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George Orwell is world-renowned for his commentary on social, political, and socioeconomic affairs through novels such as Animal Farm and the fictional-turned-frighteningly-prophetic 1984.
But the truest statement on the nature of politics he ever made was made before the man George Orwell even came to exist.
Before George Orwell was George Orwell, he was Eric Blair. Eric Blair, his given name, was an English writer cutting his teeth with his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London.
A gritty, detailed looks at the daily life of a poor person struggling for food and to find or keep shelter in both Paris and London in the earlier part of the 20th century, Blair/Orwell gives us an in-depth look at not only what one had to do to make it in those conditions, but how one’s mindset changed and adapted to the reality that survival was not only paramount, but exclusive.
In my opinion it is a must read. Not only for those interested in how Orwell’s social and political positions may have been influenced, for which you can find ample foundation in Down and Out… It is also a great read for those simply intrigued by delving deeper into the human condition, to find parallels between almost a century ago and today, to gain a better understanding of what makes people tick, and to see how far we’ve come…
Deep within Orwell’s first work however, is a hidden gem. A short statement, buried within a long paragraph. Possibly glossed over by many, perhaps generating a slight wry smile in others, but one that I found to be the most profound, if not intentionally, statement that should sum up the political strategy of anyone who wants to be successful in that realm.
This gem hidden in plain sight on page 126 made me stop reading right then and there.
I could not believe the profundity of such a simple statement. The far-reaching implications it can have to those who grasp its power. And the fact it was presented in this format without commentary, almost a throwaway to be glossed over by so many readers.
“For those with eyes to see,” as it is said.
To this point in the book, Orwell had spent his time in the slums of Paris. Struggling to find work and, by extension, food and shelter, he (the narrator, supposedly Orwell but the accuracy debated by some) had spent much of his time in the book trying everything he could to find basic work. He had pawned most everything but the clothes on his back to get some bread, and at some points went days without food.
It is a masterful telling of that experience.
When he did find work, it was the type that would not be allowed by health and safety standards today if it were known, although it was accepted at the time.
The hours were grueling, the pay miniscule (if it wasn’t stolen before you even received it), and the work so grueling and unsanitary that it would likely result in strikes, protests, and boycotts today.
At the time, however, the work was accepted with some level of appreciation by those without better fortune, albeit not with enjoyment. And the workers found ways to adapt to what we might consider cruel working conditions in order to collect a paycheck and put food in their mouths and roofs over their heads.
Not food in their families’ mouths or roofs over their families’ heads, mind you, because people in their position had neither the time nor resources to cultivate any sort of meaningful relationships, let alone raise a family.
Finally, our narrator was able to leave Paris and return to his home country of England on the promise of more lucrative work that would provide more stability. He could now rest comfortably in the knowledge that his days of going day-to-day for food, working 16 hours a day to survive, were over.
It was at this point that Orwell made this statement.
“The thought of not being poor made me very patriotic.”
Returning from Paris to London with the promise of a decent job, he suddenly found himself feeling very fond of his home country.
The buildings looked more beautiful, the tea more delicious, the sun shined a little brighter.
Because he was now well off.
At least in comparison.
Now he felt “patriotic”.
There was a bit of light-hearted sarcasm draped over his statement, but it was honest nonetheless.
When he was struggling to get food to eat? He likely could not have been bothered to even consider concepts such as patriotism and love of country.
Riding the high of the feeling of his newfound freedom, he recounts extolling the virtues of England to a Romanian couple on a train who had never been to England before. From the food to the architecture (which was to his own admission horrendous) and everything in between.
It did not matter if he believed it or not. He knew he was exaggerating if not outright lying about the wonders of his home country, but he simply couldn’t help himself.
Even when confronted with realities that opposed his rosy view, he was not deterred. The ugly buildings were somehow a marvelous sight to see.
True? No matter!
Such is the effect of freedom!
How does this Orwell quote relate to politics?
When it comes to election seasons, you often see a battle of the patriots.
Who loves their country more? This party or that party? This voter or that voter?
In the United States, the two major parties sometimes like to paint themselves as the patriotic Americans (one more so than the other), while the opposing side is a bunch of whiners who don’t love and appreciate their country.
That’s mostly narrative.
Sometimes, some people will buy into the narrative and others will not.
Here is the limit of narrative, though.
Try selling the love of country and patriotism to someone who struggles to put food on their plate, or on their family’s plates.
That is a tough sell.
If you find yourself struggling to understand why someone is not as “patriotic” as you are, consider that perhaps they are not doing as well in your country as you are.
People see things differently with or without rose-colored glasses.
The realities the Romanian couple could see but Orwell was too giddy to be bothered by are clear as day to someone without rose-colored glasses.
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
James Carville, political strategist and one-time advisor to Bill Clinton, once said it best.
“It’s the economy, stupid.”
Everything seems to look better when you’re not poor, as Orwell so deftly implied.
Voters might love their country just a little bit more if it is good to them financially.
And it might be a little harder for them to see the brilliance and wisdom of your plans if it is not.
The equation is simple.
Financial well-being creates a healthy soil for patriotism.
Financial struggle does not.
There are obviously exceptions to every rule.
For instance, at some point some can become so well off financially that it can become easy to lose sight of appreciation and instead begin to create new enemies, real or perceived, to fight. That’s another story altogether.
But whoever can craft the message that makes people understand their position is the position of ultimate prosperity, staying out of the bog of details, and then makes good on that message, has unlocked the key to success.
So if you are a politician and you want to get the people on your side, make your message clear and your plans simple.
The name of the game is prosperity.
People want to prosper.
Everything looks a little bit better when you do.
Money may not buy happiness, but it sure can pay to get rid of many of the things that can make you unhappy.
Both individually and perhaps, to an extent, as a society as well.
Maybe it can buy a little patriotism too.
Start changing your life today with gratitude journaling!
I wrote the introduction to help guide you and provide you with motivation to start your mindset shift and contribute to your growth, as well as to continue on even higher as you go.
If nothing else, having something – anything – to serve as a reminder can help a great deal. Whether it’s a gratitude journal or something else.
Stay consistent and watch your life change positively.
You have the power to decide what you believe.
Believe in the good and believe in you!