Monday, September 22, 2014

University of Orwell

Hey y'all.  Welcome to my experiment.

I read a lot of books, mostly nonfiction.  Even when I do read fiction, I prefer the books that in some way help me learn about real life, such as Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein, or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Lately I've noticed that most of my books run on anti-tyrannical themes, even when I don't directly choose a book on that basis.  For example, I just read a C.S. Lewis biography, and it turns out that his wife Joy was an ex-communist.

The more I read, the more I've realized that I'm on to something.  I'm not sure what right at this moment, but everything I'm studying makes me feel as though I'm on the verge of some great truth, one that will be revolutionary once I figure out what it is.  Revolutionary to myself, in any case.  This came to a head as I wrote my Brave New World review on the subject of pleasure vs. abstinence, and now I've finally decided to turn an inside joke into something with potential.

That truth I'm searching for in some way relates to the nature of control, both of others and of self.  It relates to individualism, and how people are so easily led astray by strange ideas and philosophies, some that seem like nonsense to anyone not taken in, and some as addictive as drugs.  Basically, I want all to be able to assess reality, without losing childlike humility and curiosity.  It's not about being smarter or better than anyone else, but about turning oneself into someone who can only be ruled by God and oneself, not by manipulators, clever liars, and those who appeal to our own egos to get us to think as they do.

Thus, the University of Orwell is born.  It's my imaginary university about the philosophy and politics of control.  In execution, it's a collection of books I feel will teach people the history and psychology of control, all arranged into departments as though they were textbooks.

Why?  Because it's very strange why people do things.  They listen to weak logic and speak as though emotional resonance is equal to thinking and intuition.  Not to mention the people who crave power, and know they can get it.  There's some talk out there of true evil not being real, but how can you say that when so much of it has been present before?  The University of Orwell is here to sharpen the mind, creating a mindset of being an individual, one who will not cave to pressure, or to convenience, when the government or culture at large insists they are wrong.

You'll probably note that a lot of what I put here will have, in one way or another, a relation to communism.  This is for several reasons.  Despite the fact communism has affected billions of lives and still exists today, it's almost never spoken about.  People still think it holds water.  Compare this to Nazism: only anti-social freaks believe in it today, whereas people can still pretend to be civilized while promoting Marxist ideas.

Thing is, communism is symbolic of all tyrannies.  It's the combination of very old cult of personality psychology, with modern ideas of morality and culture blended in.  Every country treats communism differently, as well.  Learning about communism will protect the individual against most forms of political manipulation.  Not that this is going to be all anti-communist works.  If I find something interesting that contemplates the flaws of nazism, I'll get that too, as well as addressing other concepts that are politically manipulative.  For the time being, focusing on communism will probably get the job done.

Each book I read will be organized into "departments" as though the books are curriculum for each area of study.  I don't know if I ever really will create "curriculum", but for now that's how everything's arranged.  There'll also be a library for books that aren't quite appropriate for my purposes, but are good to read.

So what are the qualifications for a book to be entered into the University of Orwell?  For one thing, I have to have read and finished them.  Maybe I'll later find someone I trust who will add books of their own, but for now this is my own personal project.  Secondly, a book must be true, if a nonfiction.  If a book is a fiction, then it must have some sort of intellectual or pragmatic angle that's applicable to life.

Entertainment is not a major concern, but there is a point where if a book is way too dull (and keep in mind that I'm a person who has read the Gulag Archipelago twice through) then it won't be included. But a book would have to be very, very dull to reach that point, and if it's still a good historical reference, it'll get put in the reference library as a resource in case anyone has something specific they want to look up in it.  I haven't formed the reference library yet, but a couple of the books in consideration right now may end up there.

Also, books will be included that are more historical in tone, if they are good summaries of a given national culture.  There's a place in the university for books that are purely philosophical or sociological as well, though sociology is not going to be a major emphasis.  The trouble with sociology is that it's a new science, and there's a limit to how much you can categorize people.  I prefer historical knowledge, as the past is a better judge of humanity than fancy-pants theories.

Let's go ahead and mention a few.  There isn't many right now, but hey, everyone's got to start somewhere.

Literature Department: For fiction works that create discussion and support thought.

1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley -- yeah, I didn't title that last entry as "University of Orwell" for no reason. While Brave New World is not the best book on a storytelling level, it is a book that is a good intellectual starting point.  It's primary value is in establishing that before you defeat anyone's lie, you must first defeat the lies inside yourself.

