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Ephemeral Book Club!

Whether you read it in school or not, here is your assignment. Read ( or re-read,) "1984" by George Orwell. We will have a discussion here: like a real Book Club. With the increasingly fragile state of "thruthiness" in our culture, and the wholesale surrender of common sense to blow-hard sloganeering, the prophetic core of Orwell's work is becoming seriously disturbing.

remember, my friends
Only Connect

Charles Shaughnessy


  1. Great idea! More people should read "1984." In my opinion, the only thing Orwell got wrong was the date.

    Society is moving at an increasingly fast pace into the society Orwell describes. Truly scary.

  2. It's been ages since I read that(as in, Nixon was President)!! I found the whole book online here:

  3. Eeek - Homework! Well OK, but only if we can do Pride and Prejudice next ;)

  4. "Pride and Prejudice"? Okay by me, but I was going to suggest "Atlas Shrugged." Maybe after "Pride and Prejudice"?

  5. Okay, for me Ford was president when I first read it in high school, but our incoming students had to read it last year as a summer assignment and I re-read it then. Most of them didn't get the message--I think they tried to find a CliffNotes version or get the movie on Netflix instead--but it certainly does ring true today.
    How about something a little light as the next reading--like "America--The Book" or "I Am America"? They certainly provide a different perspective on the political process (and are both informative and entertaining).

  6. As you are reading "1984," try to keep in mind the times in which it was written. In many ways, it is an indictment of Stalinist Russia (with Uncle Joe Stalin as "Big Brother"), along with a commentary on the future. The Cold War was beginning to heat up, and the world was a vastly different place than it had been a decade earlier (before the outbreak of the Second World War). The United States had affirmed its status as a global superpower, with the Soviet Union challenging U.S. dominance (and both Great Britain and France were in decline). Orwell could merely be reacting to the changes that he sees around him and may not necessarily be anticipating a future world in which the government controls people's lives.

  7. He may not have been anticipating that future, but he has come scarily close to predicting it.

  8. I had not read the book but started on it this morning.

    So far...chilling...

    It seems relate to another book I am in the middle of called "BUILDING THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH...The Churches' Contribution to Marshal Public Support for World Order and Peace, 1919-1945" by Martin Erdmann.

    "Building The Kingdom..." is so full of reference that I have to take my time with it - but it's all about the workings behind the formation of "brotherhoods", etc. by the politically elite and the organizations they helped bring in to being for the sake of "world order". Thought provoking stuff...a connection to Orwell's "not so fiction" work.

  9. I think one of the best lessons we can learn from 1984 is from the note Winston wrote in his diary (Part1, Chapter 7): "Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they
    have rebelled they cannot become conscious."

    In the US, and in fact, in many countries throughout the world, government has little-by-little eroded people's freedom, and it's been so insidious that people don't even realize that it has happened and continues to happen.

  10. Okay...I just came across this online and had to share with you all since it relates to the book.

    Can you tell which President said the following? (Hint - it was in 1914)

    "At one time I tried to write history. I did not know enough to write it, but I knew from experience how hard it was to find an historian out, and I trusted I would not be found out. I used to have this comfortable thought as I saw men struggling in the public arena. I used to think to myself, "This is all very well and very interesting. You probably assess yourself in such and such a way. Those who are your partisans assess you thus and so. Those who are your opponents urge a different verdict. But it does not make very much difference, because after you are dead and gone some quiet historian will sit in a secluded room and tell mankind for the rest of time just what to think about you, and his verdict, not the verdict of your partisans and not the verdict of your opponents, will be the verdict of posterity." I say that I used to say that to myself. It very largely was not so. And yet it was true in this sense: If the historian really speaks the judgment of the succeeding generation, then he really speaks the judgment also of the generations that succeed it, and his assessment, made without the passion of the time, made without partisan feeling in the matter—in other circumstances, when the air is cool—is the judgment of mankind upon your actions."

  11. So I am guessing Wilson, Brenda. Nice quote. I think the truth is that History must always be fluid. Because no one can ever report events without some kind of perspective, there will always be a point of vie and subjective bias. Even something as minor as saying either the US won WWII or Germany lost reflects a perspective. What's important is that as many of those POV's are reflected in the handing down of history. We run into trouble when we admit to only one correct interpretation of history either by censorship or imposed fabrication. What's going on between Google and China right now is a fascinating case in point. Thanks for all the interesting comments. Why don't we continue this untl the end of the month and then move on to something else?
    and remember, my friends, always connect!
    Best, Charles Shaughnessy

  12. You are correct.

    I must say that your blog is a very good connection for someone to express and learn about other's perspectives.

