Monday, 15 June 2009

1984(18): Chocolate rations

I'm often reminded of the following paragraphs when the government uses statistics to try and prove, well, anything at all, really:

"... The Times of the nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today's issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston's job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones.

"As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April...

"But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty's figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.

"For example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at one-hundred-and-forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than one-hundred-and-forty-five millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all.

"Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain."

From 1984 by George Orwell, available online here. I wish I'd known about that site earlier, I've typed in all the previous excerpts straight from the paperback.


AntiCitizenOne said...

I refer you to this link I found


James Higham said...

Chocolate rations - don't make me shudder.

Stan said...

Personally, I always considered Huxley's "Brave New World" to be more prescient than "1984" - although in both you can come across something with a ring of truth in it from todays society.

One of the more interesting things about 1984, however, is that even Orwell could not imagine the way smokers would become persecuted. In that sense it is very much more "of its time" than "Brave New World".

The other interesting thing about both books was that they deliberately used the metric system of measurement even though it was largely unfamiliar to British people. This was, I think, quite deliberate - the point being that one of the first signs that our nation was on the road to totalitarianism would be the imposition of metrification.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Stan, he DID cover that in 1984, see here.