Mr. Dame stopped and stared in horror at his apartment number. He was certain that O’Brien, armed with his worst fears, would be waiting for him in Apartment 101. He stood, keys in hand, staring anxiously at his door. It wasn’t until he heard the heavy footfalls of an upstairs neighbor inevitably approaching that he injected his key into the lock. He shoved open the door and stepped into the near-darkness.
The man was wearing a dark sable suit, almost inconspicuous in the low light of a lamp that Mr. Dame did not own.
“You…” stumbled Mr. Dame, unaware of how to describe his confusion to himself. Once a suitably awkward silence was well underway, he feebly dribbled out “Are not O’Brien?”
The Man looked up at Mr. Dame slowly, then allowed a pleased smile of infinite superiority to crawl across his lips, ringed by a slight and sharp black goatee. His grey eyes didn’t glow menacingly, but rather stared into Mr. Dame with the deadly calculation of a shark — a shark with particularly high cheekbones and a wickedly sharp widow’s peak, but a shark nonetheless. “I am not O’Brien,” he confirmed, as if the realization that he wasn’t O’Brien was pleasing to him as well. His voice was as rich as velvet, as smooth as silk, and as cold as Saturn.
“Then you’re not here to torture me with my worst fears?”
“I am not here to torture you with your worst fears,” the man agreed.
“Even though we’re in room 101?” asked Mr. Dame, wondering if his mind was playing more tricks on him than usual.
The man nodded patiently. “Even though we’re in room 101,” he said.
Mr. Dame stared at the man, wondering if this meant that not everybody knew what was in Room 101. The possibility that he wouldn’t encounter O’Brien lurking in the dark recesses of his subconsciousness hadn’t even occurred to him. But, he thought, why should he be consciously surprised of his subconsciousness serving up something other than what it was thinking to expect? His mind chanced upon Sofia’s remark about the Brotherhood: the Party didn’t want loyalty to the Party, but wanted loyalty to their nut-job version of power. The question wasn’t of a specific what that was being served, but rather why, with the why being power. Focusing on the issue of power, his mind reoriented itself. “You are Niccolo Machiavelli,” he said with a degree of confidence that surprised himself.
The man smiled patiently. “I am Niccolo Machiavelli-ish,” he almost agreed. “And we are going to talk about power. Among other things, I suspect, because that’s what you expect you don’t understand about 1984,” he added with a knowing purr that would’ve struck envy into a Cheshire cat.
“Okay then,” said Mr. Dame, quite pleased that it wasn’t O’Brien after all, but still unnerved by the Niccolo Machiavelli-ish man’s aura. What did Machiavelli-ish even mean for a figment of his imagination? It seemed a calculated evasion, but it was delivered so baldly that it really couldn’t have evaded even the most stationary of intellects, to which end it seemed true. And while O’Brien was supposed to have instant rapport and be a confidant and confessor despite being evil underneath, this man seemed to be bathed in cold contempt and condescension, despite his verbal tone being quite genial and forthcoming. Mr. Dame stood, struck not by what he saw but by the dissonance between what he had expected and what he had dreamed up.
The man was still smiling at him. The smile was wide and full of teeth. Mr. Dame suspected that the man might be able to unhinge his jaw like a snake, which would help him in the process of biting off somebody’s head and swallowing it whole.
“You are perhaps confused as to why I am not O’Brien?” the man queried gently, leaning forward to start the conversation proper, resting his elbows on his knees and his fingertips gently against each other. “It has to do with the limitation of power I have over you. Please,” he added, as if finally noticing that Mr. Dame was still standing in the door with his coat on and bag in hand, “come and sit. It will be a more comfortable conversation if you do.”
Mr. Dame almost put his bag down, but then paused. The man claimed to have limited power; what did that mean? “What if I say no?” Mr. Dame asked the Machiavelli-ish man.
The man shrugged. “Well I expect your arm will get tired, and then your legs will get tired and you’ll be all cross and we won’t have a particularly nice conversation after all,” he said with awkwardly forced geniality. “So please,” he added, “do come and sit.” Then he made the smile with the teeth.
Mr. Dame finished setting down his bag making a particular note of the relief his arm felt to be free of its weight and slid out of his coat, letting it slump to the floor like a discarded reptile skin over the bag. He sat facing the dark-suited man.
