Posted by: captainfalcon | April 29, 2010

Orwell, anyone?

I think it’s worth addressing a confusion of Chris’s about this post, because I can see how even someone who’d bothered to read 1984 before weighing in on it could make a similar mistake. Chris writes,

I can see how unthinkingly following certain social norms about behavior, which are predictated on “illogical cant” and “a series of irrelevant non sequiturs” while ostracizing all those who do not follow suit, can obviously interfere with one’s reasoning capacities…but are they necessarily corrosive to thinking in general? I find I think better, for example, when running or cleanning or doing something equally mindless than I do when I am sitting about.

If you are running in order to think better, or just because you like to run, then Orwell has no problem with that. (In fact, he doesn’t have a problem with people who live their entire lives wantonly / unreflectively – hence his benign take on the proles.)

It’s when you’re running because other people are, or out of some unthinking sense that you’re obliged to do it, that he gets pissy. And, obviously, “democracy” does not “die” because you feel duty-bound to go to spin class. It is when you’re routine is dictated by mindless social norms that you are no longer a thoughtful person.

Also, I think you’re missing the broader point of this series of posts. (Perhaps because you’ve never read 1984; perhaps because, as a self-proclaimed scientist, you find deliberately taking an “internal point of view” to some system you don’t already accept to be alien – more on this shortly.) The series is basically exegetical; it aims to explain 1984’s lessons, not to endorse them. (Though, to be sure, it endorses some of the points Orwell makes. But it’s purpose isn’t to mount a defense of them, but to describe how Orwell makes them.) I can see the confusion, though. The best way to explain a book’s point is to adopt its “internal point of view” – to accept it’s way of seeing the world in order to figure out what follows from it – and, when occupying that, you sound a lot like you’re endorsing what the book says (because, provisionally, you are).*

I expect this confusion partially explains why you thought I was personally attacking your penchant for jogging, and so lashed out. (It doesn’t completely explain it, because Orwell’s thought is not superficial enough to have the absurd implications you, rather obnoxiously, attribute to it.)

* Why would a scientist find deliberately taking internal points of view alien to his thinking? Because he’s trained to view publicly available data that can be synthesized using an easily describable method  as the only meaningful data around. Taking an internal point of view with respect some system is to adopt its assumptions about what is, and is not, meaningful. It is a way of understanding a system that doesn’t rely on publicly available data (you need to “get” the internal point of view, first) that can be synthesized using an easily describable method (it’s not at all clear exactly how to go about getting into an internal point of view).



  1. Your post obviously move from exegesis of Orwell’s thought to an endorsement and probably extension of the same in its last paragraph and especially its last line: “And democracy dies in a perfectly plausible way.” My comment simply stated that I could not follow the jump from people thoughtlessly following social norms on cleanliness, excersize, and weekend activities, to the collapse of democracy (much less find it “perfectly plausible”). Your most recent addition to the dialogue does not enlighten things further.

  2. dang amazing stuff dude.

  3. Do you see the connection between people being kept in a state of constant, unreflective activity and their not having time to think through what they’re doing?

    If so, do you see a connection between people not having time to think through what they’re doing and people not being good participants in deliberative democracy?

    If so, do you see the connection between people not being good participants in deliberative democracy and the death of it?

    If so, then you see the connection I was trying to make.*

    You may, of course, point to certain imprecisions in my post as a reason for your confusion. (You said “democracy,” not “deliberative democracy,” you were focusing on three examples of mindless, unreflective activity, not mindless, unreflective activity itself.) If that helps you save face, then be my guest.

    Nothing, however, will save you the embarrassment of spelling “exercise” the way you did.

    * And Orwell really is trying to make it, too. It is unbelievable that you’d speculate mine is “probably an extension” of Orwell’s thought when you haven’t read his fucking book. (Unless, maybe, Hobie told you about it?) Also, your refusal to believe that this is exegetical is predicated on your lack of facility with the internal point of view – further evidence to my point about so-called “scientists.”

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