If you haven’t read 1984 by George Orwell, now would be a good time to do so. His vision of a dystopian society run by a bunch of crazy psychopaths gets more prescient by the day. It’s a warning from the past to the future, and possibly the present, depending on where you live. And it’s packed with insight into the minds of those who would claim power.
In this quote, O’Brien is torturing Winston and ‘helping’ him to understand why the English Socialist Party operates as it does:
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing.
“All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognise their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.
“We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. …”
Here’s the part you need to sear into your memory because this agenda is being pushed right now:
“The first thing you must realise is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: ‘Freedom is Slavery’. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he IS the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. …”
This is nihilism based on the logic of scientific materialism. In reality, death isn’t defeat or failure. It only looks that way if you’re scared of death because you don’t know who you are – i.e. Spirit. And this is the key to understanding the difference between totalitarianism and genuine mysticism.
O’Brien continues to demonstrate his poor grip on reality by claiming the Party has power over matter. He explains to Winston that if you imagine something is true then it is true, so long as you can make everybody agree with you. He denies this is solipsism but fails to explain why – because that would involve unpacking his cavernous blind spots!
The point, he says, is to have power over men and you do this by making them suffer:
“Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined.
“A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but MORE merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilisations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.
“In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy – everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. …”
“There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed.
“But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
“The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again.”
What O’Brien fails to realise is that the true enemy of society is the man who seeks power, not the heretic who loves humanity and life. And if you’re reading this blog, that heretic is you. 😜
And if you truly know who you are, you will never be a slave, even if men of power encircle the earth.
More on power: Active Hope and a New Kind of Power