Thomas Paine!

I have been interested in Thomas Paine way before I have read any of his books. Of course I’ve heard about him and I have seen, a couple of years ago, some of his quotes when it comes to Government and Religion.

I always try to read some of the most important works by the people that I’m interested in, then I try to learn about their lives to understand exactly where they come from as well as to learn about the conditions from which they had to operate, and arguably the circumstances that have influenced their lives. So one needs to take in consideration everything about the authors of one’s favorite books.

Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer, journalist and an inventor. He is widely known in the U.S. and the U.K as the great Englishman as well as the great American revolutionary and Founding Father of the United States. One can even say that he is the morale author of the U.S and without whom the latter  wouldn’t have got its independence in 1776.

He was born in England in 1737 to a Quaker father and an Anglican mother; something that indeed have influenced his thoughts on religion and what latter lead him to Deism and Humanism. He didn’t get much formal education, besides learning how to read, write and perform arithmetic. By the age of 13 Paine has already started working with his father making rope stays that are used in sailing ships. He then tried many other occupations, with complete failure, before he end up working as an officer of the excise. He was dismissed from that job too since he published a sturdy argument for a raise in pay in order to end corruption in the service.

Thomas Paine’s life in England was marked by successive failures, professionally and personally. When he just hit rock bottom, he met Benjamin Franklin, who advised him to immigrate to British colonial America and gave him a letter of recommendation. Which he did, arriving to Philadelphia in 1774. He then got a job helping to edit the Pennsylvania Magazine where he published, anonymously, some few articles and poetry. One of which was “Justice and Humanity” in which he vehemently criticized and denunciated the African Slave trade.

At this time, Thomas Paine involvement in the American revolution has started. By 1776, Thomas Paine has published one of the most influential Pamphlets of the entire revolutionary era: Common Sense. The pamphlet was a sensation, it made the case for an immediate action for independence from British Rule. He made the case against the British Monarchy in a simple but rather convincing manner, as well as making the case for independence as soon as possible. The book argued in general against Monarchy and hereditary succession, tyranny as well as making the American case meaningful to people from all over the world. He wrote:

“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. — Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.” From Common Sense.

The pamphlet has sold more than 500,000 copies in just a few months. The publication has indeed paved the way for the Declaration of independence  in July 4, 1776.

During the war of independence he participated in the struggle by volunteering in the Continental Army, together with writing his highly influential papers “American Crisis” that begins with the motivating and stimulating phrase:” These are the times that try men’s souls.” which George Washington ordered to be read to all the troops. Later in 1777 he became Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs in Congress; but was forced to resign for disclosing secret information, which was a quotation from secret documents he had access to as secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs,  because he had to expose a member of the Continental Congress for profiting personally from French aid to the United States.

Thomas Paine was appointed later as clerk of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. Something that gave him the opportunity to observe that American troops were discontented because of the low pay and the scarce supplies. He then went to France to raise what was needed for the troops. Indeed, the wartimes supplies that he had offered were an important factor to the final success of the revolution. He then wrote “Public Good” which was a call for a national convention to fix the ineffectual articles of Confederation and to establish a firm central government under a continental constitution.

By the end of the revolution, Thomas Paine found himself penniless again. Though he has sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his pamphlets, he refused to take any profit from them so that the cheap edition will be widely circulated. So he pleaded for a financial assistance in a petition to the Congress. Pennsylvania gave him something around $500, and a farm in New York. In this period Paine concentrated on some of his new inventions, such as an iron bridge without piers and a smokeless candle.

In 1787 Paine left America for Europe in order to promote his plan to build a bridge. But he was soon diverted from his plan by the French Revolution. His passionate support for the revolution made him write a response which is “Rights of Men” to a famous attack on said revolution by Edmund Burk in 1790.

What was started as a defense for the French revolution has developed into an analysis of the roots of evil and discontent in European society; which was, according to Paine, arbitrary government, illiteracy, poverty and war. He then laid out his arguments in favor of Republicanism instead of Monarchy,  as well as proposing a plan of universal education for the public, relief of the poor, pensions for the aged and public work for the unemployed all through a progressive taxation system. The ruling class of course found the book to be incredibly appalling; consequently, the government ordered the book to be banned. He then was accused of treason and an order has been made for his arrest. Though his arrest failed since he was already on his way to France because he has been elected for the National Convention. Thus, he escaped prosecution.

