The Ministry of Peace
February 1, 2022
Below is an excerpt from the end of 1984 by George Orwell and an instrumental version Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead. I think they are related to each other. They both have the tendency to bring existential dread up to the surface and leave me pondering large, difficult questions. Such as… Am I wrong about everything? Am I a coward? What, if anything, is important? What is the highest good? If one knows the answer to the latter then I am fairly certain the others take care of themselves. Sometimes I think I have the answer, but then I become distracted by almost anything and forget what I was doing. Maybe it helps to just keep going back to the place where I keep these ideas and continue exploring, questioning, and attending them as best I can. Perhaps just spending time with them is at least a step in the right direction. Or a step towards finding the right direction. I know I don’t want to end up like Winston- no one does, and the path to where he lives is a slow, subtle, meandering descent. You almost can’t tell you’re going anywhere. Sometimes it seems like all paths lead there. Maybe I’ve got it backwards and all paths start there. I obviously don’t know, but the best advice I’ve heard on the matter is from Tom Waits. He says “Never let the weeds get higher than the garden, always keep the sapphire in your mind.”
From Chapter 6 of 1984 by George Orwell.
‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you. ‘What happens to you here is FOR EVER,’ O’Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover. Some- thing was killed in your breast: burnt out, cauterized out.
He had seen her; he had even spoken to her. There was no danger in it. He knew as though instinctively that they now took almost no interest in his doings. He could have arranged to meet her a second time if either of them had wanted to. Actually it was by chance that they had met. It was in the Park, on a vile, biting day in March, when the earth was like iron and all the grass seemed dead and there was not a bud anywhere except a few crocuses which had pushed themselves up to be dismembered by the wind. He was hurrying along with frozen hands and watering eyes when he saw her not ten metres away from him. It struck him at once that she had changed in some ill-defined way.
They almost passed one another without a sign, then he turned and followed her, not very eagerly. He knew that there was no danger, nobody would take any interest in him. She did not speak. She walked obliquely away across the grass as though trying to get rid of him, then seemed to re- sign herself to having him at her side. Presently they were in among a clump of ragged leafless shrubs, useless either for concealment or as protection from the wind. They halted. It was vilely cold. The wind whistled through the twigs and fretted the occasional, dirty-looking crocuses. He put his arm round her waist.
There was no telescreen, but there must be hidden microphones: besides, they could be seen. It did not mat- ter, nothing mattered. They could have lain down on the ground and done THAT if they had wanted to. His flesh froze with horror at the thought of it. She made no response whatever to the clasp of his arm; she did not even try to dis- engage herself. He knew now what had changed in her. Her face was sallower, and there was a long scar, partly hidden by the hair, across her forehead and temple; but that was not the change. It was that her waist had grown thicker, and, in a surprising way, had stiffened. He remembered how once, after the explosion of a rocket bomb, he had helped to drag a corpse out of some ruins, and had been astonished not only by the incredible weight of the thing, but by its rigidity and awkwardness to handle, which made it seem more like stone than flesh. Her body felt like that. It occurred to him that the texture of her skin would be quite different from what it had once been.
He did not attempt to kiss her, nor did they speak. As they walked back across the grass, she looked directly at him for the first time. It was only a momentary glance, full of con- tempt and dislike. He wondered whether it was a dislike that came purely out of the past or whether it was inspired also by his bloated face and the water that the wind kept squeez- ing from his eyes. They sat down on two iron chairs, side by side but not too close together. He saw that she was about to speak. She moved her clumsy shoe a few centimetres and deliberately crushed a twig. Her feet seemed to have grown broader, he noticed.
‘I betrayed you,’ she said baldly. ‘I betrayed you,’ he said.
She gave him another quick look of dislike.
‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘they threaten you with something something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, ‘Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody
else, do it to so-and-so.’ And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself, and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You WANT it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer.
All you care about is yourself.’
‘All you care about is yourself,’ he echoed.
‘And after that, you don’t feel the same towards the otherperson any longer.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘you don’t feel the same.’