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.

My search for “The lasting effect”

I have lots of personal goals in my life, but a lot of them follow the average textbook path of achievement… get a job I like, buy a house, settle down etc. Most of my goals however are important to me but will not have a lasting effect on the world. Let me explain what I mean by this:
As I grow older I realise that our lives are precious, and we will never be certain of how much time we have left to live. Impressing other people (no matter who they are) is not important, unless it truly matters to you.

When I was at primary school I was required for drama to go up on stage and to perform a play. This play was with my class in front of the whole school during assembley. I can remember being quite excited about it and I was so young I didn’t understand why I should have been nervous by something like this. I knew exactly what I had to do when I was on stage and couldn’t factor in the risks of what could happen. Part of my scene was that I was a king and I had to walk in to my Kingdom, say a few lines, all of the other servants would bow to me and then I would sit at my throne. I managed to hit all of the lines perfectly but when I went to sit at my throne which was a simple chair it had not been set up correctly and one of the chair legs was positioned off the back of the stage. The moment I sat down the chair swung back flying me off the stage and I hit the ground. The whole school burst into laughter. One of my best friends at the time ran down to me to make sure I was alright. I was so embarrassed, I remember being bright red having to go back and sit on the stage for the rest of the scene which felt like an eternity. A girl I had previously fancied in primary school came up to me after the play whilst I was still shaken up by the whole thing and laughingly said “Well done you idiot you ruined our play”. I was more than hurt my this event I was ruined. The love of my life had just stabbed me firmly in the heart at my most weakest.

This event in my life was upsetting but I have noticed how now it doesn’t effect me. How many years did it take for me to get over it? The beauty is that nobody at school remembered it and after a short time it became old news and society forgave me. Even something like that which effected me personally doesn’t have a lasting effect on the world.

This might be slightly nihilistic, but used appropriately this is a great coping mechanism. Every time someone hurts you personally you have to say to yourself in 100 years time we will all be dead and nobody will remember this moment, so is it worth worrying about? You also have to say, am I responsible for what happened? Is it my fault I fell off the stage, or was it the prop hands fault for not securing the chair on the set? The lesson at the time in my childish brain was that I’m useless and unloveable. The true lesson is that getting upset over something trivial is only useful if you can learn from that moment to improve yourself.

As a young man trying to understand the world I apply this logic to everything that I come across but it begs the question, what is worth doing? If I was to do something positive like give to charity, this act will also be forgotten in 100 years and I will just fall into a general population of charitable individuals. If I worked for a company and did a fantastic job, after 100 years that company might be out of business or even if they werent, they still wouldn’t have to hold my file on their records.

The only way to be truly immortal is to create a legacy and leave something behind. When people realise this they follow the easist way to leave a legacy which is to have a baby. I have nothing against having children, but I dont see this as achieving my personal dreams, and I dont want to have a child and use it as an excuse as to why I didn’t enjoy my life. If a father told people “well I couldn’t achieve my dreams because I chose to be a father and that is the most noble thing to do, I gave up my life so someone else could have a life”. This parent would privately resent their child if that was true. The desire for that child to succeed is then heightened and the weight of needing to do something with their life is put on the childs shoulders instead of their own. Of course there are many parents who responsibly achieve their dreams before having children and love their children very much, but psychologists will tell you that the latter does still exist.

Who then does have a lasting effect? Galileo is remembered hundreds of years after his death but we can’t all just go to the supermarket for a marvellous discovery. Elvis Presley is remembered for years after his death but he was fortunate to have been involved with some talented writers and for being painted up as the heart throb that he was! Dont confuse the lasting effect with being famous, as that doesn’t make you necessarily worth remembering. Charles Manson is a famous murderer but we dont see him as a contributor to the goodness of the world.

I believe we all need to pursue our dreams and search for a way to leave something memorable behind. Dont be afraid of failure because those who fail are actually better than those who never try. If you are doing the best you possibly can internally then all of the external stuff you can’t control doesnt matter. You have to say to yourself, am I doing the best I can? As long as you are, stop worrying. One of my dreams is to write and publish a book, becase this is leaving something behind. Shakespere is always going to be on a book shelf and by contributing positive thoughts through the medium of literature, I personally see this as one of the most exciting forms of lasting effect there is. Art in any form is eternal, the problem people have is that not anyone can do art.