Monday, September 06, 2004

Is 1984 Taught In Schools Anymore?

When I was in high school, George Orwell's 1984 was required reading. I can't help but wonder how common this is in American schools today? Wherever it is being taught, it is difficult to imagine that a class now reading 1984 could have a meaningful learning experience without discussing the eerily similar context of current events, especially since teachers have been suspended or otherwise disciplined for benign free speech about war in the past two years.

So is 1984 being taught in 2004? It is a macabre irony to say taught, yes, the hard way. Recently the Eureka Times-Standard printed an editorial criticizing Shaye Harty for wanting to remove the statue of President McKinley from the Arcata Plaza. Harty questioned the appropriateness of celebrating a man of such dubious accomplishments. In rejecting Harty's proposal, the Times-Standard editors did not challenge her facts, interpretations or judgments about McKinley.

Had the paper limited its objection to the consideration of aesthetic and tradition, I would call it a reasonable difference of opinion. I could even forgive the demeaning tone that "downsized" the idea into perspective with other current concerns. But the editorial likened Harty's campaign to the rewriting of history seen in 1984. And thus we learn our lessons the hard way: the keepers of the status quo often defend their position with accusations that more appropriately apply to themselves.

This is a peculiar flavor of Orwell's doublespeak that I call Black Kettles. The greatest example may be George W. Bush saying America was attacked because terrorists hate our freedoms. This would be true if we were to properly define terrorists. After all, those who conspired to take away the rights of Americans are the Congressmembers who passed the Patriot Act; the Justice Department operating outside the parameters of an already dangerously expanded purview; the Supreme Court that has permitted wanton lawlessness in the Executive branch; and the administration that detains citizens indefinitely without charges.

It must be made plain by now that America is no longer a democratic, capitalist nation with freedoms of the press and of speech. These pretexts are maintained as a facade shielding recognition that fascism is in effect. Yes you will still find examples of capitalism or an uneroded freedom. But this is consistent with maintaining the illusion and perpetuating the myth that our country is still how we've always known it. It is not. This is not alarmist or extreme. It is sober and rational and millions of others have already realized it.

It is becoming increasingly easy to expose the charade. Mr. Bush has repeatedly said we are winning the war on terror, we will win the war on terror and that he has a strategy to win the war on terror. Last week Mr. Bush said that he doesn't think the war on terror can be won. Should such a contradiction be discussed in a class reading 1984 today?

The thinking reader has known since the beginning that a war on terror is like a war on violence and cannot possibly eradicate its supposed target. With millions awakening to the recognition of fascism, and myths being laid bare before the world, there is no reason to continue pretending that America is what it is not.

Imagine watching a magician perform. After the show you are asked to name your favorite trick. You say it was the one where he cut the lovely assistant in half. You know it was a trick and you know he didn't really saw the woman in two. In the context of recreation, entertainment and fantasy, suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite. Yet in casual conversation, your language would reflexively reinforce the illusion. This is what happens all the time from the war on terror to free speech (zones) to elections.

As headlines routinely leave reality a toss-up between the stories of two so-called national leaders, the net effect is many people now find it impossible to know what to believe. This is what the Times-Standard should be referring to when writing about 1984. Bashing Harty was, as it has come to be known, Orwellian.



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