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"Orwell Saw This Coming"

My wife, Adela, wanted to re-read 1984, by George Orwell. Her exclamations while reading became repetitive. "It's just what's happening now! They [the ruling party] are following this like a guidebook!" I decided I needed to re-read it too.

So here I am, badly depressed, shaking my head in disgust, and wishing everyone would read or re-read it. I'll share some of my musings by going through those three slogans which are repeated in the novel. Orwell wrote it in 1948. He inverted the last two digits, and threw it into what felt like the far future. The actual year of 1984 marked the re-election of Ronald Reagan, a remarkable cardboard copy of Big Brother. Now it's twenty-one years later. We have suffered through the deification rites of that 1984 president. In our time the Acting President is probably not really in charge; he may be as unreal as Big Brother was in the novel.

[1] WAR IS PEACE. In 1984, there is a state of permanent war. The real intent of the war is not to defeat an enemy, but to keep down our own population, to destroy the results of economic production and to depress continually the general standard of living. War hysteria is continually pumped up, through media frenzies, such as "The Two Minutes Hate," daily during morning work break, or "Hate Week," periodically, with parades, banners, songs and speeches.

In our time we have permanent war, against a tactic instead of an enemy, with hate frenzy stirred by "news," "music," "pundits," "preachers," "patriotism" and full-scale propaganda.

[2] FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. In 1984, no one is free, physically, psychologically or intellectually. The very notion of freedom has become obsolete and only the word is left. TV screens are two-way, i.e. someone is watching you, whenever you are in front of it, and screens are everywhere. Children have been trained to spy on all adults, especially their parents. Admiral "plausible deniability" Poindexter and his TIP plans come immediately to mind.

The official attitude toward the working class, called the proles, is to keep them ignorant, entertained, frightened and obedient. We have an advanced state of this already here, with dumbed down schools, commercialized frenzied media and "music," managed "news," and phoney "security alerts."

The official attitude, in 1984, toward the white-collar class, called The Outer Party, is to demand obedience through more rigid thought control. The worst crime is called "crimethink" in Newspeak, the emerging language. The talent most helpful in adapting to all this is "doublethink, the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously and accepting both of them."

In our time we are being trained very deliberately to exercise doublethink. For example, "The Acting President is a liar," and "The Acting President is a wonderful Christian leader."

[3] IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. In 1984, a major white collar task was the systematic falsification of history, an obliteration of the past, in order to safeguard the infallibility of the Party and of Big Brother. Old news reports are rewritten and the replaced statements go down the Memory Hole into the incinerator. In our time we have government by C-students and liars, and an Acting President who has never made a mistake.

At one point in the novel the protagonist asks an elderly prole whether he is better off now than before the Revolution. The old man can't tell. His memory is badly flawed; he has never had any sense of the larger picture; he has only personal fragmented memories and ideas. In our time we have fifty-one million voters who can't calculate their own best self-interest, and end up supporting the party which is dedicated to their impoverishment and destruction.

Perhaps those voters are not only poor at calculating. They may also be familiar with "crimestop," another Newspeak word. The crime referred to is thought crime. Crimestop means "stopping short at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It entails not grasping analogies [think "nuance"], failing to perceive logical errors or lies, misunderstanding the simplest arguments, feeling bored or repelled by any train of thought leading in a heretical direction." A kind of protective stupidity is in play. It is a religious loyalty to orthodoxy. "Orthodoxy means not thinking, not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness." This seems to explain many things which we can observe today.

The protagonist wonders how to oppose the Party, and so do I.

"Don't believe them." [Don't let them frame the questions.]

"Remember basic reality/facts." [Call a lie a lie.]

"Trust that human nature will prevail. [Their attitude toward sex, war, love of country, truthfulness and a host of other basic things is so wrong-headed, it cannot prevail.]

"Die trying."

In the novel, the opponents of the Party are weeded out, vaporized, "disappeared" as in Kissenger's Chile and Argentina. But before that there is -- watch this! -- torture! Now torture is a very modern and up-to-date thing, approved of by our Acting President and his non-quaint Attorney General, and many other high officials. This novel has a very modern smell to it. Through torture, they'll change the past. Through torture they'll change the findings of science. Through torture, they'll change your mind.

The last sentence of the novel is the final defeat of truth and decency "He loved Big Brother."

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Copyright © 2005 Harry Willson

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