[personal profile] wingedbeast
In Chapter 9, Winston finally has The Book. The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston takes this book deliberately out of order, and I will take that as an excuse to do the same with this chapter. I'll go back to the first part of the chapter, later, but I'll do as Winston does with the book and go first to War.

The least interesting part of the focuc on War is the fact of the three nations. Oceana, Eastasia, and Eurasia all exist and are, in terms of their purposes, their philosophies, and the experience of the common citizen, identical. We'll into the direct-politics later, but first to the very concept of war.

In one combination or another, these three superstates are permenantly at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years.

It should be noted that "the past twenty-five years" would be at the point of Emmanuel Goldstein (or other) writing the book, perhaps before or soon after the alleged exhile of the allegedly existing author. By the time of Winston's reading, it's been at least a couple decades more than that.

War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude toward it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hystaria is continuous and universal in all countries, and such acts as raping, looting, the slughter of children, the reduction of whole populations to slavery, and reprisals against prisoners which extend even to boiling alive and burying alive, are looked upon as normal, and, when they are committed by one's own side and not by the enemy, meritorious.

Here's where we should pause to take note of a few things.

Firstly, let's look at the Cold War. The Cold War could be said to be about ideological difference, but if that were the case, it would be a matter of letting the ideology play out and see who turned out to be right. No need for warfare, there.

So, why the fight? Well, the fight was because neither side was willing to let the ideology play out. Both were fighting for/against "Domino Theory", the notion that a series of transitions would eventually lead to one ideology winning the entire globe. We stopped them from taking too many, they stopped us. Effectively, it was a fight to maintain a stalemate long enough for one ideology to fail on its own. (Win for Capitalism.)

There's a case to be made that the American side was the side of freedom, but there's also the case to be made that this was turned into a slogan. How free are you to consider ideologies and express one when McCarthy's has one list and Holywood has a blacklist?

At the same time, we were lionizing spies and assassins. The idea that there were such secret organiztions as U.N.C.L.E. or C.O.N.T.R.O.L. (points to people who get the reference) that had people stealing information and carrying out assassinations was considered a comfort.

Take a look at the fact that, even though every credible source has shown torture to be unsuccessful in attaining reliable information, we're STILL debating it. In fact, the more likely you are to claim that morality is objective and objectively known, the more likely you are to be on the side that argues the Bad Question*.

So, what's being described is a mode of war that is both less costly in terms of "our side" and more likely to have us willingly suspend morality. War as described in the book is a different beast than we've had before.

To understand the nature of the present war-for in spite of the re-grouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war-one must realise in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive.

In 1984, the reason it can't be decisive is that the three sides are too equally matched. But, in the real world, right now and since prior to 1984, we've been fighting a war on a noun. Then we started fighting a second war on a noun. Neither war is truly winnable, not because the noun is so strong but because the noun... is a noun. Neither noun is a political entity that can be defeated, disolved, made to surrender, or negotiated with. It's just a thing.

Various names of organizations may change, but the noun (and the war on same) remains.

Secondly, there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about. With the establishment of self-contained economies, in which production and consumption are geared to one another, the scramble for markets which was a main cause of previous wars has come to an end, while the competition for raw materials is no longer a matter of life and death.

Yeah, not all of Orwell's predictions were hits.

We're going to skip over the point where there are disputed territories, wherein the primary resource is cheap labor of people for whom it doesn't matter who's in charge at the moment.

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the suprlus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial process of destruction had been at work.

There is a point at which Orwell seems to have at least a minimal amount of sympathy with communism (at least in the "small c" variety). He sees the idealism of it at least, as well as the idealism of a potential future technological society in which the problems of starvation, homelessness, illiteracy, etc. are all taken care of simply by a mechanized society in which productivity has skyrocketed and, either by effort or by inevitability without influence, everybody has the resources they need.

And yet, he also saw people responding to this notion with some amount of fear.

But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction-indeed, in some sense was the destruction-of a hierarchical society. In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obviuos and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, walth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselvs; and when once they had don ethis, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they woul sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

It's worthy of note that even Richard Nixon expected the eventual end of the 40-hour work-week. Based on the increasing productivity and decreasing need for human labor, we've been predicting a world in which the divide between rich and poor shrinks. Instead, it grew.

It's also worthy of note that the New Deal did not materially harm the wealthy in America. As we instituted social safety nets and a strong minimum wage, the rich got richer. They just happened to get richer from a booming economy full of people who, get this, could afford to buy things.

There's no small amount of egotism involved in opposition to social welfare, minimum wage, etc. Objectivism is the philosophy of entitled, wealthy, selfish douchebags who think of being selfish douchebags as their gift to the world. Yet, one can easily imagine some fear to this. If they are not, as they claim, the Atlases who hold up the world that would, should they shrug, crash and, instead, just the lucky set?

What does the wealthy Venture Capitalist expect of a society in which everybody is well aware of what Venture Capitalism is and does? At the very least, said Venture Capitalist should expect stronger regulations.

With this need to preserve power in hand, options like a return to an agrarian past and simply not allowing production aren't options. Both make clear the privation that is not needed for the survival of the society or the place within.

The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

The book notes that it's not even necessary that the weapons made be used. The important part is that they not be useable for other means. And, here's where we note the concept of the Military Industrial Complex.

Military Industrial Complex is not, when understood accurately, a conspiracy. The various elements aren't actively working together towards an ultimate goal. Each element is acting on its own and there's this consequence that we can call a Military Industrial Complex.

Industries need to make things in order to make money. They'll gladly make anything so long as they can sell it for money. The value is unimportant. Alf merchandise or Simpsons merchandise or video games or the life saving universal vaccine or a troop transport. It's all the same. That's not an insult, that's how economics works and how we need it to work.

Congresspersons show their value to their states/districts by bringing money home. That can be by bringing grants for public works and social safety net, but there's an ideological issue, there. What doesn't have that same ideological issue is military manufacturing. The congressperson gets to bring money to their state/district, the factories get to work, make money and employ people who will then have money to spend, fueling an economy, etc.

The military having any use for what's created is... a side benefit if that. But, here we have an increasing military, an ever-bigger hammer and a need to justify that.

Part of the reason the US spends so much money on our military is because... well... We'll argue against giving school-teachers a cost-of-living pay increase, but...

The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city, where the possession of a lump of horseflesh makes the difference between wealth and poverty. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.

Again, I want to note that Orwell didn't get everything right, here. After all, we live in a world with far less privation than that of which he wrote. Yet, the divide between rich and poor remains. In terms of material wealth, most of us don't sacrifice for America's military. Yet, that readiness to concentrate power remains.

We might not be giving up food for the war, but we do have people making serious areguments against the First Amendment. In fact, we have them making that argument while claiming to be defenders of freedom, based primarily in their focus on (a highly ideosyncratic understanding of) the Second Amendment.

There are points where I want to push back against Orwell. But, there are points where there's just too much good reason for this book to stick around.

* http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/2791.html



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