The Other Orwell, the Cold War, the CIA, MI6, and the Origin of Animal Farm: A Conversation between John Reed and Andrea Scrima 

by Andrea Scrima

Twenty years ago, John Reed made an unexpected discovery: “If Orwell esoterica wasn’t my foremost interest, I eventually realized that, in part, it was my calling.” In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, ideas that had been germinating suddenly coalesced, and in three weeks’ time Reed penned a parody of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The memorable pig Snowball would return from exile, bringing capitalism with him—thus updating the Cold War allegory by fifty-some years and pulling the rug out from underneath it. At the time, Reed couldn’t have anticipated the great wave of vitriol and legal challenges headed his way—or the series of skewed public debates with the likes of Christopher Hitchens. Apparently, the world wasn’t ready for a take-down of its patron saint, or a sober look at Orwell’s (and Hitchens’s) strategic turn to the right.

Snowball’s Chance, it turns out, was only the beginning. The book was published the same year as Hitchens’s Why Orwell Matters, and the media frequently paired the two. In the years that followed, Reed wrote a series of essays (published in The Paris Review, Harper’s, The Believer, and other journals) analyzing the heated response to the book and everything it implied. Orwell’s writing had long been used as a propaganda tool, and evidence had emerged that his political leanings went far beyond defaming communism—but if facing this basic historical truth was so unthinkable, what was the taboo preventing us from seeing? Reed’s examination of our Orwell preoccupation sifts through the changes the West has undergone since the Cold War: its cultural crises, its military disasters, its self-deceptions and confusions, and more recently—perhaps even more troubling—its new instability of identity. The Never End brings together nine of these essays and adds an Animal Farm timeline, a footnoted version of Orwell’s proposed preface, and the Russian text Animal Farm originally drew from to more clearly assess the circumstances behind, and the conclusions to be drawn from, the book’s global importance. Read more »

The Impossibility of Satan

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

SatanThe Ontological Argument is an infamously devilish a priori argument for God's existence. It runs, roughly, as follows.

God is by definition is the greatest possible thing.

If God is the greatest possible thing, then He cannot fail to manifest any perfection — otherwise, there would be a possible thing greater than He.

Existence is a perfection; that which does not exist lacks something that would improve it.

Therefore, God must exist.

The conclusion can be strengthened, further, with the thought that necessary existence is a greater perfection than contingent existence, and so it is necessary that God necessarily exists. Now, that's a pretty heavy conclusion derived only from some strikingly lightweight premises. This is what makes the Ontological Argument so interesting – it seems clear that something's gone wrong, but it turns out that it's very hard to explain what it is.

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Tina Brown, Christopher Hitchens, Niall Ferguson, Rupert Murdoch — What’s With Our American Blindness To These Imported British Assholes?

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Tina brownThe musical British invasion of the 60s and 70s brought us the Beatles, the Stones, Herman's Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers and other great bands, who made us realize anew that American music was the greatest popular music ever, as these imports sold back to us and reminded us of our best blues and Tin Pan Alley traditions.

The journalistic British invasion of the 80s and 90s brought us Tina Brown, Christopher Hitchens, Niall Ferguson and Rupert Murdoch — assholes all, who have lowered the intellectual tone of American journalism and brought us cheap sensationalism and provocation for the sake of provocation and nothing else.

One reason we Americans are so easily blinded by these assholes is simply their accents: Americans have always thought that the British accent denotes great intelligence. I mean, Shakespeare in a British accent sounds more elegant than played in American accents, doesn't it — despite the fact that the accent of Shakespeare's own time was probably closer to American than Brit.

The other reason is that, because of a British liberal arts education, which is superior to its US counterpart, these folks can display remarkable erudition. Unlike most American journalists, they've actually read a lot — enough to impress us Americans anyway.

The third reason is their intellectual smugness. We take this as a sign of their intellectual superiority, but it's nothing but an infuriatingly annoying British smug shallow high-table confidence that the Oxbridge snobs have used to condescend to us and intimidate us for ages.

The British have undoubtedly gained by the good riddance of these assholes to the US, but their gain is our loss. Let's see how deep this loss goes, by taking these assholes in turn.

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Let’s Keep God out of Ethics

ScreenHunter_03 May. 10 12.24 When a television network has a porn channel in the pipe-lines voices of outrage sound. When a television-series mocks a dead religious figure, knives are being sharpened and fingers are being shaken. Picketing outside abortion clinics, fighting against end-of-life alleviation, marching against free expression (do they never see the irony?) – we can usually count on the faithful to raise an outcry, on our behalf apparently, for things they consider to be sinful and, therefore, immoral. But what is sinful is not necessarily immoral. They appear to have some insight we do not about morality and ethical deliberation. But upon critical scrutiny, we soon discover that all the noise is a mask for shallow deliberation.

When did we hand over our moral autonomy – that is our ability to look critically for ourselves at moral dilemmas – to the lecherous hands and myopic vision of religious leaders? When did we say that we wanted guardians stationed in moral outposts, peering into the world with outrage-telescopes and hysterical megaphones? I certainly did not and I hope, regardless of your belief in god, you didn’t either. Ethical deliberation is something we all must face as part of our epistemic duty in this world, filled as it is with problems and a continuum of moral actions. To ask simply whether something is good or evil is often to trivialise ethical dilemmas: they are often not simply about choosing between right and wrong, but between two conflicting attitudes which are both apparently the right thing to do. Do we kill the fat man to save the lives of five others? Are we obligated to each sacrifice one kidney, which we don’t need, to save others who do? Do we give up eating meat, which we do not need for survival, to end the suffering of other animals?

These dilemmas are secular, in that anyone can come to them regardless of religious belief, and find in them a moral problem. However, with the blurring between morality and religion in today’s world, some “moral” problems become problems merely because of the arrogant bullying by religious groups who claim to “know”, better than the rest of us, what is moral. Homosexuality, women’s rights and abortion would most likely not be such hysterical moral dilemmas if not for tawdry metaphysical beliefs on the part of the believer. A good case can be made for any of these being moral dilemmas in purely secular terms, but it is unlikely that death or violence would ensue because of disagreement. The ferocity and vernacular of the dilemma would not be one spurred on by self-righteous believers who are defending god’s laws; or defending “babies” from evil, pincer-wielding doctors; or trying to maintain “family values” because of the “moral decline” in society. A lot of these dilemmas could be carefully deliberated upon in a safe, public platform, using the weapons of words and the shield of a podium, rather than bullets and knives to make one’s point felt. We have given into the worst reasoning to justify moral decisions, that is: raising your voice and making the loudest noise. And best of all if you can use god as a backing – since this still has moral force today, though it should not. Just because so many people are outraged by gay-marriage does not make it immoral anymore than everyone believing the earth flat would alter our planet’s shape. Turning something immoral merely because the majority view it as such is part of John Stuart Mill’s notion of 'tyranny of the majority'.
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