Saturday, January 7, 2017

Orwell on socialist sex maniacs

Ah, YouTube. This morning it brought me to an unaired clip from the British panel show QI, in which the inestimable and inimitable Stephen Fry quotes from George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier (1936):
"'Socialism draws towards it with magnetic force every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, nature-cure quack, pacifist and feminist in England.' [Orwell] also talks about 'vegetarians with wilting beards', 'outer suburban creeping Jesus' eager to begin yoga exercises,' and 'that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal wearers and bearded fruit juice drinkers who come flocking toward the smell of progress like bluebottles to a dead cat.'" [transcript]
I wonder what justice there is in Orwell's cranky depiction of figures we probably all recognize through the distortions of his caricature. There is an n-dimension graph whose axes represent openness toward or rejection of different conceptual possibilities -- spirituality, personal perfectability, political perfectability, and so on -- and in this graph space, we should be able to identify the overlapping domains of "socialism", "individualism", "bohemianism", "veganism", and so on. Would the result be a disordered pell-mell without order? Or would some kind of informative structure emerge, to tell us about the people who reject theism but embrace socialism, who embrace fascism but reject spiritualism, and so on? Where will we find the bluebottle types, or the skeptics, or the Eric Blairs? What if these each turn out to be categorical cousins, to no one's greater surprise than their own?

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