Orwell Returns: "Me First, America Too"

by John J. Tierney, Jr.  |  January 4, 2019  |  ARTICLES

The subtitle of this essay has reversed two main "movements" in the contemporary culture: "Me Too" and "America First." The result is a modern example of what George Orwell originally labeled as "doublethink" in his classic novel, 1984. In reality, the title confuses the priorities of social movements, beyond the current ones, insofar as it reverses the order, putting the source of all aspirations and liberties as an afterthought.

Liberty precedes aspirations, without which there would be none. Without an America, there would be no hope of opportunity or aspiration, and, like most of the world's people, equality would only be a dismal by-product of a dictatorial government. Most Russians, for example, share a blanket equality, equal in poverty, social status, and lack of opportunity (so do most all other 7 billion members of the earth).

Endemic in the current political culture is an instinctive repudiation of the sources of "Americanism," possibly even encouraged by President Trump's call to make the country "great again." This implies a loss of the virtue and the need for recovery (kind of like the Great Depression).

Typical of the anti-movement was the response recently given by none other than Governor Cuomo of New York, noting that in his view the country was "never that great." Examples dominate the media. A New York Times columnist recently typified the atmosphere by writing that the U.S. was conceived in "slavery, genocide and colonization." Feminist contempt for the other gender through the phrase "dead white males" (presumably to include Washington and Lincoln) has become a rallying cry, while the derision of a country embedded with a series of ideological "isms" (sexism, racism) has come to typify our dominant agendas. To erase the past, many have even sought to destroy landmarks, statues, and name-sites. And on it goes.

(What, for example, can we do with Virginia's Washington and Lee University? Erase both names: they're males, dead and lived with slavery. That's enough).

Orwell used other phrases that now define American society. In a culture that tries to eliminate history and biology, where pronouns are prohibited and where an entire gender (men) is dismissed as tyrannical, the phraseology of George Orwell is catching up with us. "Politically Correct" (PC) characterizes what Orwell described when 1984 was published (1949). For example, "Ingsoc" is English Socialism wherein language is supervised. "Newspeak" is similar, controlled language, simple terms of simplistic meaning. "Thoughtcrime" harbors dark ideas against contemporary beliefs ("hate" crimes). "Unperson" is what we are doing to history's "incorrect" personages (which condemns almost everybody). "Oldthink" is dated thoughts (which implies almost all of them). "Thinkpol" is thought police who control all of this (self-appointed, mostly residing in faculty lounges, Hollywood, and "mainstream" media). "Blackwhite" is not racial but implies that we should not distinguish between identities; all are the same.

And on it goes, again.

What is the root source of this cultural phenomenon? Some attribute it to the legacy of the Vietnam War era protesters and the beginnings of a movement that condemned the war as endemic to the society. Michael Walsh in his excellent book, The Devil's Pleasure Palace identifies the influence of the Frankfurt (Germany) school of "Critical Theory" and intellectuals such as Herbert Marcuse as the controlling campus culprits.

It seems fair to say, however, that, whatever the root cause, the phenomenon is a sociological one and, below that, essentially Marxist in origin. Sociology is group-study in any case, and Marxism is certainly the most powerful sociological movement in modern history. Nor need this accept Marx's "proletariat" as the source, since the phenomenon includes many other factors above economics. The Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who espoused cultural Marxism from one of Mussolini's prisons, probably represents a more relevant inspiration for what we are witnessing. 

The bottom line: like most social phenomena (war-peace, progress-stagnation, investment-spending), the cause resides in the intellect. The issue is, ultimately, intellectual, and can only be addressed in the same element, i.e. the mind. For those who embrace the movement and its implications, they should push harder: invest in the schools from grade one up, control the media, elect "progressives," and await the results. So far, they are ahead.

For those who fear the implications, they should do the same, only more and harder. While many may not recognize it, this war is a cultural conflict between two diverse and separate visions of both the past and future. From this writer's perspective, history is essential, not only because it explains what happened but also because it is the only social laboratory from which to guide the future. All others are products of the imagination and, as such, are dangerous and fleeting.

Orwell himself knew this. In 1984, he emphasized it as the explanation of what was going on in totalitarian societies such as the Soviet Union: "He who control the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."

What does this mean: a return to reality, to fundamentals, to a true intellectual curiosity and away from unproven and far-fetched ideologies. Back to basics (and let Washington and Lee alone).