Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Ownlife" - A Notion Too Dangerous for the State to Tolerate?

The movement for peace and justice and civil liberties needs organizing and it needs action. But it can't forget self-care . . . .

"In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except in bed. It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreations; to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous. There was a word for it in Newspeak: ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity." (George Orwell, 1984 - p. 72)

In the movement for peace and justice and civil liberties, we spend a lot of time trying to encourage people to get organized. Maybe the first thing we should do, though, is to encourage people to get alone.

C A R E E R.

M A R R I A G E.

S C H O O L.

T R A I N I N G.

I N V E S T M E N T S.

L I F E    G O A L S.

Who has time to think?

As Orwell describes it, the best test of whether someone is teed up to be a safe, conforming member of society is the degree to which you can smell an-ever present haze of sweat:
"Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms -- one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the Thought Police, the stability of the Party depended. . . . An overpowering smell of sweat, a sort of unconscious testimony to the strenuousness of his life, followed him about wherever he went, and even remained behind hm after he had gone." (p. 19)
And, in case you run out of things to do, the society keeps you fed on a constant diet of "films, football, beer, and gambling." (p. 63) (Welcome to Chicago . . . . )

In my own life, I actually had to read a book to convince me to slow down.

I remember very clearly, some time back in the early '90s, walking on the bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia and reading Solitude: A Return to the Self by Anthony Storr, and thinking, "Stop doing things long enough to get my bearings? Learn to listen to what I, myself, think? What a concept!"

Spending time alone and in reflection doesn't guarantee unconventional thought and a turn to dissent -- much less resistance. But it creates the space that makes it possible.

That's why I think this quote from Storr's book is valuable: "[t]he capacity to be alone is a valuable resource when changes of mental attitude are required."

So -- yes -- organize; but also take the time to do some self-care.

Take a walk by the lake.

Visit a museum.

Find a quiet church.


You'll be amazed at how rebellious it can make you.

(1984 page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition.)

MORE: please see also The Mind of the "World Beyond War" Activist.

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