“There, see? Nothing bad has happened,” said the man, “your head is still intact.” Pausing to consider this statement, he amended it, “Or at least on your shoulders.”
“So your not being O’Brien limits your power?” Mr. Dame asked the man, wondering how effectively he could consciously focus on what he didn’t consciously know.
“That is, obliquely, the first interesting thing about power. Specifically, the first interesting thing about power is that it is easiest to exercise when all parties have their expectations aligned on who is doing what to whom. Knowing that I wasn’t what you had expected, it was important for me to start the conversation by identifying your new expectations of me so that I could exercise power over you with your compliance, rather than your confused resistance as you tried to maintain your usual behavior.”
“That was setting expectations?” asked Mr. Dame, not seeing the connection to conventional embodiments of power like congresses or cops.
“That was setting expectations,” replied the man patiently.
“So you could gain power over me?” asked Mr. Dame, still not seeing the connection.
“So you could grant me power over you,” replied the man with a slight correction. “Think back to when Winston and Julia are captured,” he suggested. “They expected that they would be captured for months leading up to their actual capture. But when it happened, it was always Winston and Julia describing what the Party voice would then confirm. Winston suggests that the house is surrounded and, lo, the Party decrees that the house is surrounded. Not because the house is necessarily surrounded, but rather because the surrounding of the house is what Winston expects of the Party and in order to retain its power over him, the Party must meet his expectations. At this level, power is not something that one person does to another, but rather the agreement between them that one should do something in the future — distant or immediate — to the other. The part which is almost impossible to understand is that the fulfillment of expectations are necessary to maintain the good form of the relationship, even when the relationship is malformed.” The Machiavelli-ish man cocked his head slightly, eyes fixed on Mr. Dame, calculating the amount of time required to grasp this concept.
“Wait a second,” said Mr. Dame foggily, “are you implying that the Party’s jack-booted thugs were beating the crap out of Winston because Winston expected the Party to have jack-booted thugs beat the crap out of him?”
“Indeed. That is exactly what O’Brien means when he tells Winston ‘It was all contained in that first act. Nothing has happened that you did not foresee.’ O’Brien says he spent years studying Winston before the third part of 1984. He went so far as to write a book that matched Winston’s expectations precisely — even the bits Winston didn’t read!” the dark-robed man explained, his smile waxing and waning with the cadence of his syllables, but underpinned with a rictus-mask quality: never extinguishing, not even flickering in its sense of superiority. “But it would be wrong to pigeon-hole the Party to Winston’s expectations;” he continued, “the glorious thing about the Party is that they work so hard to meet everybody’s expectations. It isn’t just ‘You know what’s in Room 101, Winston,’ but rather ‘Everyone knows what’s in Room 101.’ Similarly, when the enemy changes from Eurasia to Eastasia and back again, all of the previous reality revisions are undone and re-done again. What is the point? War is peace, so there’s no point in changing historical articles or even re-labeling the maps… that nobody looks at: the world is in a state of permanent war. But the point is to fulfill the workers’ fundamental expectation: there is always more work to do.”
“Those are some messed up expectations,” said Mr. Dame feebly.
“And yet they must be met. It is the decorum, it is the ethos, it is what shows that the Party can be trusted — if only as sadistic pathological liars to the people closest to them.”
“Well what other expectation could Winston and Julia have had against the sadistic pathological liars?” asked Mr. Dame. “I mean, they considered fleeing into the proles but they knew that wouldn’t work.”
“No, they expected that wouldn’t work. They expected that the party would come for them. And the party is not one to fail expectations, so they were right: it wouldn’t have worked. But when Winston is out on the town expecting that he can get away with minor infractions temporarily despite expecting that nervous facial tics get people executed — well, he’s right all over the place. In most stories, this would be the author exercising his authority over the world that keeps Winston accidentally alive, but — as O’Brien demonstrates at the end — Winston was right: he was only getting away with the minor infractions temporarily.”
A bizarre thought struck Mr. Dame: “So you’re saying that if Winston and Julia had expected that they could slip away and become proles because they expected that they were really just cogs in the Party’s big machine, then the Party would’ve fulfilled their expectations by letting them go?”
