Andrew’s regular Orwell quote: misread and misused … and in the masthead

There’s a Dish post called “Grilling Michael Oren,” which ends peculiarly with Andrew’s favorite Orwell quote, the one from the Dish’s masthead. Before I get into his misunderstanding Orwell’s words — assuming Andrew has ever read the essay where they come from — we should explore the propagandistic tendencies in the post, because  Orwell stood against this kind of rhetoric. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of it; you may want to skip the first half of the post. Here’s Andrew:

The most penetrating political interviews on television these days are on Comedy Central. Stephen Colbert’s grilling of Michael Oren last night was a classic.

“Classic” in the sense that Sullivan saved it on TiVo? … BTW, I thought Colbert and Oren both did well.

Deftly using comedy, Colbert got Oren to essentially admit that the blockade of Gaza is not just about the legitimate issue of restricting weapons getting through to Hamas.

“Deftly using comedy”? Using comedy as opposed to what — prestidigitation? dramatic tableau? We are aware that Stephen Colbert is a comedian, and that comedy is what he uses (almost always deftly).

Wait, I get what’s happening with “classic” and “deftly using comedy”…

Blandly using hackitude, Andrew wants to portray reality as he’d like it to be, so that he might become more persuasive to Dish readers.

Andrew describes Oren as “essentially admitting” something (– by “essentially,” Andrew means “not literally” — ) as though the ambassador had previously denied it. Except that Oren never has denied it.

It’s about collectively punishing the people of Gaza for using a democratic election to back Hamas.

“Collective punishment” is meaningless as Sullivan uses it — see this post. BTW, the set of blockade rules Sullivan says are unjust came after Hamas kicked out Fatah from what he calls a “democracy,” when the EU border monitors left with Fatah.

It’s about turning the 1.5 million people there into helpless dependents on Israeli industry and the impoverishment of any private sector in that beleaguered de facto refugee camp.

Easy, Trigger, there’s a lot of phrases in there to parse against reality. I’ll just note two things that Sullivan has not offered readers:

(1) any estimation of the portion of aid that might benefit Israeli industry as opposed to aid that would clearly not help Israeli industry; and

(2) any analysis of how Gaza’s economy got goods and money before the blockade but after Gazans were not allowed to work in Israel. (The answer: UN/Western aid and mostly government jobs — Blockade or not, Gaza’s “private” sector is going to be somewhat impoverished.)

In the future, will Sullivan argue that not letting Gazans work in Israel is also a form of collective punishment? Because, when Gazans work there, it makes for a somewhat colonialist situation …

What, after all, does restricting snack-food, soda and shaving cream have to do with Israel’s security interests?

Er, nothing. But two facts: (1) those shipments were rejected by Hamas; and (2) Gaza already has enough of what was in those shipments. Gazan companies make soda and potato chips, and the other snack foods were still on Gazan store shelves before Israel tried to show its “generosity.” So although I don’t know about shaving cream, I don’t see how Israel gave anything welcomed, since it was already there.

Money quote from Bronner’s latest:

“I can’t get cocoa powder, I can’t get malt, I can’t get shortening or syrup or wrapping material or boxes,” lamented Mohammed Telbani, the head of Al Awda, a cookie and ice cream factory in the central town of Deir el Balah. “I don’t like Hamas and I don’t like Fatah. All I want is to make food.”

This guy, “Mohammed Telbani,” is often interviewed as “one of Gaza’s most senior businessman” and having one of the “largest factories in Gaza,” if not the largest. Some of the materials he’s mentioning above do get into Gaza, but giving his testimony the benefit of the doubt, these materials are not getting to his company.

Most goods and materials get into Gaza because their shortage or impending shortage is noted by aid groups not connected to Hamas. These groups then specifically request the goods. Israel doesn’t want Hamas purchasing store-owners’ stock (perhaps at a price determined by Hamas) and disbursing it to the Gazans.

That said, there may be a way to prevent that outcome from happening if aid groups work closely with this senior businessman.

