Totalitarianism and Anti-Rationalism in 1984

Philip J. Adler once identified 5 characteristics of totalitarianism. All 5 are featured prominently in 1984 by George Orwell. These are essays analyzing their place in that Orwellian universe.

No private life “To be away from the noisy mob of hikers even for a moment gave her a feeling of wrong-doing.” This quote, referring to Katharine, Winston’s wife, illustrates the totalitarian aspect of “no private life” by showing how the totalitarian society’s ideals are affecting even the emotions of Oceania’s occupants. Totalitarianism in 1984, or perhaps all totalitarianism, involves a sense of attachment of the individual to a greater entity. The absence of a private life in the physical sense can easily be achieved; by integrating any person into a society of collectivism or just keeping them surrounded by others, the result is no physical private life. The more significant type of this totalitarianism contained in this quote is given by her “feeling of wrong-doing.” It is remarkable that her emotions have been molded into such that she feels she is in the moral wrong, violating some untold commandment, simply for experiencing a greater degree of privacy. This emotion is very telling, and shows how far-reaching Big Brother’s abolition of private life truly is. Repeatedly in 1984 it is shown that to be a pure Airstrip One inhabitant, the individual’s emotions and thoughts must be in harmony with the greater entity, in this case the Party, rather than merely physically complying with the Party. This quote illustrates how the emotional harmony of the individual and community is manifesting itself in the aspect of not having a private life. Oceania’s sanity of collectivism has been ingrained into Katharine so much that it surfaces as a free choice, an emotional choice, coming from within. 1984’s Party, arguably the perfect totalitarian government, has actively pursued the abolition of private lives to the point where totalitarian elements arise instinctively in the individual, and nourish the need and conscious want of not possessing privacy.

Cult of Personality The word cult usually has religious connotations, and in 1984 there most certainly is a religion, it being centered on the figurehead of idols contained in Airstrip One. Big Brother is the personality, and the Party’s totalitarian collectivist worshipping of him is the cult. O’Brien’s statement of “There will be no love, except for the love of Big Brother” can be considered a summary of the cult of 1984; utmost devotion, perhaps the only devotion to any individual, is directed at Big Brother. Big Brother reaches levels of deity in the book, with tribute to him saturating Airstrip One, and He being esteemed to be the messiah of the people, as well as a savior of society itself. This connection between a single leader and the people found in 1984 typifies the cult of personality aspect of totalitarianism; the connection absorbs “the people” into the same apparent goals and mindset of “the leader,” pushing the state into a position to be controlled by a figurehead. Once the state is in that position, totalitarianism is easily manifested as the leader simply interprets popular will into whatever is desired, regardless of past restraints. The totalitarian actions of the leader are obvious in 1984, with Big Brother being the focal point of creating hate for others, enforcing oppression, and justifying irrationality. Although it can be claimed to be what the people truly want, the actions of Big Brother are clearly shown to be merely reflections of the elite’s love of pure power. It is this cult of personality, this power of the leader, which forges the link between the people and the government’s actions in 1984. The people throw in support behind Big Brother, Big Brother in reality embodies the collective elite, and then the collective elite control government actions.

Single-party Ultra-nationalism “Below Big Brother comes the Inner Party, its numbers limited to six millions, or something less than 2 per cent of the population of Oceania. Below the Inner Party comes the Outer Party, which, if the Inner Party is described as the brain of the State, may be justly likened to the hands. Below that come the dumb masses whom we habitually refer to as ‘the proles,’ numbering perhaps eighty-five per cent of the population.” This quote explains the hierarchy of social status in Oceania, showing proportional inequality and evidencing degradation of the masses. Underlying this quote is the assumption that this is the absolute structure of its society; there are no other “Parties,” no possibility of elevating the “dumb masses,” no other organization in existence to obey. This illustrates the aspect of single-party ultra-nationalism by the fact that there is only a single mass organization that can coordinate social interactions between the people and their leader, and by the fact that there are specific predetermined classifications of people that factor into the distribution of rights in society. It is a set status quo, never to be changed, and possessing permanent victims of nationalism. In 1984, the “people” of the nation who have a leader are the Outer Party, while the Proles play the part of an inferior grouping. Foreigners, such as soldiers from Eurasia and Eastasia, also hold a dehumanized role where they are the targets of concentrated hate. These “others” reinforce single-party ultra-nationalism by providing an enemy image, and emphasizing the strength of the nationalist Party in 1984. The leader of the society, in essence, is the Inner Party. It is the Inner Party and the Outer Party that form the fundamental nationalism through their link. They are the larger “people,” who can restrict others’ rights.