“If they had expected to be replaced just like cogs in a machine, then yes — I suspect that the party would’ve replaced them just like cogs in a machine.” The man paused to think. “Let us compare,” he suggested, “the Party to your federal legislature. Do you know what your representative in congress is doing for you currently?”
“Representing my interests, I would hope,” replied Mr. Dame, uncertain as to how this tangent would resolve itself.
“No,” said the Machiavelli-ish man, the fluctuations of his smile slowing as he actively practiced patience, “that’s what the CNN opinion poll is doing. Allow me to simplify the question: what is congress doing?”
“Nothing. They say it’s total gridlock.”
“Congress is doing nothing and yet you’ve re-elected your representative how many times now?” asked the man, gently leading Mr. Dame on.
“But that’s not the point,” replied Mr. Dame, realizing what the next step was, “because he generally shares my values and ideologies, so he’ll do his best to defend my interests from the lunatics and lobbyists. I vote for him because he serves as my proxy.”
“And how do the people who are represented by the lunatics feel about this arrangement, hmmm?” suggested the man. “Your congress is quite populated with sadistic patsies that all congregate, disavow all of their peers that don’t share their ideological purity, and then go back to their constituencies and declare how true they were to their principles despite the ever-present danger of actually doing anything relevant. And yet the constituencies keep on voting the same people and the same sort of people back into congress. Why is that, do you suppose?” he asked, his smile spreading to reveal all of the teeth again.
Mr. Dame felt the ground crumble under his thought process. “That would be because we expect them to defend our values and ideologies more than we expect them to actually do anything for us?” he said, realizing his complicity in this bizarre arrangement.
“Oh yes, very good,” the man said, then paused and waved his finger not-quite sternly at nothing in particular. “Or is it?” he wondered out loud. He leaned toward Mr. Dame and dropped his voice to a loud whisper. “The truth is that people know to actually expect nothing so they aren’t disappointed when the congress does nothing. If they wanted something from the federal legislature, it’s everybody else’s representatives that have dropped the ball; their representative very precisely met their expectations of staying true to ideology rather than, well… doing anything.” He paused briefly to let the point sink in. “By and large, the pattern is good for teaching people to not rely on the federal government, but it does seem a dreadful waste of state resources.”
“But how is that exercising power?” Mr. Dame asked, suspecting he was missing something already.
“Oh, it isn’t,” the man assured him. “But they’re given power over and over again on the precise belief that they won’t exercise it. As soon as a bunch of lobbyists band together to try to push legislation through, people complain: either the legislation is rotten through and through because it disagrees with their ideology, or a compromise made in the legislation to make it less odious to its opponents corrupts it to the core disappointing the people who had hoped to be in favor of it. As a result, the exercise of power against the expectation that no power will be exercised marks the beginning of the end of a political career. As a cog in the legislative machine, it is more important that they fulfill their role than that they achieve something spectacular. Similarly, if a congress-person puts their genitals upon the Internet — either by bad photograph or bad legislation — they will find their career cut short, not because it is unusual for genitals to be placed upon the Internet, but because they were expected to do nothing at all.
“If you compare that to an executive power, such as the police,” he continued, “the trend is similar. When the police had deadly force, they were expected to not use it. Use of deadly force would break expectations, lead to paperwork and lawsuits, that sort of thing. But now they have non-deadly force with tasers and pepper-spray and the like to use to ensure that the unexpected use of deadly force doesn’t become necessary… against college students sitting around or old women in bed. The non-lethal weapons are being used far more than guns ever were because an expectation of their use, rather than their restraint, is being created — not just by the people or police, but also by the perpetrators.”
“Don’t taze me, bro,” mumbled Mr. Dame while wondering if Winston had ever tried saying that to O’Brien.