Paine arrived to France in 1792 just days before the Convention proclaimed France a republic. But then Thomas Paine was the only one who had the nerve to stand up for the life of King Louis XVI by opposing his execution; which made him a foe of the Jacobins who already considered him a suspect simply because he was born in England. In the middle of the night before Christmas in 1793, the Jacobin police arrested him without a trial and Paine’s name was added to the list of prisoners who would be executed. Luckily enough, prison guards mistakenly passed by his cell when they were gathering the prisoners that would be beheaded.

One of his impactful publications, The Age of Reason, was written behind bars when he was imprisoned. He felt that death is coming sooner and that he had to write his thoughts on religion and religious institutions as soon as possible. Though he believed in the virtuousness of Jesus Christ, he attacked quite viciously the logic of Christianity and defended the Deistic view of the world. The publication was published in two parts. He wrote the first one without mentioning any specific verses from the Bible. Then he got some responses to that publication from various priests. So he decided to write the second part of the Age of Reason, in which he examined the Bible carefully and exposed it for its incoherence and its lack of historical credibility. As well as exposing the horrendous stories and the incredible immorality of said stories. He wrote in the beginning of part two of the Age of Reason:

“The evidence that I shall produce in this case is from the books themselves; and I will confine myself to this evidence only. Were I to refer for proofs to any of the ancient authors, whom the advocates of the Bible call prophane authors, they would controvert that authority, as I controvert theirs: I will therefore meet them on their own ground, and oppose them with their own weapon, the Bible.”

The Age of Reason had a huge impact and it was selling on a massive scale in England, even though the government tried to suppress it. Needless to mention that it was a hot seller in European countries and in the United States of America as well.

Paine was let out from Prison upon the demand of the U.S minister James Monroe who said about Paine, and I quote:

“the citizens of the United States cannot look back to the era of their revolution, without remembering, with those of other distinguished patriots, the name of Thomas Paine. The services which he rendered them in their struggle for liberty have made an impression of gratitude which will never be erased, whilst they continue to merit the character of a just and generous people.”

He went back to America through the invitation of Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Paine has made many enemies and had alienated himself from many Americans when he published The Age of Reason. He found that all what he had done to the United States is all forgotten and now he is considered, by pretty much everyone, as the filthiest infidel that the world has ever known. When Thomas Jefferson invited him to the White House, his two daughters made it clear that they don’t want to associate with such a man, in which Jefferson replied with the following: ” Thomas Paine is too well entitled to the hospitality of every American, not to cheerfully receive mine.”

He spent the rest of his life in a farm in New Rochelle, New York. And he died on the morning of June 8, 1809. He was buried in the farm because no cemetery wanted to take him.

Thomas Paine fought his entire life for liberty, equality and humanity. He has laid the humanistic and universal foundations of the United States, and one can only feel ashamed when one see what Americans are squandering because of their ignorance of their own history. Almost everything that he had fought for has being achieved years later after his death. Be it the abolishment of slavery, the emancipation of women, or individual rights. He ought to be remembered for his everlasting fight against tyranny, against the corrupt authority of governments and churches, and of course for sparking the ongoing battle against superstition and religious wickedness.

Although his efforts and achievements towards the American and French revolutions, and humanity in general, were forgotten at his own lifetime; he, unlike many other great freedom fighters, didn’t fall to cynicism.

Thomas Paine didn’t have anything except the sharpness of his intellect, and the bravery of his heart. And yet, he aroused hundreds of thousands of people to throw off their oppressors. He changed history for the better through written words, and he had shown us what an individual is capable of doing through nothing more than a pen and a piece of paper.

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I lost interest in some of the people I admired at the age of 14 and 15. I even find some of the people I liked quite shallow and not worthy of admiration anymore. But one of the few people who got my interest throughout these years are Penn & Teller. They wrote and hosted one of the first skeptical shows I have ever seen, “BULLSHIT!“. I thought at first that it was a pure Magic show “silly 15years old me”. It was one of the few shows that combined everything I loved and admired: Magic, Skepticism and naked breasts!

