Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Response to Howe and Rorty; 312; 1984

The Readings:

Howe. "1984--Utopia Reversed"


"The Last Intellectual in Europe: Orwell on Cruelty"

What I find interesting about Howe, is that most of his "inaccuracies" about Orwell's "novel" are simply conclusions that were reached based on studying history.

"No ruling class, at least within Western society, has yet been able to dispense with ideology..."

"[In 1984, the proletariat was] "so helpless and demoralized that the state need no longer fear them. Now we have no right to say that this never could happen, but we must also observe that it has not yet happened."

An appeal to past events is not adequate support for what may happen in the future. However, this is exactly what Howe does.

I wonder how many could have envisioned a world where not one, but two world wars would be fought back to back? I realize that Howe leaves room for the possibility of Orwell's future, but that he would call it an inaccuracy seems to be the wrong word, and in a discussion and a book where words themselves are up for debate, this seemed worthy of mention.

On Rorty:

"If we take care of freedom, truth can take care of itself. If we are ironic enough about

our final vocabularies, and curious enough about everyone else's, we do not have to

worry about whether we are in direct contact with moral reality, or whether we are

blinded by ideology, or whether we are being weakly 'relativistic'" (176-77).

I am going to play devil's advocate on this one.

The first line is laughable. To take care of freedom first assumes that freedom is an important moral reality, the most important as it is first to be considered, without first qualifying it as such with Truth (Truth with a capital T is necessary, because in this sense we are talking about an absolute truth). What Rorty is saying is that by the very nature of freedom, the truth, moral and otherwise, will come about as a course of nature. We live in a society where free speech is not only allowed but (at least by the public) exhorted, yet how much closer to the truth is each individual, or the whole social organism, because of the allowed freedom? I am not extolling totalitarianism or downplaying the importance of free speech to find that truth, I am just trying to point out the logical inconsistencies by Rorty.

"Orwell helps us see that it just happened that rule in Europe passed into the hands of

people who pitied the humiliated and dreamed of human equality, and that it may just

happen that the world will wind up being ruled by people who lack any such sentiments

or ideas" (184-85)."

I don't think Orwell helps us see that the world may end up being ruled by a kind-hearted people who want nothing for themselves, at least by humanity's design. The opposite is true. Orwell tells us that even with the best of intention, eventually those who have a desire for power and to rule for power's end will rise to the top of society. Such people tend to flaunt solutions to economic and social problems, and often only deliver a twisted version of the promise. This isn't to say that a benevolent ruler cannot come to power, merely that benevolent rulers are more rare than malevolent rulers, and that it seems only a matter of time (because of this statistic) before the latter rises and either seizes or inherits that powerful position.

No comments: