Orwell’s problem with Orwell

Or, “ On why ‘Orwellian’ isn’t a thing, being a victim of your success, and the danger of lazy showing off.”

“We don’t say “Babe: Pig in The City is Orwellian because there is a talking pig in it.”

We might point to the fact both the political Left and Right use it to describe the behaviour of the other as evidence that one or both sides don’t understand what they are saying. If they are opposing forces and ideologies, they can’t both be right after all. But let’s look at what Orwellian does and doesn’t mean before we look at why everyone is wrong all the time.

“…we have to admit Orwellian is a word used to reflect your own politics.”

We might say Orwellian refers to his style, not his content. Which would be the fairest meaning of the word but let’s face it, unless you’re reading literary criticism rather than doom-scrolling through Twitter with tears in your eyes and hate in your hearts during the dead of the night, that’s not the context in which word is used. When we see someone use Orwellian, what they are trying to say is “I think this thing is like some of the things at are in or lead up the things in Nineteen Eighty-Four, which I have definitely read.”

“No one ever says something like ‘I will defend the Prime Minister with Orwellian fervour.’ Only, ‘Your defence for the Prime Minister is Orwellian.’ “

Each terrible aspect of Nineteen Eighty-Four is part of a collection, and we either think all of these things and anything that might lead to them, are bad all the time — war is always Orwellian, state-controlled production is always Orwellian, state-sponsored torture is always Orwellian, fake news is always Orwellian, idolising leaders and hating the enemy is always Orwellian, propaganda is always Orwellian — or, much more likely, we think some of these things are bad all the time and some are bad when those with different politics do them.

“…it is a euphemism for “I don’t like this thing.”

No one ever says something like “I will defend the Prime Minister with Orwellian fervour.” Only, “Your defence for the Prime Minister is Orwellian.”

“…he thought Fascism was wicked, he took it for granted and moved to Spain so he could shoot and kill Fascists so they would be dead.”

If, like Orwell, and indeed myself, you count yourself among the Left you might be inclined to argue Orwell was a Leftist and was worried about the Fascist Right, so we know Orwellian is a condemnation of those politics and therefore we are free from this mistake, well, there is good and bad news.

“But, he also recognised that the Left contributes to the failure of political discourse as much as the Right.”

No twat with a trestle table and a “debate me” sign was going convince Orwell otherwise, though I’d be very surprised if they didn’t invoke Orwell’s name in defence of their ridiculous challenge.

“Orwell wrote thousands of pages without ever resorting to something as lazy and toothless as Orwellian.”

But that is the correctness of ignorance which tries to conscript Orwell to their cause. And they could do with an Orwell figure on the Right. Yes there right-wing novels, but none of the same level of fame as Orwell’s book, by a right-wing author, criticising the far-right. The Right hasn’t created anything nearly as popular and self-critical as Orwell. It lacks the introspection and has been far too focused on getting the job of winning at any cost, in doing so opening the door to any bloated, shallow, and floppy-haired terrors who tells them they can deliver the goods. And they are the worse for it.

Journalist, author, comics writer and rambler. I like odd things. Comic found here www.hocuspocuscomic.com/ — Support my writing here https://ko-fi.com/rikworth

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