1984 in 2008 - Bill Ayers Speaks
by J Ro, Sat Dec 06, 2008 at 07:43:09 AM EST
I know references to 1984 are cliche, but the editorial today by Bill Ayers in the New York Times brings it home:
Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama's campaign, his opponents invented a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. The refrain was a question: "What do we really know about this man?"
I was cast in the "unrepentant terrorist" role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the "Two Minutes Hate" scene from George Orwell's "1984," when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.
This happened a lot during the campaign. Reverend Wright, Tony Rezko (that one never really did catch on), and towards the end, Barack Obama himself - they were yelling, "Kill him!"
And it's happened a lot in our society, both under Bush and more broadly. A government spying on its citizens. A country in constant, often meaningless war. When Osama Bin Laden's face flashes on screen, it's almost a literal Two Minutes of Hate.
How does this get changed? Ayers has his solution:
With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.
Can Obama move us away from 1984-style governance? I really hope so. But as Ayers says, this stuff - suspicion, sound bites, hatred, violence - it's part of our culture. Moving away from an incurious, reactionary culture towards something else is more than one man can do in a lifetime. And besides, this change can't really be legislated - it's going to take every one of us, individually.
I'm not saying we should move backwards and use cultures of the past as our models - technology and modernity have forever closed off that route - but we should move somewhere new. And I'm not saying this process hasn't started already. The day after the election, K Street in Washington DC (where I work) just felt different.
Still, there's a long way to go and I'm not sure the Ayers solution, sitting it out, is really appropriate for everyone. We're part of this country and this culture whether we like it or not. So, what else can be done?