June 27, 2010

More Equal

On one afternoon seven years ago I heard a girl review George Orwell's Animal Farm. It was during a college course attended by students trying to outdo each other through the books they had read and digested. I was yet to outgrow my suspicions on anybody who read books, academic or otherwise. During the Q&A slide one of the smart guys asked the girl what Orwell meant when he ended the novel with, "All men are equal. Some are more equal than the others." I didn't know. She didn't seem to know. I wonder whether he knew. The professor didn't explain. That or more probably I wasn't paying attention. And Orwell himself was conveniently dead.

A few years later I read the book. I still didn't know what Orwell meant, but I held on to that line. I may have even quoted it during intellectual conversations centered around exchanging trivia, the way we quote famous movie dialgoues without fully knowing which movie they come from and why. But it was more than a showpiece to me, occasionally confusing my mind when I willed to think about it. What could have Orwell, whose books and essays have a divine clarity, possibly be implying? What would have Koteshwara Rao sir thought of an impossible expression like "more equal"?

While reading another of Orwell's essays yesterday, it struck me. Animal Farm starts with an uprising, much like a proletariat overpowering a bourgeois. And it ends with a totalitarian regime, much like what appears to eventually happen in non-capitalist governments. Orwell wrote about totalitarian regimes that evolved from socialist ideals, which at their core spring from a desire to achieve (attribute) absolute equality among all subjects. The impossibility of such equality (impossibility of its success) is aptly implied using the impossible expression "more equal", as is the implication that such societies would subsequently tilt (undesirably).

When I read that the animals stood for proletariat, I missed the double-significance of there being different species. That different species stand for different capabilities (jobs) amongst people is easily seen. But they also contain a reverse implication that people are as different as different species, and thus they can't possibly become equal regardless of their temporary illusions.