't let it drown out everything else. But...

When someone who was bullied says how bullied teens need to just suck it up, we can recognize that even acknowledging that significant wrong was done to them is a bit of a hard step.

When someone claims to be an ex-gay and "converted" through "therapy" that, in reality, matches closer to torturing compliance out of someone than anything like therapy, we can recognize that acknowledging what was done to them can, itself, be a steep challenge.

Or, when the masses don't rise up in rebellion against an economy that denies them opportunity, we can acknowledge that survival is hard enough when you're not made responsible for changing the world... particularly by someone who's only contribution, thus-far, is linguistic masturbation with pen and paper.

Date: 2017-04-10 09:02 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
>>I think Orwell wants us to see, here, people with amazing power that COULD be used to destroy their oppressors and rebuild a virtuous society in its place instead turning that power on each other for minor matters.
i'd like to stand up and applaud you here --
this is a viewpoint i see over and over again in social-justice discussions -- usually when the privileged come in. it's the voice saying "why don't you just" -- Just get another job (to stop being poor), or Just stop washing the dishes (when your husband won't help), or Just stand up for yourself (when the risk is a beating or worse). STOP WASTING YOUR TIME! STOP FOCUSING ON THE LITTLE THINGS! But so often, those little things are what matters most.
The Proles would be better-off if they could band together and work communally to cook and fix broken windows and tend children -- but who has the time and energy to organize that? Who's going to do the work of tending the groups so they don't self-destruct? Who's going to do the work to build trust in the first place (in a world with thoughtcrime) so that working together is even possible? It's a complete restructuring of society, here, hidden in the handwave of "just". And of course that's the only way to accomplish things -- but it's far from simple, and it requires a certain level of safety that, imo, the Proles aren't at.

anyway. i enjoyed this -- thank you --

(bluecarrot, who needs to get around to getting that openid)

Date: 2017-04-10 10:38 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
& honestly, it's not likely that anyone would take the risk.
or maybe that's my cynicism -- i'm still looking at this last election when (outside interference or not) a substantial number of folks voted against their own self-interest solely to screw over their neighbors.

we humans are just really, really petty.

(bluecarrot.)

Date: 2017-04-10 11:39 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
i'm too cynical for that :) which doesn't make me More Right,you know? i'm just ... cranky.

i'm a social worker -- all of my clients are quite quite poor, and most of them are existing solely on government benefits (disability income + food/cash/housing help). the amount who said they were voting Trump because of xenophoia/racism was absolutely gut-wrenching. and staggering. they refuse to believe anyone would ever take away their benefits; it's so terrifying that it's literally unthinkable to them.
but pushing down the person next door is easy to envision.

many of my coworkers voted Trump for the same reason. which is a whole 'nother problem, but most of them are more than a half-inch away from homelessness and starvation at any given moment. my clients aren't.

i'm not blaming racism entirely, mind. sexism was pretty important too. and other stuff. but i saw so much blatant, open "i'm safe so screw the other guys" -- even for people who are demonstrably NOT safe -- that my faith in humanity is pretty low.

Date: 2017-04-15 05:56 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"the entire rest of the animal kingdom is, collectively, more powerful than humans"


Someone could make a decent novella out of that idea.

Date: 2017-04-15 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Interesting biographical points about Animal Farm- he wrote it in response to seeing a horse being beaten by the young boy driving it to town. It didn't want to move any further and the boy wouldn't stop hitting it. Orwell claims that he thought at that moment the boy was lucky the horse didn't recognise its own power. This is a lot like the proles are presented here, and related to his lifelong phobia of the smell of the poor- he was convinced from an early age that they stank, and nothing could shake the prejudice from him, even when he was living as one (however assumed his suffering was- the landlady who rented him a flat in Wigan for The Road to Wigan Peer reported that he chose to have the shittest furniture going in there- the pressed newspaper table that disintegrates under the flowing fat from the tripe was something he brought in. She wanted him to have the better furniture she had set aside for the rooms, but he wouldn't take it, preferring the more "authentic" crap that made his time there worse).

He hated pigs too. That's why they were the villains.

Date: 2017-04-15 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"Peer"? Lord Wigan. Bloody hell.

Wigan Pier.

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