“Precisely. But in closer relation to 1984, in ‘The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock,'” said the man as his train of thought apparently jumped one set of tracks and neatly landed on another, “Prufrock’s weakness is not inherent in himself, but rather on the part of himself that he has externalized to his expectations of the woman: that she will reject him. Thus she has no rational choice but to reject him, if he would actually ever offer her the chance. That he doesn’t is either a flaw in his character or a flickering possibility of redemption in that he’s not so foolish as to offer to somebody else what he himself would reject. But let us suppose, for the sake of discussion, that he does address the woman. While the woman might try to break past those expectations and either accept Alfred — or take him back, depending on your reading of it — she will always be fighting against his practiced and ingrained self-expectation of incapacity. This, then, is the irony: he does not trust himself to be a complete individual, and has thus externalized a portion of his completeness to another person whom he expects to be rejected by on account of his incompleteness, to which end he will never be complete because he expects that the externalized portion will never be entirely given to him.” His smile, which had been running with coy exposition from politicians to pepper spray to Prufrock, suddenly melted away into an underlying despair. “And that’s why Prufrock’s lack of confidence would sow mistrust in any relationship he was in, even as he repeated ‘You complete me’ over and over again in the vain hope that it might not always be a lie.”
It hadn’t been an accusation. It was delivered as gently as the ripples from a gnat’s feet landing on the surface of a marsh. And yet the truth of it was the water of the marsh of his history, and Mr. Dame was under it, pressed down by the weight and unable to breathe with lungs collapsed by the liquid chill — unable to swim toward the light he could vaguely see through the murk, shining from a small lamp he didn’t own past the dark-suited Machiavelli-ish man who seemed to be fading into shadow. Panic saturated his body, the pounding of his heart asserting his body’s will to live regardless of what his addled brain might be doing. He began to choke on the brackish water, his body struggling harder to get to the dim light. This won’t work was the first thought that came back to him as he felt his flesh convulsing quite independent of his mind. Winston came up next, a vision of Winston being tortured by O’Brien in the Ministry of Love, a place full of lights. Mr. Dame realized that he was still staring fixedly at the small lamp, the light being a nominal symbol of hope. And yet it was just sitting there while he violently asphyxiated. That’s not my lamp. Focusing all of his conscious will on his shoulders, he strained them counter-clockwise, turning his upper body to the left, away from the light that wasn’t his and into the darkness that was — where he gasped for breath. He felt the blood thumping through his head as little sparks danced across his retinas. Slowly, his vision adjusted and he could once again see the Machiavelli-ish man sitting nearer to him now, with his smile reinstated in its proper place across his face.
“It was all contained in that first act. Nothing has happened that you did not foresee,” quoted the man.
Mr. Dame did not form a cogent response, settling instead for rapid shallow breathing and hoping that his heart rate would return to normal. He stared at the Machiavelli-ish man who claimed that he wasn’t there to torture him, but flashbacks of Alfred’s cowardly sneering face disrupted his focus. Why am I still seeing Alfred? Mr. Dame pretended to wonder while How can I make our similarities go away? hemmed the periphery of his mind, unable to be admitted.
“But I am pleased to see that you’ve made it back,” the dark-robed man suggested, as if uncertain how to re-gain Mr. Dame’s attention. His voice settled into a reassuringly velvety purr. “But your breathing still seems a bit off. Do you expect that’s air you’re breathing now?” He stared at Mr. Dame, waiting for Mr. Dame’s focus to congeal upon the allusion before continuing. “The film The Matrix is all about — from a certain angle, exclusively about — the divergence of expectations and power. In the scene where Agent Smith is interrogating Morpheus, he explains how a failure of expectations undermines power: the original matrix was supposed to be a utopia where everybody was happy and content in the power structure the machines created, but since humans are evolved for survival in a mortal world, nobody could expect or believe in a utopia so they kept on waking up. But there’s another scene which I much prefer, when Neo meets the Oracle. And the Oracle looks at Neo and understands who he is through and through. And then she takes the truth and she shapes it to meet his expectations: ‘This is where I say… but you already know what I’m going to say.’ She does this because she sees that he has entered with expectations of himself that she can’t change just by telling him the truth. She has to say something else to put him on a path to change his expectations of himself before he can realize his full potential and accept that truth. It is a beautiful scene for seeing the ritual of power through the interplay of expectations, far more enjoyable than Winston and Julia being captured.
“There is another instance of the power of expectations in 1984, an instance which is guilty of being evil only by its association to everything around it: the morning exercises. People are expected to participate, expected to perform, and — except for the lack of warmth and nourishment, undermined by cigarettes and gin to be sure — expected to therefore be healthier than they would be if left to their own sedentary devices. Yet there was a key point which Orwell made, an odd sentence that stuck out and then flitted away in with the turn of the page: when the instructor expected Winston to touch his toes when he was expecting his toe-touching to be observed, he actually was able to touch his toes. Imagine that.