2. 1984 by George Orwell -- as if this book wasn't going to be included.  This book explains how a maniacal government would manipulate people if it had the power to be involved in the personal lives of millions.

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell -- again, an obvious pick.  It's more or less the same as 1984, but I include it here as well because it's not only more kid-friendly than its counterpart, but also shows the cycle of idealism: the humans, who represent old-fashioned tyrants to the animals, are overthrown and replaced by ideological revolutionary pigs, whose fervor and passion is abused to become the new tyrants of the animals.

4. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis -- this is perhaps a questionable choice, as it's the third of a trilogy and the political themes are sandwiched between theological and science fiction themes which are potentially distracting. Still, I would like it included for now (everything's subject to change) as it emphasizes the structure and mindset of overindulgent idealists.  The strange elements are at least good talking points.

5. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry -- maybe this is just nostalgia talking, but this is a great story.  It's the story of a Danish girl whose family must help save a Jewish family from the Nazis.  Its simplistic, childlike view offers a strange perspective on a dark period, making it a great book for younger kids to understand what oppression really is and what it takes and costs to stop it.

6. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn -- it's exactly what it says on the tin.  This is the story of Ivan Denisovich Shukov, detailing one day out of all the many he must serve before he'll be let out, assuming he doesn't get arrested again on a trumped up charge.  The value in this book is not only its affect on Soviet Russia, but its display of various personalities, each reacting to camp life differently.  It's strangely optimistic for a story of imprisonment and possible death.

General Studies Department: for books about the mind, or about several different countries at once.

1. Type Talk at Work by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen, and Hile Rutledge -- A bit of a strange book to pick you might think.  This is a Myers-Briggs type book, perhaps the best of what I looked at so far.  People claim Myers-Briggs is too generic to help anyone, or so specific it puts people in boxes.  Despite these contradictory objections, it's a relevant way to categorize people, as it doesn't limit one's potential, but reveals it.  Both mine and another friend's reaction towards finding out our types was "I'm not a messed up person, this is how I'm supposed to be, and there's nothing wrong with that."  I chose this book over Please Understand Me and Gifts Differing because it's both non-technical and treats each type equally.

2. Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Caldini -- This is an amazing book that everyone should read.  It's about the manipulation of one's mind, touching on fraternities, salesmen, cult leaders, and prisoner interrogation.  You will never look at writing essays the same way again after reading it.

Russia Department: Yep.  Russia's not only the first communist nation, but a huge landmass.  It gets its own section.

1. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn -- very obvious, for sure.  This is perhaps the greatest non-fiction work of the twentieth century, despite its relative obscurity these days.  This is a testimonial and chronicle of the the Soviet prison camps under Stalin's rule,  It contains the testimony of over two hundred witnesses, and explains every aspect of a prisoner's life, from arrest, to interrogation, trial, camp sentence, escape attempts, and finally to exile.  It's three thick volumes, but worth multiple reads.

2. The "Liberators" by Victor Suvorov -- This is a series of short biographical stories about Suvorov's life as a soldier in the Soviet army.  It's a unique testimonial in that it's not very thick, but illustrates many simple examples of how Soviet life is absurd, both morally and economically.  This is a very nice encapsulation of the problems of communism, so anyone who wants a quick understanding can breeze through this book in a couple of days.

Yes, that's it for now.  I want to find some better histories on Russia, or ones that are good at summarizing the Soviet Union or post-Soviet Union periods.  While Solzhenitsyn's work is good at one aspect of Soviet culture, and The "Liberators" summarizes the flaws of communism well, neither of these books truly represent the Russians as a people or detail how communism came about. Hopefully I can books that cover these topics properly.

European Department: This includes any country west of Russia throughout the rest of Europe. While some of it might be better as a description of Russian activities, I have to draw a dividing line somewhere.  This department is subject to change depending on the kinds of books I find.

1.  My Mind on Trial by Eugen Loebl -- Loebl was a Czechoslovakian politician.  His country was a Soviet satellite, but despite this, Loebl cared only about making his country prosper.  He wasn't anti-communist, yet he was clear-headed enough to know that Soviet economic policies weren't always helpful.  Apparently, his Soviet superiors took offense.  Well, that, and they figured since he was Jewish that he was "obviously" subversive.  While Loebl has some strange economic ideas (good talking points nonetheless), this is a very good chronicle of a mind that is subject to interrogation and made to do exactly what the Soviets wanted of it: to confess crimes Loebl never committed.  Loebl is honest and blunt about his experience, which is very necessary for a book about someone in his position.

