Sixty-five years ago one of the most famous and influential novels was published, Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell’s dystopian novel introduced terms and concepts that have entered everyday use: Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak and memory hole.
I first read the novel in 1977 in Mrs. Mazursky’s Advanced Composition class at Barnwell High School (S.C.) And here we are in 2014, living in the world Orwell warned us about. For those of you who have never read 1984 a quick summary:
The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes. Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. Smith’s job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.
Everywhere Winston goes, even his home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
If you have a pulse and are reasonably aware of the world around you, everything in the previous paragraph should sound familiar. A few comparisons between the novel 1984 and our world should make it clear:
1984: Newspeak. NOW: Politically Correct speech
1984: Telescreens in every room. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles have no way to turn off their screens. NOW: Telescreens in almost every room. In everyone’s hands. Programming runs 24 hours a day. Proles rarely turn off their screens.
1984: Telescreens in all public and private places, so the populace can be watched to prevent thoughtcrime. NOW: Surveillance cameras in most buildings and public streets to prevent crime. People carrying tracking devices called cell phones.
1984: Helicopters silently watch over the masses to keep people from creating thoughtcrime, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.” NOW: Helicopters and drones silently watch over the masses to keep people from breaking traffic laws, reinforcing the fear that you are “always being watched.”
1984: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses. NOW: Lotteries with very few winners. Held to collect income for the state, and to give hope to the masses.
1984: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. All references to oldthink are removed. NOW: History is rewritten to conform with modern beliefs. Example: In the 2013 history textbooks, the 9/11 attacks are described as being committed by “terrorists.” No description of their Islamic extremism and hatred for Western beliefs. However, in the same book, Timothy McVeigh is described as a “radical right-wing terrorist.” There are too many examples to list here. You’ve probably already come up with 3 or 4 in your head.
1984: People are steered away from consuming goods such as chocolate, steak, sugar, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol by rationing. NOW: People are steered away from consuming certain foods by warnings that these items are bad for your health. Cigarette smokers are portrayed as a criminal class. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg did his best Big Brother imitation by banning sugary drinks more than 16 ounces. Other states and cities have levied heavy taxes on food items that the state has deemed “not good for the public.”
1984: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. NOW: There is always a war, always an enemy always a crisis. If peace is made with one country, war is started somewhere else. When one “crises” is solved, another is discovered. “War on Poverty.” War on Drugs.” Etc …
1984: Songs are created by machines. No one can write a song not in line with Big Brother. No creativity is needed. NOW: Songs are created by synthesizers and digital samples.The creativity of past musicians are “sampled” by “artists” and re-mixed into a collage of mechanized sound.
1984: Telescreen is full of confessions of “Thought criminals.” They confess their crimes and perversions. NOW: Daytime talk shows are filled with people who enjoy sharing the low-rent, thuggish lifestyles with the rest of the world.
Over the past two years we have learned that the U.S. government directed the IRS to target conservative Tea Party groups merely because of their opposition to the expansion of federal government programs. We also learned that the government has been listening to the private conversations of EVERY Verizon cell phone customer since 2007. Through a program called PRISM, the government has also had access to the date of everyone on the internet who has logged on to FaceBook, Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Apple and Skype. The government’s response to all of this is: “We have done nothing wrong. We have done nothing illegal.” Various criminal operations and counties are hacking into digital date of corportations, political groups etc …
So, if you have never read 1984, it would make a great (yet uncomfortable) summer read to discover what Mr. Orwell warned us about sixty-five years ago. And for the government bureaucrat whose job is to read this column, I hope you enjoyed it. I encourage you to purchase my books and read them also!