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Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell

“Not every business cycle has a financial crisis. Frequently they do.”*…

 

Your correspondent is headed away on his annual pilgrimage to the land of banked dunes and deep-fried delights.  Regular service will resume on or around August 27.  Vacations can be a time for retrospection.  In that spirit, an invitation to think about the last ten years…

 

2008

 

2008 was a big year: Senator Barack Obama was elected president of the United States,  “Satoshi Nakamoto” published “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” SpaceX became the first private, commercial company to put an object into earth orbit, China wowed the world with its host ceremonies for the Summer Olympic Games…  But of course, 2008 was also the start of the Great Recession…  which was bad.  Really bad:

Total U.S. household net worth dropped by $11.1 trillion in 2008.

The median income for 25-to-34-year-olds in America, $34,000, hasn’t budged since 1977, adjusted for inflation.

Median household wealth collapsed.
2007: $126k
2016: $97k

The number of Americans worried about the economy multiplied nearly sixfold.
2007: 16 percent
2008: 86 percent

In 2016, the median wealth of a family headed by someone born in the 1980s was 34 percent below the level of earlier generations at the same 2007: age.

Mutual funds lost a third of their value: -38 percent.

The market value of all publicly traded companies was cut in half.
October 2007: $63 trillion
March 2009: $28.6 trillion

From 2005 to 2009, the median value of stocks and mutual funds owned by whites dropped by 9 percent.

The median value of holdings for African-Americans dropped by 71 percent (probably because of pressure to sell when prices were low).

Between 2007 and 2013, wages declined for the bottom 70 percent of all workers.

The retirement savings of black families fell by 35 percent from 2007 to 2010.

In a 2016 survey by the Fed, 28 percentof working-age adults said they had no retirement savings whatsoever.

The racial wealth gap, already large, ballooned.
Whites: $171k
Hispanics:  $20.7k
African-Americans: $17.6k

In terms of household wealth, every group suffered — but some more than others.
Hispanics: -66 percent
Asian-Americans: -54 percent
African-Americans: -53 percent
Whites: -16 percent

Consumer credit-card debt at the end of 2017 was over $1 trillion (about 30% higher than in 2008).

Millennials have taken on at least 300 percent more student-loan debt than their parents’ generation.

The unemployed took many more weeks to find work.
May 2008: 7.9
June 2010: 25.2

In a December 2017 poll by YouGov, 38 percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know when they’d be debt-free. 30 percent of respondents thought they’d never be out of debt.

63 percent of Americans say they don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $500 health-care expense.

In 2017, women had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, although there were 7 percent more women of prime childbearing age.

The suicide rate rose 4 percent from 1999 to 2010: 4,750 additional deaths.

24 million adult millennials, or 32 percent, still live at home.

79 million Americans live in a “shared household” with at least one extra, nonfamily resident.

More college grads moved in with their parents.
2005: 19 percent
2016: 28 percent

As of 2017, only 34.2 percent of homes have recovered their value from before the recession. (Still below 2008 value.)

From 2000 to 2015, homeownership declined in 90% of all U.S. metropolitan areas.

[source]

Frank Rich explores the lasting impact of that crash:

…the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it)…

Read the full essay: “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.”

Then consider Steve Bannon’s take on the same event:

The legacy of the financial crisis: Donald Trump. The legacy of the financial crisis is Donald J. Trump. And I can give you the specific moment: When they put Lehman in bankruptcy, and the geniuses didn’t understand that it was inextricably linked to the commercial paper market. Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, and Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, they went to see Bush three days later. They told him, ‘We need a trillion dollars in cash, and we need it by five o’clock.’”

And in a profile of courage, President Bush says, “Not my problem. You gotta go to Capitol Hill.” They go up to Capitol Hill, they put everybody in a room. They make them all put their BlackBerrys outside, and they walk in, and Bernanke, who’s not an alarmist, says, “If we don’t have a trillion dollars by today, the American financial system will melt down in 72 hours. The world financial system will melt down in two weeks, and there will be global anarchy.”

