view from mars

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

passage of the moment

I'm in the middle of reading 1984, one of those books I bought for a class long ago that has since stood unopened on my bookcase. I'm through the first book -- it's become one of those stories that haunts me long after I've put it down, that becomes the framework through which otherwise unremarkable mundanities are illuminated by the powerful symbols and themes that are at the front of my mind, and as a result take on new meaning and cause me to hesitate and ponder. I love that feeling. Here's a particularly powerful passage -- I got chills:

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable -- what then?

...

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth's center. With the feeling that he was speaking to O'Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

-- 1984, George Orwell: Signet Classic (1950) p. 69

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