Trust the Leader Alone Because the Leader in essence is the Party, all trust put in the leader is put in the Party. And everyone putting trust into the same thing inherently leads to conformity of some degree; especially if that is the only object of trust (“there will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party”). When this is done, behavior gravitates around the object of trust, or loyalty. In 1984 the “trust the leader alone” aspect of totalitarianism is obvious, with the leader (Big Brother, or the Inner Party) being undisputed in shaping the collective will. There is no political competition, and the only discussion is discussion that is approved by the leader. “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.” This quote shows the result of the “mystic bond” in 1984; the sole interpretation of the collective will is a nation bent on militarism, fanatic patriotism, synchronized thought, and conformity in labor, conflict, and triumph. The contempt held for past or traditional political or social norms typical of a revolutionized regime is also contained in Orwell’s novel. The murky past of capitalists and bowler hats is looked down on with disdain, and selfishness is proclaimed obsolete with the new, everlasting order. To the inhabitants of Airstrip One, the manipulated view of self-centered capitalism is juxtaposed with the collectivist status quo of community-based strength. Further fueling the ability of totalitarianism to perpetuate is the belief that progress is happening in Oceania, that happiness itself is increasing.

Collective Will is Everything “Individually, no member of the Party owns anything, except petty personal belongings. Collectively, the Party owns everything in Oceania, because it controls everything and disposes of the products as it thinks fit. In the years following the Revolution it was able to step into this commanding position almost unopposed, because the whole process was represented as an act of collectivization.” Collective will is in full force in 1984, completely fulfilling the totalitarian aspect of “collective will is everything.” Property, behavior, appearance, thought, values, goals, emotions, and all expression capable of a human are strictly regulated into orthodoxy, or widespread conformity. Even thought has been made collective by the Party, and there are Thought Police to enforce it. This quote shows how property as we know it has been reduced to infinitesimal levels and for all meaningful consideration has ceased to exist. It is a rather cunning way to undercut one of the supposed cornerstones of human freedom; for when anything is subsumed into a wholly collective state, it ceases to exist based on the ability to differentiate it from other entities. It is this absence of property that I think first puts Oceania on the path of collective will. Once the people’s external lives were made collective, it followed that collectivism entrenched itself internally into them. Once absorbed into “the people,” the Party then acts as the collective will of “the people,” and expresses it in unrestrained, selfish policy. This specific dystopian reality is fundamentally based around collectivism and associated concepts, as evidenced by Goldstein’s analysis of Oceania in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. In Oceania, those who deviate from the established collective will are simply removed from consideration. Airstrip One doesn’t just exist as a collectivist city, it is systematically maintained as such.

An essay on Anti-Rationalism and its fuel, struggle and victory

Struggle and Victory Struggle, fundamentally, is always continuous in society; society is the very result of struggle. Like many other things, it is the application, as well as motives, of struggle that may produce morally wrong or evil effects on society. I think struggle and victory will surface in all societies, and so I find it interesting it is labeled as one of anti-rationalism’s aspects. It is when totalitarian ideas are used to unreasonable ends by implicitly relying on the manipulation of struggle and victory that struggle and victory enter the realm of anti-rationalism. If struggle is inherent in humanity, it follows that struggle is essentially part of instinct, and if totalitarianism promotes instinct above reason, it seems logical that totalitarianism would latch on to the use of struggle and victory to profit itself. The reason that is being squashed by promotion of instinct in this case is the reason of a conflict-resolving mind. For example, inseparable from natural struggle in life is the natural drive to end the struggle, to surmount it or attain victory in some way. The exploitation of this natural psychology occurs when the initial goal of resolution is distorted and forgotten behind a mask of continual conflicts, exactly where “the struggle for victory never ends, but continues forever” fits into the totalitarian aspect of struggle and victory. “The ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist.”  Paralleling real world examples, 1984 shows this totalitarian use by creating explicit enemy images for “the people” to be at odds with. For example, Eurasia and Eastasia are presented to the people of Oceania as concrete, tangible enemies that are infinitely and actively trying to attain victory over Oceania. Conflicts such as this put the people at the psychological mercy of the enemy, forcing them to resolve the inflated conflict before considering others. It is then up to the Party to simply keep the conflict it controls at the forefront of the masses’ minds, and irrationality is then logically possible due to the abolition of the rational drive to perceive and reason out other conflicts. It is extremely dangerous when conflict itself, the essence of society as we know it, is consciously used to manipulate those who are engaged in conflict. The psychoanalyst M. Esther Harding once proclaimed, “Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.” I charge that conflict is also an end unto consciousness.

