Friday, August 13, 2004

Over the past week of so, I've been reminded of a certain scene in George Orwell's 1984 twice, in different ways. The first time, the connection made me all righteously angry, but tonight, it just made me ashamed.

There's this one scene in 1984 - I can't be specific since I don't own the book, I haven't even read it in years, but - Winston, the main character, is taking part is some state-mandated hate minute. Everyone just gets together and spews venom at a picture or tape of an infamous enemy of the state. The state requires this because they want their people to impotently waste their agression on a harmless effigy, and also because it makes the people psychologically blame that guy for their problems instead of their repressive regime.

I was reminded of it about a week ago when I watching "Outfoxed". (It's a documentary about how biased Fox News is. Later, maybe I'll get around to talking about it as well. Brief opinion: I'd recommend it to anyone who tries to be informed about politics.) It wasn't anything specific in the documentary or on Fox News that made me think of that scene; just several different things about how they treated their audience, and how their shows must seem.

And today I thought of it again after talking to my boss, Howard, for a bit. I've known almost since starting there that he leans right. Tonight he mentioned to me that he used to work in the aerospace industry, for government contracts rather than private industry, and I immediately say, "Ah, pork-barrel spending." He already knew I was pretty far to the left, and this only cements that impression. It's a pretty harmless thing - an offhand joke that could theoretically be taken as an insult - but loading letters into trays isn't very absorbing and I'm the type who worries about stuff like this, so I think about it a lot over the next couple hours. If you think about it, most Americans have mostly common ground on most questions of principle. Private industry good, racism bad, personal liberty good, pollution bad, et cetera. Sure, that doesn't apply to everyone, and there's a ton of disagreement over the relative values of those principles and when to stand on principle vs. when to be pragmatic - blah blah blah. The point is, the common ground in this country is easily big enough support everyone. So why is it such a wasteland? (To clarify that metaphor: can't we all just get along?)

It sucks that the best way to motivate or unify people is by an enemy. I disagree with Kenny on (I think, I can't be certain of his opinions on any of these, so don't quote me) abortion, gun control, and religion, but we both share the conviction that President Bush is evil and/or stupid, and at the end of the day that's pretty much all that matters. Likewise, Andrew Sullivan and Rush Limbaugh disagree on tolerance of minorities, government interference into peoples' private lives, and religion, but they both agree that America is in mortal danger from the terrorist threat, so Bush can count on both of their votes (well, he could until recently, but the point remains.)

So realizing all that reminded me of 1984 again. We all have our hate minute or whatever it was called (I really need to buy that book). It's not just the viewers of Fox News or whatever who do. The only difference is what it is we're spewing venom at.

So, then, the question is: how can you unify and motivate people without an external threat? How can you convince them to create one thing rather than just destroy its opposite?

As you can tell, my mind wanders a lot at work.

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