‘To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps towards it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record about one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it.’ – George Orwell
On November 24th, I expect Labor shall win the federal election. The sudden convergence of policy on everything between the two parties is in one way disappointing, but in another way is a refreshing sign that our country is more or less sane. It would be much worse if the two sides were being dragged along by their lunatic fringes, which seems to be the case in certain other English-speaking countries.
The public pronouncements of Rudd have tracked ‘right’ on Iraq to such an extent that I think it will make absolutely no difference to the U.S. alliance which party wins. In the meanwhile, the Prime Minister has tracked ‘left’ on Anthropogenic Global Warming to such an extent that he is no better than Labor. He has also frightened me by promising to enshrine ‘Some Australians are more equal than others’ in the constitution, and I am irritated by the prospect of him handing over to Costello because I know this would mean another time-wasting constitutional debate.
I don’t expect I shall mind Labor winning overmuch, given this convergence. A Labor government will provide a good opportunity for people to remember that mandatory detention of asylum seekers, gutting higher education, and privatising everything that stands still long enough to slap a price tag on it were policies initiated by the last lot of federal Labor governments.
I have read fewer of Orwell’s essays than I ought, but the ones I have read say something clearly and logically, and the something that they say is always sane, and usually something I can agree with. This is unlike any essays that are written in newspapers or magazines nowadays. Even this celebrated fragment has a good deal of truth in it, and an important message for me to remember:
‘Chesterton was a writer of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda. During the last twenty years or so of his life, his entire output was in reality an endless repetition of the same thing, under its laboured cleverness as simple and boring as ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians.’ Every book that he wrote, every scrap of dialogue, had to demonstrate beyond the possibility of mistake the superiority of the Catholic over the Protestant or the pagan.’
The protagonist in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, whose name escapes me, has an attitude to birth control which one now expects to find only among extreme religious believers. I am pretty sure from things I have read elsewhere that Orwell shared this opinion. In fact, from where I stand now the similarities between Orwell and Chesterton are far more important than the differences.
I was reading 1984 after school on the afternoon when my sister was being born, and my maths teacher walked by, not knowing my sister was being born just then, and said ‘Big Brother!’.
This is included as an example of an anecdote that has no point.
The only longer work of Orwell’s that I have read and re-read is Animal Farm. In the introduction to the edition I have it suggests that the subtitle ‘A Fairy Story’ relates to the arbitrary nature of success in fairy tales. In fairy tales, there is often no logic to choosing a successful course of action. Anyone may succeed in a fairy tale, no matter how unpromising their beginnings, but for everyone who succeeds hundreds fail. Think of all those knights who try and fail to rescue the princess, leaving their bones to litter the landscape, before the hero succeeds for some arbitrary reason.
Chesterton makes a similar point on the arbitrary nature of morality in fairy tales. In fairy tales, there is often no logic to what is stated to be good or bad. Happiness hangs by an irrational thread. Chesterton shoehorns the arbitrary nature of fairy tale morality into an argument that fairy tales are moral after all.
But I am not entirely convinced.
I have a bad habit of not paying enough attention to things. And I rarely forget instances when I have been stupid. (This is why I keep getting ‘Running out of memory’ errors). So I can remember my father showing me something with the quote ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ on it and me breezily, stupidly, saying that I had seen it before. Of course my father would not show me something that was not worth looking at. It had been misquoted as ‘All people are equal, but some are more equal than others’. It had been misattributed, to- I think- ‘Animal House’ rather than ‘Animal Farm’-and it had been, worst of all, cited approvingly to illustrate the importance of education, since by education we could be one of those animals who are more equal than the other ones!
I have felt very bad about not paying attention at that moment ever since. I’m sorry, dad. :(
This is included as an example of an anecdote that has a point.