Penn Jillette, the bigger, louder half is a high school dropout, a juggler, an author, a Free Market Capitalist, a Libertarian and a loudmouth skeptic. The second half of the duo is the silent devil, Teller. He was a Latin high school teacher before he drop out of his job to become a full time magician. He is a genius, an author, an eloquent conversationalist, and a Magic philosopher.

I have known them through Magic. I was particularly impressed by their version of the Bullet Catch trick and the Shadows trick. The former is a notorious trick that has killed many magicians throughout the history of said Art. And the latter is one of the most beautiful pieces of magic I have ever seen. But then Magic isn’t the only thing that makes these guys special. As a matter of a fact Penn & Teller are not just ordinary magicians who wear stupid costumes and perform frivolous tricks. No. They are more than that. They are thinkers, intellectuals, philosophers and professional assholes!  And these two portraits are a tribute to these two living legends of Magic and Skepticism.

Penn jilette


Alternative medicine, Pseudoscience and Carl Sagan

According to the American historian Daniel J. Boorstin, The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. Together with the same advice from George Bernard Shaw as he warned us to beware of false knowledge as it is more dangerous than ignorance!

 And it is indeed true! The illusion of knowledge and false knowledge is actually the enemy of the progress of humanity as a whole. And one of the most dangerous forms of delusional knowledge that comes to my mind first when I think about this subject is Alternative medicine.

I was once in a taxicab and the radio was on, the host would welcome callers who are seeking solutions/remedies to various diseases. Guess who was advising people on that talk radio show? A self proclaimed Doctor of… cupping therapy! Whenever a caller describes the symptoms of his illness, the so-called doctor would advice him/her to go on and do the cupping therapy in specific spots, he had names for these spots as a matter of a fact. Other callers were advised to just eat honey mixed with some fucking herbs! And he would back up his nonsense every now and then with some religious texts. Listening to that was depressing in a way, especially in the part where they thank him immensely because he had just convinced them that he has the magical solution to their problems. And the worst thing of all, he didn’t advice them to go check a “real doctor” just to make sure he didn’t misunderstand the symptoms or something of that sort. No, he didn’t bother himself, he was too confident about his claims. Or I guess he was too afraid to diminish his credibility as a “Doctor” by saying so, who knows.

Cupping therapy, as disgusting as it seems, serves nothing more than the reddening  of the skin due to capillary expansion, excessive fluid accumulation in tissue spaces and purple discoloration of the skin due to rupture of blood vessels. And a placebo effect. There isn’t a shred of evidence that proves it is capable of healing anything.

The belief that everything can be cured with cupping therapy just because it was done by ancient civilizations is a dangerous belief indeed. Most of the so called alternative medicine is as effective as praying to a holy cow. But one ought not to blame the victims of these practices and beliefs. They are mostly exploited by these charlatans given the fact that they are vulnerable and desperate to try anything with tremendous hope of getting some positive results.

I’ve had many discussions with many Alternative medicine/pseudoscience believers, and what I noticed is that if you just question them about the validity of their claims, they become angry. Sometimes to the point of withdrawing from the discussion by blocking you in the virtual world, or breaking off from the discussion in the real world. I thought this happens only when the topic is religion. I was wrong. They have spent months or even years investing both financially and emotionally in that practice or belief. And one can’t just come along and tell them that it’s all bullshit while expecting a positive reaction. Even if you do it as respectfully as you could, they do get mad. Which makes it hard to discuss the subject as objectively as possible. A friend of mine on Facebook, who is not a friend of mine anymore, was an astrologer. She did astrological readings to people. I asked her once to do me one, which she kindly did. I thanked her immensely for her time and effort. I then watched the reading, which turned out to be quite good, and complemented her for it. I then asked her if she believes in astrology or is she doing it just for fun. She said that she believe it to be true of course. She asked me the same question, do I believe in astrology? I said no. She said why? I asked her as politely as I can to explain to me how is it possible that there is a connection between the position of stars and planets in the universe and people’s personalities/lives. She said that we are all connected by energy … And she kept on talking that New Age, Deepak Chopra mambo jambo kind of nonsense. I then explained to her the linguistic and psychological tricks behind the way these readings are written. She immediately became defensive and even aggressive in the way she talks. she proceeded by telling me that I am a narrow minded person and she has no time to waste explaining to me how Astrology works. And then, to my surprise, I didn’t have the opportunity to reply because she had already blocked me. I never thought that her reaction would be like that. We could’ve at least agreed to disagree on that matter. I had the same discussion with some Astrology believers, here in my country Morocco, but none of them had any notion of how astrology works, some of them actually confuse it with Astronomy. But none of them reacted as aggressively as my old virtual American friend. I guess that’s why I was surprised.