    Google and China...amazing... feeling the worldwide support for the people there to be able to reach us and for us to be able to reach them. No one should be thought of as a "prole" like they were part of a large herd of cattle.

    So far I have learned that you not only need to read history, you need to know "how" to read the history...what did the people think?...if you can find what the people thought.

    I hope that the people in the future will be able to find what we thought in this generation.

  13. My first guess was also Wilson. I looked it up and we are right.

    But I would question exactly how fluid history should be. Certainly the US won is a different perspective from Germany lost. However, neither of those are equal to Germany won or the US lost.

    Just how far can we go? We now have a European Union. Winston Smith would probably be expected to re-write history so that all of Europe always got along. And there's that slippery slope again.

  14. It's easy, as Americans, to have a very "country-centric" view of this situation, and try to lay blame on the opposing political parties. They are BOTH to blame, and so are the citizens. Americans are practically DEMANDING Wilson's world...please Mr. Government Official, take our money and make programs so that we are taken care of from cradle to grave. We're begging for a corrupt corporate-backed government to "rescue" us from the evil greedy corporations!
    But...really, Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia are a WORLD WIDE totalitarian regime, all at war to gain control of the one-world government. We need to watch our own individual govts, of course..but we also need to pay attention to the United Nations and their Agenda 21. In the name of St Al and the Church of the Global Warming, we will ALL be living under the rules imposed "for our own good". This one world government that is coming will most likely NOT be led by American powers...we need to keep our eyes on the big picture. We are on a VERY slippery slope already. We have our own "Newspeak" in the language of political correctness. We are seeing revisionist history. We are placating a people group that is already oppressive and totalitarian. And it's all predicted long ago. ;)

  15. We can see where things are going just by looking at the situation in Greece. They've been supporting too many of their citizens, with money they don't have, for too many years. Now, they are so deeply in debt they have to cut their budget. But people have gotten used to their government hand-outs and don't want them cut. So the government is relying on the rest of the EU to bail them out.

    Money generally comes with strings attached.

    And we see how the US has already spent trillions more than it has. Who's going to bail out the US? And at what cost?

    Remember the "golden rule": He who has the gold, makes the rules. And right now it looks as if China is the one with the gold. Is that who we want making rules for the rest of the world?

    It's a scary world right now.

  16. Gitel..excellent comment about Greece. The people are angry because they think they're "entitled" to these programs, which is already happening in the US. Here in NJ, we have a new Repub. governor who has vowed to slash the budget and not raise taxes(we already pay the highest property tax in the nation)...and you'd think he was asking people to give up their firstborn child. The same people who got all fired up about "everybody having skin in the game" and "giving up a piece of the pie so others could have some". It's only good if they make cuts in the programs you don't like, it seems.
    Did anyone see this news out of the UK this morning? A machine that can read your thoughts. Orwell would be so proud.
    I know there's also some controversy about the Texas BofEd changing history books, but from what I'm reading(and trying to learn) the AP press release is sensationalist and overblown. Sounds like all they want is for kids to know EXACTLY how and why the Founding Fathers did what they did, and it's being spun into something it's not. Eliminating Thomas Jefferson though? That's going way too far for me.

  17. Thank you JoAnn for that link. While that machine is far from what Orwell envisioned, it's a step, and any step is one step too close.

    And somehow I missed this whole Texas debacle. (I don't live in the U.S., so that may explain it.) But I do know as a former member of the Local School Council of a public elementary school in Chicago, that government-run schools really do have a liberal bias. However, the solution is NOT to replace that with a conservative bias.

    Kids learn a lot of stuff in school, a lot of it, unfortunately, not correct. That's what parents are for. They should make sure their children are getting a proper education. And if the teachers are not competent, they should speak up.

    I would really like to see a separation of school and state. Every school is going to have some bias. That's what happens when humans are in charge. I would just like to see that bias controlled by some body other than the government.

  18. The scary part in Texas is that they are supposedly taking out Thomas Jefferson and replacing him with Mary Kay Ash (because she's from Texas). Hopefully I'm wrong about this--but knowing the educational system in Texas (I did go to secondary school and graduated from a couple of colleges there), it doesn't surprise me.

