It often pays to revisit the wisdom handed down to us. In such tumultuous times, the words of those who’ve been through chaos comparable to ours are an invaluable resource- especially when the words come from ingenious authors. An insight to the triumphs and failures of our predecessors allows us to learn from them; or at the very least laugh a smug laugh as we’re doomed to relive the worst of it. Always helps to be in on the joke.
George Orwell is famous for his dystopian 1984, a novel that serves as a constant reminder of a terrifyingly totalitarian future we must all work to avoid. With every extra street camera installed, the message becomes increasingly important.
Orwell, unbeknownst to many, was first and foremost a journalist and essayist. Just like in his novels, there is a wealth of analysis in his polemical works that help to make sense of the world today. Recently, the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union in a move that shocked the world. You know who wouldn’t have been so shocked by Brexit? George Orwell.
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In his 1941 essay, “England Your England“, Orwell delves into the complexity and power of patriotism, specifically that of the English. He touches on a very important characteristic of English culture, one that could make sense out of the seemingly incomprehensible decision to exit the EU. As Orwell put it “the famous ‘insularity’ and ‘xenophobia’ of the English is far stronger in the working class than in the bourgeoisie. In all countries the poor are more national than the rich, but the English working class are outstanding in their abhorrence of foreign habits.” By pandering to this seemingly intrinsic need for individuality and sovereignty through outright lies, politicians manifested the misinformed cries of the working class with terrible consequences.
This phenomena extends far beyond the UK, however. Orwell taps into a human characteristic that is again threatening to manifest in the United States. Politicians arm themselves with the support of working class by feeding into their fears of invasion and lost cultural agency. Orwell saw it during World War II, we saw it with Brexit, and now we get a chance to do something about it here at home. Jokes aren’t really all that funny when you know the punchline.
I definitely recommend that everyone try their hand at the Orwell essays. I recently picked up a copy of In Front of Your Nose, a collection of his essays, journalism, and letters from 1945 to 1950. Insights into post-nuclear societal development, and a thought provoking analysis on the cycle of violence and the pointlessness of revenge all be found within the first 10 pages. Read up.
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