It took me a while to get around to reading this classic by George Orwell. It is an incredibly short book, so if you've also been putting it off, youIt took me a while to get around to reading this classic by George Orwell. It is an incredibly short book, so if you've also been putting it off, you can get to it soon.
The historical context in this allegorical tale is the rise of Marxism in Europe, especially of the figures Stalin and Trotsky. The animals on a farm decide to overthrown their human owners to create their own society where from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. We all know how this worked out in the history of Russia (and China, and elsewhere), and this book clearly maps this arc, as the revolutionaries trade one unfair regime for another.
Orwell's 1984 gave us lots of phrases. Animal Farm gave us a couple, too, and you may recognize them as your read them.
Some may consider the book dated. After all, any serious attempts at pure Marxism are gone forever. Every first-world nation has some mixed system of socialism and capitalism. A balance has been struck, that of free(ish) trade backed with a safety net, regulation, and government-built infrastructure. In America we like to toot our horn at how non-socialist we are compared to Europe, but really it's just a matter of degrees and implementation. None of us are willing to see people die in the streets, so we do a little (more or less) take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.
This book warns of dangers that one might think are long past. But I would argue otherwise -- not that I expect a sudden Marxist uprising, nor do I expect a slow takeover by the commies. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Towards the end of Animal Farm, I was suddenly struck by how this book could equally apply to those living in a semi-socialist society (like ours) who decide to buck off The Man (the government) in favor of a new system (unfettered capitalism) where everyone supposedly owns more of their own stuff and makes more of their own choices, but end up with the same old oppression.
This cycle is not limited to Marxism - the powerful will try to grab or keep power using lies. A century ago, it was, "Capitalism is bad, socialism is good!" Capitalism indeed was corrupt and abusive on many levels. So socialism rose (even in America).
Decades go by, and as socialism became a powerful idea and attracted the powerful, the chant became, "Socialism is bad, capitalism is good!" Socialism is reigned in and balanced now (what remains is that which was successful, like Social Security here, and NHS in England). Yet the refrain keeps being shouted. Socialism hasn't been a danger since the late 70s, yet Socialism is still the Great Enemy, safety nets have been and continue to be removed, and regulations have been and continue to be thrown from the shoulders of the rich.
All these years, the farm animals keep on getting screwed, believing one day it is the socialists screwing them, and the next, the capitalists screwing them. (These days, think Tea Party vs the Occupy Movement.) Sometimes, these groups are right (more or less), until they push the pendulum too far in the other direction.
And usually, it is the group they are taught to love who is really screwing them (or will eventually be screwing them). It is the corrupt and those who have enough power who can teach the people who to love and hate.
Orwell offers no solutions in Animal Farm. Like 1984, this is merely a cautionary tale. One we can apply today. We should always keep an eye on both the government AND business to see which is making a grab for the most power in any given year. We can love capitalism for its benefits, and hate it for its flaws. Likewise, we can love socialism for its benefits, hate it for its flaws. If we can break the shackles of blindness and ignorance, we can fix the flaws as they arise, and admit to the benefits of both systems.
We live in a democratic republic, which means we have the freedom to keep the powerful and corrupt in check. As long as we're not deluded by the lies. ...more
One of the better books about cults, as told from the secular perspective (as opposed to the dogmatic perspective). This is a collection of essays andOne of the better books about cults, as told from the secular perspective (as opposed to the dogmatic perspective). This is a collection of essays and papers from some of the top researchers in the field, many of them ex-cult members themselves. I have referenced this book again and again when writing presentations, websites, and blog posts on the topic.
I especially enjoyed the story of the woman who infiltrated a Moonies recruitment camp. Even though she understood the mechanisms of coercive persuasion, and understood the damage this group has done to many people, she still came away with warm feelings towards the group.
I have read many books on cults. But if you only want to read one, this is quite possibly the best all-round. (It competes closely with "Captive Minds, Captive Hearts", which is better for ex-members of cults who wish to recover.)...more
[Updated: I have come back to finish reading this book, and have completely revised my opinion on it. It's age places it smack in the middle of the Co[Updated: I have come back to finish reading this book, and have completely revised my opinion on it. It's age places it smack in the middle of the Cold War, which means it's closeness to the topic makes for remarkable insights into political mind control and state totalitarianism. This time around, I'm very much enjoying it, tho I'm taking it in small bite-sized chunks because yes, it's still rather dry. But also very heavy and thought-provoking. The parallels to modern politics and religions are incredible.]
This is one of the earliest books written about mind control. As such, it is a valuable book to have in your collection, if you are extremely interested in this topic. However, given its age, the information is out-dated. Also, it is very scholarly and dry. Difficult to get through. I have not completed reading this book, and I may never, unless I decided to dig into this topic further than I already have.
It is based on studies done after brainwashed POWs returned from Korea after the Korean war. These American soldiers had come to identify with, and defend their captors, even though they had been poorly treated. It was the beginning of the realization that people could be "brainwashed". This research proceeded later studies based on the New Religious Movements of the 1960s, many of which came to be understood as cults or high demand groups....more