    Anyway, one thing that historical writing tells us (in contrast to what history tells us) is that there truly is no "one" interpretation of events. Everyone's perspective is affected or influenced by where and when they lived, their gender, their socioeconomic status, their educational background, etc. My view of what caused the American Revolution/War for Independence, for instance, is definitely quite different from someone who was educated in England (although in some ways they might be similar), and certainly the viewpoint of a common soldier during the Revolutionary War was different from George Washington's (not just because one marched while the other rode a horse), and the perspective of a Hessian soldier would be different from that of a British regular. In my classes, I try to show the students how there really is no one "correct" answer to some of the issues debated by historians (such as what caused the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Second World War) and at the same time explain to them why interpretations have changed over time (and why there can be more than one cause for an event; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked World War I, but it certainly wasn't the only cause of the conflict). My goal is to help them better understand how the United States has evolved since the earliest settlements and how nothing is static--in some ways, I try to help them connect with the past and realize that the study of history is more than memorizing names, dates, and places (and there's a lot more to it than just fighting wars and memorizing the names of the presidents).

    And, in case it matters, Wilson (who was a trained historian and political scientist) also made some interesting observations on the relationship between Congress and the president that would come back to haunt him when he became president. We historians do have to live with the fact that, once our writings are in print, they are there for everyone to criticize, especially as new evidence comes to light--just like people in 2010 will have different interpretations of what Orwell wrote in "1984" than he might have intended.

  19. And now Big Brother is here:

    It's very disconcerting to think that everywhere I go there will be a camera watching me. Of course, I'll have privacy in my own home, but for how long?

    I'm sure in Oceania they didn't do it all at once, but in insidious little steps.

  20. Another thing I found very interesting was something Julia said to Winston: "If you kept the small rules, you could break the big ones."

    I immediately thought of two examples. First, Al Capone. With all the bad stuff he did, they finally locked him up for tax evasion.

    And the second was Timothy McVeigh. If he hadn't been stopped for a traffic violation, would he have been caught? Obviously we can't know, but don't forget how long it took the government to find the Unabomber, and that was only because his brother tipped them off. (And I guess that's a third example.)

  21. You can add to the people with the security cameras everyone that has a cellphone with camera and video.

    And you can add the silly little gadgets that are supposed to help you hear when you are in church, out in the wild...and to "listen to what people are saying about you".

    The people are also the holders of potential spy equipment.

    Parson's kids would have loved to have a cellphone with camera and video.

    The survelance comes from many different directions and for many different reasons.

    Fear though, is what has helped to put the people of 1984 into captivity.

    How many times has a large number of people been oppressed by a small group because of fear and misinformation?

    That is one of the points of the book for me.

    I worked at a City Hall once and I remember one of the City Attorneys said "people say you can't fight city hall but they are can fight city hall...if you have enough people make a petition".

  22. I just read this article by Dennis Prager:

    He sums up beautifully what happens to people and society when government expands.

    Although he doesn't mention either Orwell or 1984, he shows how much of Europe, and increasingly America, is on the way to becoming Oceania.

  23. Sorry to be posting yet another article, but when I saw this article titled, "Orwell, Santayana, and Me," I couldn't resist.

    In this article Rabbi Yonason Goldson compares the world of 1984 to our world today.

  24. Great idea Charlie. You are such an interesting man. Love that you interact with your fans in this way. Will have to find the time to re-read 1984 though. Love reading everyone's comments here.

  25. Brenda, you're absolutely right about surveillance coming from everywhere. I don't know how things work in other cities, but in Chicago they have a program called CAPS - Chicago's Alternative Policing Strategy. Basically, what they try to do is get people in a neighborhood to meet once a month and rat on their neighbors. And people do.

    Once in awhile there is a serious problem. More frequently people report their neighbors for minor, stupid infractions. Or, nearly as often, for something perfectly innocent that may have looked nefarious to someone who was not aware of the neighbor's culture.

    It was really disheartening to see how easily people would turn on their neighbors. But that's what happens when neighbors don't take the time to get to know each other.

    And that's one of the things that made Oceania so easy to govern. They discouraged people from having relationships and getting to know each other. And as a character in a mini-series I once saw said, "When you don't know about something, you fear it. And when you fear it, you begin to hate it."

  26. Well, it's almost the end of the month. Are we going to go with Eileen-Rita's suggestion and tackle Pride and Prejudice next?


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