Tuesday, March 23, 2004

1984, The War on Terror and the AntiChrist

Probably because I had just recently finished reading Robert C. Tucker's, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, I re-read George Orwell's 1984 for the first time in at least ten years. I was struck by how much the description of life in the London of Winston Smith resembled the descriptions of life in Stalin's Soviet Union. From the chronic shortages of food and living supplies to the fear of informers to the ubiquitous posters of "Big Brother"/Stalin, Orwell's fictional portrayal of life in "Airstrip One" could have been lifted almost word-for-word from contemporary works such as Tucker's, published in 1990.

Equally thought-provoking was Orwell's discussion of how the use of a permanent state of war enabled the dictatorships (or, more accurately, oligarchies of the ruling political party) to remain in power; primarily by the economic manipulation and political oppression of their own citizens. The "negative utopia" of the world of 1984 envisioned a world in which surplus production of goods was channeled into the production of war materials that were rapidly consumed, rather than allowing this production to lead more and more people into a life of plenty, and of comfort, through rising prosperity. Orwell's thesis was that it would be easier to control people through economic privations, coupled with a fanatic form of patriotism, and a total control of information.

We're not there -- at least, not yet. But in our post-"9/11" world, with its "Patriot Act" and especially the "War on Terrorism," we're closer than we were before. I've always appreciated the saying, "Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." OK, so call me mildly paranoid. The "War on Terrorism" would certainly have the potential to become a permanent state of warfare, as in Orwell's construction. Let's see: Osama bin Laden is still at large, and presumably still directing the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda; we are still trying to bring stability to Iraq; and to Afghanistan; and now Hamas is vowing to commit acts of terror against the United States -- perhaps even in the United States itself, as well as against troops and installations overseas, such as in Iraq. A terrorist attack by a group such as Hamas -- infamous for its suicide bombers in public places -- would expand the "horizons" of the "War on Terror." One example can be found in a news article today on the economy in Arizona. Budget analysts are projecting a potential $121 million budget surplus for the current fiscal year, due to higher-than-predicted tax revenues, resulting from job growth and an improving tourist economy. The analysts felt that the increase should continue for the next few years, "barring another terrorist attack."

Orwell said that, given the choice between freedom and happiness, peope would choose happiness every time. I would define this in a slightly different way: given the choice between freedom and stability, people will choose stability (almost) every time. Here's a bizarre example. I went into a bread store during a visit to Russia in 1994. The value of the ruble was fluctuating wildly, causing great fears among those living on fixed pensions. One woman remarked that things had been better under the Communists. With typical American incredulity, I asked, "How can that be?" The answer may require a little bit of thought; but once you "get it," it opens up things in a very new way. She replied, "There was never any bread in the stores, but at least we knew what it cost."

Does anybody see things getting better? Or do you think, as I do, that the general level of insecurity is going to continue to rise? It works itself out in weird ways. Want to connect to the woman in the bread store? Try to predict the price of gasoline at your local station. Then try to explain why the price has jumped so high in such a short period of time; and in which "nothing" has happened. No terrorist attacks in the US; the war in Iraq has given us access to Iraqi oil previously off the market (and doesn't the standard economic theory hold that increased supplies tend to drive down prices?); no refinery fires or other accidents; and yet the price of both crude oil and refined products are going up.

Here's a "conspiracy theory" for you. The increasing instability will so upset the economy, and through this, people's lives, that they (*we*) will trade freedom for stability -- as is happening now with the "Patriot Act." It won't help. Finally, someone will appear on the scene who will promise to restore law and order, and stability - and we'll be so desperate for it that we will grant to him the powers needed to bring this about. Who is this? The AntiChrist...

On a Lighter Note
Scientists report that mice fed a low-calorie diet from birth live twice as long as those who are not fed a restricted-calorie diet. Older mice who are put on a reduced-calorie diet also live longer than those who are not. This leads the researchers to speculate that the same may be true for human beings. Living longer... but is it living? And yes, I am "calorically challenged"...

Thanks, Steve!
My friend Steve (please see his blog, "Confessio") gave me instructions on how to turn on a "Comments" feature for this blog. As before, your comments are invited -- and now, thanks to Steve and Halocast, it's easier than ever!