Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me.

Kerosene is nothing but perfume to me.

Many writers had commented that 17880067George Orwell’s “1984” had made its way back into the best sellers lists on Amazon and elsewhere. The general opinion was that the concerns with “fake news” and fears about the growth of the popularity of right-wing populist politicians had driven this resurgence of interest in a great classic. It is excellent that this book is being re-read as it is an excellent warning about the dangers of limiting free speech and a clear exposition of how those who control language and discourse also control thought and opinion. However, an interesting article suggested that this book was not the best guide to the recent events, to which we are witness, but rather another dystopian classic, Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″, held that distinction. It was for this reason I reread the book.

This book has not aged at all in the 55 years since it was published. It is still a fresh, fast-paced exciting read today and I can imagine if feels even more urgent now than it did then. It describes a frightening future when literature is banned, thought and discussion discouraged and, as an alternative, an overstimulating popular culture full of noise and movement is provided (with adjunctive psychotropic drugs as needed). In this future the duty of the fireman is to find and burn books.

Unlike “1984” in this future the  state has not forced these changes on an unwilling public but rather has promoted the changes as necessary and beneficial, as a means to protect a diverse community from distress and harm.

‘Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities.’

‘It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.’

‘Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace,’

It was also seen as a way to ensure the avoidance of distress of all. Choice requires decisions and decisions can be difficult and promote conflict, best to avoid them. Any discomfort, no matter how integral to the human condition, could be used as an excuse to restrict choice and action.

‘You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.’

‘Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn them all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean.’

Indeed in this nightmare of a future all we need is pleasure and fun and just enough knowledge to allow us to be productive.

‘School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?’

‘So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your dare-devils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex.’

This is a libertarian novel, one which clearly promotes the individual over the group, one which warns against conformity, no matter how enjoyable, and promotes responsibility and cooperation with our fellows. There is no wastage in this novel, each page carries the story forward, either adding to the adrenaline rush of the chase or offering interesting and challenging insights into our society. We are often warned that if we ignore history we may repeat our mistakes and this is true. But when we also have warnings as clear as this, about our future dangers, we really have no excuse if we end in trouble.

‘But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen.’

Exquisite Irony – Milo’s “Dangerous”

I felt that there was an  exquisite irony dangerouswhen I noted that Milo Yiannopoulos’ book ‘Dangerous‘ was heading the amazon best sellers list before his book was even available for sale. Since his book deal with Simon & Schuster was announced there has been a flurry of critical press. As the glamour boy of the alt-right Milo has also become the bogey man of the  left’s twitterati and social media groups.

There were early calls to ban the book from Sarah Silverman and Jud Apatow (1) and The Guardian’s comment pages were awash with calls to ban the book.  Later the Chicago Review of Books announced (2) that it would not review any of Simon & Schuster’s output in 2017. A storm of indignation was raised before a single word of the book was available to be read.

The liberals were apparently oblivious to the illiberal calls they made – book banning, book burning and suppression of authors are tactics whose history is often associated with the totalitarian right (Though as George Orwell described in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ the totalitarian left has become very able at this strategy).

But more importantly the liberals have forgotten the reasons that book-banning and censorship is a bad idea. Sure, it is morally wrong to try and suppress ideas discordant with your own as it denies the equality of other peoples’ opinions. Also, it is rather silly as it is unlikely that you can presume you will always be correct and, come the time you are wrong, you will need access to different ideas to adapt to new circumstances. But, at a very basic level, it is also a bad idea because it does not work. Refusing to discuss issues with people who think differently never causes them to change, indeed it may tend to promote in them a confidence that their views are correct. Your refusal to debate is not seen as a sign of moral strength but rather as a sign of weakness, a sign that you can’t debate, and a sign that you are aware that your argument is inherently weak.

However, at the very basic level it should have been clear that this was a stupid strategy because it is likely to backfire and be counter-productive. It should have been obvious that much of the success of the alt-right, and Milo in particular,  rests on the pleasure gained from upsetting the hierarchy, the pleasure found by saying the unsayable, and the simple pleasure from witnessing easily prompted outrage and indignation. To deliver these shows of outrage and upset feelings before a word had been printed was a free gift to the alt-right’s keyboard warriors who quickly booked their pre-orders for the book.

No matter what review the Chicago Review of Books may have given Milo’s book, whether it be good, bad or indifferent they could not have given more publicity, and increased sales, than had they tried. They have not only guaranteed home more sales and a wider initial audience, they have also increased his profile and cemented his poster-boy status.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that following this campaign more people will have read the book  than would have done otherwise. It certainly helped the sales of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, as Oscar Wilde stated, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

via Daily Prompt: Exquisite

 

  1. http://heatst.com/politics/sarah-silverman-and-judd-apatow-join-movement-to-stop-publication-of-milos-book/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/04/simon-schuster-alt-right-hate-breitbart-milo-yiannopoulos
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four