Of course this crude policy of trying to reduce support for Hamas by persecuting the entire Gaza population has failed. Well, duh.

Has it? Hamas is preventing municipal elections in Gaza — because they think they can win? The most recent surveys say over 75% of Gazans believe that if they elect Fatah, the blockade will end. (Yet Hamas tries to peddle the story that Israel would not lift it.) Is that “duh” worthy?

And the obvious achievement of the flotilla has been to expose this fact more clearly.

Why does the Dish use “obvious” to mean something like “You should see what I want you to see and set aside murmuring questions”?

McClatchy has also unearthed Israeli government documents that prove that this is not only a matter of security so much as an act of “economic warfare”:

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare,'” the government said. McClatchy obtained the government’s written statement from Gisha, the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, which sued the government for information about the blockade. The Israeli high court upheld the suit, and the government delivered its statement earlier this year…

Is that a big deal? I mean, Michael Oren said as much. Oh, Sullivan thinks the phrase “economic warfare” sounds sinister somehow …. And yet the government chose that language for a public statement. What would Sullivan argue had the government used a euphemism instead?

And McClatchy has “unearthed Israeli government documents,” in their function as brave journalistic defenders of the truth? No, that’s hack narrative from Andrew, and inaccurate. The “Israeli government document” in question is a statement to which the public had instant access and was never confidential. McClatchy did not “unearth” but merely “obtained the government’s written statement” from an NGO ( — the NGO might have contacted McClatchy). The government made this court-ordered statement in the process of the NGO’s suing for access to confidential documents, documents which play no real part in this story.

So here’s the truth at the bottom of this story: an NGO has sued a government for information, and this indirectly led to a representative of the government to make a statement that says … that says what the government’s own ambassador to the United States would not deny.

The Israeli government took an additional step Wednesday and said the economic warfare is intended to achieve a political goal. A government spokesman, who couldn’t be named as a matter of policy, told McClatchy that authorities will continue to ease the blockade but “could not lift the embargo altogether as long as Hamas remains in control” of Gaza.

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

This final line is a hack use of a quote by an illustrious thinker for the Dish’s rhetorical pile-on.

Before we address what Orwell’s quote means, let’s proceed as if these words were only Andrew’s. In that case, for what reason is this sentence possibly applicable here? Who needs to struggle here to see Andrew’s “obvious” ?

One possible answer: Israelis and Israel supporters who know darn well that the blockade is also meant to crimp Gazans unemployed lifestyle further in order to end the Hamastan on Israel’s border. (Remember that this set of rules started when Hamas violently threw out Fatah.) Those Israelis and Israel supporters certainly don’t need to struggle.

That doesn’t make sense. Another possible answer: Perhaps Sullivan is saying, those who need to struggle are the American people who have been supporting, like drones, the Israeli blockade as it is now administered. Well, that possible answer feels a bit insulting, but more to the point: It doesn’t make sense, since Andrew wants us to believe that many do not have the information “in front of their noses” — have no exposure to “the obvious” — and such information has to be brought to them by way of deft use of Comedy Central and links to McClatchy articles.

I don’t think the quote would work even apart from the context in which Orwell intended it.

But the fact is that Orwell is not simply talking about avoidance of reality and why a diary might be a cool record of ongoing self-illumination for some bourgeois dude. Here is the full text of Orwell’s essay [ — and I’ve now put the link in the sidebar]. Orwell continues …

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. One thing that helps towards it is to keep a diary, or, at any rate, to keep some kind of record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong, but even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one is right can be very illuminating.

In fact, Orwell’s essay, “In Front of Your Nose,” is specifically about a person denying/repressing a reality they know in order to make a prediction of events which is more comfortable to that person.[1]

I don’t think Andrew alludes to a prediction, failed or otherwise, anywhere in his post. He certainly does not refer to an Israeli prediction about the blockade being contradicted by the conspicuous increase of Gazans’ solidarity with Hamas, since he has never offered any evidence for an alleged increase. His quotation of Orwell comes directly after the supposed press and NGO exposé of the intent of the blockade, having nothing to do with predictions.

