Not My Review: We Are Each Other’s Harvest – Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy by Natalie Baszile


We Are Each Other’s Harvest – Celebrating African American Farmers Land and Legacy by Natalie Baszile

Not My Review: Fatal Contact – How Epidemics Nearly Wiped Out Australia’s First Peoples by Peter Dowling


Book review: Fatal Contact is a timely account of how epidemics devastated our First Peoples

Wybalenna, Flinders Island: the Aboriginal settlement 1847.
Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania

Cassandra Pybus, University of Tasmania

Review: Fatal Contact: How Epidemics Nearly Wiped Out Australia’s First Peoples by Peter Dowling (Monash University Publishing)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.


As Peter Dowling reminds us in his introduction to this book, violence on the colonial frontier accounted for many thousands of deaths among the First Peoples — a truth unremembered in a process of historical amnesia labelled the “great Australian silence” by anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner.

Australia’s sense of its past in collective memory, Stanner said in his famous 1968 Boyer lectures, was:

a view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape […] a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.

A great deal has shifted in our understanding of the past since Stanner shocked the historical profession into a halting engagement with the truth of Australia’s settlement.

Yet, as historian Billy Griffiths pointed out in the anthology Fire, Flood and Plague, a key part of the “great Australian silence” has been our continued willingness to see pandemic disease that eliminated the great majority of the First People as “inevitable and apolitical”.




Read more:
Friday essay: the ‘great Australian silence’ 50 years on


In the face of the current pandemic, playing out on a global stage, Griffiths writes, we can observe that “it is not only about microbes; it is also about culture, politics and history”. The radically different consequences of this pandemic as experienced by different peoples has shown us we cannot blithely assume spread of disease is without responsibility.

This is what Dowling would have us understand in his timely and meticulous account of “the greatest human tragedy in the long history of Australia”. He examines the recurring outbreaks of fatal epidemics of smallpox, measles, syphilis, influenza and tuberculosis (TB), which “nearly wiped out Australia’s First Peoples”.

Catastrophic impact

At the time of colonisation, these diseases were so endemic in Britain that a high degree of immunity existed in the population, as well as medical strategies to control epidemic spread. But in the virgin-soil communities of Australia’s First Peoples, everyone was susceptible, with no-one spared. So there was no-one to provide basic needs for the sick.

The impact was catastrophic, as illustrated in the multiple accounts of the smallpox outbreak at Sydney Cove in 1789. This is widely known about now, but a wave of epidemics, including smallpox, continued to decimate the First Peoples well into the 20th century.

West view of Sydney Cove taken from the Rocks, at the rear of the General Hospital, 1789.
Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Alongside smallpox, syphilis also reached epidemic proportions in the Sydney region in the first few decades of settlement, gradually extending into every corner of the continent.

The scourge of syphilis was apparent in the early colony in Tasmania and a major contributor, along with influenza, to the rapid mortality that had all but eliminated the peoples of the south-eastern quadrant of the island by 1830.

Women and children at Corranderk in Victoria.
Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

It was in Victoria where the magnitude of the disease was most apparent. In 1839, a cohort of Aboriginal Protectors were appointed to various districts across Victoria. They all reported overwhelming syphilis infection, accounting for as many as “nine out of ten” of the many sick and dying.

One reported of the First People in his district “the most extensive ravages […] will render them extinct within a few years”.

Another despairingly complained “no medicine has been placed at my disposal”.

Worst in camps

Epidemics reached into isolated First People’s communities well out of sight of authorities — the Spanish Flu of 1918 managed to spread its deadly tentacles into communities of the Western Desert. However, outbreaks were much more likely in the government-supervised camps, reserves, missions and stations, where dispossessed First Peoples were forcibly relocated.

Uniformly, these places of concentration had overcrowded and inadequate housing, low nutritional diets and bad water supply, combined with individual distress and depression — conditions favourable to the incubation and spread of diseases.

The First People’s high susceptibility to disease, Dowling argues, was probably a consequence of chronic untreated TB among those forced into camps and settlements.

