Why Orwell Does Not Matter
By Maria Kostaki
George Orwell does not matter today. Something seems wrong with that sentence. One of the greatest political writers of all time does not matter today? No, he doesn't.
He doesn't matter because you stop at a gas station to fill up your tank to drive work tomorrow and bam, you no longer have to go to work. He doesn't matter because you and your spouse are loading your day's shopping into the boot and bam, you have no husband. He doesn't matter because you are driving a school bus and bam, you never have to put your hands on that the wheel again. He doesn't matter because you take your kid to school and bam, by the end of the day you have no kid. He doesn't matter because you go to work one morning and a plane hits the floors below you. You don't leave through the front door at 5 o'clock. You jump out of the window holding your colleague's hand. He doesn't matter because you are sipping on a tropical cocktail in Bali and bam, you and your friends are shattered into bits and pieces. He doesn't matter because you get on a bus in Israel and bam, the person sitting next to you blows up.
He doesn't matter because you go to see a musical in Moscow and Chechen rebels take the entire theater hostage. They don't get around to killing you but the Russian army does.
Orwell doesn't matter because his work cannot change how absolutely terrified the whole world is today. Fear is everywhere. People in the D.C. area are scared of white vans, New Yorkers shudder at a plane flying too low over Manhattan, America is scared of Bush's 'axis of evil,' and the 'axis of evil' is scared of America.
Just like when Orwell was alive you may say. But there is a big difference. In Orwell's time, people knew what they were afraid of. Fascism, communism. Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union. Hilter, Mussolini, Stalin. There were philosophies, countries, and leaders that needed to be crushed to put an end to terror. What are we afraid of today? Terrorism. What is the philosophy behind terrorism? There is none. Where is terrorism? Everywhere. Who is the leader? And a myriad of nameless, faceless people. And it's spreading like an uncontrollable cancer. Setting up a democratic regime in Iraq is not going to do the trick. As the past year's events have proved, it simply will show up somewhere else.
Edward Rothstein in this weekend's New York Times, states that Orwell matters because just like him we are again facing a new kind of tyranny. The word tyranny is defined as "a cruel and oppressive government or rule" (Oxford American Dictionary). How is terrorism a tyranny? It's not a government and it does not rule.
As the story of the Moscow hostage crisis broke on the Russian satellite channel last Wednesday, five people stood from their chairs, and stared into the television set in a home in Queens. In silence. For 15 minutes. When coverage broke for commercials, we sat back down around the kitchen table and drank our lukewarm tea.
"Try these cookies, they're delicious," one woman said.
"Mmmm. This chocolate is fabulous," someone else commented. No one had anything else to say. But what is there to say? That yet another horrible event has taken place, this time in the center of Moscow? Such commentary has become as routine as eating and sleeping.
In Orwell's time people knew how to fight the wrong that was being done. The equation was theoretically simple. Subtract tyranny, add democracy. But if we are to use Rothstein's assumption that we are again facing tyranny, a new dimension must be added to its definition. Emotion. Because what rules today is not Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. What rules is fear, helplessness, and despair. We are all sitting tight with our mouths wide open. Nothing is easing our horror. And democracy is not saving us this time. And that's why, on this very day, Orwell does not matter.