Ignorance really is Strength
When it comes to political debates, there are few clichés that I hate more then the tired, played out, and wholly inaccurate parallels people attempt to draw between fiction and reality. For the less intelligent arguer, maintaining a clear and objective view of the real world is so difficult, that people latch onto totemic novels and films as ways of creating a metaphor for what is going on around them. Usually, only the most passing similarity between current events and fiction is necessary for people to draw unfounded conclusions. (ie, computers are getting faster these days, so eventually they must turn on us and wipe out the human race – it happened in Terminator, so it must be true right?) When it comes to talk of the government, however, one, and seemingly only one, literary reference is wanted or needed when idiots seek to draw a cohesive view of reality, and that work is George Orwell’s uber-famous novel – 1984.
Any person who frequents such web communities as Slashdot will immediately know of what I speak – the extent to when argument ad-1984 pervades the discussions on that site is so great, one wonders the book was required reading for entry into the community. Not that I dislike the book, but I recognize that that’s all it is – a book.
It’s because of the disgusting abuse of 1984 in discussions of domestic policy that become enraged when I see this
piece run in the San Francisco Gate. Being your usual San Francisco “news” paper, we can’t expect much from it, but I thought that the ubiquitous 1984 reference was to pedestrian for even them. After all, they are professional writers right? (Insert pithy comment here)
The level of argument in this editorial is so bad, so factually flawed, and so illogical, that only one form of narrative is sufficiently equipped to take it apparent. That’s right folks, buckle your seatbelts, because we’ve got ourselves a good old fashioned fisking. Today’s victim: Mr. Daniel Kurtzman.
Here's a question for constitutional scholars: Can a sitting president be charged with plagiarism?
As President Bush wages his war against terrorism and moves to create a huge homeland security apparatus, he appears to be borrowing heavily, if not ripping off ideas outright, from George Orwell. The work in question is "1984, " the prophetic novel about a government that controls the masses by spreading propaganda, cracking down on subversive thought and altering history to suit its needs. It was intended to be read as a warning about the evils of totalitarianism -- not a how-to manual.
Thanks for that, having been born yesterday on the back of a pick-up truck, I wasn’t familiar with the novel whatsoever. Good thing you are so learned in exotic and obscure literature such as this.
Granted, we're a long way from resembling the kind of authoritarian state Orwell depicted, but some of the similarities are starting to get a bit eerie.
The only think that’s eerie is the fact that this same, unoriginal approach to criticism of government still won’t go away, no matter how many Scholars from San Francisco do it.
In "1984," the state remained perpetually at war against a vague and ever- changing enemy. The war took place largely in the abstract, but it served as a convenient vehicle to fuel hatred, nurture fear and justify the regime's autocratic practices.
I don’t know what he means by “abstract” but where he’s from, abstract must mean “covered by thousands upon thousands of journalists, dissected in its every detail by hordes of writers, thinkers and politicians, discussed to the exclusion of all else on television, and broadcast live on the evening news”.
Bush's war against terrorism has become almost as amorphous. Although we are told the president's resolve is steady and the mission clear, we seem to know less and less about the enemy we are fighting. What began as a war against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda quickly morphed into a war against Afghanistan, followed by dire warnings about an "Axis of Evil," the targeting of terrorists in some 50 to 60 countries, and now the beginnings of a major campaign against Iraq. Exactly what will constitute success in this war remains unclear, but the one thing the Bush administration has made certain is that the war will continue "indefinitely.
Even the most passing knowledge of the events of the past 10 months will show that the war never began as one against al Qaeda, nor has the objective changed since Bush’s address to congress. The war began as one against terrorism, wherever it may be, and against any and all countries who support terrorism. It was understood since day one that the War on Terror would be a long term conflict, Afghanistan was the obvious target of reprisal, with media attention being aimed at it literally hours after the attacks themselves. Ironic that an editorial accusing the government of altering historical facts (we’ll get to that later) has to resort to overtly falsifying the record to make its argument.
MINISTRY OF TRUTH
Serving as the propaganda arm of the ruling party in "1984," the Ministry of Truth not only spread lies to suit its strategic goals, but constantly rewrote and falsified history. It is a practice that has become increasingly commonplace in the Bush White House, where presidential transcripts are routinely sanitized to remove the president's gaffes, accounts of intelligence warnings prior to Sept. 11 get spottier with each retelling, and the facts surrounding Bush's past financial dealings are subject to continual revision.
