Twofish's Blog

July 17, 2006

Thinking about George Orwell

Filed under: china, massachusetts institute of technology, politics, Uncategorized — twofish @ 11:43 pm

One of the realizations about reading Mark Latham’s speech is how important privacy and personal space are.  Something that was horrorific about the novel 1984 was how people were constantly been monitored, but we are living in a world in which increasingly people who comment on public policy are being given no expectation of privacy, and this keeps people from commenting on public policy.  The other thing that this does is to create a fear of saying anything at all, which prevents the formation of social capital and civil society.

The other thing that was interesting about the Mark Lantham speech was that he associated the idea of spectacle with the lack of meaning in people’s own lives.  People find their own lives empty and without meaning and this forces people to try to live vicariously through other people lives.  It’s an interesting and useful insight.


There is a particular reason why all of this is significant to me, and why I’m talking about this.  Going back to Leo Strauss.  There is an exoteric reading to these posts, and there is a hidden esoteric meaning.  Someday, if historians are interested in me, they can track dates of certain events and figure out why I’m interested in George Orwell right now, and certainly God can do the coorelations.  But let me tell part of the story and leave the rest blank.

1984 is basically a tragic love story.  It might seem odd to see it that way, but love, hate, politics, and power are all connected.  We love and hate people, institutions, governments, nations.

One problem with quantitative finance is that everything is centered in New York City.  One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is having the family in Austin, and me in NYC, and gradually I ‘vefigured out that the only way that this would work is to have a large telescreen with a high definition video link between Austin and NYC and to have it always on. The problem with normal telecommunication devices is that they require effort to turn on, whereas a lot of the communication that needs to get transmitted is passive.

The thought occurred to me that I just invented the exact device that Orwell mentioned in 1984.  The difference is that my wife and kids are at the other end, but Big Brother, but the purpose is still the same.  To transmit love.  It’s very odd that a lot of thought has been given to transmitting sex over the internet, but almost no thought has been given to the question of how you transmit love.

Which get me to the second piece of the puzzle.  One bit of childhood trauma that I’m still recovering from is the effects of the totalitarian Cultural Revolution on me.  I was ten thousand miles away from the center of all of that, but it effects of that horrible time in history still linger.  The most painful part of growing up in the shadow of the Chinese Civil War and the Cultural Revolution is that I didn’t grow up with anything like normal family relations.  Most “nuclear families” aren’t really nuclear, and you still have social connections with greatparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.  The result of the Chinese Civil War and Cultural Revolution is that I grew up without all of that.  Family just consisted of father, mother, brother, and sister isolated from the rest of the family, in a strange country where not a small number of people dislike you for what you look like.  It’s not an “idyllic childhood.”

(Thinks about how much more one wants to say….)
Reacting to this trauma, explains a lot of my weird personality quirks.  My obsession with law (both social and physical) is an effort to try to impose order on a world which is frightenly chaotic.  I’m interested in universal systems because you could wake up one morning in a strange part of the world with absolutely nothing.

I’ve seen hell.  I haven’t lived in it, but I’ve seen it, and once you’ve seen hell, it’s hard to relate to people who haven’t, and it’s very hard to have them relate to you.  The worst thing about telling these stories is that people have a desire to “fix” you, which is condescending, and futile.

The problem that I have, which is why I’m telling a bit of this story in public, is that I’m figuring out what to leave to my kids.  What do I tell them?  What do I not tell them?  I really don’t know right now.  But I fear is that I end up doing and fixing things, and they won’t quite understand why some of the things that are important to me are important to me.

Another piece….

Sometime, in May 2008, I intend to be on the first direct flight from Taipei to Shanghai, and part of the purpose of this flight will be to ritualisticly reverse the trip that my mother took in 1947 and that my father took in May 1949.  Something that has always been a little painful is to look on the list of destinations on the departure board at Chiang Kai-Shek Airport and not see Bejiing and Shanghai.  It’s as if those places don’t exist.  Even if I can’t get on the flight, seeing those names at CKS (or even better Sungshan Airport) will be significant since it means that I’m not imagining their existence.

And I’m terrified that something bad is going to happen to delay the flight for another fifty years.   The other thing is that even if everything goes according to plan, there is still going to be a lot of sadness involved.  You can ritualistically undo the past.  You can conduct what are in effect purification rituals.  But the past is the past, and what is done cannot physically be undone, and the fact that the past can’t be undone means that when something good happens, it comes with a lot of sadness.

The nice thing about fixing houses or fixing computer programs is that with enough time and money, anything can be fixed.  This isn’t true with people.  Dead is dead.  Gone is gone.

Another piece…..
History doesn’t end.  There is a reason my name is Joseph, and that I named my son Aaron.  But when the Israelites returned to the Promised Land from Egypt, history didn’t end in the Middle East.  The movie ends, the credits roll, but there is a another movie and another story right after it.

Enough pieces of the puzzle for right now…..

Communication is difficult.
I’m very tired right now.


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