Finding the truth about something is always difficult, and most importantly, tricky. Especially if your source of information are unreliable articles on the internet, Television and traditions. And speaking of that, Carl Sagan writes:

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practise these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along. 

 An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on earth – scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children on television and radio and in movies, newspapers, magazines, comics and many books might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it.  What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?

From The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

It’s actually true. People do actually some effort to educate themselves and find out about science, but all what they can find is sophisticated nonsense. So they fill their minds with it. The more it stays unchallenged in their heads. The more irremovable it becomes. Another major factor that plays in the widespread of pseudoscience is the fact that it’s easily understood! How beautiful it would be to just think and focus about what you want and then get it when you least expect it! Such is the absurdity of the Law of attraction. To name a few!

And speaking of promoting science, Carl Edward Sagan ( 1934-1996) was an American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, author and a Science Popularizer. And the latter seems to me as important as all the other work he did. He knew the importance of advocating scientific skepticism to fight against the expansion, or shall we say the infection, of superstition and irrationality to future generations. Sagan had, if I might say, an uncanny ability to explain complicated scientific subjects in a simple fashion in order to make them easily understood to non-scientists. He hosted, co-wrote and co-produced a Television series called “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” in 1977 which is consisted of thirteen episodes that are filled with a wealth of scientific facts and historical knowledge narrated by his hypnotizing voice in a poetic manner, on a journey through time and space. And he is also best known for his research of extraterrestrial life.  Not to mention that he was an author and co-author of more than 20 books.

If you are, my dear reader, interested in the subject of Alternative medicine and its efficacy. I would recommend to you a book called “Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial”. It’s written by two people. The first is Professor Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher specializing in the study of complementary and alternative medicine. And the second is a science journalist who makes a living out of writing articles and books about science in a non academic manner to make them readable by the general public. It’s entertaining, educational and it will challenge some of your beliefs when it comes to medical practices. So if you value scientific evidence. And the conclusions of scientific experiments, you may go ahead and read it. If you don’t value evidence and you won’t change your mind no matter what. Don’t read it. You’ll just waste your time.

Finally, I hope I have given you enough stimulus to go on and read some of Carl Sagan’s books, too. Or watch his Television series if you haven’t done all of that already. I know that the new edition by Neil deGrass Tyson is much more advanced, but if you’re one of Sagan’s admirers like myself, you can’t help but watch his own edition. And needless to say that I had the honor, and certainly the joy, to draw the portrait you’re seeing now.


Marilyn Manson, Censorship, and Art!

Brian Hugh Warner, known as Marilyn Manson, the guy who shocked the living fuck out of the conservative right wing, Christian parents and religious groups in the 90’s, by challenging their held beliefs and opinions about beauty, sex, Christianity … and many other stuff  through his shocking Music. And he is the only Artist that I wanted to kill as a kid. Yep, I’m talking about the time when I was 13 years old if I remember correctly. In other words, when I was too young, gullible and stupid, if I must say.

I listened to many metal bands and various forms of metal music over the years, and Marilyn Manson was one of them. Though I was satisfied with the quality of his music, I hated him as a person. Because first, I didn’t understand the meaning of his lyrics back then and the reasons why were beyond me at the time. And second, this is the important one, I was irritated by some of his “girly” outfits and behaviors. And I’m not even surprised at all that I hated him to the point of feeling the urge to kill him if I had the chance to do so. Narrow minded people usually hate what they don’t understand and they like to get rid of it entirely. It’s just a few years ago when I watched some of his interviews, and I was surprised to find out that he is a smart, well spoken and interesting person!