He examines the settlement on Flinders Island in Tasmania between 1832 and 1847, which became infamous for its horrendous death rate, mythologised by the colonists who had expelled these people simply due to their “pining away”.

The records examined by Dowling show these people actually died of either TB itself or an associated respiratory illness worsened by TB’s immunosuppressant effects.

TB was also known to have been an efficient killer in the Victorian settlements at Lake Hindmarsh and Coranderrk: the attributed cause of more than 30% of recorded deaths in those places between 1876 and 1900. At these same settlements, a measles epidemic in 1874-5 killed 20% of people.

A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville.
Courtesy of State Library of Victoria

It is no coincidence this was the same story as at the notorious concentration camps for dispossessed Boers the British created in South Africa at the end of the 19th century, where various epidemic diseases were allowed to rage.




Read more:
The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised


As I write, I am acutely aware most communities of First Peoples have the lowest vaccination rates in the nation — even though the government has assured us repeatedly vaccination for these most vulnerable communities was their highest priority.

In despair, I repeat the mantra: the past is not even past.The Conversation

Cassandra Pybus, Adjunct Professor in History, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Freud, Nietzsche, Paglia, Fanon: our expert guide to the books of The White Lotus


Mario Perez/HBO

Jane Howard, The Conversation

Freud and Nietzsche may not be what you have in mind when thinking of pool-side reads, but they are among the books flipped through in The White Lotus — the tense, new TV drama about the lives of the rich and privileged as they overlap at a Hawaiian resort.

Are Paula and Olivia truly delving into the mind of the anti-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon, or indeed, into Camille Paglia’s deconstruction of the Western literary canon? Or are they just books for show: an intellectual performance to hide secret glances and gossip?

Either way, frequent book covers speak loudly in the show. So here, then, is what the experts think you should know about these props and the stories they tell.

Maybe you will find one to pick up the next time you fly off for your island holiday. Just try to avoid the White Lotus resort.

The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Freud

“If I cannot bend the heavens above, I will move Hell.” Sigmund Freud quotes the poet Virgil to describe his aim in this book of explaining the meaning of dreams — by recourse to his theory of the unconscious mind.

The Interpretation of Dreams

Freud always considered Interpretation of Dreams his masterpiece, and ensured it would be published in 1900 to mark its significance.

Dreams had traditionally been viewed as either senseless or vehicles of communication with the divine. Freud instead contended all dreams involve the fulfilment of a wish.

In adults, he wrote, many of the wishes we have are of such an “edgy” nature their fulfilment would wake us up if staged too directly.

So, in order to at once fulfil these unconscious wishes and stay asleep, the “dream work” of the sleeping mind distorts the wish, using mechanisms of displacement (making insignificant things seem important, and the other way around), condensation (bringing together multiple ideas in single images), and transforming words into the seemingly random images.

Packed with striking dream analyses, and containing perhaps the best systematic statement of Freud’s theory of the mind, this book is an influential classic.

—Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy




Read more:
Unravelling the mysteries of sleep: how the brain ‘sees’ dreams


The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon

Psychiatrist and anti-colonial thinker Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 in the French colony of Martinique. After the second world war, he studied in France. Later, in 1953, he moved to Algeria, joining the Algerian National Liberation Front.

The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth (originally published as Les damnés de la terre in 1961) was written at the height of the Algerian War of Independence. Based on Fanon’s first-hand experience of working in colonial Algeria, it is a classic text of postcolonial studies, examining the physical and psychological violence colonised people experience.

Fanon’s book is a lucid and damning account of the impact of colonialism: the ways it irrevocably changes people, their societies and their culture.

A passionate call to resist colonisation and oppression, The Wretched of the Earth was seen as dangerous by colonial powers at the time of its publication. It is still an important anti-colonial work today.

—Isabelle Hesse, Lecturer in English




Read more:
Why Fanon continues to resonate more than half a century after Algeria’s independence


Sexual Personae, by Camille Paglia

Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990) is a provocative survey of Western canonical art and culture.

