Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Lessons of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four

Over the Christmas holidays, I read George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It is the story of an individual man, Winston Smith, who lives in communist-style totalitarian regime that seeks to control everything, but he wants to be free.

I highly recommend it. It should be required reading.

This is a bit of a spoiler, but at the end of the book, Winston is caught by the Thought Police and must submit to a form of “re-education”. His torturer, O’Brien, says this to him:

Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.

One of the ideas one derives from this book is that the rejection of an external reality is the basis of totalitarianism. When truth doesn’t matter, you can make people swallow anything. And the book does not just address the issue of empirical observations, but also philosophical truth—which I believe is at the heart of the quote.

When I read this section of the book, I smiled. Because I have tried to discuss the issue of reality here on this blog. Opinions matter less than what the nature of reality is. Because people say that I try to impose my values on others, and that’s totalitarianism.

The greater totalitarianism would be the imposition of untruths. In the book, O’Brien tries to make Winston *believe* he sees five fingers when he really sees four.

Reality cannot be re-engineered. If you try to re-engineer reality, as they try to do in Oceania, it can only lead to totalitarianism.

I often notice that people who support abortion do not care about the facts. Not all of them. But some. It is as if arguing about the facts is irrelevant, that the only thing that matters is what is in the mind. As if that defines reality.

I would say most people would know better, but a large number of them don’t act like it.

What say you?