Great Art, in my humble opinion, must have some shocking, yet beautiful content in it. As for the shock, it should awaken the sleeper, and beauty, shall fascinate the enlightened. This is exactly what Manson had done with his Music and his well made Music videos. You may agree that he is a shock rocker but none of what he does is beautiful, that’s what most people say. And I have no objection to that, beauty is a subjective thing after all.

I had no idea that I will draw Marilyn Manson this year. Until his last album caught my attention through this song, Third Day of a Seven Day Binge. It is nothing like his old stuff, this year’s album is a bit different. It sounds less driven by rage. Less aggressive. One can sense much maturity in Manson’s tone of voice and lyrics.  And the taste of challenge that one can feel in his older work has decreased , too. Some of the songs starts with a slow, relaxed tone. Then as the song goes on  it starts to shift into a more intense rhythm. And one of the things I love about Manson’s lyrics is they contain lots of Mythological terminology, which I think adds lots of artistic value to his work.

And not to forget what I think is the most Epic live performance of Manson. The lyrics, the sacrilege, the music, the energy… Terrific! And no, he wasn’t possessed. It’s a rumor made by superstitious people who don’t understand  theatrical performances . And no, he didn’t remove three ribs so he can suck his own dick, nor did he remove/sold his right eye to the devil. These are just some of the widespread stupid rumors about him that many people actually believed.

Needless to say that Marilyn Manson received many death threats to cancel his shows many times. The most notable one was his performance in Denver, Colorado, a year after the Colombine highschool massacre that was blamed on him because the criminals were fans of his music. Plus a group of church leaders and parents who formed an organization to ban the show claiming that the band promotes hate, violence, death, suicide, drug use, and the attitudes and actions of the Columbine killers. Which in return Marilyn Manson intelligently responded with the following statement:

I am truly amazed that after all this time, religious groups still need to attack entertainment and use these tragedies as a pitiful excuse for their own self-serving publicity. In response to their protests, I will provide a show where I balance my songs with a wholesome Bible reading. This way, fans will not only hear my so-called, ‘violent’ point of view, but we can also examine the virtues of wonderful ‘Christian’ stories of disease, murder, adultery, suicide and child sacrifice. Now that seems like ‘entertainment’ to me.”

And beside singing and shocking people, Marilyn Manson paint. His paintings depict unusual and non sequitur things. Other paintings of his portray specific things in a distorted manner. In one of his interviews he was asked about the kind of paintings he likes and why he paint the way he does. His response was that he doesn’t like realistic paintings, or realistic drawings if I can add, mainly because they don’t add something different to the world. Realism to him is just an imitation of reality. The artist in his view should create something out of the ordinary, something distorted and perverted ” not necessarily in a sexual way” that cannot be found in reality, as Art is usually something that helps us escape the latter. Well, I like the idea, but as someone who is much more impressed by, and fond of realistic paintings and drawings, I have some few objections, or say I see this matter differently than he does. And my view can be summed up in the following ideas: First, Realistic Art doesn’t just copy what already exist as much as it redirects our lenses to notice the unnoticeable. Whenever we see a realistic portrait we spend minutes trying to analyze the picture and think about the amount of effort and patience it took from the artist to create such a detailed work, it helps us appreciate the importance of details. And second, Art isn’t just about creating weird stuff, it’s much more about expressing one’s self, and realistic drawings definitely offers to us the possibility of doing so through it. And as the master of surrealism Salvador Dali said:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

So even if Realism is just imitation as Marilyn Manson thinks, it is nonetheless better than nothing.


George Orwell

The moment I decided to draw George Orwell was right after I had finished reading Nineteen Eighty Four. Known as one of the best novels in dystopian literature. As it treats subjects such as war, surveillance and it shows what propaganda is capable of creating. Reading it makes you experience what it feels like to live an unbearable existence where your whole life is dedicated to a grotesque totalitarian regime. Where the pinnacle of human relationships, like friendship and love, are replaced by meager ones, like comradeship and hideous marriages. Where privacy is eradicated. Where individuality is completely annihilated. Where the mere act of thinking unwanted thoughts could cost you your life. And where you are in a constant state of panic and fear.