“But often the expectations that people have of themselves are against some external measure. There is no identifiable person wielding the power, just a rule that gets set and then everybody expects that it is that way for a reason, and they either measure up to it successfully or they fail. One of the key messages of the film Gattaca was that the power of expectations can inhibit people from pushing their limits and stretching their boundaries. It was good of your students to reference the film, even if they didn’t catch that point at this stage of their lives, where they settle for a 4.0 GPA because there’s nothing goading them to do better, but rather pile on more spurious whatnot until they collapse from exhaustion.”
Mr. Dame listened to the robed man shifting from point to point, sliding from example to example, sussurating from tangent to tangent until that last detail came out: it was his concern for his students being fed right back to him, a reminder that this Machiavelli-ish man was the product of ideas that has accumulated in his head. He wanted to be jealous of the man’s mind and voice, envious of his granite competence and bastion of superiority, but beyond the jealousy Mr. Dame realized that he wanted to aspire to be more like this man. It was the Alfred-like fragment of him that was disavowing these buried qualities just because they were buried — so Alfred had to be exorcised.
“In class,” Mr. Dame said, rejoining the conversation with a sudden eagerness, hoping to catch the approval of the Machiavelli-ish better-self, “I was caught off-guard when Diane and Joey contributed deep and relevant information today. I mean, Diane was talking about how Nazis used keen aesthetic sense to make people aspire to join them, while Joey turns around and is talking about using AI masquerading as people to make the actual people think they should be somewhere doing something — like going to a Nazi rally. I hadn’t expected that they could do that, so when they did… I felt even more powerless than usual,” he confessed, realizing that his rejoinder had not panned out as well as he’d hoped.
The Machiavelli-ish man relaxed slightly, perhaps relieved that he was no longer alone in his discussion. “Ah,” he said, “that would be them breaking out of the tyranny of your low expectations. Good for them. Why shouldn’t they be smarter, even if it makes you uncomfortable?”
“Well, I like to think that I’m in control of some of my class.”
“Aren’t you?” the man queried. “True, you do feel intellectually outclassed by — as of today — each and every one of the kids that is participating in the discussions. And you feel like you’re not covering enough ground based on other syllabuses you’ve read, and the principal is reminding you of it. And yet” — he paused, sighing with something that almost sounded like admiration but may have just been the strain of acknowledging quality discovered in a mere mortal — “your students are aspiring to understand and comprehend, to interrogate and delve, to tear down and rebuild unlike any your school has seen before. And that is why you still have a job. Ironically, it’s not what you did but rather what you’ve been not doing — and what you’re currently lamenting not doing.”
Mr. Dame stared uncertainly. It sounded true and rational, but deep down he knew it was him telling himself this. And yet, if he couldn’t accept a compliment from himself, who could he accept a compliment from?
“That said,” continued the Machiavelli-ish man, immediately fulfilling Mr. Dame’s deeper expectations, “you did completely neglect Sofia’s crucial point of the author’s context when reading the book. Orwell was coming down to the end of his life and he had a lot of issues to get cleared from his head. You are, I trust, familiar with his piece ‘Shooting an Elephant’ from when he was in Burma?”
“That’s where he’s in Burma and the locals use social pressure to get him to put down an elephant even though it’s against the interest of Britain, isn’t it?” replied Mr. Dame, beginning to speculate on where this would go.
“Quite. The helplessness of the ruling class in the face of overwhelming social pressure from below would linger with him for the rest of his days and make him wonder how an empire could be remote and sustained at the same time. But if you look at 1984 as Orwell’s thought experiment on how to solve sociological problems such as he encountered in Burma, then there are three important elements to note: first, the use of surveillance and betrayal to put cracks in any social pressure and prevent any unapproved clusterings; second, the ruling class being paradoxically subject to more structural oppression than the disregarded underclass; third — and I’m pleased by this — the difficulty of setting up a colony in a far-removed territory which is also culturally alienated from the ruling class.”
“What? How’d you get that last one?” asked Mr. Dame, not remembering anything about the behavior of the colonies in contested territory other than they didn’t like getting blown up particularly much.