Sexual Personae book cover

On its publication, Sexual Personae was considered iconoclastic, groundbreaking and subversive for, as Paglia wrote, its focus on “amorality, aggression, sadism, voyeurism and pornography in great art”.

The book was both lauded for its insights into sex, violence and power; and labelled anti-feminist and sinister in its views about gender and sexuality.

Sexual Personae discusses the decadence and enduring influence of paganism in Western culture. Paglia connects sexual freedom to sadomasochism and argues that our self-destructive and lustful Dionysian impulses are in tension with our Apollonian instincts for order.

Named after Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), Paglia’s book charts recurrent types in the Western imagination, such as the “beautiful boy”, the “femme fatale” and the “female vampire”. Through these personae, she discusses works such as the Mona Lisa, Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Particularly famous is the chapter on Emily Dickinson and Paglia’s analysis of the brutal and sadistic metaphors in Dickinson’s poetry.

Paglia’s Sexual Personae is both electrifying and divisive; still one of the most important texts in 1990s sexual politics.

—Cassandra Atherton, Professor of Writing and Literature

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend (2011), the first volume of her Neapolitan Series, is a feminist coming-of-age story that begins with a mystery.

My Brilliant Friend cover

In the first few pages, a distinguished writer, Elena (known as Lenù), learns an old friend, Raffaella (or Lila), has disappeared without a trace. Lila’s disappearance prompts Lenù to begin writing the story of her life, focusing particularly on the pair’s complicated friendship.

Focusing on their childhood in 1950s Naples, she writes unsentimentally of poverty, violence, familial conflicts and organised crime.

The novel is densely plotted and written with unsparing accuracy about the characters of Naples, but Lenù’s candid narration makes for an utterly engrossing reading experience. In plain, fast-paced prose she describes a grim childhood full of misogyny and domestic violence, but enlivened by her friendship with Lila.

Ferrante gives us a moving portrait of friendship. Over the course of the novel, both girls begin to see glimpses of how they might move beyond the limitations of the world they have inherited.

—Lucas Thompson, Lecturer in English




Read more:
Elena Ferrante: a vanishing author and the question of posthuman identity


The Portable Nietzsche, edited and translated by Walter Kaufmann

For Nietzsche, to write philosophy was to render one’s experience into life-affirming art — even if that art rocked the very foundations of culture itself.

The Portable Nietzsche cover

Walter Kaufmann’s translations in The Portable Nietzsche (1954) showcase much of the power and beauty of one of the finest minds in Western culture.

Here is Nietzsche’s devastating psychological portrait of St Paul; here is the infamous announcement of the death of God. They sit together with his complex notion of cheerfulness practised in the face of the terrifying collapse of certainties.

Despite his reputation in some quarters as a malevolent destroyer, Nietzsche’s actual aim of avoiding nihilism is well-captured here.

His cavorting and richly subversive “fifth gospel”, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is reproduced in full, as is Twilight of the Idols, one of his last works and a fine condensation of his mature project.

Kaufmann’s translations are now dated and his selection of Nietzsche’s works is occasionally eccentric, but The Portable Nietzsche goes an admirable way to presenting Nietzsche’s many aspects: the shy recluse, the loather of anti-Semites, the brilliant transfigurer of pain into texts of depth and beauty, and the lover of life, come what may.

—Jamie Parr, Lecturer in Philosophy




Read more:
Explainer: Nietzsche, nihilism and reasons to be cheerful


Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Galdwell’s Blink (2005) opens with an anecdote about a kouros: an ancient Greek statue bought by the Getty Museum in 1985 for just under $10 million. Despite months of due diligence to check the authenticity of the statue, the Getty was duped – the statue had been made in the 1980s.

Blink cover

The discovery of the fake was attributed to an art historian who, according to Gladwell, knew as soon as he clapped eyes on it that it was not the real deal.

This instant of recognition (a “blink”) is what Gladwell describes as the “power of thinking without thinking”. Gladwell argues going with your gut can often lead to far superior decisions than thinking things over.

Blink is an entertaining collection of anecdotes, from art-historians to “marriage-whisperers” who can tell if a relationship is going to last from watching split-second videos of partners interacting. But, as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data.

