Monday, June 17, 2013

Sorry, No. You Are Not Living In Oceania Airstrip One.

From my Ottawa Citizen perch:

If we are to turn to the great George Orwell in this hour of our NSA Deep-State Surveillance Machine disorientation – is it even possible that the Washington Post and the Guardian could have mucked things up this badly? - the overwhelming evidence is against the claim that it should be Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. I set out my case in the Ottawa Citizen today: Big Brother Isn't Watching You.

If it's Orwell's guidance we need at the moment - and when would Orwell's counsel not come in handy? -a far more pertinent text might be Orwell’s Politics and the English Language, the essay that synthesizes Orwell’s lifelong concerns about the mortal perils of euphemism and the virtues of precision and plain speaking.

It was Orwell’s habit to rail, as he does in that essay, against the sort of rhetoric that can “make lies sound truthful.” To allow that journalism is quite capable of performing that ugly trick, too, is to be led directly to the sort of journalism underlying the NSA-PRISM rumpus at hand, which now consists mainly of a great unraveling of a whole lot of mischief made by the reliably sinister Glenn Greenwald, the creepy Laura Poitras and the sad little paranoid Edward Snowdon.

I’m banging on a bit about Orwell in the Citizen today not only because everybody keeps bringing him up but also because I'm a bit of an Orwell anorak. I taught a course on Orwell’s life and legacy in my stint as the University of Victoria’s Harvey Southam-Stevenson Lecturer in Journalism a couple of years ago. Don't get me started because I won't shut up.

Orwell’s legacy of integrity and honesty is not a torch that has been picked up by the Washington Post and the Guardian in recent days. Snowden can’t even claim to be a “whistleblower” in any conventional meaning of that venerable term. He has exposed no wrongdoing, shed light on no lie, and exposed no criminal act. There has been edifying contemplation and reflection, mind you. For instance Christian Caryl's thoughtful and illuminating essay in Foreign Policy, composed around the question: What's Worse? The NSA or the East German Stasi? Avert your gaze to avoid this spoiler: "Definitely the Stasi."

I do have great sympathy for those of my American friends who I'm sure will find me a bit cavalier about the Wapo-Guardian "revelations,"owing to their deep commitment to the great Yankee values of personal liberty, the sanctity of privacy, the democratic subservience of a transparent state to the people's oversight and so on. I wouldn't want to encourage and slackening of their vigilance in these matters at all; I just don't have the stomach for all the idiotic hysterics and misinformation and black propaganda surrounding all this.

And the journalism. Hoo, boy. What a load of slovenly, irresponsible blubbing it's been. I mean, really. It obliges us to believe that Al Franken is a big fat liar. We have been shown absolutely no reason to believe it, and no reason to believe that Franken is colluding in some bloody great lie with House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, President Obama, Facebook, Skype, Google, and on and on. No evidence for a big lie, no reason to believe they're all telling some big lie, no. Sorry. No sale. 

 In sum, Nineteen Eighty-Four, no, Politics and the English Language, better, and even, maybe best: A Nice Cup of Tea. 


Blogger Ros said...

With respect to people getting Orwell wrong (and boy, do some of them get him wrong!), it's difficult to beat the ruckus that blew a couple of years ago when it was revealed that Orwell had outed certain Communists in the UK to the authorities. This was in the period between (for obvious reasons) between 1939 and about 1946.

I had great fun pointing out, in a couple of places, that this was hardly surprising and should be, indeed, expected. After all, the Communists (or perhaps more accurately, the Bolsheviks) had tried to kill him - along with numerous comrades in the POUM.

This, for those with short memories and not having read "Homage to Catalonia", was when the Soviet backed Communists attempted (with a fair amount of success) to eliminate the other elements of the Left in the Republican/Legitimist front against Fascism in the infighting in Barcelona.

Again, remember that he was back in Barcelona recuperating from a throat wound sustained in the fighting against those self-same Fascists. Fortunately, he survived to give us another 12 years or so of his incomparable writing.

Pity these lightweight Leftists don't read him anymore, or not with any depth, let alone width.

4:39 PM  

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