“It’s a little detail of 1984 that gets mentioned discussing the formation of the super-states: the United States annexed Great Britain. Which is described as a good strategic idea in The Prince. They have much the same culture and language to make integration of forces simple, and holding Great Britain allows the Americas to put weapons within spitting distance of Eurasia’s western frontier while risking… an island. But the real reason to have militarized colonies is so that the home territory doesn’t have to host the short-leashed fighters that are eager to do some damage.”
“But they had an English Socialism revolution that gave birth to Ingsoc which Goldstein said was… betrayed…” said Mr. Dame, with the perplexity of a man who discovers that the jigsaw puzzle he is working on is suddenly a couple hundred pieces larger than advertised.
“Betrayed by whom? To what? These questions are relevant, but it’s quite important to the facade that is the Party that they are not answered,” said the man with smiling grandiosity. “But between you and me,” he whispered, “I would speculate that America saw the revolution, and bankrolled it, and colonized England in that way. Once England was reduced to a military colony, it simply becomes a matter of preventing information from getting to the little island revealing to anybody that life elsewhere is really getting along quite nicely, thank you.”
“And why would America adopt ‘English Socialism’ as its sole party if it had conquered them?” wondered Mr. Dame rhetorically, wondering on a higher level why he hadn’t noticed such a gaffe earlier. “After all,” he added, “if the Stalinized English are so incompetent that they can’t even make boots or razors, then how could they ever build a floating fortress? Things must be different elsewhere for anything to be possible, but as soon as anything is possible… well… anything is possible.”
“Quite,” said the man, seemingly pleased with the progress. “In this way, 1984 resolved many of the issues that Orwell had been wrestling with since he felt forced into shooting that elephant. Just like you wrote poetry, he wrote this. You can see the similarities in their unpleasantness, I’m certain.” Mr. Dame scowled at the cavalier delivery of the insult, but the robed man appeared to not notice. “But this takes a delightful turn with the realization that Orwell’s failure in Burma was reality control over the locals. And this is the same problem that Brutus and his peers — honorable men, all — faced in Julius Caesar. But because Shakespeare loved and respected them in their courage and conviction, they passed their difficulties with reality control to Shakespeare… a problem which Shakespeare would have Fortinbras overcome in Hamlet, with Horatio spinning a narrative of the fall of Denmark that would confuse the previous expectations of the populous and plant the seed of a new expectation: that they should be thankful for the government they now had. In the same way, the imperialist totalitarianism of 1984 has the fictional government exercising reality control over the populous to ensure that they can’t put undue pressure on the people executing the will of the government. Or executing traitors, since they’re often the same thing,” concluded the robed man.
“So you’re saying that the problems Julius Caesar had with Shooting an Elephant were resolved by Hamlet in 1984?”
“Indeed,” said the Machiavelli-ish man, his grin turning sly. “After all, all of this has happened before… and it will all happen again. Consider the advice written in The Prince: ‘A prince does not spend much on colonies, for with little or no expense he can send them out and keep them there, and he offends a minority only of the citizens from whom he takes lands and houses to give them to the new inhabitants; and those whom he offends, remaining poor and scattered, are never able to injure him.’ America’s subversion of Ingsoc crushes and shatters the British people leaving their island perpetually vulnerable on the front lines of an ongoing war. And the crushing of Britain was necessary because of their historical liberty: ‘he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget.’ And that is the reason that capitalists were demonized by Ingsoc despite an utter lack of evidence — indeed, a very resistance to proof — that they had been eradicated from the new empire of America. Ingsoc, as a tool of colonial control, had to make people forget their ancient privileges to keep them complacent to the status quo. To that point, did anything strike you as particularly missing from Orwell’s vision of England? Something that would’ve been surprising if he’d mentioned it in relation to the United States, perhaps?”
Mr. Dame blinked with the realization that he’d been staring into a cognitive blind spot for the past several minutes: “The English royal family — they didn’t exist, not even in anybody’s memories! No princes, no king, no queen. What ever became of Buckingham Palace?”
The Machiavelli-ish man grinned wide and predatory. “Very good,” he said, “And that relates back to the assertion that ‘when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree in making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily.’ The royal family is eliminated, new rulers take power, but because the new rulers aren’t royal, the Magna Carta has no bearing on the new social contract. Which is good, since the point behind the new rulers is to distract from the fact that they’re not really the rulers, they’re just a facade for the American empire; a facade that is more easily maintained if their control is limited to a small portion of the population and there’s lots of apparently senseless in-fighting and backstabbing to render the higher power structure totally opaque. And these are just the basic pieces of advice that Orwell may have been observing that the British empire simply did not take.”
