Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Why Men Are Born

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." -- George Orwell
"At best, history can illuminate the present, but going further forward will always be a chancy business."-- Ronin
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--for ever." -- George Orwell
Perhaps in time, history could become a science, a mathematical field with the power to predict the future in intricate detail. But what would be the fun of that? -- Ronin

Honest men study history, as Ronin does, "for delight, for the sheer fun of it". Dishonest men have a more cunning use for the past: to control the present.

Imagine a world in which evil triumphed, forever. Only Marxists know that this is possible. Only Marxists want it to be possible. But how? When Christopher Hitchens left the Party's fold, he knew that in order to understand Marxism at its deepest level, it was first necessary to understand George Orwell. Orwell knew that when Karl Marx said that 'while philosophers had hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point was to change it', it was not a mere figure of speech. He was calling for a systematic program to alter the past, of which the present is but an instance, and by it, to alter reality.

In the classic confrontation between Party Representative O'Brien and Winston Smith in 1984, O'Brien says:

'There is no way in which the Party can be overthrown. The rule of the Party is for ever. Make that the starting-point of your thoughts ... Power over matter -- external reality, as you would call it -- is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.'

'But how can you control matter?' he burst out. 'You don't even control the climate or the law of gravity. And there are disease, pain, death --'

O'Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. 'We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation -- anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.'

'But you do not! You are not even masters of this planet. What about Eurasia and Eastasia? You have not conquered them yet.'

'Unimportant. We shall conquer them when it suits us. And if we did not, what difference would it make? We can shut them out of existence. Oceania is the world.'

'But the world itself is only a speck of dust. And man is tiny helpless! How long has he been in existence? For millions of years the earth was uninhabited.'

'Nonsense. The earth is as old as we are, no older. How could it be older? Nothing exists except through human consciousness.'

'But the rocks are full of the bones of extinct animals -- mammoths and mastodons and enormous reptiles which lived here long before man was ever heard of.'

'Have you ever seen those bones, Winston? Of course not. Nineteenth-century biologists invented them. Before man there was nothing. After man, if he could come to an end, there would be nothing. Outside man there is nothing.'

In the hands of the Party history becomes the most wonderful of things; at once definite and infinitely malleable. If you want millions to march in defense of Saddam Hussein, idolize Jose Bove, linger at the feet of Ira Einhorn, seriously consider the sainthood of Ho Chi Minh, deny the existence of the Holocaust, long for life under Kim Jong Il, and starve themselves to death in order to protest the production of food which does not suit the Party's book -- appeal to history. The hallmark of a true Marxist isn't that he believes in something, but that he will believe in anything.

At the foundation of the Belmont Club, I asserted that the "kind of history we accept depends on the type of future we desire". Since I cannot know the future, the kind of history I crave is one that will remain in the past. It will beguile, but not govern. In the end, I will belong to it and not it, to me. Not a post is written as a rung on the road to power; for I reject Marxism root and branch, but as a note to posterity, that here a man once breathed; once felt sunlight; and once thought foolish things, against a time that comes when:

... not only you and I,
But the whole world shall whiten, here or there ...
When the great markets by the sea shut fast
All that calm Sunday that goes on and on:
When even lovers find their peace at last,
And Earth is but a star, that once had shone.

For history, in the end, is the mind of God, which I can never change, but hope, ever so fleetingly to glimpse. Away then!

Are ye ready, ye in rags and rotten shoes?

We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond the last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,
White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born.
We are fools, but surely we are brave,
Who make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.