Reading Books in the Time of Censorship
By Daniel Snyder, March 2021
Sales of George Orwell’s 1984, a story now over 70 years old, spiked in 2013 during the revelation of extensive US government spying upon its own citizens. Sales jumped again in 2017 when a spokesman for President Trump coined the term “alternative facts” in reference to an illusory free press. Another spike is occuring at the time of this writing, with 1984 in the top 10 Amazon best seller list.
The current sales spike is surpassing the marks of prior surges. This is good news. 1984, and its dystopian partner Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, are often read in part or in whole in classical Christian high schools where we teach our students to know — as thoroughly as Orwell — that reality flows from words.
But, in another Orwellian turn, this most recent sales phenomenon has not been widely reported, as were its prior surges. Sales spikes of 2013, and 2017 especially, were broadcast universally and incessantly — but should you consult your social monitor screen and “google” this subject today, you will note an absence of “facts” (alternative or otherwise) about the book’s current popularity. The establishment media seems determined that any facts about this latest surge will fall down the “memory hole.”
You will, however, find articles from proper editorial authorities telling you that the current purchasers and quoters of this book aren’t smart enough to really understand it (so don’t look in those pages, proles!). You will also read in a modern socialist online magazine, alarmingly called “The Jacobin,” that, 1: Orwell was a socialist (he was), therefore 2: everything he says must always be understood to mean who he was, not what he meant; a fallacy known as “Bulverism.” In summary, “pay no attention to ‘Orwellian’ fears; you don’t understand them anyway” (as ordered by the mysterious power that controls what you may know or say in public).
Something in Common
George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and Socrates all had something in common: They worried about the future. Socrates, observing current trends in technology, worried about the emerging world of books that used the new fangled alphabet. Perhaps sensing that philosophers would become obsolete, he complained that no matter how many times you asked a book a question, it always gave the same answer.
Conversely, and in keeping with the adage that “things could always be worse,” Ray Bradbury in his book Fahrenheit 451 worried about a future where no one reads books at all, where they have technologies which simulate the pleasures of reading without its profound effects. The resultant triviality in both cases serves to spoil society.
In the ironic case of Socrates — who as far as we can tell wrote nothing down — his dialogues were reported by sidekick-turned-scribe Plato, and have become bedrock testaments of the West (particularly Republic). In Republic, we learn that the worst of lands is ruled by lawyers (written laws) and physicians (rote treatments of disease), producing a kingdom of the perpetually scheming and sickly. We expel a sigh of relief and mutter, “thank goodness that never came to pass,” as we write large checks for health care we can’t use and taxes we can’t understand.
For Bradbury, in the worst of lands, the school’s primary duty was to make sure students didn’t say certain things or read books; librarians not only hid books but discouraged you from looking for them; “firemen,” much like modern civil servants who specialize in the suppression of civics, actually started fires rather than putting them out.
Bradbury’s concern regarding books — seemingly opposite that of Socrates — is rooted in the same place. In trusting our thoughts to another medium, in Bradbury’s case to screens controlled by committees (!), and perhaps in Socrates’ case to paper controlled by editors and progeny, we lose memory both private and communal. We become unquestioning members in a consensus, a society with dementia; a true dystopia.
George Orwell’s dystopia haunts the present through the corruption of language and its indelible memento — the destruction of public memory — as words and phrases are used like mental boundary stones, which the ignorant or partisan shift in the dead of bad rhetoric’s night.
From 1984 comes a shadowy list, which we should be fervently teaching our children to recognize for the day it moves off the page into reality:
“Newspeak” — language that only expresses the interests of the consensus
“Big Brother” — the disembodied and uncanny power that cancels people and removes unwanted thoughts and ideas from public conversation
“Thoughtcrime” — disagreement with the consensus
“Orwellian” — perhaps the most lurid term of all, our word to summarize it all
Can anyone who has read his book not say that Orwell envisioned a time when titles of agencies like “Planned Parenthood” stand for groups that plan the opposite, when invisible authorities can remove people and words from conversations, or when the capital city of the “free world” is a barricaded outpost of martial law? Is it possible we have not realized an “Orwellian” reality?
Words are like footballs. The offense has the ball and they are blitzing to move words toward their progressive goalposts. From “justice” to “racism” to “him” to “Orwellian,” no meaning is safe. The defense must rise and take back the ball.
Avoiding the Memory Hole
The center of the Orwellian theme has always been the “memory hole,” a drain in the ironic “Ministry of Truth” that serves to erase history and introduce nonsense into language, a viral attack on meaning that dulls the conscience and encourages us to stop thinking about or challenging the consensus. Bradbury’s antidote for public dementia — and the remedy for the shifting dunes of modern social media — are the steadfast rocks of literature. 1984 is a shoal upon which surging tyranny breaks.
We in the classical education movement insist on letting the books speak. In the senile modern West, old books are treated like distant friends we perhaps once knew, but no longer remember or value. When those friends occasionally visit us in our cultural hospice, a helpful orderly immediately appears to tell us, in a most patronizing voice, the new name of the old friend and why they are no longer necessary, rushing us away as quickly as possible and keeping us firmly strapped to our wheelchairs to avoid any unpleasantness.
Refuse to lie on your hospice bed, gumming the tapioca of current literature and media. When choosing between Orwell and “Orwellian,” go to the author, buy and read the book. You’d be surprised if you looked into your hospice visitor’s lounge, and saw the waiting friends who’ve been denied entrance. Right now, there are teachers and librarians, orderlies in our hall of memory, forbidding a visit by our old friend Dr. Suess, since apparently he might upset us. I can hear some of these friends yelling in the hall. Check the current best selling books lists (you won’t see this on the NY Times) and join the literate.
