Orwellian syllabus

This "featured article" by Amartya Sen in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion website argues that democracy isn’t a Western tradition and includes the following illustration:

Since traditions of public reasoning can be found in nearly all countries, modern democracy can build on the dialogic part of the common human inheritance. In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela describes how influenced he was, as a boy, by seeing the democratic nature of the proceedings of the meetings that were held in his home town: "Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer."

When I read the piece, I was reminded of (among other stray thoughts) something Resty Odon wrote about two weeks ago, when he argued about the need to equip our minds with the right tools to depoliticize language. Resty’s inventory included the following:

– advancing our arguments
– deciphering ‘spinned’ information
– discerning between primary resources data and secondhand lies
– second-guessing things left unmentioned or unsaid
– getting down to bare-bone facts
– sifting through propaganda materials
– identifying unimpeachable evidence
– winnowing the chaff from the essential

Ah, yes. The syllabus for a new Orwellian age.

PS. In two posts, Resty suggests a list of essential books. I would like to add: anything by Timothy Garton Ash, who may be George Orwell’s true heir in political reporting. I only have The Uses of Adversity at home, but somehow I think that’s more than enough.



Filed under Readings in Politics

2 responses to “Orwellian syllabus

  1. manuelbuencamino

    Raul Manglapus wrote a short book on democracy during his exile years. He made a distinction between the form and essence of democracy. (He cited similar examples to Mandela’s )

    He said what we inherited or learned from the west was the form and not the essence which, although it defies definition, is inherent among humans. We become aware of it only when it’s missing.

    It was his response to Marcos who formally lifted martial law and reinstituted the forms of democracy.

    Similarly, we are experiencing formal democracy under Gloria and nothing else. The Batasan, Comelec, Ombudsman, Sandigan and the SC are doing her bidding. Arrests and raids are conducted under “the rule of law”.

    I understand your concern about the Orwellian nature of the language of this administration but don’t incidents like the arrest of Beltran and the raid on Atty. Tabayoyong remind you of one of Kafka’s stories?

    We are living in Kafka’s world and we are speaking Orwellian.

    I think I’ll light up a joint and leave you guys for awhile. Peace

  2. DJB

    John, just a comment to ManuelBuencamino…

    I’ve always thought of Kafka as a great anti-totalitarian writer of the 20th century. His works, like “The Metamorphosis” “The Trial” and “The Castle” have many possible interpretations, but my own reading of them produced the same aversion to bureaucracies and big govts that Orwell’s works also did. Altho Franz Kafka, a lawyer, was a bit unhinged through and through. In Animal Farm and 1984, Orwell and Kafka were humanists struggling against inhuman ideological systems.

    I don’t think KAFKAESQUE applies to the Philippines yet, though that short story about the guy that metamorphoses into a cockroach could be applicable. I thought Kafka weird then…until I read SISOHPROMATEM (by a scifi author whose name I now forget), where a cockroach turns into a human!

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