Essays examining characters and plot elements in 1984

The Proles

The Proles are a people endlessly bombarded with vices and distractions; they hold no strong desire that is not satisfied. “It was nearly twenty hours, and the drinking-shops which the proles frequented (‘pubs’, they called them) were choked with customers. From their grimy swing doors, endlessly opening and shutting, there came forth a smell of urine, sawdust, and sour beer.” This is evidenced by how the Prole class is relatively uneventful even though it’s largely ignored by the Inner Party. Ignoring the Outer Party would probably lead to individual intellectual leaders, and unrest and outrage would develop over the totalitarian state of their lives. Party members would eventually cultivate memories, and Big Brother’s monopoly on the past would cease.

The Outer Party members are kept under endless surveillance, have their behavior molded by the Thought Police, and live in joyless fear in Airstrip One; but the Proles live in contentment, reveling in their current state of existence. I think one of reasons for this is that the Proles’ minds are fundamentally at ease. My essays on Julia, Parsons, and Winston depict lives where there is an underlying conflict between mind and behavior; instead, with the Proles I see a people who have accepted their state of being, and their behavior doesn’t conflict with their reality. This self-willed consensus on environmental contentment just happens to be centered on distractions created by the Party; so the Proles can’t be termed happy necessarily. Rather they are merely connected with their reality, in stark contrast with Party members, who have to reconcile realities to simply stay alive. The psychological activity of the Proles seems much less tiresome than that of Party members; Proles know what they want, and they spend their time thinking about them. Those who wear blue overalls, on the other hand, are kept agitated, and contend with conflicting environments and thoughts on a daily basis. It is this developed nature of Proles to keep peaceful and thoughtless, and just quietly act as consumers of what they are given that I think clears them of a need to regulate them.

Examining members of the Outer Party

Julia Julia thrives on pleasure of the senses; her mind, or being, is stimulated by sensual actions. Her world revolves around things such as visible beauty and sexual touching. “With Julia, everything came back to her own sexuality. As soon as this was touched upon in any way she was capable of great acuteness. Unlike Winston, she had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism.” Her sense of reality is derived from being able to exist with such things. Big Brother, or the Inner Party, obviously benefit from destroying individual realities. They accomplish this by way of Julia’s designated job in Airstrip One. The way Julia’s job undermines her sense of reality is that it takes the core of her reality, and then degrades it, makes the exposure to it continuous, all the while using it to further others’ agendas. Julia, the lover of love, the worshipper of sex, engages in creating pornography on a daily basis. The pornography makes a mockery of her reality, promoting sexuality simply for manipulative effect on the Proles. The pornography is not meant to elevate, value, or understand the sublime nature of sexuality. My interpretation can be represented through a real life scenario: If I, who am a big fan of John Locke, was forced to distribute literature by Locke for the purpose of providing fuel for others’ fires, I would feel like the others were missing the true nature of Locke. They would be in a cave, knowing Locke as a means to keep a fire going, while I would have, in comparison, a massive pool of knowledge and connections about Locke and his writings that transcend into abstract value. This deeper sense of value of a thing is what I would venture to call a reality. It is the act of believing that entities have significant, intrinsic value, and then basing one’s consciousness off of those entities that form “a reality.” I am sure Julia felt frustrated as what she believed to be beautiful and meaningful was ignored on a regular basis. I believe this continuous distortion of her reality dehumanized her. “When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time.” Julia also dehumanizes others by way of the actual pornography and all of its assumed effects; with Orwell further implicating the anti-Party Julia into indirect efforts to control the Poland, it becomes an intricate web of dehumanization all founded in Julia’s job.

Parsons Parsons is a blind man; he is an orthodox drone who is incapable of generating ideas, a sponge with a talking head that unfortunately reminds me of some people I know. He doesn’t just support the totalitarian systems of Airstrip One, he enthusiastically participates in them. While Winston, as do all Party members, also participates, what lowers my opinion of Parsons is that he participates merely for the sake of participating. “Parsons, his attention caught by the trumpet call, sat listening with a sort of gaping solemnity, a sort of edified boredom. He could not follow the figures, but he was aware that they were in some way a cause for satisfaction.” He would probably just as readily participate in any other environment he was dropped off in. The reality construct of such a person is undoubtedly more foreign to me than that of Winston’s; however, the institutionalized concept with the most meaning to Parsons seems to be his family. “D’you know what that little girl of mine did last Saturday, when her troop was on a hike out Berkhamsted way? She got two other girls to go with her, slipped off from the hike, and spent the whole afternoon following a strange man. They kept on his tail for two hours, right through the woods, and then, when they got into Amersham, handed him over to the patrols.” This quote shows the totalitarian behavior of Parsons’ family, while at the same time Parsons is affectionately bragging of his family. A conflict emerges, similar to Julia’s and Winston’s; Parsons consciously enjoys and values his family, but the system that he follows is working against it in the background. Parsons is a hopeless case; he is sliding into an impossible place in his world. He represents mindless men, and his reality is one that is not acutely perceived.

