Jim Austin's Vermonter at Large
Jim Austin
Jim Austin
is a freelance writer from Putney, Vermont.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 05.15.03


Ignorance is Strength

Recently I referenced the novel "1984" by George Orwell. I don't know whether it was the novel or the movie that had me recalling "Newspeak," the language of the tyrannical political system that had taken over England.

In any case, it got me thinking about Orwell and his novel so, ever alert for odious comparisons to our current situation, I visited the Putney library and checked out 1984.

It is easy to extract a line here and a line there from almost any work and give it a tweak to back up your personal point of view. For example, when the monkey Curious George is chastised by his keeper you immediately think of the Bush-Cheney team. However as I read Orwell's classic there was a paragraph some seventy pages inside that I thought was most apt.

"It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism, which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent lead nowhere, because, being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice."

Change "proles" to "American voters" and the analogy is precise.

Our government is relying on their media allies to keep our primitive brains fueled with stories and pictures about the war in Iraq. The evil Iraqi Republican guard surrendering in a cowardly display after sniping at our troops behind the skirts of pregnant women while our boys are busy saving children and seeking aid for wounded noncombatants.

Naturally, a big lump forms in the throat and we gaze dewy-eyed at Old Glory, which is inevitably in view over the broadcasters left shoulder.

On the back pages you might see a story about the Taliban regrouping in Afghanistan with the support of Pashtun warlords who were getting along fine before the "Freedom Invasion" came to town.

The Taliban were able to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan and are making noises about digging in and doing the same to the Americans.

More importantly, by keeping the great unwashed in a constant state of jingoistic pride, our government is able to avoid the myriad social ills that are spawned by the mishandling of our economy.

The Bush administration is counting on the bovine vapidity of the typical American voter. The "petty specific grievances" referred to by Orwell are used with manifest dexterity by the Republican guard here in the U.S.

"You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead fingers" says NRA President Charleton (Voice of God) Heston on the cover of American Firearms magazine. The gun issue never fails to get the yokels out of the trailer and into the voting booth to prevent them liberals from: "meltin' down 'Old Betsy' to build black helicopters."

Nobody listened when Clinton's nominee for Surgeon General said that abortion should be legal, safe, and rare. Bush's God Squad heard only "legal" and released the hounds to crush the baby-killing Democrats. They never really got the majority of votes but close enough.

Orwell's "Big Brother" scenario is slowly, under the cover of night, approaching reality. Our rights are being sucked up in a vortex of jingoistic justification. There is a guy named Jose Padilla in a naval brig right now being held without representation and without any charges being laid.

Big Brother's slow-witted henchman John Ashcroft decided to forgo the legal system and designate this man an enemy combatant. He can, apparently be held incommunicado forever.

How many other American citizens have been snatched? Will they be "vaporized" like Big Brother's enemies?

No doubt the INS jails are loaded with immigrants held without access to lawyers or any hope of a fair hearing. If they can do it to an American, what chance does a Pakistani cab driver have?

"Ignorance is Strength", is stamped on every coin in Orwell's futuristic society. If the masses are ignorant the government is strong. With Bush's approval rating at seventy percent, let's start looking for a similar slogan on our coinage.