—Ben Newell, Professor of Cognitive Psychology

None of these strike your fancy? The characters also pick up Judith Butler, Aimé Césaire and Jacques Lacan — just more light reads on feminism, colonialism and psychoanalysis.

White Lotus is now streaming on Binge.The Conversation

Jane Howard, Deputy Section Editor: Arts + Culture, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Book review: Sindiwe Magona’s devastating, uplifting story of South African women


CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

Lizzy Attree, Richmond American International University

Reading South African author Sindiwe Magona’s latest novel When the Village Sleeps reminded me of my time researching and teaching in the country’s Eastern Cape province a decade ago. While involved in community engagement for Rhodes University I heard stories of young people who would deliberately contract HIV in order to receive government disability grants.

When the Village Sleeps spans three generations of women in one family and the central role of ancestral belief and ancient custom – or a lack of it – in their lives. It initially focuses on Busi, a promising young student who benefits from an education at a good school due to the hard work and friendship of her grandmother with her former white employer.

It reveals the devastating motivation behind Busi’s teenage pregnancy orchestrated to produce a financial reward in the form of a child support grant from the state.

The shocking story at the centre of Magona’s latest novel is as heartbreaking as it is cruel – and yet the character of Busi’s daughter Mandlakazi (or Mandla) completely overturns the notion that her birth is a tragedy. She becomes the heroine who unites her family.

A book cover showing the title 'When the Village Sleeps' inside an illustration of a giant moon, trees and lands in the foreground and the name of the author, Sindiwe Magona.

Pan Macmillan/Picador Africa

Magona is a pioneering writer who, with this new novel, continues to feature challenging contemporary issues in her work, with incisive commentaries on power, masculinity and the role of women.

The old and the new

Mandla’s great grandmother, Khulu, who takes baby Mandla to the rural Eastern Cape to recuperate from birth disabilities and strengthen her, is central to the story and it is her unending devotion that seems to bring about such a significant change in the “broken bundle” she brings home to Sidwadweni.

Referencing the poetry and teachings of celebrated isiXhosa-language author and historian S.E.K. Mqhayi, the narration frequently shifts into poetry to enable the voice of Mandla to articulate her nascent consciousness which seems fused with her ancestors, “the Old”. From her earliest moments she would:

fall asleep to the ministrations

of her hands infused with care

and into that sleep

the lyrics of songs pouring from an ancient throat

sink deep into my mind

into my brain, my heart, my limbs.

No wonder Mandla is so transformed by the years she spends under Khulu’s care. She returns to Kwanele township in Cape Town with a divine gift that enables her to access the ancestral realm, and predict the future.

Central to the novel is abenzakalise (those who have harmed) and the consequences of their actions. On a personal level this relates to Busi’s strained relationship with her mother Phyllis and her estranged father, and then, as a teenager, the alcohol and the street drug tik she imbibes in order to deform her baby and receive the state’s disability allowance.

However, all of these characters are shown to be capable of redemption and change, as long as they adhere to Khulu’s wisdom – which is by no means a fixed regurgitation of “tradition” but a practical, living faith. So the resilience and strength of all the female characters shines through, as it does in Magona’s celebrated 2008 novel Beauty’s Gift.

A devastating critique

On a wider allegorical level the novel reads as a critique of South Africa itself, the impact of colonialism and the ruling African National Congress (ANC), who have harmed the people through corruption and a failure to tackle inequality, stunting the growth of a healthy, prosperous nation.

Explicit critique of the government and particularly government handouts which do nothing to really alleviate poverty, but just entrench feelings of helplessness, is evident throughout the novel.

Magona makes incisive judgements, through her characters – especially the elder Khulu and young Mandla – and offers possible solutions, which include honouring the earth and returning to self-sufficiency. This idealism can feel naïve at times but there’s something very seductive and straightforward about the self-care, and self-respect that comes from citizens helping themselves and transforming their communities from within.