And by the way, this was completely brought on by the elites of the country and Wall Street. When I got to Harvard Business School in 1983, a bunch of professors were coming up with a radical idea that’s had a horrible negative consequence on this country and to the fabric of our society: the maximization of shareholder value; this was preached as High Church theology. The whole thing of the financialization of Wall Street, of looking at people as pure commodities and of outsourcing and globalization, came from the business schools and the financial community that had these radical ideas, and nobody kept them in check…

I think you’re starting to see the deindustrialization of the country. We stopped investing in the country. Domestic investment’s all going over to China. We deindustrialized Western Europe. Brexit and 2016 are inextricably linked, okay?

Workers know this. It’s the labor vote in the midland counties that drove Brexit. This is what’s so obvious the Democratic Party misses. Donald Trump’s president because of working-class Democrats. The Trump movement is made up of people like my father, the Marty Bannons. My whole household was working-class Democrats. These are adamant Trump supporters because they understand Trump supports working-class people…

While the prescribed remedies may be wildly different as between the progressive writer and the Nativist provocateur, the diagnosis is eerily similar.  Read Bannon’s interview in full at “Steve Bannon on How 2008 Planted the Seed for the Trump Presidency.”

More perspectives on 2008 at “Ten Years After the Crash, We Are Still Living in the World It Brutally Remade.”

And lest we think too parochially, consider this argument that the Georgian War (Russia’s engagement in Georgia) in 2008 was (another) product of the same currents that yielded the financial crisis: “The Turning Point of 2008“… which, in turn, helped spur the growth of Russia’s use of criminal hackers: “It’s our time to serve the Motherland.”

Kenneth Arrow

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As we make our way down memory lane, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that George Orwell’s allegory, Animal Farm– A Fairy Story, was published.  (The U.S. edition, published in 1946, dropped the sub-title.)   While it has never disappeared from conversation about politics and governance, Animal Farm is enjoying a renaissance in these increasingly Nativist times.  But while Orwell rings only too relevant these days, we might do well to keep in mind his friendly competitor (and one-time school master), Aldous Huxley, and Huxley’s Brave New World:

In his classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman wrote of the difference between George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s visions of fascism.

“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information,” wrote Postman. “Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

More at “Amusing Ourselves to Trump.”

For a nifty cartoon version of the Orwell-Huxley distinction, see here.

And for a further exploration of this modern day Scylla and Charybdis, see “Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”

220px-Animal_Farm_-_1st_edition

First edition cover

source

 

“Imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity”*…

 

Some essays are letters into the future. “The Prevention of Literature” is one such essay, and today I’d like to respond to it from 2018.

Orwell argues that totalitarianism makes literature impossible. By literature, he means all kinds of writing in prose, from imaginative fiction to political journalism; he suggests that verse might slip through the cracks. He writes, too, that there is such a thing as “groups of people who have adopted a totalitarian outlook”—single-truth communities of sorts, not just totalitarian regimes or entire countries. These are deadly to literature as well.

Orwell was writing in 1946, five or seven years before scholarly works by Hannah Arendt, on the one hand, and Karl Friedrich, on the other, provided the definitions of totalitarianism that are still in use today. Orwell’s own “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” which provides the visceral understanding of totalitarianism that we still conjure up today, was a couple of years away. Orwell was in the process of imagining totalitarianism—he had, of course, never lived in a totalitarian society.

He imagined two major traits of totalitarian societies: one is lying, and the other is what he called schizophrenia. He wrote, “The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as it is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary.” The lying entailed constantly rewriting the past to accommodate the present. “This kind of thing happens everywhere,” he wrote, “but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”

He goes on to imagine that “a totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist.”

Orwell was right. The totalitarian regime rests on lies because they are lies. The subject of the totalitarian regime must accept them not as truth—must not, in fact, believe them—but accept them both as lies and as the only available reality. She must believe nothing. Just as Orwell predicted, over time the totalitarian regime destroys the very concept, the very possibility of truth. Hannah Arendt identified this as one of the effects of totalitarian propaganda: it makes everything conceivable because “nothing is true.”

