#159 What I learnt from Orwell’s essays (1)

I recently discovered that Orwell Day has been celebrated every year since 2013 on January 21st. This is the date of Orwell’s death at age 46, from tuberculosis. Considering this, here’s a collection of posts on some ideas in a few of Orwell’s essays. I feel he has a lot to say to contemporary culture.

There’s a lot of animosity these days, whether politically or socially in which the taking of sides occurs far too quickly and too virulently. The ‘them and us’ mentality is rather primitive and leads to flaws on both sides. Some of these flaws include the dissolution of logic, decency and at times, common sense.

Consider a quote from Orwell in Notes on Nationalism:

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.” (p.307)

Orwell published this in 1945 in a very different context, that of a war. However, there are different kinds of wars and there are times when discussions on topics such as religion turn into wars, even in what we might like to consider common and decent society.

If twitter and social media in general is anything to go by, these sorts of wars are happening by the day, sometimes by the hour. There are times when I do sense, in line with Orwell’s quote, that there is an inability to see the ‘good’ on the other side and the ‘bad’ on your own. Narrow-mindedness or blinkered vision can appear on both sides of the fence.

A lot of ink is spilled – or typed – online that is warlike and highly questionable. It’s almost as though everyone wants a fight. But ‘wars’ tend to lead to dubious content. Again, Orwell’s reflection on English intellectuals writing about the Spanish Civil War declares as much:

“There were only two things that you were allowed to say, and both of them were palpable lies: as a result, the war produced acres of print but also nothing worth reading.”

Now, of course, I think there are plenty of times when senseless, unfounded, and aggressive comments are made towards Christians online. The extent of the zeal in these moments is usually an amusingly ironic ‘religiously’ bigoted remark – just the other way around.

Yet, the same is true in the reverse. Recently, I read a number of posts on twitter from one person, and then took to reading a few of the replies they received. The original posts were about Scomo* – Australia’s Prime Minister – and his handling of the Omicron outbreak. The initial person wrote a number of tweets and I was sure I’d read them all. I then discovered one reply in which a person asked, in summary, ‘What’s your problem with Pentecostalism?’

Scomo is a Pentecostal Christian, but the person had made no reference to religion in any of their initial tweets. It was a nonsense reply.

I almost hit reply to them immediately to declare myself an evangelical Christian who didn’t have a single problem with Pentecostalism in general but as an English teacher, did have a problem with their lack of reading comprehension skills.

Almost. I held back. When it comes to twitter, I’m in favour of the maxim: look, but don’t touch.

I also had Orwell in the back of my mind, reminding me that wars are inclined to not produce commentary of much value. Sometimes silence really is golden.

A little nugget of gold from Orwell, that should never go astray.

Yours in attempting to write something worth reading,

Alison

*Scott Morrison’s nickname

Page numbers taken from this Penguin edition

Photo by Caio on Pexels.com

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