5/11/2005

As I Please

George Orwell: The original Blogger

Over twenty years ago Penguin books published a three part series of the collected essays, letters, and articles of George Orwell(Born as Eric Blair) These covered the period from the 1920's to the time of his death in 1948. They were a fascinating account of a world going through massive changes by a man with a keen eye for political, personal, and social stories that were indicative of the state of human nature. Discourses on the nature of British cooking(much underrated according to him because it's never properly done), the search for the ideal pub, and of course the state of the world. An unabashed left winger Orwell was never afraid to speak his mind on any issue, even when he would find himself in direct opposition with the conventional leftist opinion. He was a free thinker who would no let himself be blinded by "party" affiliations or loyalties, and the thing he hated most in the world was hypocrisy, which he was quick to point out when and where ever it revealed it's ugly head.

Probably best known for two novels, 1984, and Animal Farm, both of which dealt with the failures of trying to create ideal societies, he was long pilloried by the left for being anti socialist. In truth he was far more left wing then any of his critics could have hoped to be. His biggest crime was to criticise the Stalinist regime of Soviet Russia when they were still the darlings of the left. He had first hand experience of their oppressive nature when he served in an Anarchist Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. He watched as the initial victories of war fell apart when the communist backed forces became more concerned with purging the federalist forces of anarchist troops then fighting Franco. So while Hitler was actively supporting the fascists the Soviets were actually undermining the fight for freedom.

Orwell accounts the whole sordid mess in the wondrous Homage to Catalonia, one of the best first hand accounts of the forerunner of the Spanish Civil War. For those interested this is the war that if the powers in Britain, France, and the U.S. had gotten involved in, would have prevented World War Two, because it would have crippled Hitler and Mussolini's war machine's before they even got built. As it was it provided a perfect training ground for them to prepare for the invasion of Poland and France three years later.

It was during the war that Orwell started to write his column As I Please. As the title suggests he was give carte blanche to write about anything and everything with no suppression of his opinion. Whether it was crtictism of the Soviet Union, or the behavior of American soldiers in London, reviews of books, or observations about daily life during the war they are fascinating to read for the picture generated of a very specific time in history.

The work during that period is the forrunner of the modern columnist is style and format. Wide ranging, provocative, and thought inspiring, they were what are attempted with various degrees of success today by anybody writing an op-ed piece. What separated and continues to separate Orwell from the rest of the pack was his breadth of knowledge and experience. Few people alive now can hope to match in a life time what he had achieved to that point: Served as police man in Burma, fought in Spain, lived as a down and out with the working poor to better document their lives for a book, worked as an interviewer for the B.B.C., and published three novels.(The Road to Wiggen Pier, Keep the Asphrodite Flying, and Down and out in London and Paris)

A life such as that could not help but formulate an innate sense social justice. His exposure to the poor, colonial oppressed, and people willing to die for their freedom ensured that he would always speak out against inequity no matter whose feathers he ruffled. Remarkably no matter what he said about who his work was never censored, widely criticisms maybe, but always printed. What he would have thought of the quality of our press currently, their willingness to censor themselves by being embedded and hand fed pool reports, is easy enough to guess. One only need look at the disdain he held for the "jingoists" who held in such high contempt for simply parroting government statements as gospel without question and calling it news to fathom the contempt he would have held current standards of reportage.

When I started on this blog I did not have in mind the idea of emulating George Orwell, but I was suddenly reminded of him the other day when I was attempting to describe what it is I do with this site. It made me think of what a wonderful time he would have had with the internet, and having his own blog. He was always highly skeptical about things that were claimed to bring people together, in his age the radio and the airplane were supposed to the tools that brought about international co-operation through the closing of the physical gap between countries, but I do think he would have appreciated the technology that would have allowed him to have his words read anywhere across the world for free.

With this in mind I dedicate this blog to the memory of George Orwell and will attempt at all times to follow in his footsteps, pointing out hypocrisy, knocking over statues, and generally doing what I do best- being a gad fly. I hope that I can least be a pale imitation of what he started.

cheers gypsyman

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