This passage doesn’t even make an attempt at a factual basis, but rather flings accusations so vague and unsupported they can neither be disproved, nor, hopefully, believed. First of all, if presidential transcripts are so routinely censored for public consumption by a cloak and dagger cabal of propagandists, then how does Kurtzman alone have access to the “true” version of what was said? He also fails to address the basic logical problem with his claims of censorship – why would the president say thins publicly, then alter the transcripts to read differently later, knowing full well that a thousand different copies of his statement are readily available on the internet, or television news, completely above his ability to falsify? Is he really trying to claim that all record of the Presidents public comments is controlled by the government, and that those transcripts are assumed accurate by the blind, propaganda-mongering public? Has anyone reading this even seen an official government transcript of a speech? Moving on…
The Bush administration has been surprisingly up front about its intentions of propagating falsehoods. In February, for example, the Pentagon announced a plan to create an Office of Strategic Influence to provide false news and information abroad to help manipulate public opinion and further its military objectives. Following a public outcry, the Pentagon said it would close the office -- news that would have sounded more convincing had it not come from a place that just announced it was planning to spread misinformation.
One indicator that someone may be a paranoid schizophrenic is that they frequently construct allegations of vast crimes which, by their very nature, cannot be proven. These are called “self fulfilling” delusions and the above is a perfect example of such. Lacking any real evidence by which to attack the Government, Kurtzman is content to suggest that the Office of Strategic Influence has not really been killed in the budget stage before ever actually existing, but rather has arranged an elaborate ruse to fool the public. That’s right; the proposed office is first publicly announced to the American people, than a week later, it is cancelled, just to throw us off the track. If they wanted to keep it secret, wouldn’t it just be easier never to announce it in the first place? Haven’t I just read all this in SatireWire?
Moving on, moving on…
An omnipresent and all-powerful leader, Big Brother commanded the total, unquestioning support of the people. He was both adored and feared, and no one dared speak out against him, lest they be met by the wrath of the state.
President Bush may not be as menacing a figure, but he has hardly concealed his desire for greater powers.
Ah, the old bait and switch. First, make grandiose and ridiculous statements aimed at the subject of your essay, then tuck it a neat little cover-your-ass clause at the end.
Since, as he readily admits, Bush is nothing like the “Big Brother” of 1984, why then, is Kurtzman waiting our time with something that reads like a grade 8 book report?
Never mind that he has mentioned -- on no fewer than three occasions -- how much easier things would be if he were dictator.
Yes, please, never mind that. Being that it was most likely said in jest, and is ultimately true. Things would
be easier for any leader if he were a dictator - but it does not follow that said leader is making an active grab for totalitarian power. Bush recognizes that the political process in America is difficult, and that’s the way we like it.)
By abandoning many of the checks and balances established in the Constitution to keep any one branch of government from becoming too powerful, Bush has already achieved the greatest expansion of executive powers since Nixon.
Hold on a minute, “abandoning the checks and balances”? At which point did Bush violate the constitution to grant himself massive new powers, and why are you the first person to notice this? How about some examples? Or would factual evidence just rune the rhythm of your rant?
His approval ratings remain remarkably high, and his minions have worked hard to cultivate an image of infallibility. Nowhere was that more apparent than during a recent commencement address Bush gave at Ohio State, where students were threatened with arrest and expulsion if they protested the speech. They were ordered to give him a "thunderous ovation," and they did.
Rather then comprehend the significance of Bush’s high approval rating (hint: lots and lots of people think he’s doing a good job), Kurtzman tries to insinuate that Bush’s approval rating is actually the product of a massive campaign to bolster the President’s image, rather then what it is – the honest opinion of the American people, something Mr. Kurtzman seems to care little about.
Kurtzman puts the nail in his own coffin when he claims that Bush’s “minions” have constructed a view of the President as “infallible”. I have 5 bucks right here that says Bush can’t even spell the word. Bush has been mocked harder and more consistently then any President in memory, rightly or wrongly, for being stupid and prone to error and mistake. Can anyone deny that low intelligence is Bush’s single largest negative public image problem? I can only assume all this “infallible” talk is some kind of elaborate joke.
As for the incident you site at Ohio state, I can’t claim to be familiar with government strong-arming tactics involving the students. All I know of the public response to that speak is the “thunderous” applause you admit he received. Clearly, though, those applause must have been forced at gunpoint. Perhaps with extra thuderousness added by the quivering, oppressed students, lest they be shipped off to the gulag for not being exuberant enough?
