Sunday, January 27, 2008

"The Party" from 1984 vs. Yiddishkeit - Compare/Contrast/L'havdil


In George Orwell's book, 1984, he describes a world in which the totalitarian government ("The Party") seeks to have such total and complete domination over everyone in the country that their ultimate goal will not be acheived until even the innermost thoughts and beliefs of the Party members are competely defined by The Party's will.

This is true in the book ad kedei kach (to the extent) that when The Party says that something that happened yesterday didn't happen, the Party member must instantly change his memory of what happened yesterday and then erase his memory of the fact that he changed his memory at all. Winston, the main character's, sense of having a concrete perception of reality is so ingrained that he bristles and denies any possiblity of changing his own knowledge about realty just because of the will of The Party.

Mentally and physically, The Party breaks down any and all sense of self that Winston had, and fills up the empty shell that was previously occuppied by Winston's own sense of self, with the will of The Party.

The differences between anything in Yiddishkeit and the world of 1984 are obvious. The Party seeks to reconstruct people's conception of reality by replacing emes with sheker (truth with falsehood). Whereas Yiddishkeit teaches that we must correct our thinking from sheker to emes. The Party is motivated by and utilizes hate (Two Minutes Hate). Whereas Yiddishkeit's self-elevation program is synonymous with the ideas of Chesed and Ahava, kindness and love. The Party seeks to dominate the people. Whereas in Yiddishkeit, Hashem only desires to elevate and give goodness and truth to people.

One thing that strikes me about the book is that there is one similarity. The Party asserts that its reality is true, and that one must overcome their own personal perception of reality. L'havdil, in Torah also, we must know that the world and the reality that we see around us is the least real conception of reality. The world is merely the mask that hides the true nature of the universe which is that Ein Ode Milvado, there is nothing besides Him.

In Yiddishkeit, the idea is that the highest ideal is not to be wedded to our concrete, finite perception of reality. But rather, to nullify our perceptions to the Oneness of the Creator. The ideas of Bitul and Hiskalelus, total self-nullification and inclusion in the Divine Oneness, are the highest ideal!

I read this book about 12 years ago, and what struck me about it is that there is a similarity, l'havdil, in the thought process that O'Brian (the main antagonist in the story) forced upon Winston, and the thought process involved in letting go one one's ego and starting to perceive the Oneness of G-d that lies behind and within all of reality, and letting one's self go, in order to merge one's perception with the Divine reality.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of madisonpubliclibrary.org)

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9 comments:

AF said...

"All things were created in opposites." Just like there are 10 spheros in kedusha, there are 10 spheros in klipah, etc.

So, you will find in this world phenomena which are similar (kivyachol) to some aspects of yiddishkeit but are opposite in their goals or essence, etc. In many instances this is the case because something was taken out of yiddishkeit and corrupted (or maybe this particular aspect was not corrupted, but mostly everything else was).

Sometimes this is because Torah contains in itself (even if in hidden state sometimes) all wisdom; therefore, any movement or idea attempting to reach wisdom will inevitably use something in Torah (even if not taken from it directly). There is an idea from one of the meforshim (either on Yisroi or Mishpotim) that rational laws that people figure out "by themselves" were also given at Sinai: when Torah was given, Hashem's Chochmah penetrated this world (allowing us to reveal Him and connect to him through using the matter of this world for mitzvos). As a result, when a person honestly searches for morality and ethics, his mind will instinctively be drawn to general moral principles of Torah (although not always).

This is a good cautionary tale not to reject something in general and particularly in yiddishkeit just because it reminds you of something else. How many times I hear "that's what X-ians believe in". Well, they also believe in many of the 10 Commandments, which we just read. Etc.

DixieYid said...

AF,
Agreed. I wasn't really thinking of it in those terms, but of course you are right. The good attribute of bitul is seen in Orwell's book in it's perverted form. Bitul and hiskalelus for the sake of one groups power and sheker. Excellent point!

