There is such a thing as progress after all

I recently started Homage to Catalonia by Orwell, which somehow I had never read. It’s quite good so far and I just read this very amusing passage:

One of the dreariest effects of this war has been to teach me that the Left-wing press is every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right. I do earnestly feel that on our side — the Government side — this war was different from ordinary, imperialistic wars; but from the nature of the war-propaganda you would never have guessed it. The fighting had barely started when the newspapers of the Right and Left dived simultaneously into the same cesspool of abuse. We all remember the Daily Mail’s poster: ‘REDS CRUCIFY NUNS’, while to the Daily Worker Franco’s Foreign Legion was ‘composed of murderers, white- slavers, dope-fiends, and the offal of every European country’. As late as October 1937 the New Statesman was treating us to tales of Fascist barricades made of the bodies of living children (a most unhandy thing to make barricades with), and Mr Arthur Bryant was declaring that ‘the sawing-off of a Conservative tradesman’s legs’ was ‘a commonplace’ in Loyalist Spain. The people who write that kind of stuff never fight; possibly they believe that to write it is a substitute for fighting. It is the same in all wars; the soldiers do the fighting, the journalists do the shouting, and no true patriot ever gets near a front-line trench, except on the briefest of propaganda-tours. Sometimes it is a comfort to me to think that the aeroplane is altering the conditions of war. Perhaps when the next great war comes we may see that sight unprecedented in all history, a jingo with a bullet-hole in him.

When it comes to propaganda about war, I guess we have made a lot of progress since then, for it’s now completely one-sided… Speaking of that, I haven’t forgotten I still owe you a follow-up to my post on the chemical attack in Syria, which I will post as soon as possible. I actually wrote 7,000 words a month ago, but after that I have been really busy, so I didn’t have time to finish it. I think it will probably be around 10,000 words by the time it’s done, which is just a few hours of work since I already know what I want to say, but I’m really short on time these days. In the meantime, I will post something about the reason why the cost of health care is so high in the US later this week, since I have already written it a while ago and was just waiting for the right time to post it.

4 thoughts

  1. Orwell is great, especially on the incredible hypocrisy , double standard and bad faith of most people who comment on politics.

    Here’s a few lines from Inside the Whale which have always struck me:

    “Mr. Auden’s brand of amoralism is only possible if you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled. So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot”.

    1. Yes, I don’t think Orwell was a great writer, but he was a fundamentally decent and honest man. He never let ideology trump common sense. In that respect, as in many others, he reminds me of Camus. Camus was born in Algeria and, when a journalist asked why he was so quiet on the Algerian War despite his anti-colonialism, he famously replied: “I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice”. He has received a lot of criticism for this statement over the years, but I have to say that, as far as I’m concerned, a man who can sacrifice his family in the name of some impersonal notion of justice, however justified, always worries me a bit. Like most people, I remember admiring Brutus when I read in Livy how he didn’t flinch while his sons were being executed in front of him because they had betrayed the Republic, but in truth I would think twice before putting a Brutus in charge of my country.

      1. I consider Orwell to be a great writer. He writes very well. In fact, when I was in the university, we used his essay, Politics and the English Language, as a style guide.

        Camus wrote one truly great novel, The Stranger, which is a masterpiece (Orwell never wrote anything as good as that), but he went on to produce preachy stuff like The Plague and The Fall: Orwell has too much of a sense of humor to write books like those two.

        As for Camus’s statements on Algeria, when you think about it, was it really necessary to opt for his mother or for justice? Given that Camus was a very successfull writer, he could have bought his mother a nice apartment in Paris or the south of France (if she preferred the climate) and supported Algerian Independence, which, as Camus admits, is the just thing to do.

  2. That was a wonderful book. My favorite quote was:
    “At Monte Pocero, when they pointed to the position our left and said: ‘Those are the Socialists’, I was puzzled and said: ‘Aren’t we all socialists?’ I thought it idiotic that people fighting for their lives should have separate parties; my attitude always was, ‘Why can’t we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?’”

    He’s so honest even with himself. It’s as though Orwell was incapable to self-deception. He observed the world and updated his beliefs, with no real concern for his ego or what he wished was true. The guy went to fight the fascists, and then realized how many strange inconsistencies there were with socialism as well.

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