Endless War: TMMTO

The first time I read this book,I was mostly focused on the language,the politics being a little outside my range. I'm not sure I understood much of Goldstein's book. This time,though,I couldn't help but draw parallels between American foreign policy and Oceanean(?) foreign policy,the way Goldstein laid it out. The super-expensive floating fortresses,which are themselves an extraordinary implicit waste of resources,remind me of American aircraft carriers,which I've heard many pro-military Americans argue aggressively in favor of,but which no one has been able to make a particularly sensible case for. (I've heard it argued that oceanic battle has become an absurd fantasy now that most countries have ships with guns that can shoot past the horizon,so no ship could ever successfully fire at another while remaining safely out of reach.) That made me think of the war on Terror,and the war on Drugs,and in general America's proclivity for concept-wars,and that made me think of Ze Frank's "TMMTO [That Made Me Think Of]" video,"Unfair," in which he talks mostly about the Power Law curve,or the Perreto distribution,and the ways societies justify the inequality within themselves.

Technology and industry showed us that the top spots could be occupied by people other than  kings. That resources can be accumulated in other ways. But regardless of whether it's a democracy, or a dictatorship,or a socialist state,that curve seems to creep back in. Rank wealth today in democratic America or quasi-communist China and there it is. So how do we rationalize this unfairness today? ... One way is to say that the top spots are occupied by the hardest workers,the smartest,the best. But after a few generations of the wealthy handing down money to their children, this logic seems to fall apart. We know ... that rags to riches is possible,however unlikely,but that's a very different thing than thinking we can change the shape of the curve itself. I think of the difference in the views of our political parties. To me,conservatives seem to see the shape of the curve in terms of  talent and effort,and that in some ways it's justified. While liberals imagine the shape in terms of greed and seek to flatten it out a bit. The difficulty with the first view is the tension and anger that arises when smart people work hard and don't seem to get ahead. The difficulty with the second might be that trying to change the shape of the curve is like trying to push back the tide with a million hands.

1984's IngSoc (and all three major powers' political positions,according to Goldstein) is very conscious of the impossibility of changing the curve,and the efforts of the party to solidify it. But they also encourage a belief that it can all be overturned. Ze Frank ends "Unfair" with an encouragement that the point of life might be to make an effort against that impossible monolith; "To try, even if it's absurd." And that makes me think of Winston and Julia's absurd effort to find a way to strike a blow against the party,and the party itself and its absurd effort to push for military dominance and a future of unity and equality while simultaneously pursuing exactly the opposite,and all the while encouraging its citizens to pursue the ability to fight for both simultaneously.

And that makes me think about how subtle the difference is between the views,because I don't think Ze is wrong, and I don't think it's an act of doublethink to believe that Ze's belief in the value of absurd effort,and Winston's belief in the value of absurd effort,is good,while IngSoc's encouragement of the value of absurd effort is wrong. (In fact,on second thought,I think I can make the case that IngSoc doesn't value absurd effort,they value belief that one's effort is not absurd,while deliberately undermining one's own ability to achieve one's ends.)

One of the many great values of this book is, I think,that understanding what's going on requires accepting that the differences between good politics and bad politics are (a.) the value placed on truth,and (b.) the details -- it requires accepting that two parties otherwise apparently identical could be fairly placed on opposite ends of a spectrum from good to bad,based solely on the way they choose to use language,or their relationship to truth,or some vague philosophical difference. Winston is placed in a position to choose between the absurd goal ofthe party towards perfect equality (which they themselves admit they won't achieve within their lifetimes) or the Brotherhood's absurd goal of bringing down the party (which they themselves admit they won't achieve within their lifetimes).

But we're led to feel (not wrongly,I think) that Winston makes a correct choice -- that,even though it's pointless, that even though he's not even actually a part of the brotherhood, if such a thing even exists,it's right for him to pursue ending the party, and what he did was productive even in the most minor of senses that he was able to live and think for himself for a longer part of his life than the party would have preferred, and he gave encouragement and pleasure to at  least one other party member who should also have otherwise been denied it.