As for what he called “schizophrenia,” this, too, has been borne out. In 1989, as the longest-running totalitarian experiment in the world, the U.S.S.R., neared what then appeared to have been its demise, a great sociologist named Yuri Levada and his team undertook a large study of Soviet society. He concluded that the Soviet person’s very self-concept depended on a constant negotiation of mutually exclusive perceptions: the Soviet person identified strongly with the great Soviet state and its grand experiment, and yet felt himself to be insignificant; he worshipped at the altar of modernity and progress, and yet lived in conditions of enforced poverty, often deprived of modern conveniences that even the poor in the West had come to take for granted; he believed in egalitarianism and resented evident inequality, yet accepted the extreme hierarchical order and rigid class structure of Soviet society. To live in his world—simply to function day to day, balancing between contradictory perceptions—the Soviet person had to engage in constant negotiations. In “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Orwell predicted this negotiation, and named it doublethink. You will recall that “even to understand the word doublethink involved the use of doublethink.” Doublethink destroyed the mind and crushed the soul, and yet it was essential for survival. It killed as it saved, and that, too, is doublethink.

But perhaps Orwell’s most valuable observation in this essay concerns instability. “What is new in totalitarianism,” he wrote, “is that its doctrines are not only unchallengeable but also unstable. They have to be accepted on the pain of damnation, but on the other hand, they are always liable to be altered on a moment’s notice.” Orwell had observed the disfavor and disappearance of prominent Bolsheviks and the resulting adjustments to the official narratives of the Revolution—the endlessly changing and vanishing commissars. Arendt argued that the instability was, in fact, the point and purpose of the purges: the power of the regime depended not so much on eliminating particular men at particular moments but on the ability to eliminate any man at any moment. Survival depended on one’s sensitivity to the ever-changing stories and one’s ability to mold oneself to them.

But why, exactly, did Orwell think all this was so destructive to literature?…

The marvelous Masha Gessen explains in her important essay (adapted from a lecture delivered in Barcelona at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona on June 6, 2018, in honor of Orwell Day), “George Orwell predicted the challenge of writing today.

C.f. also Cass Sunstein’s piece in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, “It Can Happen Here.”

* George Orwell

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As we say no to non-sense, we might recall that it was on this date in 1885 that “Liberty Enlightening the World”– a symbol of anti-totalitarian democracy and a token of friendship from the French to the U.S. that is better known these day as the “Statue of Liberty”– entered New York Harbor.  Encased in more than 200 crates, the statue was reassembled, placed on its pedestal on (what was then known as) Bedloe’s Island, then dedicated by President Grover Cleveland in October, 1886.

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Written by LW

June 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience”*…

 

In 1949, George Orwell received a curious letter from his former high school French teacher.

Orwell had just published his groundbreaking book Nineteen Eighty-Four, which received glowing reviews from just about every corner of the English-speaking world. His French teacher, as it happens, was none other than Aldous Huxley who taught at Eton for a spell before writing Brave New World (1931), the other great 20th century dystopian novel.

Huxley starts off the letter praising the book, describing it as “profoundly important.” He continues, “The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.”

Then Huxley switches gears and criticizes the book, writing, “Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.”…

Read the letter in full at “Huxley to Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours.”

See also Neil Postman’s and Alan Moore’s agreement.

* Aldous Huxley, in his letter to George Orwell

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1966, the date that LSD was declared illegal, that The Love Pageant Rally was held in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.  The first big free concert of it’s sort in the park, it was organized by Allen Cohen and artist Michael Bowen, the creators of the San Francisco Oracle, which first hit the streets in September 1966, to mark the banning of the drug– which effectively created a neighborhood of outlaws in the Haight, where acid was a staple of community culture.  Music was provided by the Grateful Dead and by Big Brother and the Holding Company; Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters were on hand.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 6, 2017 at 1:01 am

Brave New 1984…

Readers may well have seen this photo, which has been making its way across the web:

If the irony seems too perfect, it’s because it is… It is a crop of this photo:

… one of Steve Ullathorne‘s “Restyles of the Dead and Famous,” a collection of subtly– and pointedly– altered photos.

So, if the image isn’t, after all, an “actual” evocation of Orwell’s Oceania, it is a pretty powerful portrait of “Big Brother”…

Still, it may be that Orwell’s worries, while all-too-prescient, were less valent than Huxley’s– that our challenge isn’t so much the fear-infected world of 1984 as it is the soma-laced, desire-driven future of Brave New World:

Orwell was almost exactly wrong in a strange way. He thought the world would end with Big Brother watching us, but it ended with us watching Big Brother.