Winston Winston is perpetually striving to differentiate between truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, past and pretense; this forms his reality, his intelligible quest for truth. Whereas Julia’s world becomes vivid and alive through physical sensation, Winston’s world forms around his memories, questions, insanity, and thoughts. Winston desires to possess the truth of the past, and by that possess the truth of the Party. He is not content with his current environment, and so he places his reality in the abstract search for another; he wants, if nothing more, to just know about alternative environments. Yet his job consists of destroying the past; through rewriting he makes the truth impossible to possess. Every day he takes what is necessary to build his desired reality and strips it of its meaning. He is presented with news articles, photographs, and official statements, all of which could be used to establish a truthful past. He is in constant agitation over the lack of such evidence, and yet he spends much of his time perpetuating the absence of evidence. A sign of possible dehumanization is a hint of rationalizing the destruction of his own reality, as shown by, “But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty’s figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connection with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie.” This shows that everything was beginning to appear as nonsense to Winston, perhaps from getting desensitized to the Ministry of Truth’s work. Or he might have just lost hope in obtaining any truth at all, and so he condemns all fact as nonsense. I find it troubling that Winston obsesses over the lack of truth, and yet devotes so much of his self to covering truth; he even enjoys doing so: “Winston’s greatest pleasure in life was in his work.” I would readily term this self-constructed conflict an aspect of insanity. In the book, it’s clear that Winston finds satisfaction in his destructive prowess. His work has become like a game; just like Julia, the true nature of what he is doing is left outside of consciousness. His creation of Comrade Ogilvy shows Winston using his intellect to actively promote the Inner Party, and more significantly, promote the abolition of existing past knowledge. In fact, he isn’t merely promoting the distortion of fact, he is the distortion. Winston’s job also provides incentive for him to attach to it through playing to his natural ego and emotion. “There was no way of knowing whose job would finally be adopted, but he felt a profound conviction that it would be his own.” Even if he didn’t enjoy his work, there still exists an outlet for pride and instinctive assertion of superiority for Winston to experience. With such an insane person as Winston, the sane dehumanization that his work offers must feel like a refuge, albeit unconscious, from the fretful, insane paranoia that logic makes him endure.

On Room 101

Winston is insane, to put it simply. Winston is insane in the fact that he believes his individual imaginations and memories are part of the past. Winston is morally and intellectually sick. “He heard himself promising to lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug-taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child’s face.” As this quote shows, when the situation demands it, Winston seems capable of quite inhumane acts. As for intellectually sick, Winston has a deeply improper view on truth. He believes that truth is absolute, that bits and pieces of truth are created through the experiences of the Reality, and then remain constant to be rationally assimilated and used. He fails to understand that his surrounding realities exist in the present abstract conceptions of others’ minds. His madness eventually lands him in Room 101, where reality reconciliation is forced on to him. He finally faces the terrible reality of which he lives; and that reality is that there is a single prevailing reality, and is the collective reality of Oceania. Winston is a frail ghost; he does not represent humanity, his mind does not matter. “That is the last man. If you are human, that is humanity.” In Room 101, O’Brien drives it home by revealing the obvious wretchedness of Winston.

“The creature’s face seemed to be protruded, because of its bent carriage. A forlorn, jailbird’s face with a nobby forehead running back into a bald scalp, a crooked nose, and battered-looking cheekbones above which his eyes were fierce and watchful. The cheeks were seamed, the mouth had a drawn-in look… At a guess he would have said that it was the body of a man of sixty, suffering from some malignant disease.” His confused concept of individual reality, such as a past, is put to rest with Big Brother’s medicine doublethink. Pain transforms Winston’s unconscious senses, and pushes him into a weakened state of submission. Room 101 then proceeds to teach him that acceptance to a constant reality is truth; while teachings that acceptance of changing a constant reality yields truth as well. In essence, doublethink is reality.

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    • #2 by Theophillus Smith on January 24, 2013 - 10:42 AM

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