So often comparisons are meaningless. By what standard could we say that Segovia is better than Doc Watson, that Twain is better than Hemingway, or that Renoir is better than Picasso? We might as well say apples are better than pears. It would make as much sense.
For that reason, I'm hesitant to pick favorites. Still, if I were forced to choose my favorite author, it would likely be George Orwell. If Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four is all you know of his work, you owe it to yourself to explore the rest. He wrote on a vast number of subjects, from making a cup of tea to shooting an elephant, all in his inimitable style: an elegant prose, equal parts detachment and warmth, seasoned with his dry English wit.
Certain recent events, both in my life and in the world, have reminded me of a passage from Orwell that is, I think, an important observation. Though many of us might share the general sentiment, Orwell outlines it very clearly. I present it here, and let him speak for himself:
It is worth saying something about the social position of beggars, for when one has consorted with them, and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them. People seem to feel that there is some essential difference between beggars and ordinary 'working' men. They are a race apart--outcasts, like criminals and prostitutes. Working men 'work', beggars do not 'work'; they are parasites, worthless in their very nature. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not 'earn' his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic 'earns' his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated because we live in a humane age, but essentially despicable.
Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar's livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course--but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout--in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.
Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?--for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except 'Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it'? Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately. A beggar, looked at realistically, is simply a businessman, getting his living, like other businessmen, in the way that comes to hand. He has not, more than most modern people, sold his honour; he has merely made the mistake of choosing a trade at which it is impossible to grow rich.
- George Orwell: Down And Out In Paris And London
Money has become the grand test of virtue. This is no less true now than it was in 1933. It may be more so. Orwell's writings have been called prophetic. This may be true; it may well have been his intent. Yet which prophet is he? If I had to choose, it would not be Jeremiah, but Jonah.
The choice is ours.