Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pericopes for the Week: Orwell and Arendt

Like thousands of other troubled Americans, I have been re-reading George Orwell and Hannah Arendt. I first read their writings in a required freshman-level humanities course at Concordia College, Portland, Ore. That was in the fall of 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president.

George Orwell

In light of yesterday's delusional tweets (not to mention earlier Alice-in-Wonderland tweets that have now been definitively falsified in the House Intelligence Committee hearing) and the subsequent WH briefing, here are six pericopes for the week, two from Orwell's classic 1984 and four from Arendt's timely 1971 essay, "Lying in Politics," which she composed in the wake of the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

First, Orwell (from chapter one of the book, the forbidden text that Winston secretly reads near the middle of 1984):

Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the Party is not infallible, there is the need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The key word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. (George Orwell, 1984 [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949], 175)

...Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies--all this is indispensably necessary (ibid., 177).

Hannah Arendt
And now Arendt, who offers a glimmer of hope:

Under normal circumstances the liar is defeated by reality, for which there is no substitute; no matter how large the tissue of falsehood that an experienced liar has to offer, it will never be large enough, even if he enlists the help of computers, to cover the immensity of factuality. The liar, who may get away with any number of single falsehoods, will find it impossible to get away with lying on principle. This is one of the lessons that could be learned from the totalitarian experiments and the totalitarian rulers' frightening confidence in the power of lying--in their ability, for instance, to rewrite history again and again to adapt the past to the 'political line' of the present moment or to eliminate data that did not fit their ideology....   For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.... The self-deceived deceiver loses all contact with not only his audience, but also the real world, which still will catch up with him, because he can remove his mind from it but not his body.... That the public had access for years to material that the government vainly tried to keep from it testifies to the integrity and to the power of the press even more forcefully than the way the Times broke the story. What has often been suggested has now been established: so long as the press is free and not corrupt, it has an enormously important function to fulfill and can rightly be called the fourth branch of government. Whether the First Amendment will suffice to protect this most essential political freedom, the right to unmanipulated factual information without which all freedom of opinion becomes a cruel hoax, is another question. (Hannah Arendt, "Lying in Politics," as quoted in Crises of the Republic [New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1972], 7, 31, 36, 45)

1 comment:

  1. I feel you really should study the glaring preponderance of contradictory evidence surrounding the official 9/11 conclusions. Your accusations about reality in this country have been true since 9/11. I've been reading "A Field Guide To Lies". I highly recommend it.