“But was Orwell observing any of that?” asked Mr. Dame with uncertainty. “After all, it’s not like any of it is actually written in the book.”
“Of course it’s not written in the book,” replied the man with a forced patience flattening his voice, “because the book is fundamentally about reality control and reality control is all about looking inward. Any honest external view would completely undercut the book. Consider: the point behind Goldstein’s book isn’t to tell the truth, but to spin a new fiction that conforms to Winston’s expectations. The only reason we have to believe anything in Goldstein’s book is because Winston believes it and the only reason he believes it is because it conforms to his expectations — he thinks it is written by a mind like his own, only more intelligent and less fearful. O’Brien tells him later that Goldstein’s book was written by a committee and really isn’t even Goldstein’s book. Within 1984 there is no honest view to the outside world — the only point of context we have as readers is what we know, or at least believe, about George Orwell as a person. And I believe he was a dying man, needing to free his consciousness from the wrongs that he had seen and the wrongs that he had done. And we can get some sense of that from what he recorded in his non-fiction works, and what was recorded about him, and the time in which he lived. Recall that we’re talking about a man who lived across a rather narrow bit of water from the German National-Socialist occupied part of France in World War Two and had previously gone to fight against fascists in the Spanish civil war. ‘No one who was in Barcelona then, or for months later, will forget the horrible atmosphere produced by fear, suspicion, hatred, censored newspapers, crammed jails, enormous food queues and prowling gangs of armed men,’ he said. And yet many people choose to look at the rise of the Soviet Union at the end of World War Two and say ‘That! That is what Orwell was talking about,’ while blithely ignoring the decline of the British empire which Orwell had dutifully served for years in Burma. Ah, well.”
“So you’re telling me that like Hamlet and Nick and Alfred, Winston isn’t a authoritative protagonist. But unlike the others, Winston isn’t authoritative not because he won’t repeat objective truth, but rather because he’s been actively denied objective truth by the environment which Orwell painstaking crafted around him?”
“Yes, the world which — perhaps paradoxically — evolved to meet Winston’s subjective expectations, further depriving him of objective truth.”
“That brings me back to a point that’s still bugging me,” said Mr. Dame, “and it is that you’re not O’Brien, here to torture me with my greatest fears. Why is that?”
The man smiled obligingly, as if he was pleased to hear the elephant in the room finally being shot. “There are approximately three reasons why I am here fulfilling expectations that you didn’t know you had, instead of O’Brien here for expectations you expect you have. I say ‘approximately’ because they start overlapping as they go on. The obvious reason why O’Brien isn’t here torturing you is that you’ve already done a splendid job of encountering all of your fears already. As far as you are concerned, you’ve been: betrayed, malnourished, abandoned, robbed, incarcerated, evicted, fired, and billed for the proceedings. Most people would call this a divorce, but you’ve got a flair for the dramatic, don’t you?” — the man cocked an accusatory eyebrow at Mr. Dame, who managed to simultaneously feel both hard-done-by and silly, with a slight chill from earlier persperation — “But short of physical abuse in a Fight Club kind of way, you have no expectation of how O’Brien could distinctively torture you.
“And that is a crucial difference between myself and him. While I could do something like this” — the man held up his thumb and forefinger in front of his eye, forming a tiny vise through which he stared at Mr. Dame — “and crush your head!” The thumb and forefinger pinched together. Mr. Dame felt a rail of sudden migraine as blue sparks flared through his vision. He tried to gasp in shock but gagged on his saliva. The man lowered his hand and the migraine quickly faded into the background of stress and hunger. “But I wouldn’t do that because… I live there,” the man continued, “which makes sense to you. I may not be able to save you from the traps you’ve strewn about in your own psyche, but I’m not going to add more to their number. By way of comparison, O’Brien would’ve done something like that anyway while sending you through the minefield you carry around in your skull.