...I need to read more books about Europe.

The Americas Department:  Both North and South America.  Again, subject to change.

1. Exposing the Real Che Guevara by Humberto Fontova -- this is the book I refer to in private as my "stupid detector."  Having unfortunately left it cover up while in a public place, I unintentionally invited someone to share her stupid opinion.  To make it worse, she was a racist too.  I'm not a little nervous to show this book in public, but that makes it awesome, if you think about it.  Sometime I want to bring it to a coffeeshop, set it on a table, and then just wait and see what happens.  In any case, the book itself is what it says on the tin: an argument against Che Guevara.  While I'd like more books on the subject, this'll do for now.

The Far East Department:

1. Mao, The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday --  this is perhaps the best biography I've ever read.  The authors are straightforward with their facts, avoid making assumptions, and still never get boring at any point.  It's a rich, rounded biography that discusses in detail the life of Mao Tse Tung, from birth to death.  It cuts off suddenly at the end (as is natural with a death), making the reader desperately want a sequel about what happens next to China.

2. Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan -- This is the personal testimony of the author concerning North Korea, prison life there, and escaping.  It's a great resource to compare to The Gulag Archipelago and see how NK and Russian prison camps differ.  For example, North Korea allows families to stay together, while the Soviet Union went to great lengths to keep them apart. Kang tells his story well, telling his strange story of acclimating to South Korea very well.

3. Korea: the Untold Story of the War by Joseph Goulden -- this is not as much about the Korean War as the title makes it look.  You won't get much in the way of soldier testimonials.  What you will get is an outline of the political situation, both American and Korean, behind the war. It includes segments on General Douglas MacArthur and first Korean President Syngman Rhee.  This is the sort of thing people should read before reading about the Vietnam War.  It puts the later war into perspective.

--- Other Departments in consideration ---
the Middle East/Middle Asian Department:
the Jewish Department:
the Economics Department:

The Library: This is a section for books that aren't part of the "curriculum".  They're here either because they don't quite meet my requirements or have sideways information which makes them a good jumping off point for further study.  If the University of Orwell were a physical university, these would be on the shelves for personal study.

1. Through the Shadowlands by Brian Sibley -- this book is one of the reasons why University of Orwell exists.  I wasn't expecting to learn anything about communism here.  It's just a biography of C.S. Lewis and his wife Joy.  Turns out, however, that Joy and her first husband were former communists.  They left the communist movement because, among other reasons, Joy found that many of them didn't share her genuine desire to help others, despite professing it.

2.  When Character was King by Peggy Noonan -- again, an unexpected biography.  It's about Ronald Reagan, but at one point explains his exposure to communist elements in Hollywood.  Most books refer to the blacklisting of this period as purely paranoid bunk, pushed forward by Joe McCarthy and/or the government.  Reagan, however, found even the mildest of comments spoken about communism could get an immediate negative response.  He witnessed communists pressuring other people, and some even threatened to throw acid on his face.  All in all, the Hollywood aspect of communism is something that has a lot more rhetoric told about it than fact, and I appreciate the addition of personal testimony in this area.

3. Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey -- David Keirsey is a weirdo, as anyone who has read this book will know.  While he makes some good points about Myers-Briggs typology, he also says a lot of weird stuff that gives skeptics pause.  For example, I'm pretty sure that the four temperaments of Myers-Briggs have nothing to do with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  Still, when you ignore all the silly bosh in his introductions, Keirsey does have good things to say about each of the sixteen types.  It's fun to read, but you have to sift the wheat from the chaff.  There's also some objections about this book favoring Rationals and Idealists.  This bias seems unintentional, to emphasize rarer personalities and make them feel better about being uncommon, I suppose.

4. Saint Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton -- Maybe this should be a part of the curriculum, I don't know.  For now, it's going to hang out in the library until I make a full decision on its behalf.  I want to finish reading it first.  In any case, the true way to resist being manipulated by others is to be so dedicated to a purpose that no one can sway you from it, for good or for ill.  Saint Francis, the stubborn asceticist, is the perfect example of a person whom neither politics nor social pressures can bend or break.  Chesterton's commentary is interesting, though does suffer from being a bit too fanciful to be clear.  Old conventions of the english language, I guess.

5. Life After Life by Dr. Raymond Moody, Jr. -- this book has nothing to do with power.  It's just a book about one doctor's evidence for and testimonials of life after death.  It's taken from the stories of those who have died, either on the operating table or at home, and were able to be resuscitated later. You'd be surprised how many people are willing to deny the numerous testimonials, despite the fact that there are so many of them.  I include this in the library because it emphasizes the testimony of reality over the too-simplistic conceptions of the human mind.  Too often people get an idea in their head and refuse to let it go, not realizing that they haven't sufficiently compared it to reality.