Keep Reading: More books that are anxious to talk to you today
The Rise of Totalitarianism, by Hannah Arendt; The Gulag Archipelago, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn; History in English Words, by Owen Barfield.
Mr. Dan Snyder teaches Omnibus, Logic and Rhetoric at Classical School of Wichita in Kansas. He is the epitome of a “lifelong learner,” having been an air traffic controller and computer specialist in the US Marines, a video game programmer, a member of the Army Chorus, and an opera singer, with a degree in Liberal Arts and a certificate in screenwriting. He is currently pursuing a Master’s in Classical Christian Studies through New Saint Andrews College. Mr. Snyder and his wife, Tracee, have been married since the Orwellian year of 1984, and have two sons and three grandchildren.
1984 Appendix — “The Principles of Newspeak”
“Newspeak … had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication. … The leading articles in the Times were written in it, but this was a tour de force which could only be carried out by a specialist. …
“It gained ground steadily, all Party members tending to use Newspeak words and grammatical constructions more and more in their everyday speech. The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all, and Oldspeak [“or standard English, as we should call it”] forgotten, a heretical thought–that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc–should be literally unthinkable.”
From 1984 by George Orwell
The Power of Words: Dictionary Redefined
Woven into the foundation of classical Christian education is the understanding of the inherent power of words. It is imperative in a world of constant information flow that we teach our children to discern, recognize, and respect how they, and those around them, use words.
Dictionary.com doesn’t just provide definitions.
According to Dictionary.com, a popular online dictionary, “The unprecedented events of 2020, from the pandemic to the protests, have profoundly changed our lives—and language.”
They go on to remind us, “The effects are social. They are psychological. They are personal. How words are entered into the dictionary—especially words concerning our personal identities—have real effects on real people in the real world.”
They are right. In response, Dictionary.com announced the following:
-From this point forward, Black and Indigenous as references to race will be capitalized. “Capitalizing Black joins many other dictionary-wide efforts to put people, not practices, first.” (White in reference to people is to remain lower-case.)
-The word slave as a noun will be replaced in references to a person with the adjective enslaved.
-Terms relevant to social justice and identity will be added, such as “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), “Critical Race Theory,” “overpolice,” and “racialization.”
-”Our updates surrounding addict and alcoholic improved over 50 entries.” This is because “referring to people with addictions as addicts or alcoholics reduces them to a label—and one long connoting moral failure and weakness of character—and defines them by only a single aspect of their complex humanity.”
– “We now define gayness as ‘gay or lesbian sexual orientation or behavior’ compared to the outmoded gloss of ‘homosexuality.’ These changes alone affect over 50 entries.”
– It is wrong to use the word homosexual or homosexuality or to imply anything other than celebrating “being gay—a normal way of being.”
-Click inside the heart shape on the rainbow banner to “Get LGBQTIA Language Updates Every Week.”
– “Our lexicographers have also developed a separate entry for Pride with an initial capital P to better document the specific, widespread use of the term: recognition of LGBTQ identity, affirmation of equal rights, and celebration of visibility, dignity, and diversity in the LGBTQ community.”
– Several revisions not only “help eliminate heterosexual bias in language, they also help better convey the diversity and richness of—and take Pride with a capital P in—human sexual experience and identity.”
According to Yahoo.com, John Kelly, managing editor of Dictionary.com, says:
“We have a responsibility as a dictionary. We know how words are entering the dictionary, how they’re defined — especially those words that concern our social identities, our racial identities, other marginalized identities.”
The Ministry of Truth* in 2021
On February 2, 2021, The New York Times released an article. Here is a list of adjectives or descriptive nouns used in this article to describe a vague but apparently large group (“millions of Americans”) who question or speak ideas contrary to the current narrative as approved by The New York Times.
baseless, hoaxes, lies, collective delusions, baseless (again), muddled, chaotic, misguided, biggest, false, fraud narrative, disinformation, reality crisis, truth-challenged, far-right, fringe, paranoid, disinformation (again), disinformation [again-alluding to any concerns about COVID not supported by the government], disinformation [again-alluding to any election process concerns not supported by the government], radicalized, extremist, deranged
Expressing concerns with the election process, questions about the COVID virus, or dissatisfaction with your government’s COVID response are all major red flags that will call the “Reality Czar” to your door.
How the Biden Administration Can Help Solve Our Reality Crisis
Appoint a Reality Czar
The Biden administration could set up a “truth commission,” similar to the 9/11 Commission… A centralized task force could coordinate a single, strategic response. … This task force could also meet regularly with tech platforms, and push for structural changes that could help those companies tackle their own extremism and misinformation problems. (For example, it could formulate “safe harbor” exemptions that would allow platforms to share data about QAnon and other conspiracy theory communities with researchers and government agencies without running afoul of privacy laws.) And it could become the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis. …
Several experts recommended that the Biden administration push for much more transparency into the inner workings of the black-box algorithms that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms use to rank feeds, recommend content and usher users into private groups, many of which have been responsible for amplifying conspiracy theories and extremist views. …
The experts I spoke with warned that tech platforms alone couldn’t bring back the millions of already radicalized Americans, nor is teaching media literacy a silver bullet to prevent dangerous ideas from taking hold. …
“We have to treat this like we would any other social service,” Mr. Picciolini said. “We have to destroy the institutional systemic racism that creates this environment. We have to provide jobs. We have to have access to mental health care and education.”
*“Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s 1984.