Orwell’s Oracle (2)

Credit:  Jordan L'Hôte / Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Jordan L’Hôte / Wikimedia Commons.

Ignorance is Strength

Governor Scott Walker proposes a $300 million cut in higher education over the next two years in Wisconsin; Governor Bobby Jindal intends a $141 million cut in higher education in Louisiana next year.

Newly elected Governor Doug Ducey and his Republican legislature in Arizona will reduce state funding for universities by $104 million and will cut $19 million from state contributions to community colleges. In defending his budget proposal, Ducey commented: “This budget reflects our values as Arizonans.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of this illustrious country, U.S. Representative Dave Brat, Republican from Virginia, lectured the American public on how to create great minds:

The greatest thinkers in Western civ [sic] were not products of education policy. Socrates trained Plato in on a rock, and then Plato trained in Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.

Brat made these comments after confessing he had taught “at the college level” for 18 years, and before that “did a Master’s and a PhD and all that.”

Once we accept the fact that George Orwell was writing about our own time and place, the above is predictable and not surprising. In 1984, the need for a hierarchical society to promote the slogan “Ignorance is Strength” is explained in Emmanuel Goldstein’s book:

When the machine made its first appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy, and disease could be eliminated within a few generations.

Goldstein, the “Enemy of the People,” the “primal traitor” and “defiler of the Party’s purity,” continues to explain:

But it was also clear that an all-around increase in wealth threatened the destruction—indeed, in some sense was the destruction—of a hierarchical society…. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

The problem that the Party encountered was “how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world.”

The Party’s solution in Oceania has been eerily familiar to us in our time: “The only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.”[1]


[1] George Orwell, 1984 (1949; New York: Signet Classic, 1950), 14-15 and 156-157.

George Orwell Place, the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. (Credit:  Superbus / Wikimedia Commons)

George Orwell Place, the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. (Credit: Superbus / Wikimedia Commons)


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