[personal profile] wingedbeast
Last time we talked about the Proles and I got... emotional in my reaction to Winston's judgment on their priorities. I don't want to be too dismissive, however, because the masses do have power and using that power is important. Just take a look at history of when people have had to use that power before.

The Party claimed, of course, to have liberated the proles from bondage. Before the Revolution they had been hideously oppressed by capitalists, they had been starved and flogged, women had been forced to work in the coal mines (women still did work in the coal mines, as a matter of fact), children had been sold into the factories at the age of six.

Now, this is told to us as lies of The Party of Oceana. But, it should be worth noting how this isn't all that far off. The Industrial Revolution, in both the US and England, wasn't the smooth sailing into worker's rights. That took unions and Democracy and, in America, a New Deal and trust-busting. I'm not so up on UK history of the time, but I can feel safe in saying that what didn't happen was an unfettered free-market economy just, on its own, making things better.

I bring this up to question Winston's frequent insistence that there's some base state of affairs that's better than what he has in Oceana. There will be some discussion of previous political systems. Feudalism, Monarchy, unfettered capitalism... none of them would naturally lead to a place that's superior to anything Winston knows. He makes this out to be something he knows in his bones, but... that doesn't make sense.

If it were something humans really knew, in our bones, that this wasn't the right way, that revolution would have happened, by now.

At best, this is a longing Winston has for a half-remembered childhood that wasn't all that great, either (remember his dead mother and sister). At worst, what we have is Winston misdiagnosing some very internal issues as something that should be solved by something external.

I don't want to say that he has any obligation to be content. The Party is battling his vary ability to interact with the real world. But, the nature of his discontent doesn't come from memory of better things, other people having better things, or even a vision of better things. It just seems to be a platonic force of Winston being... right.

I don't like it.

Especially because there's a reasonable argument to make that the proles are better off than they were before...

In reality very little was known about the proles. It was not necessary to know much. So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern. They were...

Okay, I'm not going to repeat what "they were", because we just admitted not much was known of what they were. Orwell/Winston assumes that they're born, start working in their teens, get sexually active and marry in their twenties, work hard so that they're middle aged in their thirties and die in their sixties. But, wasn't that the average for most of humanity in general?

The thing that I want to focus on is how left alone they are, compared to previous.

The sexual puritanism of the Party was not imposed on them. Promiscuity went unpunished, divorce was permitted. For that matter, even religious worship would have been permitted if the proles had shown any sign of needing or wanting it. They were beneath suspicion. As the Party slogan put it: 'Proles and animals are free.'

Pardon me for letting my atheist-flag fly on this one, but isn't that better than what they would have had before?

What they had before included, among other things, a strong church/state connection and strong religious power. I'll argue that didn't help.

Remember that Orwell wrote this in the late 1940's. Now, I urge you to consider the life of Alan Turing, who created a device that would decode Nazi communications. It was no small feat. The Allies had the Axis beat on logistics, but this was a major advantage on the Axis side and it could, well, be said that Alan Turing made the difference between success and failure.

The UK rewarded him with chemical castration because he was gay.

There's an argument to be had, there, over the exact culpability had by Christianity. It was the bigotry, not a direct call from the faith... but the bigotry did not spring, whole cloth, from sociological ether. And, as a meme (the original use of the term), it did benefit from reinforcement from the faith.

That's a whole host of unhealthy social attitudes that are no longer supported by governmental interference or organized religion. There's no certainty that any one community of proles would give up those unhealthy attitudes of purity culture, slut-shaming, racism, homophobia, or opposition to non-traditional families of any sort. But, without that enforcement, the odds are higher that any community of proles could be more generally accepting of people and families that don't conform to some pre-defined ideal.

All the Party wants from them is to work, breed, fight in the army, and be patriotic enough to continue to do that. And, that's done with minimal interference by the thought police. Most Prole homes don't even have a telescreen!

I want to be clear. I do count the real world situation in America and the UK as better than the one in Oceana. But, I also want to be clear as to how much better the real world situation, at current, is better than the one before, particularly when discussing the actions of capitalists. Here's another uncomfortable reminder of history, this book was written in the late 1940s, when slavery in the US was still in living memory.

None of what makes the real world of today the better place to live came from simply not being a totalitarian regime. It took work, hard work and great courage on the part of unions, civil rights activists, feminist activists, gay rights activists, etc. Making tomorrow a better place will take those same groups and much more.

I don't think that Orwell was aware of just how far from the ideal his world was. He looked at the totalitarian regimes and saw greater privation, less freedom... for himself. But, for people within...

A quick google search didn't give me any kind of clarity on his views on feminism. He was more willing than many men of the time to help out with the washing, which is nice. But, it's all too easy to read anti-feminist messages or assumptions in his work.

Like Dickens before him, he doesn't seem to see any improvements that could be made to the basic structure of life as he lived it, save people in positions of relative power being more kind in the most obvious of ways. And, sure, that's great and all, go ahead and do that but... I'll take a world improved through systematic push for rights rather than a world improved by convincing people in positions of power to be nice, you know, if they notice the opportunity.

Certainly Orwell likes his life more than Winston likes his. It's easy to see why. But, the main difference between Orwell's life and Winston's life is how much Orwell could get out of his relative privilege, when compared to Winston.

For the Proles... greater education, a free press, and the free exchange of ideas would be great tools to have. But, that's what they needed, about this time, in the real world, too.
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