“So, less obvious,” continued the Machiavelli-ish man in a more genial tone, “is that you don’t recognize the power that O’Brien and the Party were trying to cultivate. Any hope you have of understanding it requires a bridge that can explain it to you, such as myself, not merely a restatement of what was already present. And this reason is compounded by O’Brien’s inability to describe the value of the power. To claim that the teleological goal of power is power, and that the heretic will always be crushed for the triumph of the party, is utter nonsense. O’Brien’s relationship to power is buried in doublethink, which compromises his ability to actually exercise power over anything real in the world; all he can do is meet expectations by inflicting pain. His alleged goals of victory are always undercut by his need to win, and because of the perpetuity of his need to win, an actual lasting victory is constantly beyond his grasp. O’Brien’s assertion that ‘The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again,’ shows only that O’Brien has no power over his lust for power which compromises his objectivity — which isn’t to say that he necessarily had any, but rather that he couldn’t have any by design. And that design is with a sadistic pathology that comes out in relation to Winston’s simperingly masochistic expectation of the power of the Party.”
Mr. Dame weakly raised a hand to ask for clarification, but the Machiavelli-ish man disregarded him as the stream of exposition continued with its full vigor.
“This is evident when you compare O’Brien’s need to convert Winston instead of just executing him to Erich Fromm’s analysis of the phenomenon in Escape From Freedom. Fromm says that putting together sadism and masochism results in a symbiosis ‘in such a way as to make each lose the integrity of its own self and to make them completely dependent on each other. The sadistic person needs his object just as much as the masochistic needs his… In both cases the integrity of the individual self is lost.’ O’Brien claims that he’s been working on Winston for seven years even before their intimate months together in the Ministry of Love. Winston, in turn, has spent years expecting the might of the Party to come crashing down on him, consuming him. But even just in the little details it comes out. Fromm mentions that ‘Often all that is wanted in the masochistic perversion is to be made weak “morally,” by being treated or spoken to like a little child, or by being scolded or humiliated in different ways.’ And that is where Winston’s deference to the not-really Goldstein’s book comes from, and how O’Brien is able to break him not with shocks and traumas but with a mirror and words. Conversely, going back to Fromm, Winston ‘seems so weak and submissive… it is difficult to think of the strong one as being dependent on the one over whom he rules… yet… The sadist needs the person over whom he rules, he needs him very badly, since his own feeling of strength is rooted in the fact that he is the master over someone.’
“Once we understand O’Brien and Winston as sadist and masochist, or even both sadomasochistic, we’re left with a confusion as to the power the Party venerated. The Party wanted to dominate people. But a more conventional understanding of power is the capacity to do whatever you really choose to do. Fromm distinguishes these by reversing them: a powerless person has not the capacity to do what they would choose to do, whether it involves domination or not. Thus Fromm concludes that ‘power can mean one of two things, domination or potency. Far from being identical, these two qualities are mutually exclusive.’ And they are mutually exclusive as O’Brien so aptly demonstrated in how much of his life he wasted in static domination of Winston rather than pursuing his particular goal of levitating like a soap bubble. It may seem a silly example, but it is precisely relevant: people have been dragged down by trying to dominate each other since the dawn of time, but very few of them have successfully been able to levitate, much less gained the power of flight, or cultivated some other new form of power.
“But getting back to why O’Brien isn’t here, it’s because he has nothing to say that wouldn’t require further analysis. His perspective is a portion of a symbiote’s introspection, modeled after the reality controlled totalitarian society he is in the upper-crust of. It is only capable of meeting the expectation of the audience, not in adding any enlightenment.” The man paused, smiling ruefully. “In that way,” he speculated, “O’Brien might have been a better English teacher than you.”
Mr. Dame winced slightly, but then thought harder about the insult. “No sir, that is where you are wrong,” he finally replied, “because unlike me, and to the chagrin of Mr. Orwell, O’Brien would be giving high marks to my students that make pervasive use of what I can only assume is the fourteenth edition of Newspeak throughout their essays. Not even Orwell found Newspeak a proper-enough language to describe the world that had spawned it.”
“So he hadn’t,” said the man gently, shifting back on the couch towards the lamp. “And that means you have an evening full of red ink ahead of you. Don’t let me detain you.” He gave Mr. Dame a slight nod, turned off the lamp Mr. Dame didn’t own, and left Mr. Dame alone in the darkness.