04 March 2007

Proles and animals are free

George Orwell's political satire Nineteen Eighty-Four is rightly lauded as a brilliant skewering of Stalinism and Fascism in particular and all administrative/bureaucratic power systems in general. But as Randall said in Clerks, I never noticed something about it until now.

All the horror in the novel - continual and total surveillance, witchhunting of thought criminals, etc - only happens to the middle class. The "Outer Party", what we would call today the people with jobs in information and marketing, are the ones continually terrorised. The ruling class - the Inner Party - are allowed to turn their home telescreens off. And no-one gives a crap about what the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Oceania - the working class, the "proles" - think or do. The Party considers it impossible that the proles could ever revolt on their own - so as long as they prevent any potential rebellion within their own ranks, everything should be sweet.

There's more to this, of course. When our hero Winston Smith goes into the proletarian part of town to try to find someone who can remember what things were like before the Party took over. The old guy he talks to honestly doesn't seem to notice any difference. You can't get beer in pint jugs any more, and top hats seem to have gone out of fashion, but apart from that... Winston assumes that the old man is senile and confused, but perhaps there really is no difference between life under Big Brother and life under capitalist democracy, for the proles.

Noam Chomsky apparently said that it's always the middle-class intellectuals who fall easiest for propaganda. Perhaps our own rulers think like Orwell's big brother - that the solution is to keep the middle-class sweet and then they won't need to worry about anything, because proles can't think for themselves. Under globalised competitive capitalism, of course, this entails far more carrot and far less stick than in Orwell's vision. But these people really seem to think that if they keep the 25% of the population who create ideology and media in shiny cars, designer salads and broadband internet then the majority won't even be able to think of rebelling.

And then they wonder why in the "less economically favoured" areas every major city in the world there is a continual slow-motion riot in the form of steadily increasing levels of crime against person and property, often exacerbated by the trade in illegal drugs and the occasional hostile meme such as racism or homophobia. You just can't keep this shit in the Third World or the domestic third world known as "the suburbs where nice people don't go". It ends up crawling into the downtown areas and the leafy suburbs, in the form of panhandling, burglary, etc. As Maurice Gee said, there are not two worlds with a bridge between. There is only one world.

Crime, properly understood, is a spontaneous inchoate rebellion against the economic deprivation, alienation and polluted infosphere in which the majority of us live. Another thing our rulers perhaps haven't thought about is that if they insist on enriching themselves too much, some of the "creative class" are going to drop off the bottom end of the scale and find themselves becoming proles themselves. When people trained in theory get into contact with masses of people itching for practice, that's when you get serious mass movements. Big Brother might have just lost control of the Outer Party.


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  2. It's so important to remember that unlike in 1984, our ruling class is not infallible. Because if they were infallible, then everything we see happening would be merely playing into their hand. Conspicously absent from the academic pool of knowledge is any serious studying of the ruling class as a whole, its workings, its weaknesses. I don't think we can speculate about the behavior of the enemy unless we have enough intelligence on it. I like your take on the desocialization of society, Dolores, because it had never occurred to me. I view the socialization of Capitalist civilization as simply a defense to ward off the ideological threat of the Soviet Union. Of course, as you probably know, this idea is hardly new. And with the fall of the Soviet Union, the rollback to 1870 apparently began. As we say about Saturn, Doleres, a testing intelligence, it seems that humanity is being forced to earn its socialism, to earn its dignification, its evolution, that Capitalism exists so that we may defeat it and become alchemically refined through the process. Either that or we wipe ourselves out in the process of trying to get there. I have hope in South America, and hope that with the increasing "prole"-ification of the US, when the shit hits the fan we will we either be convinced by propaganda that various ethnic groups are responsible for our new poverty, or somehow the force of the people will overcome the forces of the reactionaries. Who the hell knows. And what does all this new found mercury-communications technology have to do with it? It's obvious that communication and collective coordination go hand in hand, but with it has come levels of propaganda saturation hard even to concieve of. Mercury indeed.

  3. Sage: your comments are interesting and I encourage you to make this blog your second home. :)