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.