Clem Sunter

The foresight of Eric Arthur Blair

2013-06-13 15:45

Clem Sunter

He described himself as lower-upper-middle class, but went to the poshest school in England - Eton College. He suffered ill-health most of his life, but volunteered to fight and saw action in the Spanish Civil War. He lived like a tramp in London and Paris, but represented the British Empire as a policeman in Burma. He regularly attended holy communion but was one of the most cynical writers about human nature. Consider these three quotes: "Power is tearing human minds apart and putting them back together in new shapes of your own choosing." "One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship." "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."

He died of TB at the age of 46 on a chilly morning in January 1950, and his gravestone in All Saints' Churchyard in Oxfordshire has the brief epitaph: "Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born 25 June 1903, died 21 January 1950." His life was a glorious contradiction but he did make the following admission: "Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." So now I can reveal his pen name, George Orwell, inventor of phrases like "the thought police" and "thoughtcrimes". He wrote Animal Farm in 1945 and published 1984 in 1949 just before his death. His two most famous sayings are: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" and "Big Brother is watching you".

As a scenario planner, I have to bow in front of a man who had such extraordinary powers of prophecy. The first book captured the nature of communist dictatorships around the world in the second half of the last century. I love the excerpt: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." Equally, the quip that "Man serves the interests of no creature but himself" anticipates the wanton destruction of the natural environment around us in pursuit of wealth.

Yet, the second book is the real masterpiece because it is a completely accurate precursor of the latest newspaper scoop on intelligence agencies hoovering up all our e-mails and telephone records. No wonder that Amazon has virtually run out of copies of 1984 on account of the sudden leap in demand. It is called a "dystopian novel" because it describes a place where everything is as bad as it can be. We now live in an Orwellian world where privacy no longer exists and our every communication is scrutinised to see if we are "a person of interest". God forbid that we become one as that is when life can become very nasty indeed. As Orwell himself said: "If you want a secret, you must also hide it from yourself."

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