6. Wild Swans by Jung Chang -- While this book does touch on communist issues, it's more of a biography of three generations of Chinese women.  A really good one, to be sure.  It's something I highly recommend, especially for female readers who are only just starting to get involved in nonfiction.

7. The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield -- heh, I acted like a complete fangirl to get the author's autograph on this book.  It's that good.  It's the story of the Guinness beer company and the family that created it.  Did you know it's over three hundred years old?  Guinness is responsible for a lot of good in Dublin and all around the world.  While Mansfield is a bit more emotional and detailed a writer as I might like, he still tells the story well.  This is the story of individuality done right, in a way that blesses others.  And it proves that even beer can be an instrument of God.

8. Right Turns by Michael Medved -- at first glance, this might seem like one of those hyper-political conservative books that's aimed more to convince people of a point than to actually talk about history. However, I ended up with a free copy, so I read it and found out that it's really more of a biography. Sure, the guy is a conservative, but the book itself is more about his personal life than manipulative political rants.  However, Medved has has a really interesting personal life, being involved in politics as long as he has.  This book is a reliable means to learn about Jewish American perspectives from a guy who takes his ancestry seriously, and as a gentile, I learned a lot from it that I might not have otherwise known.  It also includes helpful information about how American politics works, and positive insight on Hilary Clinton.

9.  The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn -- you're going to see this guy's name show up a lot in the future, more than likely.  The First Circle is a realistic fiction story about the Soviet gulag's sharashkas, or "islands of paradise" within the Soviet prison system.  They exist for the most technologically and scientifically inclined prisoners to invent things to prove Soviet superiority. Solzhenitsyn avoided talking about sharashkas in The Gulag Archipelago because he intended to write this book.  While that makes sense, the information would probably been better conveyed in a nonfiction format, especially since it contains a lot of references that non-Russians are likely to miss. Nonetheless, this is a dramatic story that portrays the knife's edge a prisoner lives on to stay in the one prison that doesn't starve him or work him to death.

10. Stalin by Edvard Radzinsky -- I've had a ton of trouble finding a good book about Stalin.  The primary trouble is that records of the Soviet period have only been accessible after the fall of the Soviet Union, but the biographers most interested in writing about Stalin would have wanted to do so while the Union was still around.  This biography is isn't much, but it's something.  The writer, unfortunately, uses overly dramatic narrative.  He keeps ending sections with "his lengthy game of chess had ended in victory" and "if Kamenev had only known what an inferno there was in the Georgian's soul.  How much he now understood.  And how much he had changed."  I'll include it here because it's best to have lots of biographies of controversial figures around.  It's just easy to imagine that there's better Stalin biographies out there.

Next are books up for consideration.  Note that I have to finish a book before including it on any list above, even if it's a classic like Plato's Republic.   Actually, maybe I'll have to find a specific edition of Plato's Republic before I include it.  The one I have right now is abridged, which is really annoying because it cuts out a debate I really wanted to read.  If I can find a nice edition, I'll include that. Here's a brief list of books I want to get to, but haven't read or read enough of to decide one way or another.  They're in no particular order.

- Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin
- Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
- The Republic of Plato by Plato.
- The Prince by Machiavelli
- The Venona Secrets by Herbert Romerstein and Eric Breindel
- The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire by Brian Crozier
- 90 Minutes at Entebbe by William Stevenson
- The Two Koreas by Don Oberdorfer
- The Russians by Hedrick Smith
- Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- Saddam's Secrets by Georges Sada
- The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality by Ludwig von Mises
- The Case for Israel by Alan Derschowitz
- Sources of Korean Tradition by Yongho Ch'oe, Peter H. Lee, and Wm. Theodore de Bary
- Great Thinkers of the Western World, edited by Ian P. McGreal.
- The Sword and the Shield by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin
- China's Turbulent Quest by Harold C. Hinton
- The Character of Nations by Angelo M. Codevilla
- The Black Book of Communism, written by many, consulting editor Mark Kramer
- The Red Flag: A History of Communism by David Priestland
- Terrorism: from Robespierre to Arafat by Albert Parry
- Any number of books by Thomas Sowell

I own most of these books, and have access to the few I don't.  That's a good starting point, I think. Man, I've got so much reading ahead of me.

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