Previous Post in the Series:Frederick Douglas and the Struggle
Once a year I read "1984" and "A Christmas Carol". I know that explains a great deal about who I am. Recently, I re-read 1984 again. The character Winston is one of my heroes because he struggles to be human in an environment that is designed to dehumanize. He gives up his life and eventually his soul and spirit so that he can live and think, even for a short time, as a human being.
Here is a quote from the book about what the party does to people:
When once your were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history.
How would you live if nothing you did mattered? What would you do if you would die alone in your sleep and no one would notice your absence? How would that change you? What would motivate you after that?
Winston's definition of how the party was able to destroy all of the effects of whatever an individual may have been able to do might not be accurate compared to our world, but it is comparable to how the pressures of modern life remove any real motivation to act beyond just providing ourselves with food, housing and some mindless diversion. We may not have big brother breathing down our neck, but the pressure to conform to society's prevailing groupthink and not think for yourself is evident everywhere we go. At school, in our jobs, in our communities, in our families, society wants you to submit to its rules and think its thoughts.
Check out this quote from an unlikely source:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. -Friedrich Nietzsche
One of the re-occurring themes in the book is Winston's mother. He dreams about her, and how she died. Her strong personality, and character haunts Winston every day. She is Winston's internal proof that there is a spirit of humanity, a spark of the divine, the spirit of all that is good and lovely, can and has existed in a world and a future that has become as O'Brien will later describe as "...A boot stamping on a human face-forever."
Here's how Winston describes his mother:
He would have liked to continue talking about his mother. He did not suppose from what could remember of her that she had been an unusual woman, still less an intelligent one; and yet she possessed a kind of nobility, a kind of purity, simply because the standards that she obeyed were private ones. Her feelings were her own, and could not be altered from the outside. It would not have occurred to her that an action which is ineffectual thereby becomes meaningless.The idea here that burrowed down into my psyche like some kind of mental tapeworm was the idea that an action which is ineffectual is not meaningless. If an action is part of who you are, if it expresses what your values, that gives it value, regardless of its outward efficacy.
As I pondered more, it became more and more clear to me that struggle in itself is valuable. Even if it involves nothing more than speaking the truth, writing a letter, giving $1 to someone who needs it, hugging your kids, carrying a protest sign, feeding stray animals, putting a bumper sticker on your car.
All of these are actions that people are quick to say doesn't matter, they say they are too small, and will amount to no substantive change in the real world. People mock actions like these as idealistic and stupid. But they are wrong. Any action based on what you know to be true, on what you hold as important, keeps you human.
Being human is jousting at windmills. Being human is writing a diary about your feelings even though you know you will be tortured for your beliefs. Being human is giving a bully the middle finger even though he will kick your ass afterwards. Being human is taking the time to care for people and their feelings, even when its not profitable. Being human is struggling and not letting the world wash over you and drown you in a commercial culture that defines you by what you buy and how you smell and not by the measure of what is inside you.
Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.-Mahatma Gandhi
Thanks for reading...
Next in the series:Struggling Poetry
Purgatory: A place of suffering and torment with an unknown duration. In Roman Catholic Theology-the place where the dead are purified from their sins.
By Rage Against The Machine