– Alan Moore

 

As we practice our newspeak, we might recall that it was on this date in 1943 that the “White Rose,” a student protest group, painted “Freedom” and “Down with Hitler” on the walls of the University of Munich. The leaders of the group were arrested two days later, and beheaded on February 22.

 Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst- leaders of the White Rose (source)

Written by LW

February 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

“First Impressions”…

… was the tentative title with which Jane Austen worked before she settled on Pride and Prejudice.

source

 

George Orwell’s publisher convinced him that “The Last Man in Europe” simply wasn’t going to send copies flying off booksellers’ shelves, convincing Orwell to switch to his back-up title, 1984.

source

 

Discover more literary “might-have-beens,” featuring F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Heller, Bram Stoker, and others– at Mentalfloss.

As we think again about our vanity plate orders, we might recall that it was on this date in 1943 that then-26-year-old poet Robert Lowell, scion of an old Boston family that had included a President of Harvard, an ambassador to the Court of St. James, and the ecclesiastic who founded St. Marks School, was sentenced to jail for a year for evading the draft.  An ardent pacifist, Lowell refused his service in objection to saturation bombing in Europe.  He served his time in New York’s West Street jail.

Lowell (left) in 1941, with (his then wife) novelist Jean Stafford, and their friend, novelist and short-story writer Peter Taylor, at Kenyon College, where they studied with John Crowe Ranson (source)

 

 

Nouvelle Vague for the New Millennium…

Click here to download Jean-Luc Godard’s latest (and last?) film, Film Socialisme, in its entirety (and entirely legally).  Quoth novelist James Greer (repeating Howard Rodman), it’s “kind of like David Foster Wallace’s cruise ship essay, but in French, and with a lot of quotations thrown in. Win/win/win!”

As we try to remember which one is Jim, and which one Jules, we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that George Orwell published his masterpiece of dystopian literature, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and introduced terms like “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime,” “Newspeak,” and “Memory hole” into the vernacular.

Cover of the first British edition

Ignorance is strength…

From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

– George Orwell, 1984

China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), an arm of the Central Propaganda Department, operates an “Internet Affairs Bureau” to oversee all web sites that publish news, both the official sites of news organizations and independents.

This Internet Affairs Bureau sends very specific instructions to all large news web sites,  often multiple times per day. Sometimes these instructions ban contents outright, but often they instruct web sites to highlight or suppress certain type of opinions or information– in a very detailed manner.  Consider these directives (issued March 23, 2010; translated by the China Digital Times):

(The link to “China’s princelings” goes here.)

On the subject of Google’s exit from China (well, to Hong Kong; excellent background piece from PRI’s The World here), the Bureau had very specific instructions (again, translated by the CDT):

But technology marches on…  these government directives are meant to be confidential.  But while they are not showing up on web sites per se in China, some of their recipients– the web editors at whom they are aimed– are using Twitter, Sinaweibo (Sina’s popular micro-blogging service), and other social media to slip them into cyberspace.  To wit, the CDT coverage.

It should come as no surprise then that the SCIO is expanding:  an “Internet Affairs Bureau 2” is being established to control social media and other Web 2.0 services driven by user-generated content.  (More background on Chinese “management of web content” here.)

As we remark that a vigorous independent media is the infrastructure of democracy, and that it is an issue of some valence not just in China, but essentially everywhere in the world,* we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that a German referendum ratified Deutschland’s armed occupation of the Rhineland earlier that month, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  Hitler acted when he did for a variety of reasons, main among them that France, the most directly-affected/threatened other nation, was in internal political and financial disarray, and that Germany was in the midst of an economic crisis of its own, from which the Fuhrer needed a foreign policy distraction…  the Chancellor’s timing was good: France’s response was limited to a strongly-worded condemnation, and 99% of the votes cast in the German referendum (44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million registered voters), were in support.

Fuhrer and Chancellor

* For peeks at two very different examples of action that can matter, check out The Censorship Research Center and The Media Development Loan Fund

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