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Nudging in Animal Farm: A Crticial Analysis of the Novel by George Orwell

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Nudging in Animal Farm

A “nudge” is a gentle push in a certain direction. Sometimes a person or government “nudges” people to make a specific decision by making some choices easier, or harder, than others. Animal Farm, a novel by George Orwell, concerns this topic. In Animal Farm, a rebellion of the animals on the farm against humanity is started. However, the animals’ new society is drastically different from what they had imagined. The farm and its inhabitants are meant to represent Russia during the Communist Revolution. At the beginning of the book, Old Major, a pig who represents Karl Marx / Vladimir Lenin, stirs up the other animals with ideas of rebellion and images of a farm run by animals that is able to provide for itself without the cruelty of man. Soon after Old Major dies, the Rebellion is started, and the humans are chased off the farm. Napoleon, a pig meant to represent Joseph Stalin, eventually rises to power and becomes a selfish and cruel leader. The rest of the animals on the farm represent the citizens of Russia. “The Nudge Debate”, an article in the New York Times by David Brooks, also confronts the issue of nudging. While Animal Farm uses allegory to demonstrate the evils of nudging, “The Nudge Debate” weighs the pros and cons of a government nudging its people into the perceived “right” direction. It can be assumed that George Orwell believes nudging to be a negative thing when misused. Governments should not make one choice harder than another.

In Chapter Four of Animal Farm, Boxer, a horse who is the strongest animal on the farm, has just killed a human in the Battle of the Cowshed. This battle was an attempt by the former owner of the farm to retake it. When the battle is over (the animals being the victors), Boxer feels remorse for killing a human. Snowball, one of the pigs who lead the farm, explains why Boxer shouldn’t feel sorry. “‘No sentimentality, comrade!’ cried Snowball. […] ‘War is war. The only good human being is a dead one’” (Orwell 43). Snowball tells Boxer and the other animals that death is the reality of war. He nudges them to feel animosity towards all of mankind and encourages them to feel more comfortable with killing humans.

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In Chapter Five, Napoleon makes an announcement after Snowball’s sudden and violent expulsion from the farm. “He [Napoleon] announced that from now on the Sunday-morning Meetings would come to an end. They were unnecessary, he said, and wasted time. In future all questions relating to the working of the farm would be settled by a special committee of pigs, presided over by himself. These would meet in private and afterwards communicate their decisions to the others” (Orwell 54). Napoleon declared that debates will no longer be held by the animals at Sunday-morning Meetings. Instead, discussions would be held by the pigs in private. This decision nudges the animals to not speak their minds and to disregard current events.

In Chapter Eight, Napoleon is awarded new titles. “Napoleon was now never spoken of simple as ‘Napoleon.’ He is always referred to in formal style as ‘Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ and the pigs liked to invent for him such titles as Father of All Animals, Terror of Mankind, Protector of the Sheep-fold, Ducklings’ Friend, and the like” (Orwell 93). Napoleon now has formal titles he is to be referred to by. This nudges the animals to view him reverently and almost god-like.

In “The Nudge Debate”, Brooks considers how nudging is a bad thing. “Do we want government stepping in to protect us from our own mistakes? Many people argue no. This kind of soft paternalism, will inevitably slide into a hard paternalism, with government elites manipulating us into doing the sorts of things they want us to do. Policy makers have their own cognitive biases, which will induce them to design imperfect interventions even if they mean well. […] If government starts manipulating decision-making processes, then individuals won’t learn to think for themselves” (Brooks 1). Brooks deliberates on the reasons gentle nudging could lead to government making our decisions for us.

While Animal Farm uses allegory to demonstrate the evils of nudging, “The Nudge Debate” weighs the pros and cons of a government nudging its people into the perceived “right” direction. It can be assumed that George Orwell believes nudging to be a negative thing when misused. Governments should not make one choice harder than another. Through analogies of the Russian Revolution, Orwell shows how nudging can have a negative effect on a society. The nature of humans can be evil and selfish, as shown in these examples from Animal Farm. However, humans can be kind and good-hearted as well.

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