Read more:
Learning from the story of pioneering South African writer Sindiwe Magona


Towards the end, the book tips into a kind of disabled girls’ manifesto or set of instructions for how to set up community-based support for disabled and marginalised young people. However Magona expertly shifts the narrative at that point back to a dialogue with the ancestors and manages to transform the didactic elements of the tale into wisdom that reaches up to the present day and the threat of COVID-19.

Very recent commentary on the difficulties of enforcing social distancing in communities which rely on food parcels during the pandemic, forcing locals to gather together to collect much needed help, is painful to read. The mistakes are so preventable and obvious and yet are made time and again.

The prophecy

Most interesting to me is the way in which the novel manages to balance the re-introduction of neglected female initiation rites alongside the magic realism of Mandla’s prediction of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the 15-year-old Xhosa prophetess Nongqawuse’s 19th century prophecy – which led to a millennial movement that culminated in the cattle-killing and famine of 1856-7 – Mandla’s foretelling that “the world will die”, comes true, although perhaps not on the scale the “voices” decreed:

The ground will not be able to swallow all the dead!

O-oh! The multitudinous dead!

There will be none left to bury the dead.

In many respects this prediction blurs, in my mind, with the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that killed more than 2 million South Africans, with 7.7 million currently infected with HIV. Magona has written searingly on this topic before.

Once again excoriating the corruption and failures of government, the Fields of Hope project, which young Mandla initiates to grow food for the township, shines like a beacon when “what government help does for the poor is cement them in poverty… Here comes help that is real!”

Ending on a shockingly blunt and abrupt note, Magona leaves us, as always, with a lot to think about.The Conversation

Lizzy Attree, Adjunct Professor, Richmond American International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Indigenous children’s book ‘Little Louis’ aims to curb COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy with a culturally relevant story


The children’s book, Little Louis, tells the story of a young boy preparing for his COVID-19 vaccination.
(Morning Star Lodge), Author provided

Patrick Sullivan, University of Saskatchewan and Heather O’Watch, University of Saskatchewan

The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone. But communities are different, and so are their pandemic experiences. After more than a year of uncertainty and frustration, vaccines have brought many a sense that a return to normal is on the horizon. However, health and research communities now face a new challenge: vaccine hesitancy.


Click here for more articles in our series about vaccine confidence.

While there are countless reasons to be vaccine hesitant, we must acknowledge the numerous legitimate reasons for hesitancy.

For example, if a community has experienced an exhausting history of medical experimentation, forced or coerced sterilization and breaches of trust by the very institutions presenting the vaccine, their hesitancy is based on cultural or historical factors and entirely distinct from the “anti-vaxx” movement.




Read more:
Nutrition researchers saw malnourished children at Indian Residential Schools as perfect test subjects


This is the daunting reality for many Indigenous communities across the country. As a result, there is an urgent need to repair trust and promote vaccine confidence through evidence-based knowledge.

At Morning Star Lodge, we are part of a partnership between the community research advisory committee at Star Blanket Cree Nation and Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP). Together we have collaborated to promote vaccine confidence while demonstrating the importance of community-led research.

Reflecting culture

We entered into this partnership to promote vaccine uptake under the direction of Indigenous communities. Through our discussions, we came to solutions about ways we could promote COVID-19 vaccination information — like booklets for Indigenous children and adults. After coming up with several solutions, Star Blanket Cree Nation’s research advisory committee members pointed towards an additional need: A children’s book, and in came Little Louis.

Many Indigenous Peoples grew up without medical information that respected or reflected their culture, the CRAC recognized the need to reverse this trend. A children’s book that reflects the identities of Indigenous children is important for making information accessible to all.

SKIP, Morning Star Lodge and Indigenous community members began to prepare a children’s book that is engaging, educational and relevant for Indigenous children experiencing needle fear or vaccine hesitancy — seeing their culture reflected in a children’s book can make all the difference when it comes to getting the jab. Needle fear or hesitation is a common feeling and there is minimal children’s literature on the topic, especially literature that is culturally relevant.

