Why I Write – George Orwell

In a short essay entitled, “Why I Write,” [1946] George Orwell outlines the four motivations that drive all writers.

First, he states, is ‘sheer egotism.’

Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown ups who snubbed you in childhood etc.

This condition is not limited to writers, he clarifies, and is shared by scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen etc.

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Second is ‘aesthetic enthusiasm.’

Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and out not to be missed.

Third, ‘historical impulse.’

Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

Fourth and finally, ‘political purpose.’

Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.

In Orwell’s mind there is no such thing as a book genuinely free from political bias.  The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics, itself is itself a political attitude.

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Orwell confesses that he is a person in which the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. However, for him personally, an unsuitable profession in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, followed by poverty and a sense of failure, increased his natural hatred of authority and made him fully aware of the working class.

Then came the Spanish Civil War and Hitler.

Orwell then confesses,

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.

He cannot believe anyone could live in his a period like his own, and avoid such topics. The challenge is to be aware of one’s political bias and to act politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

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Orwell continues,

My starting point is always … a sense of injustice… I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

He concludes, however, that he does not want the reader to think him selfless or his writing wholly public spirited. Oh no. All writers, himself included, are vain, selfish and lazy. Yet beyond motives, there lies a mystery.  Writing a novel is …

…a horrible exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not drive on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

However, when Orwell wrote without political purpose, he claims he wrote lifeless books, and…

…was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

So influential has Orwell’s work been on the English language that the term Orwellian is now synonymous with a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past. 

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Orwell’s novels, Animal Farm [1945] and 1984 [published 1949] are now classics of popular and political culture, selling over 50 million copies between them.

 

Animal Farm 

I have never fully understood the allegory of communism that George Orwell wrote in 1954. It seemed both childlike and conversely, overly pessimistic.

In the story, the farm animals led by two pigs, Napoleon and Snowball revolt against their human slave-masters and declare independence. Initial glory, success and freedom soon decays into bitter infighting, reconstructed ideals and a dictatorial leadership by lone pig Napoleon who behaves much like the humans he overthrew.

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However, visiting a communist nation like Vietnam recently illuminated a few things to me about the contradictions the short novella highlights.

Despite being a socialist state, there is almost nothing in the way of social security in Vietnam  – elementary education incurs a fee, as does basic health care and retirement benefits are rare.

When the average monthly salary is only USD $150 per month the problems these expenses cause families on the lower end of the wage spectrum, are immense. Disability and illness, exacerbated by after effects of the war include, unexploded munitions, chemical poisons and genetic deformities.

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While the people are industrious, gentle and hospitable and there is little begging or visible unrest, the country rests upon an ideology that is not clearly displayed in its social systems. The divide between the richest and poorest is immense.

It does seem that the unfortunate result of communist ideology is “some animals becoming more equal than others.”

Paolo Freire and “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”

Any living or breathing creature cares about the plight and welfare of others, especially the equality [or inequality] of wealth, resources and services such as health care, education, freedom of speech, etc.  How to achieve equality of resources though is a much debated issue, especially around election times.

Do we budget tightly and stimulate business at any cost [capitalists views], or do we tax the wealthy to redistribute wealth to the disadvantaged, in an effort to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor [socialist views]?

Articles such as this, from the Quora digest this week, address the problem of the distribution of wealth:

So “redistribution of wealth” is a tricky thing.  Money isn’t wealth, and if you redistribute it, it doesn’t really change anything.  You need to redistribute (or even out via other means) ownership of the means of value-creation, which is a far more complicated thing to do – you can’t easily tax a rich guy a portion of his factory (not as easily as you can tax liquid profits in the form of money). Thus, the real problem you’re looking to solve is “how can I make it so that the poor control a larger proportion of value-creating power?”

http://www.quora.com/Distribution-of-Wealth/Why-cant-the-poor-be-handed-out-lots-of-money-to-make-them-rich

The term “value creating power” is an interesting point to dwell on. If not simply referring to production power [factories] alone, could it mean value in the form of information power, wealth of mind, of heart, of connections, of knowing and of being?

How then does a society create equality of consciousness among people?

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Paulo Freire [1921-1997] was an Brazilian educator and philosopher who believed in the power of education to allow the oppressed to regain their sense of humanity. His seminal work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” [1968] questioned traditional education methods, which might simply replicate prevailing power structures. He labelled this a “banking model” of education in which the student is treated as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge. Instead, he advocated for a “co-creation” model of education. This model, particularly used in literacy projects amongst adults, enabled the learner to question social domination of race and class that is woven into traditional education systems.

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Having grown up in colonial Brazil and experienced poverty himself first hand, he acknowledged that the powerless in society can be frightened of freedom. He writes,

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion”.

So the redistribution of power and wealth comes through struggle on behalf of the socially disadvantaged themselves, a struggle first for belief in their own spiritual and moral freedom to be agents of change. Interesting.

In 1961, Freire was appointed director of the Department of Cultural Extension of Recife University and in 1962 he applied his theories to literacy programs, when he taught 300 sugarcane workers to read and write in just 45 days. His successes were both supported and and at points censored by various governments.

Freire believed that,

“education makes sense because women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing—of knowing that they know and knowing that they don’t.”

Freire’s work explains how and why the mere re-distribution of wealth away from ther rich to the poor is not sufficent to create equality. Equality exists as much in the struggle of the mind and heart. Once adults can not only read and write, but have the power and strength to accept their own freedom, then they can question power structures of race and class and reclaim not only “means of value creation” such as businesses and factories but also, books, films, stories. They can bring others of the “oppressed” with them and fight for the equality that every human desires.

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