Sunday, August 5, 2018

I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction

From George Orwell: A Life in Letters, edited by Peter Davison.

Dealing in categories and averages and patterns and symbols can be highly useful and enlightening. But when it comes to people, you always want to get to the individual as soon as possible. The stick figure of averages and report is only ever a caricature of the person as they really are. This is one of the reasons I loathe the social justice and postmodernist frame of mind. They want to deal in group identities and ignore the messy reality of individuals where things are much more interesting, dangerous, and rewarding. Much more human.

Orwell captures some of this in this letter to Stephen Spender from April 15, 1938.
You ask how it is that I attacked you not having met you, & on the other hand changed my mind after meeting you. I don’t know that I had ever exactly attacked you, but I had certainly in passing made offensive remarks about ‘parlour Bolsheviks such as Auden & Spender’ or words to that effect. I was willing to use you as a symbol of the parlour Bolshie because a. your verse, what I had read of it, did not mean very much to me, b. I looked upon you as a sort of fashionable successful person, also a Communist or Communist sympathiser, & I have been very hostile to the C.P. since about 1935, & c. because not having met you I could regard you as a type & also an abstraction. Even if when I met you I had not happened to like you, I should still have been bound to change my attitude, because when you meet anyone in the flesh you realise immediately that he is a human being and not a sort of caricature embodying certain ideas. It is partly for this reason that I don’t mix much in literary circles, because I know from experience that once I have met & spoken to anyone I shall never again be able to show any intellectual brutality towards him, even when I feel that I ought to, like the Labour M.Ps. who get patted on the back by dukes & are lost forever more.
That last line is an interesting observation. Much of our national media is now concentrated in a handful of cities. Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. Orwell's comment makes me wonder: Is some of the divide between the clerisy and the rest of America a function of the media and the establishment parties cohabiting in limited environments where journalists mix with elected figures and cease to comment critically about them, no matter how negative the consequences to the nation arising from misbegotten and ham-fisted political bromides and the public policy which arises from them?

That would explain the rejection on both the left and right of their respective establishments. We hide the fact that this is a revolt of the masses against the establishment by focusing on the widening gap between the fringes. But the critical issue is the establishment:citizenry gap, not the left:right gap. And perhaps part of the establishment:citizenry gap is for the reasons Orwell describes.

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