The Star Blanket Cree Nation’s cultural, community and storytelling expertise far exceeds that of SKIP or Morning Star Lodge. The community research advisory committee members live in, and are from, the communities we serve, their Indigenous Knowledge adds depth and relevance to all of our projects. Their guidance and leadership ensures that developments, like Little Louis, directly reflect community needs.

Indigenous Peoples expertise, guidance and leadership

Little Louis talks about how to prepare for getting a vaccine, what vaccines feel like and what parents and children can do in order to be supported. The intention is that Little Louis will evolve into several different stories that will target different audiences and address different issues as time goes on and different issues arise. This sort of flexibility is a requisite to working with dynamic communities.

Inflexible research was and is often the norm. “Helicopter” research (where researchers enter communities, collect data and leave, never to be heard from again) was and is still practised. This entirely one-sided interaction always benefits researchers but rarely, if ever, benefits communities. It frequently misrepresents realities for Indigenous communities and actively creates negative stereotypes that have been used to justify systemic racism.

Historically, research with Indigenous Peoples was not conducted “in a good way.” Today, researchers can be guided to correct the errors of the past through principles like OCAP (ownership, control, access and possession) and the CARE and FAIR principles for Indigenous data governance. Further, researchers can learn about ethical engagement and cultural safety to ensure their research is truly ethical and upholds community perspectives.

In practice, this means Indigenous Peoples should be at the helm of any research that may impact them or is about them. Doing so can prevent harmful misrepresentations, promote self-determination and contribute to solutions Indigenous communities actually need — like a children’s book that addresses vaccine hesitancy.

The following is a synopsis of “Little Louis.” Check the Morning Star Lodge blog for updates on publication.

Meet Little Louis

Little Louis tells the story of Louis, a young boy preparing for his COVID-19 vaccination. Louis starts by sharing his fears and frustrations with safety restrictions and the vaccine. His family listens and tells him how brave he is for making the decision to keep himself and the community safe.

Still nervous and hesitant about the vaccine, Louis’ family has an idea to create a “little” Louis, out of paper, which he can bring to the vaccination clinic during his appointment. Louis’ family also shares the story of a brave Métis leader named Gabriel Dumont and his rifle, le petit (little one).

The night before the vaccination appointment, Louis dreams of going on a fishing adventure with Little Louis where they reel in what they think is a fish but it turns out to be a big needle! Louis and Little Louis both bravely face the needle, reeling it in until it turns into the big catch they hoped for. The next morning Louis shares his dream with his family. They tell him that he was brave for facing his fears.

Finally, Louis goes to his vaccine appointment with Little Louis by his side. The doctor asks to see Little Louis to give him the vaccine first. Observing that Little Louis was brave and didn’t get scared, Louis is ready and the doctor gives Louis his vaccine. Both Louis and Little Louis are now protected from COVID-19!

Do you have a question about COVID-19 vaccines? Email us at ca‑vaccination@theconversation.com and vaccine experts will answer questions in upcoming articles.The Conversation

Patrick Sullivan, Sr. Research Assistant, Morning Star Lodge, University of Saskatchewan and Heather O’Watch, Research Assistant, Morning Star Lodge, University of Saskatchewan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Orwell’s ideas remain relevant 75 years after ‘Animal Farm’ was published


George Orwell’s writings have left a lasting imprint on American thought and culture.
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Mark Satta, Wayne State University

Seventy-five years ago, in August 1946, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” was published in the United States. It was a huge success, with over a half-million copies sold in its first year. “Animal Farm” was followed three years later by an even bigger success: Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

In the years since, Orwell’s writing has left an indelible mark on American thought and culture. Sales of “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” jumped in 2013 after the whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked confidential National Security Agency documents. And “Nineteen Eighty-Four” rose to the top of Amazon’s best-sellers list after Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration in 2017.

As a philosophy professor, I’m interested in the continuing relevance of Orwell’s ideas, including those on totalitarianism and socialism.

Early career

George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair. Born in 1903 in colonial India, Blair later moved to England, where he attended elite schools on scholarships. After finishing school, he joined the British civil service, working in Burma, now Myanmar. At age 24, Orwell returned to England to become a writer.