And yes, friendship differ from comradeship. The former is built over time and is based on trust, and it can survive with or without common interests. While the latter is based on common opinions, and most importantly, a common goal. And once it has been achieved, the comrade will eventually disappear from your life. I couldn’t move on without pointing this out since I’ve noticed that many people confuse and/or can’t see the difference between the two.

One of the many concepts that I was impressed with in the novel was Newspeak. The ability to control people’s thoughts, and reducing their abilities and freedom to think, through controlled language. This is not something new to me, nor to any educated person I guess. As we all know most people don’t even know the actual meanings of terminologies such as democracy, freedom of expression, individuality…etc. If they knew these terminologies at all. To see that what you had in mind has actually a name, and it has been explained eloquently by someone else years ago, is quite impressive. I kind of had the same feeling Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984, had when he read “the book”. And I quote from the novel:

” The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear−ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”

 Another great and famous work by Orwell, which was my second metaphorical meal from the metaphorical buffet of his written works, was Animal Farm. An allegory that satirized the rise of Stalinism in Russia which he vehemently despised. And showed how a revolution towards higher ideals like democratic socialism, could easily metamorphose into more slavery, more oppression, and more dictatorship if the people are gullible enough to believe whatever is being said to them by their leaders. Which again shows the disastrous result of gullibility and powerful propaganda mixed together. Reading these two literary masterpieces got me interested in this great writer as a person, and I needed to know more about him.

George Orwell’s real name is Eric Arthur Blair. He was born on June 25, 1903. Despite his intelligence, and like many great writers, he didn’t attend university for two reasons: his family couldn’t afford the fees, and his poor results wouldn’t enable him to win a scholarship. He instead volunteered to serve in the imperial police in what was then British India. Five years later, he resigned. He hated the job and what he saw there as well. And the people with whom he had to work with of course hated him, too. He wrote in his essay “A Shooting Elephant”, and I quote:

“In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by a large number of people. The only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me”

 Surely the main reason for his resignation wasn’t just that. He actually saw the true nature of imperialism and the fact that he was part of an instrument of oppression, doing the dirty work of the Empire as he described it. He felt a moral responsibility which resulted in his decision to resign. It’s here when he knew that some sort of nastiness and evilness exist at the heart of power and authority. He wrote, and I’ll quote again from the same essay:

” For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically–and secretly, of course–I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear.”

He went back to England knowing that he doesn’t have anything else to do to make a living, except writing. He then decided to go native in his own country. He dressed like a tramp and went on to experience the life of the poor. With beggars, hard workers, prostitutes, criminals and so on. An experience that helped him widen his perspective by being part of the lower class of his society. And it certainly influenced his writings as well as it increased his contempt for the ruling class. He then moved to France with the hope of becoming a freelance writer, but unfortunately he didn’t succeed at that, too. He described this period of his life in his first published book “Down and Out in Paris and London”. He then returned to England and worked different jobs. As a matter of a fact he worked many different jobs throughout his lifetime, he worked as a teacher, as a journalist, as a miner, as a dishwasher, he worked in a bookshop…etc. He never had a steady job nor a steady income since he resigned from the police.

By the time the Civil War started in Spain as a result of the rise of Franco’s fascistic regime, Orwell went off and volunteered as a freedom fighter on the side of the Republicans. He unfortunately was shot in his throat and it nearly killed him. The bullet went right through his neck missing his larynx, his spinal cord, and a major artery while causing little damage to his vocal cords. If you think he was lucky to survive such a horrible incident, you’re not alone. All the people who visited him thought the same thing. But not Orwell. He described this in his book “Homage to Catalonia” which he wrote after he had returned from the Civil War. And I quote:

“No one I met at this time — doctors, nurses, practicantes, or fellow-patients – failed to assure me that a man who is hit through the neck and survives it is the luckiest creature alive. I could not help thinking that it would be even luckier not to be hit at all.”

A passage that indeed speaks volumes about George Orwell’s mindset, and how much of a rational person he was. After his experience in the Spanish Civil War, Orwell has become more keen on writing against totalitarianism in all of its forms.