-Dixie Yid

Gandalin said...

Dixie,

I'm not sure I see it the way you're telling it.

In 1984, Ingsoc (English Socialism)uses newspeak to impose a false consciousness on the people of what is called Oceania.

False consciousness in that it is not the significance of events that changes, but the "reality" of the events themselves.

In Yiddishkeit, I don't think there is an attempt to erase the past, or to erase the world, but rather to adjust the metrics by which the world is perceived and judged.

The reality of the Churban Beis Mikdash, of the Shoah, on the one hand, and the return of exiles to Eretz Yisroel, on the other hand, is not challenged by anyone in Yiddishkeit, or am I missing something? However, the significance of those events, and the significance of things that transpire in the world today, is certainly available for a different interpretation.

It is Yiddishkeit's interpretation that comes to be substituted for the interpretation of golus, if you will, but one does not thereby acquire an entirely different history, let alone physics.

DixieYid said...

Gandalin,

I think you missed part of my point. I also pointed out that the purpose of doublethink and newspeak is to change people's awareness of reality its self to match what the Party says it is. I also pointed out that this is sheker. My point was only that while the subject of the self-nullification is for a differnt reason, the common denominator is the fact that, in different ways, both demand a nullification of the self to a reality that is not perceptible in a concrete way. While obviously that was focused on changing people's memory of past events, etc. in the case of the Party, in Yiddishkeit, it's about realzing that the whole nature of reality is also not as it seems "Chalomti chalom v'olam hafuch ra'isi. hagedolim l'mata, v'haketanim le'ma'alah. Lo, olam barur ra'isa." (Bava Basra).

-Dixie Yid

Gandalin said...

Dixie,

Thanks for your kind response, and for the clarification.

Well I think the clear difference is that Yiddishkeit is intended to reveal reality, and it is not "reality" that is not as it seems, but the perceptual world that is "not reality."

Whereas IngSoc, in 1984, sought to substitute a falsehood for reality.

A Simple Jew said...

There was another similarity that once occured to me after reading 1984. In order to produce the 11th edition of the new speak dictionary, the editors were required to destroy hundreds of words for the purpose of limiting thought and to make thought crime impossible.

If one takes this concept from the opposite perspective, by destroying vulgar and unrefined words from our vocabulary, we can change our thought process for the better.

I once thought about posting on this subject however I thought that my words would be too easily misenterpreted to mean that I advocated a kind of dictatorship that was written about in 1984.

By the way, 1984 is one of my all time favorite books of fiction.

DixieYid said...

Gandalin, I hear you. Agreed.

ASJ,

I also think it is one of the best books for several reason. But that's not for today.

I had the same feeling as you did about not wanting to be misinterpreted. I'm thinking from the comments so far that that hasn't happened. I tried to put enough disclaimers in so that people wouldn't make that mistake. But I did want to ask your opinion soon anyway about what you thought about writing about such a topic.

And I hear what you're saying about limiting language. That topic was one of those that fascinated me most about the book as well.

-Dixie Yid

Alice said...

It occurred to me this Saturday in shul that we are expected to accept paradoxes in Judaism, that Hashem knows what will do before we do it, yet we still have free will for example.

This is a bit like the 2+2=5 thing in the book. One must just acccept it even if it doesn't make sense to us. What's the Hebrew word for commandments that we just need to accept on the face of it? Hoke?

DixieYid said...

Alice,
I think you're right in a way. We recognize that because Hashem is infinite and we are finite, there will be many things about the world that we will never understand and which will make about as much sense to us as 2+2=5. For us though, it's not that we have to believe 2+2=5 just because someone says so, like it was in the book. Rather, we believe things that we cannot understand because we recognize that our limited perception of reality doesn't allow us to understand certain truths. And in those areas, we trust in Hashem that what He tells us is true, really is true.

And yes, a mitzva, whose reason we don't understand, is called a "chok." (Not to say that they are "hokey." :-)

-Dixie Yid