Your article on George Orwell’s prescient novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, coincided with several stories showing that his dystopia is upon us (“Big Brother’s long shadow”, New Review). From tales of people being fined for not showing their face (Kenan Malik, Comment) to accounts of remote surveillance via mobile phones (John Naughton, New Review), it seems we are always under observation. Rachel Cooke’s dispiriting experience in New York, being forced to order her meal via a machine (Observer Food Monthly) is a further sign of the dehumanisation taking place in commerce and at work.
Capital is using technology to eliminate labour and government is using it to control behaviour. Absent a major political movement against this threat, our only choice is to resist as individuals: never shop online, always pay cash, give up Google maps. How many of us are ready to trade convenience for freedom?
Nineteen Eighty-Four is surely one of the worst novels ever published. Not only is it quite unfinishable, about a third of its content towards the end being a dull political rant, but it is also extremely badly put together and completely lacking in editing.
Orwell patronises the working class, coining the derogatory term “proles”, and his attempts at love interest and erotic writing add a new dimension to the word cringeworthy. The book is also quite clearly antisemitic, in a horrible prewar English upper-class jealousy against imaginary “Jews” manifested in the crude stereotype of Goldstein. As an anagram of “1948”, the novel was intended as a warning of what would become of Britain under socialists. The Attlee administration attacked by Orwell proved to be this country’s greatest and most beneficial government.
As Dorian Lynskey points out, it is more the broad ideas expressed (Big Brother, newspeak, ministry of truth) than any merit as a text that makes the novel influential. George Orwell could write beautifully, especially in his journalism, but Nineteen Eighty-Four is a ghastly failure as a novel. Its ill-judged use as an exam set text must have put thousands of children off literature for life.
Lights, camera, diversity
Vanessa Thorpe’s piece was bang on (“Wanted: sound engineers, make-up artists. No nepotists, please”, News). Having worked in the film, set-building and fabrication industries, I know only too well the lack of diversity, the sexism and gender pay gap within these fields – not to mention the lack of financial stability, recognition and health costs.
Those recruited have more often than not received a decent education, myself included, and are lucky to be able to pursue a creative career. A wider variety of people would be an absolute dream. But for this to happen, fundamental changes need to be made to these industries and to our society.
Assad is not all bad
Simon Tisdall, in an otherwise excellent article on Iran-US tensions, slips in a reference to “Assad’s Alawite regime” (“Old grudges, new weapons… is the US on brink of war with Iran?”, Focus). The religious slur has a nasty sound to it but it’s also absurd, since the Syrian government has unquestioned majority support, not only of the relatively few Alawites, but of the Druze, several Christian denominations, even Shias and Sunni Kurds.
You may not like Assad, but he has a large and genuine constituency. With the support of Iranians and Russians, Syrian forces managed to halt the previously unstoppable advance of Isis at Palmyra, for which the rest of us might well be grateful.
Professor Robin Milner-Gulland
Washington, West Sussex
BBC Scotland is not for me
Fifty years ago I was a regular complainer to the BBC about programmes that were preceded by the announcement “except for viewers in Scotland”. So I was looking forward to the new BBC Scotland channel as I thought I would no longer have to miss network programmes due to the substitution of Scottish ones (“Derided before its launch, BBC Scotland has silenced the critics with its excellence”, Comment.
How wrong I was: still there is substitution and I am bombarded in the breaks between programmes for trailers that don’t encourage me to watch anything shown. Kevin McKenna highlights Getting Hitched Asian Style, but this has already been shown on the BBC as a substitute for a network programme. The programmes seem to be made for 19- to 34-year-olds and viewers in the central belt of Scotland.
A model exam?
Letter-writer Bernie Evans doubts whether the Cambridge IGCSE was subject to the same reforms as GCSEs (“Playing the exam game”). In fact, Cambridge IGCSE qualifications were a model for the reforms to GCSEs in England. Recent comparison between Cambridge IGCSE and GCSE results shows close alignment of the standard.
Cambridge International would be very pleased to see state schools in England having the same choice of qualifications as independent schools, including our many syllabus subjects (such as global perspectives) that are not available as GCSEs. This is a decision that government could make, now that its reforms of GCSE are embedded.
Christine Özden, chief executive
Cambridge Assessment International Education
Electricity: the way ahead
My reaction to your important business leader (“Labour’s plans for publicly owned green energy are no more than electric dreams”) is one of severe disappointment. Although in many respects you seem to agree with Labour’s proposals for renationalising the UK’s energy supply companies, in the end all you do is rubbish their ideas on points of detail, rather than engage constructively to improve them.
If the UK is not to abandon all serious effort to avoid calamitous climate change, we know that in 30 years’ time the electricity generating and gas supply industries will have to have been utterly transformed.
Electricity generation, instead of being based as at present on CCGT plant fired by natural gas, with significant support from nuclear power, must be metamorphosed into a system based on renewable energy, principally wind and solar, with minimal support from nuclear (Hinkley Point C). The gas supply industry should no longer dispense natural gas but (if it exists at all, as I firmly believe it should), hydrogen, the only acceptable “green” gas (in an echo of the town gas for which it was originally developed in Victorian times). The oil industry must also be transformed, with sales of petrol, diesel and heating oils reduced to a tiny fraction of their present level. This is not a dream, but foresight of reality.
As a start, I suggest that firm plans are drawn up by a competent, government-nominated body for several thousand megawatts of wind power and several thousand MW of solar power within the next one or two years. Early experience with such projects is sure to expose all kinds of planning, technological and economic difficulties, which will have to be faced up to and dealt with as they arise, including in particular problems inherent in relying on intermittent energy sources, which call in their solution for large-scale energy storage. Further ahead, a rolling programme will need to be established to ensure that the ultimate objective of zero net carbon dioxide emissions is achieved.
We must of course also do what we can to try to ensure that the rest of the world follows as ambitiously.
If I won a million…
Were I to receive a windfall of £1m, or another substantial sum – unlikely, since the sum total of my gambling is the monthly raffle at my local Labour party meeting, but hypothetically – I would not buy a Mercedes or jet off to the Maldives (“Pennies from heaven”, Magazine). I am content with my modest lifestyle and would not know how to spend such sums on selfish activities. Nor would I wish to increase my contribution to the climate crisis.
Where is the imagination or the public spirit? My problem would be in choosing which campaigning group would most deserve a boost.
Source: The Guardian