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
The ever-watchful eye of Big Brother kept constant tabs on the citizens of Orwell's totalitarian state, using two-way telescreens to monitor people's every move while simultaneously broadcasting party propaganda.
Again, does this have anything whatsoever to do with the President, or is Kurtzman just trying to prove he actually read the book?
While that technology may not have arrived yet, public video surveillance has become all the rage in law enforcement, with cameras being deployed everywhere from sporting events to public beaches.
The watchword here is “public” surveillance. The difference between cameras in public space and cameras in private space is the difference between basic security and outright oppression. But again, the most limited similarities between fiction and reality is enough to spur any claim the writer see’s fit.
The Bush administration has also announced plans to recruit millions of Americans to form a corps of citizen spies who will serve as "extra eyes and ears for law enforcement," reporting any suspicious activity as part of a program dubbed Operation TIPS --
Ohh – close, but no Cigar. This program was killed in legislature weeks ago. It’s not happening. You see, new measures of this kind are subject to approval by Congress, it’s a little thing we call “checks and balances”, the very concept you claim has been tossed asunder by Bush’s all powerful government juggernaut.
And thanks to the hastily passed USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department has sweeping new powers to monitor phone conversations, Internet usage, business transactions and library reading records. Best of all, law enforcement need not be burdened any longer with such inconveniences as probable cause.
Oh, says who? I’m not a law professor, and you most certainly are not one either, but lets be accurate here: The Patriot Act allows for searches to be conducted when approved by a judge and a warrant is issued. They are, very much, subject to probable cause. What they are, in certain cases, not subject to, is requirements to inform the target of the search when one is conducted. Maybe that’s not fair, maybe it is, but it’s a far cry from indiscriminate search and seizure without probable cause. This is a massive distortion of facts, plain and simple.
Charged with eradicating dissent and ferreting out resistance, the ever- present Thought Police described in "1984" carefully monitored all unorthodox or potentially subversive thoughts. The Bush administration is not prosecuting thought crime yet, but members have been quick to question the patriotism of anyone who dares criticize their handling of the war on terrorism or homeland defense. Take, for example, the way Attorney General John Ashcroft answered critics of his anti-terrorism measures, saying that opponents of the administration "only aid terrorists" and "give ammunition to America's enemies. "
I wasn’t aware of this before, but it seems that believing you are right, and vigorously defending your position against opponents is now a sign of corrupt, authoritarian government. When Democratic candidates try to score political points by criticizing an ongoing war effort, its more then fair to suspect that they are putting careerism ahead of patriotism, however that’s a lot different from silencing decent. The Bush administration engaged their critics in public debate, rather then just roll with the punches they were dealt. What’s wrong with that?
Even more ominous was the stern warning White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer sent to Americans after Bill Maher, host of the now defunct "Politically Incorrect," called past U.S. military actions "cowardly." Said Fleischer, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."
Ari Flischer’s comment was never intended to be a threat against free speech, it was a call for personal accountability. People should
watch what they say, they should
watch what they do. Not because Big Brother will come after you if you don’t, but because people need to be responsible for their actions, and the impact of what they say. Daniel Kurtzman would do well to heed this advice, rather then look for sinister undertones where there are none.
What would it take to turn America into the kind of society that Orwell warned about, a society that envisions war as peace, freedom as slavery and ignorance as strength? Would it happen overnight, or would it involve a gradual erosion of freedoms with the people's consent?
False Dichotomy: it would involve neither. In Orwell’s novel, the changes outlined here required a devastating war which gutting the infrastructure of Britain, total economic collapse, years of widespread poverty and misery, followed by a massive socialist revolution. That assessment sounds about right to me. But of course, that detail doesn’t fit with the vision of “the gradual erosion of freedoms” which Kurtzman wants to portray here, so it’s left out of the piece entirely. I don’t think it’s necessary to address the last two paragraphs of the editorial, as they are nothing but tired, clichéd melodrama that we’ve all heard a thousand times before. However, in the interest of accurate representation and context, I will reprint them here. I wouldn’t bother reading them:
Because we are a nation at war -- as we are constantly reminded -- most Americans say they are willing to sacrifice many of our freedoms in return for the promise of greater security. We have been asked to put our blind faith in government and most of us have done so with patriotic fervor. But when the government abuses that trust and begins to stamp out the freedom of dissent that is the hallmark of a democratic society, can there be any turning back?
So powerful was the state's control over people's minds in "1984" that, eventually, everyone came to love Big Brother. Perhaps in time we all will, too.
What a massive jackass.