1984, the Novel You Did Not Understand

Here’s the secret of 1984: the members of the Party are like kept children, unable or unwilling to self-authorize, desperate for emancipation from self-accountability and development of the independent judgment, and painful, painful, dreadful freedom. The people out in the towns? The ones who are thought by Winston to be hopelessly miserable and simple? They are free. It’s the need for acceptance, and the inability to self-authorize that keeps the members of the Party in their self-imposed exile. Every humiliation, every indignity, every scandalous lie they tell themselves, one another, and whomever reads the articles that Winston must edit, is a self-inflicted wound.

The Party is the Corporation.

Every individual who craves – needs – the approval of others so strongly, from early on, jumping through hoops and demonstrating their loyalty and obedience to an abstract social authority epitomized and embodied by Big Brother, belongs to the Party. Upwards they climb, rising up through a dominance hierarchy, oriented as slaves toward a master, sacrificing for the day when they may be a master, themselves. The shape of the unliberated mind made manifest.

So, the joke’s on everyone who thinks that Winston is the Hero. He’s merely the protagonist. The hero is the party official who breaks him, and sets him free. Who shows him his own shadow self. “Her! Do it to her!” In the end, Winston realizes that he loves the Party. Why? Because it set him free.

The point is easily illustrated by a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that every status symbol you ever bought was not available to you. Let’s imagine that all of us had exactly the same income. Now, imagine that individuals could still vie and compete for rank, but the only visible marker of your accomplishments were literally pennants and banners, pins, and flags. Driving through the neighborhoods then, where all houses are more or less the same size, you notice that some of them have a few flags and pennants, and some of them are just ridiculously festooned with them. The overwhelming gaudiness of the display would make clear the bottomless need for approval that is behind it, and we would not look upon that house with admiration so much as pity. Pity for the depth of insecurity made manifest. This is what it means first to even want to be a member of the Party, and to the degree that you’d climb within it, and in the climbing, take on more responsibility for bigger and bigger lies and callous deeds to others, the poverty of such insecurity is made manifest.


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