Perhaps, what Andrew has been trying to reinforce with this Orwell quote — its use here being at the lowest, hack, level — is contradicted by the essay it comes from. Andrew is making the charge that his grasp of reality is better than other people’s because they are not “struggling” hard enough against their ideological illusions, to accept all the facts that are “in front of one’s nose” which overwhelmingly point in the direction of Andrew’s views. But, in reality, Orwell is working on the opposite epistemological premise:

In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality. If one recognizes this, one cannot, of course, get ride of one’s subjective feelings, but one can to some extent insulate them from one’s thinking and make predictions cold-bloodedly, by the book of arithmetic. When one is making out one’s weekly budget, two and two invariably make four. Politics, on the other hand, is a sort of sub-atomic or non-Euclidean world where it is quite easy for the part to be greater than the whole or for two objects to be in the same place simultaneously.

“Deftly using analysis,” Orwell shows us the character of a responsible intellectual, who temporarily distances himself from his ideological agenda, for the benefit of enduring honesty to himself and others.

No one expects Andrew to be the spiritual kinsman of George Orwell. However, for a publication that has Orwell’s words in its masthead, the Dish shows little pause in not following Orwell’s example. Orwell is one of the writers whose work urges us toward the principle that when it comes to words, the ends do not justify the means.

Andrew is one of those writers who does not model himself according to this principle, and may believe he has the right to dispense with it at his discretion. This is the pundit who, having prepared himself to be “on message” as a guest on HBO’s Real Time, seemed to have readied the phrase “carpet bombing[2] to describe what Israel did in Gaza. This is the same pundit who accused Jonathan Chait of the “deranged beleaguerment” that “many Israelis and some supporters of Israel feel” for using a simile which compared Israelis under rockets to Londoners under the Blitz ( — a comparison, I think, merely on the basis of air-siren-and-bomb-shelter lifestyles).

In the first case, Andrew granted himself the privilege of using language to deliberately obscure factual distinctions for the audience. “Carpet bombing” would make a hidden comparison and connote moral crime. In the second case, Andrew objected to another writer’s making an overt comparison which would only connote mortal fear. And to make that objection, he had to deliberately misconstrue the man’s words in order to smear him (and presumably most of his co-religionists) as somehow “deranged.”

Such opportunism with language and argument is, I think, what Orwell would have contemned in cynical propagandists, who must run from facts instead of feeling more secure in them, and instinctively build arguments on top of subterfuge. Those journalists among them might reassure themselves that they are only battling the propaganda and falsehoods of other parties, and that the reader can find truth in between opposing persuasion, and much closer to the journalist’s side. What matters is what such writers can say at the time, what they are most likely to get away with; what matters less is whether the reader has lost something of the truth.

I can only find one instance in which Andrew has used the quote in some way that might be consistent with Orwell’s meaning. I’m embarrassed that after I started The Daily Dishwater, I waited so long to read “In Front of Your Nose” for the context of this quote … I trusted Andrew’s judgment on that one.

Now I don’t think he ever read the essay. It was enough for him to be able to use the words.

___________

[1] CliffNotes-like summary for the Dish:

Orwell points out that often two contradictory beliefs about reality are held to allow the prediction, a pairing which should have indicated that some other knowledge is being sidelined and repressed.

When such a prediction is proven false, Orwell points out that you either must accept that you knew information you deliberately suppressed or somehow believe that you never made this prediction in the first place.

[2] The Crimes of War website has the broadest definition of “area bombing” (i.e., “carpet bombing”) I can find, drawing from Additional Protocol 1. The key idea is that the bombardment treats multiple locations together — i.e., making an “area” — as a “single military target.” The Protocol unequivocally allows this when there are no civilians in the area; when civilians are there, it’s a different story. However, the Protocol stipulates that

the presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations.

The United States and Israel are among those countries which have not ratified the additional protocol.

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  1. […] a constant struggle.” — You know, the words that Andrew has in his masthead, after having misunderstood and misrepresented how Orwell used them. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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