All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell
What one thing can you say about a set of mostly independent essays? It seems you're obligated to either (1) give a general opinion on Orwell, himself; or (2) talk about the essays' independent points in succession, perhaps finding and commenting on common threads that join two or more of them.
OK, so... Orwell is great.
Moving on, here's a few things I found interesting:
Firstly, a lot of these essays are criticisms of popular literature from Orwell's era: books I haven't read. And somehow, even with not having read those books, Orwell's criticisms of them leave you unblinking as you turn the pages. He'll take an author, distill him and his work down to something fundamental -- something that transcends the fashion of the time, or the works themselves -- then criticize that. That Orwell can do that is amazing.
Secondly, in doing the above and for the first time in my life since I've started forming a rooted (as opposed to fashionable) political opinion, he exposes patterns of modern political thought as predictable and tried, and he does so practically, empirically. He doesn't say history repeats itself, he explains the politics of a time past which the reader can then compare to now. Conclusions aside, his criticism of WWII era British pacifists is almost identical to that of the current criticism of Middle Eastern terrorist apologists. And his take on sainthood, the difference between God and Man, has a lot of power in explaining the divide between the modern right and left.
It's so eerie how similar some of his observations are that you tend to think maybe we're not so much a decadent society, since if Orwell could have the same things to say decades ago, and we're still here, then doesn't that kind of make the point that we're not going to hell as quickly as or in the way that the doomsday professors claim? Surely the modern, popular fears of nuclear winter or new-school totalitarian regimes are justified, and there's also reason to believe these threats are worse now than before if for nothing other than scale -- Nazi propaganda would've thrived on the internet, bombs are bigger and more plenty than before. But, you also get the feeling, reading this stuff, that there's always going to be a certain element of paranoia and overstated risk and exaggeration among critics. These risks are crises, but perhaps dealing with them is just a part of how the world turns, and perhaps we're better at dealing with them than we give ourselves credit for. Or maybe we're playing Russian Roulette, and just because people have been complaining about it for years without there having been a human-project stopping catastrophe, doesn't mean there isn't a bullet in the chamber.
(Note: I'm not saying world wars and despots and tragedies haven't happened or that they weren't horrible. I just wonder how much of this stick waving has actually either (1) described their causes or (2) helped to prevent future, more absolute issues; or bring the current ones to an end.)
Moving on again, he talks about sloganism which got me thinking about how memes and tweets are essentially the same thing: shallow germs of thought that tend to be emotionally charged, require tribal context, and don't attempt to solve or explain problems, but rather they snowball problems.
Another gem: his criticism of Dali as absurd and immoral, regardless of the fact that he's talented. I've never thought to divorce the two ideas before. A Perfect Storm sort of speak.
Anyway, random thoughts for future me and whoever else might be interested.