[personal profile] wingedbeast
Part of the reason I questioned how different the Proles had it in the book compared to before was... to be honest, because I'd started a little earlier than I expected and I just kind of ran with it. But, it became useful for this part, the discussion of the past.

Winston, for his diary that exists for the purpose of providing value to people who he will likely never see in person, copies down a large portion of another book that... he's... analyzing...



Moving on!

It's a lot of text, going about a version of the past that is at some parts accurate, at some parts exaggeration, and, at some parts, strange twistings. People living in poverty while successful capitalists live in luxury? Children being fed water and bread-crusts alone and whipped with a cat-o-ninetails? Exaggeration. That an ordinary person would be required to cringe and bow before a capitalist? Twisting and conflating.

Not in the text he's using (because that's a children's book), Winston pontificates on jus primae noctis which could manage to be all three.

Jus primae noctis, the right of a king or fiefdom lord to be the first to have sex with a peasant woman on her wedding night? Well, there's some interesting story to be had there. We know, for instance, that the place of this practice in the movie Braveheart was, in the proper terminology, pure bullshit, there only to make the English a more definite evil in the movie. (Mel Gibson is not well acquainted with moral complexity.)

So, at some points, it's pure fabrication, a lie told to make group X look more evil. Or, it's a fiction told because some people just have their kinks. But, it's a fabrication that becomes easy to repeat, an effective way of making it okay to kill this enemy.

If the practice of jus primae noctis was practiced at all, long ago Googling suggested that it might have happened in an isolated city-state, perhaps as late as the second century AD/CE. Could it ever have actually been true? It's hard to see how, simply for reason that a single King has limited time on his hands, even the King of a single city/state.

Could it have been something else that got confused in retellings? Potentially?

Could it have been a pure fiction? Possibly.

Is there any way to know? I don't really know if there is. People with a better grasp on history can let me know.

Does it really matter? Actually, it kind of does. It's an important question of how far a leader can go and if there is such a thing as a hard limit. If jus primae noctis is impossible, due to there being a point where the people would stop things, that says something. If there isn't, that says something else. That question is going to have to hang on for a while.

If you feel that an important question is left hanging without any real answer, that's how Winston feels.

How could you tell how much of it was lies? It mightbe true that the average human being was better off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that some other time they must have been different.

This isn't the first time "your" feelings have been referenced. Taking the narrator to be someone who speaks from Winston's perspective, that's all he's left with, a feeling that things... were better some time in the past.

Today, the word for that is Nostalgia, wherein we look back, with fondness, upon the past, imagining it to be a better time for reasons, we guess, other than that we were children who were sheltered from the harsher realities around us.

For instance, many people, primarily white, are nostalgic for the Antebellum South. It was a simpler time, think they, of balls and Gentlemen and Belles and ever so florid talking and can we just not mention the slavery? No, we can't not mention the slavery. But, if we were, there are still more people who look back on that time with fondness than would actually be fond of the time they had there.

The Antebellum South functioned on a form of aristocracy largely influenced by it's pre-revolutionary French roots. Not being a slave in the Antebellum South wasn't going to give you a comfortable life so much as the comfort of always knowing that there was someone beneath you... Which might come up when I get to The Handmaid's Tale.

Compare that nostalgia to Winston's. His memories of pre-Oceana are of war and loss. His memories are of taking refuge in the London Underground and of the loss of his mother and sister, to details he can't recall. He actually doesn't know any better time than the one he's in, right now. At least most people aren't regularly afraid for their lives.

All he really knows is that he's dissatisfied.

The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible and glittering-a world of steel and concrete of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons-a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting-three hundred million people all with the same face. The reality was decaying, dingy cities where underfed people shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes, in patched-up nineteenth-century houses that smelt always of cabbage and bad lavatories.

Someone else said something similar to the feeling that Winston seems to have.

Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

When I first heard that quote, I felt it. It felt real. It isn't.

That Great War that Tyler Durden referred to was World War II. You know what won that war? Logistics. You know what runs logistics? People pumping gas. That Great Depression was out of a need for the simple value of a job to which and from which one can shuffle.

Here we are, holding civilization together with little more than our bare minds, and that's supposed to be considered a failure because we aren't the great heroes?

Now, I'm not saying that either Winston or Project Mayhem don't have any validity of complaint about their respective societies. I am saying that they're not engaging with enough complexity to even start to understand their complaints, let alone address them in an effective manner.

Again, there are legitimate complaints to be had. They just need to be understood. And, to understand them, there's a story to be told.

In 1973, for a brief moment, Winston Smith held in his hands, due to some mistake, evidence of a falsification of the past. By the sixties, there had been great purges of the original leaders of the Revolution, with the exception of Big Brother (who I can't remember having a name). Some survivors had spent time at the Chestnut Tree Cafe, that same place that Syme continued to frequent. They had confessed to any number of crimes, been found guilty, pardoned, given do-nothing jobs to keep them still, and then, eventually, retried and gave false confession yet again.

That moment, in 1973, in Winston's job (that I would still envy if not for the fact that you needed to live in Oceana to have it), in the usual group of documents, Winston had a ten-year-old newspaper page that had the same survivors on second trial giving their confession of collusion with the wrong nation.

Now, even that newspaper page was, likely, a lie. By that point, the confession had been rewritten several times, due to changing circumstances of war with one nation and peace with the other. But, that circumstance, as much as it changed, was always changeless. The official word was always that we have always been at war with _______ and always at peace with _______.

So, for however long, without having the evidence of any specific truth about which lies were told. Winston had once had evidence of the lies. And, that is worthy of complaint. The totality of the lies is both damaging to everybody and, quite frankly, mystifying.

I understand the HOW: I don't understand WHY.

All he really knows is that it will continue to escalate.

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and the mind itself is controlable-what then?

But no! His courage seemed suddenly to stiffen of its own accord. The face of O'Brien, not called up by any obvious association, floated into his mind. He knew, with more certainty than before, that O'Brien was on his side...

These feelings of Winston's...

Still, in the absence of a great deal of clarity about what, exactly, is going on in his world or what he would prefer that would be, Winston does have one element with which I can agree.

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.

We could argue about all else following, but it's a good starting point.
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