When England declared war on Nazi Germany, Orwell was a prominent opponent of the anti-war movement. Here are some excerpts from an interesting exchange between Orwell and D. S. SAVAGE, a pacifist intellectual, that will help you understand his position, it’s from “Collected Essays, Journalism, And Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 2: My Country Right or Left” during WWII:

  1. S. SVAGE:

“A few brief comments on George Orwell’s March-April London Letter. It is fashionable nowadays to equate Fascism with Germany. We must fight Fascism, therefore we must fight Germany. Thus Mr Orwell: “the greater part of the very young intelligentsia. . . don’t feel the horror of Fascism that we who are somewhat older feel,” also: “there is no real answer to the charge that pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist.” Answer: Fascism is not a force confined to any one nation. We can just as soon get it here as anywhere else. The characteristic markings of Fascism are: curtailment of individual and minority liberties; abolition of private values and substitution of State life and public values (patriotism); external imposition of discipline (militarism); prevalence of mass-values and mass-mentality; falsification of intellectual activity under State pressure. These are all tendencies of present-day Britain. The pacifist opposes every one of these, and might therefore be called the only genuine opponent of Fascism.

Mr Orwell, in all his recent writings on the subject, shows a total inability to grasp the real nature of pacifism. Let me try, in a few words, to enlighten him. Mr Orwell is himself a “politician”, with a politician’s outlook on things. He consequently sees pacifism primarily as a political phenomenon. That is just what it isn’t. Primarily it is a moral phenomenon. Political movements are based on programme and organization. With pacifism, programme and organization are quite subsidiary. Pacifism springs from conscience — i.e. from within the individual human being. “Peace News,” says Orwell, “follows its old tradition of opposing war for different incompatible reasons.” There are certainly innumerable reasons why war should be opposed, but the chief reason is the diabolical nature of modern warfare, with its diabolical repercussions upon human personality and values. I am not referring only to the act of warfare itself, but the whole complex of events which is war. The corruption and hollowness revealed in the prosecution of this war are too contemptible for words. Certainly I will accept my share of responsibility for them, but I won’t fight in a war to extend that corruption and hollowness.

Orwell’s response:

“Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, “he that is not with me is against me”. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security…In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.

I am not interested in pacifism as a “moral phenomenon”. If Mr Savage and others imagine that one can somehow “overcome” the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British Government. So he will be to the Japanese if they get there. Despotic governments can stand “moral force” till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

When  World War II began, Orwell wasn’t just showing an intellectual and moral courage, but more importantly , a physical one as well. He volunteered to fight on the side of England in the war, but he got rejected by the army because of his poor health.

Another interesting part of Orwell’s life is when he worked on the ministry of information creating and disseminating propaganda during wartime at the BBC for Indian listeners. During that time he felt like…and I’ll use his own words: “an orange that’s been trodden on by a very dirty boot”. He resigned after two years of work.

By the year 1945, Animal Farm was finally published after a great deal of rejections from publishers. But it was a bestseller and a huge financial success as well for the first time in Orwell’s life. Shortly, his wife died, and he quit London entirely. He kept on writing for periodicals as well as working on his final novel, Nineteen Eighty Four. An envision of the west under an ultimate totalitarian rule. He showed us where pacifism, moral cowardice, and slave mentality could lead us into. It is essentially a fantasy that raises awareness about the power of propaganda, the evilness of absolute authority, and the wickedness that comes with the two. It was in a way the result of his lifelong grudge towards totalitarian regimes, his life experiences in war and in writing propaganda, and his astonishing literary prowess as well as his artistic skills.

Sadly, George Orwell didn’t live long enough to witness his success. He died of tuberculosis a year after he had published Nineteen Eighty Four in 1950, at the age of 46. But he left a huge body of literary work that influenced his times, and it will indeed keep influencing future generations as well.


Christopher Hitchens

Writer, polemicist,  journalist, a wit, a charmer, a polymath, and a badass debater. Author of more than twenty books on Literature, Politics and Religion. An unapologetic defender of freedom of speech alongside secularism. A promoter of reason and skepticism, and an intellectual crusader who fiercely exposed frauds, fanatics, crooks and the filthy business of monotheistic religions. The late great Christopher Hitchens.

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