Orwell On Censorship

The Believer has posted his 1945 essay “The Freedom of The Press,” originally composed as the preface to Animal Farm, with footnotes by John Reed. An excerpt from Orwell with Reed’s comment:

Obviously it is not desirable that a government department should have any power of censorship (except security censorship, which no one objects to in war time). But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the MOI [Ministry of Information] or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face.

That people were willing to live in a state of denial—ignoring war, ignoring injustice, ignoring tremendous threats to themselves and even the planet—continually amazed Orwell, and he struggled with the cartography of complacency. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “In the face of terrifying dangers and golden political opportunities, people just keep on keeping on, in a sort of twilight sleep in which they are conscious of nothing except the daily round of work, family life, darts at the pub, exercising the dog, mowing the lawn, bringing home the beer, etc.” In “Notes on Nationalism,” Orwell marveled at “the lunatic habit of identifying oneself with large power units.”

And therein lies the answer to our twenty-first century state of denial. Our identities are under siege: advertising, education, the arts. We are built up and destroyed by lifestyles and categories (of race, of class, of culture) that exist primarily to contain, delimit, divide and exploit the human experience. If there’s anything you think you need to buy to be who you are—whether it’s curtains from Ikea or a CD or a book or liposuction or take-your-pick—you don’t own yourself.

Recent Dish on Orwell here, here, here and here. Recent Bukowski on censorship here.