During the 1930s, Orwell had modest success as an essayist, journalist and novelist. He also served as a volunteer soldier with a left-wing militia group that fought on behalf of the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. During the conflict, Orwell experienced how propaganda could shape political narratives through observing inaccurate reporting of events he experienced firsthand.

Orwell later summarized the purpose of his writing from roughly the Spanish Civil War onward: “Every line of serious work I have written since 1936 has been, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism.”

Orwell did not specify in that passage what he meant by either totalitarianism or democratic socialism, but some of his other works clarify how he understood those terms.

What is totalitarianism?

For Orwell, totalitarianism was a political order focused on power and control. The totalitarian attitude is exemplified by the antagonist, O’Brien, in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” The fictional O’Brien is a powerful government official who uses torture and manipulation to gain power over the thoughts and actions of the protagonist, Winston Smith. Significantly, O’Brien treats his desire for power as an end in itself. O’Brien represents power for power’s sake.

A copy of George Orwell's novel '1984' is displayed at The Last Bookstore on January 25, 2017, in Los Angeles.
George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (‘1984’) surged to the top of Amazon.com’s best-sellers list after Donald Trump’s Presidential Inauguration in 2017.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Much of Orwell’s keenest insights concern what totalitarianism is incompatible with. In his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn,” Orwell writes of “The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power … .” In other words, laws can limit a ruler’s power. Totalitarianism seeks to obliterate the limits of law through the uninhibited exercise of power.

Similarly, in his 1942 essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War,” Orwell argues that totalitarianism must deny that there are neutral facts and objective truth. Orwell identifies liberty and truth as “safeguards” against totalitarianism. The exercise of liberty and the recognition of truth are actions incompatible with the total centralized control that totalitarianism requires.

Orwell understood that totalitarianism could be found on the political right and left. For Orwell, both Nazism and Communism were totalitarian.

Orwell’s work, in my view, challenges us to resist permitting leaders to engage in totalitarian behavior, regardless of political affiliation. It also reminds us that some of our best tools for resisting totalitarianism are to tell truths and to preserve liberty.

What is democratic socialism?

In his 1937 book “The Road to Wigan Pier,” Orwell writes that socialism means “justice and liberty.” The justice he refers to goes beyond mere economic justice. It also includes social and political justice.

Orwell elaborates on what he means by socialism in “The Lion and the Unicorn.” According to him, socialism requires “approximate equality of incomes (it need be no more than approximate), political democracy, and abolition of all hereditary privileges, especially in education.”

In fleshing out what he means by “approximate equality of incomes,” Orwell later says in the same essay that income equality shouldn’t be greater than a ratio of about 10 to 1. In its modern-day interpretation, this suggests Orwell could find it ethical for a CEO to make 10 times more than their employees, but not to make 300 times more, as the average CEO in the United States does today.

But in describing socialism, Orwell discusses more than economic inequality. Orwell’s writings indicate that his preferred conception of socialism also requires “political democracy.” As scholar David Dwan has noted, Orwell distinguished “two concepts of democracy.” The first concept refers to political power resting with the common people. The second is about having classical liberal freedoms, like freedom of thought. Both notions of democracy seem relevant to what Orwell means by democratic socialism. For Orwell, democratic socialism is a political order that provides social and economic equality while also preserving robust personal freedom.

I believe Orwell’s description of democratic socialism and his recognition that there are various forms socialism can take remain important today given that American political dialogue about socialism often overlooks much of the nuance Orwell brings to the subject. For example, Americans often confuse socialism with communism. Orwell helps clarify the difference between these terms.

With high levels of economic inequality, political assaults on truth and renewed concerns about totalitarianism, Orwell’s ideas remain as relevant now as they were 75 years ago.

[Explore the intersection of faith, politics, arts and culture. Sign up for This Week in Religion.]The Conversation

Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Webcomic Apps


The link below is to an article that takes a look at 5 free webcomic apps.

For more visit:
https://www.makeuseof.com/free-webcomic-apps-to-discover-and-read-comic-strips-online/