George Orwell has been referenced a lot lately, with people using his book 1984 as the vehicle to do so. It seems that Orwell was an oracle of sorts; Orwell the Oracle sounds like a fine moniker but one that I’m not sure he’d appreciate.
The “Oracle of ’84” aside, I’d like to address the second half of his work entitled the Road to Wigan Pier. If you’ve not read the book, it’s essentially divided into two parts. The first half concerns his journey across Great Britain in the 1930’s and describes the deplorable conditions of the coal mining communities that he visited, and the people that he lived among. Orwell is a fascinating writer as he fully immerses himself in whatever he’s going to opine about through his works. As an avid socialist, his work centered around the plight of the working classes, and his art served to not only bring those conditions to light but also serve as something of a lighthouse for socialism among the din of capitalism. This lighthouse approach can also be seen in two other works; Down And Out in London and Paris in which he actually lives as the working class poor in both cities, describing in detail how he survived.
His Road to Wigan Pier is notable for its honesty, and clear minded approach to what he witnessed, describing as only he could, the squalor he found working class families in as they struggled to survive in the people eating atmosphere of the second Industrial Revolution. He is quite candid when he describes a hovel in which families literally huddle together for survival, lying a communal bed in which husbands and wives caked in coal dust sleep for a few hours before the ritual of work begins again the following day.
He ventures into a coal mine to experience firsthand how the miners lived under the earth hammering away at the rock face for the bits of black rock that were to fuel the growth of industry above. These men (and young boys) were the worker ants, the drones that did the bidding of the queen (mine owner) for mere shillings in order to survive. His writing is grim as he chronicles women searching mounds of rock, rejected by the coal company as the rock doesn’t contain enough coal to be worth anything. These women, much like the gleaners of the sixteenth century who scoured the ground looking for left over wheat grains from the harvest for their food, do the same scouring, but for enough coal embedded in rock to provide a little heat for their homes during winter. It is a mind-picture of epic proportions and one that engenders empathy on a large scale for those that suffered during that long ago time. This, of course, is exactly what Orwell wants, and he succeeds in creating that feeling with his words. Truly, a remarkable record of the abuses of early industrialization.
The second half of the book concerns itself with those that would call for socialism to be adopted as national policy. Frequently, he says, those that are socialism’s biggest supporters are also those that want nothing to do with the people that socialism would help as they are separated by class. For the uninitiated, Britain was a society not unlike the Indian Caste System in which people were “classified” mostly by the work they did. There were definite separations by class, with the nobility occupying the highest class, following by various degrees of middle classes, and at the bottom, those of the working classes.
These distinctions were, and in some cases, still are, part and parcel of the British experience, and were deeply entrenched in British society. In other words, it would be quite difficult to “change” classes unless one was to do so willingly, they key word being “willingly”. In the end, Orwell acknowledges that there is something of a protectionist ideology among those classes above the working class. People are not willing to give up what they have in order to elevator down to a lower class, which is the entire premise of the second half of the book, with Orwell explaining why.
He begins by describing his own upbringing as one of “lower-upper middle class”, and freely admits that he looked down upon the working class. He is not ashamed of it, but rather points out in a matter-of-fact manner that he is responsible for it; he was raised that way as many were who were of the same class.
The rub for Orwell came when he realized that while there were many of his friends who were ardent supporters of socialism, they would not associate with those that they purported to want to help. They turned away when a working class person passed by, they shunned the working class individual openly upon the street, and turned their nose up at them because, well, in Orwell’s words, “they stink”. Physically. The result was that while these lower-upper middle class people thought they were doing the right thing by supporting socialist ideals, they were really doing nothing but giving lip service to them and little else. He says that those of his ilk would sympathize and even support their cause, but would not associate with them on any level, largely because they stunk, a physical manifestation of their lower class status. Today, we would call them “posers”.
