When the world simply does not make sense — or maybe even worse, when it does — who you gonna turn to?
One of my better refuges is George Orwell, and here is why:
Orwell’s “passion for liberty and intellectual honesty” is at least an opener.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft offered that epitaph for Orwell in a New York Times Feb. 14 book review piece that marked the 60th anniversary of Orwell’s death, Jan. 21, 1950. Actually the characterization of passion for liberty and honesty is one that Orwell applied to Anatole France, but Wheatcroft points out it fits Orwell perfectly.
So that’s why I found myself rummaging through Orwell as the Winter Olympics unwound and as state and national politics seemed to unravel.
For one thing, I brought to my viewing of the Olympics my notion that the character-building nature of athletics may build characters all right, but not the kind a rational person would want to emulate. For another, the crowds chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A” only echo concerns that Orwell covered long ago in his essays “The Sporting Spirit,” and “Notes on Nationalism.”
Put briefly, in “The Sporting Spirit,” Orwell observes, “I am always amazed when I hear people say that sports create goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield.” To the contrary, “international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred…” That’s true on the domestic front, too.
In “Notes on Nationalism,” Orwell distinguishes well between “nationalism,” which troubles him, and “patriotism,” which he embraces. To him the root of nationalism is domination and humiliation of others, while patriotism basically is love of country. The essay also discusses how people cling to beliefs even, or perhaps even more so, as the evidence mounts against them.
But check these links for yourself. Revisiting Orwell is refreshing and rewarding, as is the occasional trip back to “Politics and the English Language.”
Orwell remains a gold-medal winner.