Orwellian Wisdom

If you haven’t already read some of George Orwell’s books then I highly recommend them. I can imagine though that the subject matter of some of his titles are not to everyone’s taste. Orwell focuses a lot on poverty and it’s effects of society as well as dabbling in the control the government has on us by painting dystopian futures.

George Orwell was writing his novels and essays between 1928-1950. Although some of the backdrops and parlance used in his books are old fashioned the stories are still relevant and his writing style is a pleasure to read as Orwell always wrote his prose in straight forward clean language. When reading Orwell I never found myself struggling to maintain concentration. According to Stephen Pinker this writing style is known as the classic style:

The guiding metaphor of classic style is seeing the world. The writer can see something that the reader has not yet noticed, and he orients the reader’s gaze so that she can see it for herself. The purpose of writing is presentation, and its motive is disinterested truth. It succeeds when it aligns with the truth, the proof of success being clarity and simplicity. 

(Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style)

Left or Right? 

Orwell also has other themes in his books such as totalitarianism, socialism, communism and fascism. There is an eternal argument between the left and the right politically as they fight between which side Orwell belongs to. When Orwell wrote about communism in 1984 and Animal Farm this was usually the reason that the right believed he was on their side politically. Those more well read in Orwell will realise that his other books more regularly project different points of view. Anti-colonialism and the drive for social improvement through focusing more on emotion needs than patriotic needs shows Orwell’s place in the camp of leftists. I think a more careful study of Orwell will see that he sits firmly on the left. Orwell claimed that it is the problem of capitalism that is creating the difficulties of the second world war.

Big Brother

As well as writing captivating books, Orwell shared some interesting concepts. Many people use the term “Big Brother” and don’t fully understand it is from Orwell’s 1984. You cannot deny that Orwell correctly predicted that our future is rife with security cameras and observailance. Out presence in the world is for everyone to see. I would never tell someone they can’t do this, but I find it scary that children are born, and before they can even develop the ability to process images, their image has been posted on facebook and is imprisoned on a server in America. Children go to school and their parents takes a picture of them in their school uniform before their first day, they are advertising exactly where their child is going to be alone 5 days a week.

Many writers & film makers have stood on the shoulders of Orwell when trying to paint these horrifying future landscapes. A great example of a similar social commentary is in a TV show called “Black Mirror” which is on Netflix. This series with clearly inspired by Orwell but paints a sickeningly bleak outlook.

The Money God

In an early title by Orwell “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” George Cormstock who is the main protagonist has an ending battle with wealth. He has a philosophy that without money you are nothing, you will be an outcast in society and nobody loves you. George let’s this hang over him wherever he goes. He let’s himself endure meaningless work and even prevents moving forward in relationships because he knows he can’t treat his partner. This books seems to reel from another book titled “Down and out in Paris” which is partly autobiographical about Orwell’s poverty when living in Paris.

I can certainly relate to George. I can’t help but think of lyrics from a song called Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve:

“It’s a bittersweet Symphony (that’s life) you’ve gotta make ends meat (you’re a slave to money, then you die)”

I am fortunate in that I have a steady job and earn a wage which is suitable for my means. I can remember earning less money than I did and was constantly being reminded by my parents that I didn’t earn enough. Even to this day they say to me “You should really be earning more money now”. I responded to them “The problem I have is that I can remember earning less money than I do now. I got to a point where I earnt a comfortable wage, then my wage had gone up again. I have noticed that since I became comfortable with what I earn, as my wage has increased my level of happiness has stayed exactly the same so I find it difficult to find the motivation to try to earn more money?” When I told my parents this they had no answer for me.

I can remember telling my mother about a new job and I spoke for about 4 minutes about the potentials for fun new challenges to which she watched with indifference. I then was asked how much the job paid, and when I told her she burst into tears. It seems that only the seal of a decent salary was enough to inspire her happiness. I was disgusted by this transparent display of devotion to the money god.

Final point

I think that deciding your own philosophy in life is an important exercise to understand the world we live in, but to also better understand how we fit in it. I have learnt so much from the wisdom presented by Orwell that it makes me wonder what is available in books I haven’t read. We are so privileged to have a wealth of authors to chose from, and this fills me with excitement.

I hope that people can recommend books for me to read, especially ones that have spoken to you personally.

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How am I different

In this article I want to share with you one of my favourite musicians Aimee Mann and to discuss what her work means to me and how important it is for understanding mental health.

When I was about 20 years old I watched this film called “Magnolia” and it touched my soul. The feel of the film is very sad but contains some of the best drama I have ever seen on film. The film has some big stars like Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Juliane Moore. One of the elements of the film that attracted me was the music. On investigating this I found out that the director of this film Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) was in love with Aimee’s music and so he asked her to score the entire film using her music. The music was like nothing I had ever heard so that inevitably led me to look through her catalogue of music.

I started with an album called “Batchelor No.2” which I believe to be one of the best albums I own. In this album Aimee doesn’t just give you music, she gives you a window to her own personal fears and anxieties. Many music critics have described the music as raw because it has a lot of depressing lyrics though the melodies are not always in a minor tone.