There is much more to Orwell’s observations and most of them are quite illuminating, but it got me thinking…
Some of the most ardent supporters of socialist policies are those of the upper class and upper strata of our society. The extremely well-to-do who speak of helping the homeless while they attend black tie dinner parties, sipping McCallen 25 in crystal glasses and star shaped ice cubes. The upper-middle class, or even lower-upper middle class of Orwellian background who attend rallies, sit-ins, and funded protests with their factory pressed protest placards who then get into their car and go home (to get dinner then get into their warm beds). Finally, the most vocal and hypocritical of them all, the Hollywood elites, like Cher, Robert DeNiro, Madonna, and Barbara Streisand who profess to care while they pull in millions of dollars, and sip wine from crystal glasses in their gated community homes insulated from the maddening crowds who only wish to gaze upon their likeness which they withhold like some ancient gods withholding their mercy upon the unwashed masses. It’s chic to do so, and makes one popular among those in the dinner party or yacht circuit.
These are the people that Orwell could not stand, and precisely the ones that he blamed for the socialist movement he envisioned not moving forward. They were all talk, no action. They were the ones that while it sounded good and maybe even enhanced their social standing to support those of the lower classes via socialism, were also the ones that refused to sit with them because they stinks. They roll up the windows in their limousines and speed through the “bad” neighborhoods so as not to be put in danger. They build walls (yes, walls) around their homes so as to not be inundated with the prying eyes and screeching voices of the common person, or move themselves to remote locations in order to get away from the riff-raff.
Robert De Niro is worth some five hundred million dollars; Barbara Streisand some four hundred million; and Madonna some eight hundred million. Those three alone are worth over a billion dollars…a billion. I wonder how many homes or apartment buildings or jobs they created for those they purport to want to help. I am given to wonder how often they ride the train to the set or the recording studio so that they can commune with the common person they want to help so much, being willing to bath in the sweat of the common person who is going to work for their meager pay. I keep asking myself how many poor kids who want to go to college they’ve paid for out of their own pockets or how many illegal immigrants they’ve supported with their money as they advocate for the rest of us to “pitch in”.
Come to think of it, there is no provision in the tax code or the Constitution that prohibits them from contributing MORE of their money to the government if they want to support certain entitlement programs. They can do so at will. I wonder if they do. I don’t know. I’ll wager not much.
Listen, I understand that there is sacrifice in the entertainment industry to get where these people (and others) belong. Some bussed tables, living in small apartments scraping to get by. Most still do. I understand the idea of hard work to achieve and truly, I applaud where they’ve gotten in this life. Greatness is generally not an accident. However…
My point here is that before anyone of the elite class or the Ivy League educated leftist college students lecture the rest of us on how we’re supposed to pay more and do more for those less fortunate, how ‘bout they walk the walk themselves, descending the marble steps of their opulent homes and sit among the great unwashed they so ardently say they support. Be like Orwell and live/work among them so that you know exactly what you’re fighting for.
Give some of your millions away. Be willing to change class status as Orwell did, and live among us, the great unwashed. Besides, who needs five hundred million or more to live, right? One only needs so much money in their lives, right? President Obama said as much in a speech once. Why not give most of it away, remove people from poverty if that is what you want to do, but actually do it with your own millions. Then, people might be more inclined to listen when you lecture us about our social responsibilities. Maybe then you’ll get a more sympathetic ear.
Let me be quite clear on this; I am not railing against any of them for what they’ve earned. They deserve all of that as they did realize their dreams through their talents and providing entertainment that people are/were willing to pay for. However, I will stand against the howling winds emanating from their duplicitous mouths when they tell me that I must pay more in taxes to support a socialist agenda because “it’s the right thing to do.” It’s always easy to tell anyone while you stand on the mountaintop that the view is good.
Listen to the words of Orwell:
“With loving though slightly patronizing smiles we set out to greet our proletarian brothers, and behold! Our proletarian brothers-insofar as we understand them-are not asking for our greetings, they are asking us to commit suicide”
I wonder if any of these people would be willing to commit that kind of suicide; the kind in which they become one with the huddled masses in order to support them. Methinks not.