Monday, September 11, 2006

Orwell for Moderns

[My neighbor Heshy Ginsburg mantains an e-list for locals, in which he provides the latest from the world press. This is today's post. ]

Anshell Pfeffer's regular weekly Jerusalem Post column on the media, "Behind the Lines", included almost as an afterthought, an interesting quote from George Orwell on the futility of seeking utility from "experts" (the rest of Pfeffer's column dealt with the wisdom, or lack thereof, of Israel's Channel 10's decision to broadcast the Lebanese special on Ron Arad and the kidnap murder of the three Israeli soldiers in October 2000). The Orwell quote is brought below.

And this Orwell quote reminded me of yet another insightful Orwell quote on intellectuals, which I've added to this celebration of cynicism.

Anshell Pfeffer

... Reading George Orwell's "As I Please" columns this week, I came upon the following piece, written in December 1943, which bears reprinting here:

"One way of feeling infallible is not to keep a diary. Looking back through the diary I kept in 1940 and 1941 I find that I was usually wrong when it was possible to be wrong. Yet I was not so wrong as the Military Experts. Experts of various schools were telling us in 1939 that the Maginot Line was impregnable, and that the Russo-German Pact had put an end to Hitler's eastwards expansion; in early 1940 they were telling us that the days of tank warfare were over; in mid 1940 they were telling us that the Germans would invade Britain forthwith; in mid 1941 that the Red army would fold up in six weeks; in December 1941, that Japan would collapse after ninety days; in July 1942, that Egypt was lost and so on, more or less indefinitely. Where now are the men who told us those things? Still on the job, drawing fat salaries. Instead of the unsinkable battleship we have the unsinkable Military Expert..."

One point of observation: Orwell's weekly columns appeared in The Tribune for 15 months during the final stages of the World War II. The left-wing newspaper has been dead for decades, while Orwell remains immortal.


And as long as we are in pillory mode, George Orwell on the ostensibly omniscient left-wing intelligentsia. There are some things so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them.

From Orwell's May 1945 essay "Notes on Nationalism":

It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.

The more things are different, the more they stay the same.

What is striking is how deeply rooted is the Michael Moore school of conspiracy thinking on the US' use of its military.

1 comment:

Ben Bayit said...

While RYBS' psak halacha on relying on the experts for Halachic decsions concerning security issues facing Israel, may have been nice in theory (and perhaps applicable to the apolitical situation of the US Army with which he was intimately familiar) there is simply no way to implement this psak halacha as halacha l'mayseh in Israel. There is TOO much corruption and TOO much politics within the security services and armed forces. Yet there are students of his who will repeat ad infinitum (and ad nauseum sometimes) that one must rely on the "experts" to make these decisions. They will never give thought to the fact that 1) there is a REASONABLE basis for suggesting that some of these opinions are "biased" (or even "bought") and 2) that there are REASONABLE conflicting opinions on these issues.

Orwell was correct about the "experts" - but some people will never see this. I'm sure that most rational, reasonable students of the Rav would never go to a doctor they even remotely thought was corrupt, incompetent, or possibly on the "take". Logically the same should apply to acting on the basis of our security "experts". It's time for the students of RYBS who see themselves as part of the "pikuach nefesh" beit midrash to fess up to the EMPIRICALLY proven (WADR to RAL YBLCT"A) lack of Pikuach Nefesh results of negotiations/accords/re-alignments/etc. vis-a-vis the arabs and admit that their view has now morphed into a "natural law" perspective related to samchut hashilton and has nothing to do with pikuach nefesh nor reliance on security experts. This Natural Law perspective may or may not have been RYBS' view of samchut hashiltonot - but that is a different question.