If you are the sort of person who has an inner dialogue that criticises you and tells you you’re not good enough like I do then you can hear this argument in her music. Aimee isn’t always writing about herself she plays the parts of different characters and can be offering advice too.

Lost in Space is one of my favourite go to albums when I’m feeling a bit low. The album is about people who have a drug dependency. Aimee would compare taking taking heroin to being lost in space. The album has a number of fascinating rhymes which really stretch the imagination. Aimee once rhymed “Margaret Thatcher” with “Compound Fracture”. For me the most moving track on this album is titled “Its not” which I have included an excerpt of below:

“So here I’m sitting in my car at the same old stop light. I keep waiting for a change, but I dont know what.

So red turns in to green turning into yellow, and I’m just frozen here on the same old spot.

And all I have to do is to press the pedal, but I’m not, no I’m not”

I find these lyrics beautiful and very clever in the way they play with metaphor to describe a feeling we all have in life. Hidden expectations we are all expected to live up to. People around us who all seem to know the right way to live their lives and know all of the choices they need to make it happen.

I think if you don’t like to think about your music then this isn’t for you, and if you’ve never dabbled in self deprecation then this perhaps isn’t for you but I’d try it anyway. This music might be downbeat but it sends an important message that we’re not alone in how we feel.

I recently found out bizarrely that Aimee in the past lent her vocals to Canadian rock trio Rush for their famous single “Time Stands Still”. Aimee also plays the girl who had her toe chopped off in the Coen Brothers film “The Big Lebowski”

Mental Illness is Aimee’s new album and lends itself to the territory of how people with mental illness cope in their day to day lives. I haven’t yet fully explored the content but I’m excited for what new fruit will come from it.

Aimee is still touring, I had the pleasure of seeing her in London and picked up a signed copy of Charmer. Aimee is such a bright and funny woman that you might not think she is capable of writing such sad music but perhaps this is one of those ironies in life, the funniest can often be the saddest inside. Please give Aimee’s music a try and let me know what you think.

What I need to do less of

1. Stop being miserable – even if I am sad at times I must always try to be nice to other people. I am very conscious that my resting face is the personification of watching my own mother being molested so I need to switch things up and even when I am knee deep in the dullest of conversations I need to plaster on a big old smile.
Being miserable doesn’t just hurt me and my life, being miserable rubs off on other people, and at social events people don’t like it when you answer their question of “What’s your favourite sport” with “I like the one that is played forever and ever on a constant cycle of winners and losers aimlessly until I die”.

2. Stop being selfish – altruistic behaviour is crucial for a happy life. It is hard not to be selfish because we are wired to work that way but we do have a choice. Doing good deeds for others is the main sweetness in the fruit cake that is life.

3. Stop eating so much – I accidently shaved off my beard the other day as the razor broke and I thought as I looked in the mirror, you fat chin-less nothing. I need to lose weight and always have but I am at the point now where I will live until about 60. The problem I have is that food is delicious. A chocolate bar is never going to taste the same as an apple. My girlfriend told me she ate at Apple the other day and it made her feel full up. I am considering renting out my stomach as storage space for when people move house.

4. Being afraid – I have moments where I am scared to try something or put myself in a tough situation but life is about living and sometimes if we push ourselves now we will thank ourselves later. I have a funny feeling about flying and fear of turbulence but I need to travel the world, so I must force myself to go against my instincts as I will thank myself for the life experience.

5. Start listening to my parents – my parents have a lot to say and often I will disregard them because they don’t have a complete grasp of the modern world. My parents are the only people in the world who will do anything for me so I need to appreciate that. Even if they don’t always show it, they have my best interests at heart.

6. Stop listening to my parents – My parents can say things that poison my mind and can tell me hurtful things. Sometimes rather than being direct and having a heart to heart emotional conversation instead they will say something hurtful as though I should know better and just indirectly pick up what they’re trying to say. I can always remember when I got offered a new job, I was so excited and when I called to speak to my parents the first thing they said was “How much is the salary?” A little bit put a back I told them and they were disappointed, they said I had to ask for more money. I tried with the employer and they turned me down. My mother then said in a passive-agressive tone “Oh well never mind, I suppose it’s a step in the right direction to getting a good job”. I felt so deflated, I couldn’t be excited again. It felt like a wake up call. I try to protect myself by not telling them things that make me happy because I don’t want them to undermine the happiness I have.

7. Acting like nothing matters – yer okay humans are insignificant! and yer okay there is no god!, and yer okay the planet is on a trajectory into a sun! and yer okay all humans are essentially animals that have predictable reproductive cycles that become about as cliché as the sun rising and setting but things have value. I need to take a leaf out of Stoicism and say to myself none of this is in my control. I am aware of all of the above and I can still wake up in the morning. Ignorance is definitely bliss and I must try to enrich people’s lives by being loving, caring and considerate.

8. Being a shit friend – I have always been a crap friend, I have paid for it in my life by losing some wonderful smart people. Life moves on and our lives change but I can’t help think of the NIN lyric “Through the stains of time, the feelings disappear. You are someone else, and I am still right here”. I need to do altruistic things to overcome my own anxieties and if I work really hard and make an effort I know I can earn back and retain the friendship of the many I have lost and will inevitably lose later on.