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KillgoreTrout On July - 16 - 2011

 

In Mr. Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” he paints a very bleak and totalitarian picture. Mr. Orwell completed this famous work in 1948 and wasn’t quite sure what title it should bear and finally settled on the inversion of 1948 to 1984. The story takes place in the then distant future and Orwell needed a time that he considered far enough into the future. Of course, that time has now come and gone, but did Mr. Orwell actually predict some events and conditions in the world that have entered into our present day realities? What aspects of this chilling novel do we see today?

This fictional (yet prophetic) novel is about a society ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship  in the year 1984, after a global atomic war. The central character in the book is one Winston Smith , an intellectual, a member of the” Outer Party,” who lives in the ruins of London, and who grew up in some long post-World War II England, during the revolution and the civil war after which the “Party,” assumed power. The leader of The Party is a figure known as Big Brother. Nobody  knows whether Big Brother actually exists, as a person. But everywhere are posters that admonish the people to realize Big Brother Is Watching You. There are two-way “telescreens” everywhere that are not only showing government propaganda, but also watching everybody twenty four hours a day. Winston is a civil servant working in the “Ministry of Truth,” whose job it is to rewrite history using “newspeak,” the language of The Party used to distort reality toward the ends of getting the average populace , “the Proles” (shortened from the term proletariat) to conform to the goals of The Party.

Winston lives in one of three “superstates,” Oceana, Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston lives in a province of Oceana, “Airstrip One,” that used to be known as London, England before the great atomic war. At any given time, there is perpetual war between any two of these three superstates.

There are four government entities or ministries  in Oceana;

Ministry of Peace (NewspeakMinipax)

Minipax reports Oceania’s perpetual war.

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work.

Ministry of Plenty (NewspeakMiniplenty)

The Ministry of Plenty rations and controls food, goods, and domestic production; every fiscal quarter, the Miniplenty publishes false claims of having raised the standard of living, when it has, in fact, reduced rations, availability, and production. The Minitrue substantiates the Miniplenty claims by revising historical records to report numbers supporting the current, “increased rations”.

Ministry of Truth (NewspeakMinitrue)

The Ministry of Truth controls information: news, entertainment, education, and the arts. Winston Smith works in the Minitrue RecDep (Records Department), “rectifying” historical records to concord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements, thus everything the Party says is true.

Ministry of Love (NewspeakMiniluv)

The Ministry of Love identifies, monitors, arrests, and converts real and imagined dissidents. In Winston’s experience, the dissident is beaten and tortured, then, when near-broken, is sent to Room 101 to face “the worst thing in the world”—until love for Big Brother and the Party replaces dissension.

The three main slogans of The Party are  Ignorance is Strength,  War is Peace  and Freedom is Slavery. These slogans are examples of what Orwell, in his novel refers to as “doublethink.” Doublethink,  describes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts. It is related to, but distinct from, hypocrisy and neutrality. Its opposite is cognitive dissonance, where the two beliefs cause conflict in one’s mind.

Without turning this into a book report, with a full list of characters, plot and ending, I will now ask the question, was Orwell right? Are there aspects of Big Brother now apparent in today’s America? I will say that many similarities I see were more obvious during the Bush administration, but some aspects still remain today, especially in our right wing media and many statements and “tactics,” used by right wing politicians and the Tea Party.

The most obvious is in the area of what Mr. Orwell called “newspeak,” given the insidious nature of linguistic changes, and their psychological importance. Due to the surprizing length of this article, I will comment on language changes, or deceptions, in the comment section.

Next, would be media saturation. the advent of 24/7 cable news. Again, I will give my examples in the comment section.

Next would be the seemingly non-ending wars which we are unfortunately involved in and have been involved in.

And finally, “hate rallies,” and the promotion of perceived “internal enemies,” as is seen without end in right wing media, with FOX news heading the list. Their perceived enemies are Latin immigrants, legal and illegal, gay people, and intellectuals. (sound familiar?) And of course, anybody who is a liberal or progressive.

 

So I invite your thoughts and any similarities that you may see and have seen in the last ten years or so. Again, due to the length of this article, I will state what I have seen as valid comparisons to Mr. Orwell’s somewhat frightening “1984,” in the comment section.

Written by KillgoreTrout

Once a wander, working vagabond, fellow traveler on this 3rd stone from the sun. Hurtling through space and time. Lover of books (especially the classics), all kinds of books from novels, poetry, essay collections, fiction and nonfiction and a big Kurt Vonnegut fan. I am a secular humanist and technically an atheist.....Taoist.

19 Responses so far.

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  1. Plutocrats really suck says:

    Perhaps not a prophet, but someone who understood how information, truth and reason can be manipulated at the dawn of the media age. Nice article KT, I enjoyed reading it.

    • Thanks P! I agree, and have said that I(*$ is more of a warning than a prophesy. But the need to keep vigilant against the things Orwell wrote about is greater now, more than ever. Especially the use of linguistic changes. He who controls language, controls thought itself.

  2. foodchain says:

    Nice KT; Orwell is so interesting because he touches so many aspects of our dulling. I think marketing may dull us more than anything else--Youthfulness, skin, hair, Clothes, etc. I don’t see the government dulling any but perhaps by “entitlements”. An interesting form of dullness comes from the alcohol and weed. I think we Keep ourselves under control. Perhaps Orwell’s fear was the inevitable difficulty people have to being manipulated. I wonder if he had seen TV if he might have written a different book.

    • Well there were the “telescreens.” I believe, like many, many others, that there is indeed a great combined effort between the right wing and the media and corporations to dumb us down. Their relentless attacks on education, in the public schools and the universities. Right wingers despise intellectuals and truth tellers and seekers. They think university professors are all a bunch of “commies” and “librul eeelitists.”
      I would agree that alcohol can dumb one down, but I think weed, if not abused, heightens ones awareness. But, all things in moderation when it comes to substance use.

  3. AdLib says:

    It is striking how visionary Orwell was with this work. The lesson would seem to be, if one doesn’t underestimate the mercenary nature of those who crave power, one can extrapolate the future.

    To one degree or another, all of what Orwell conceived of in 1984 is reflected in our society.

    For example, the way unemployment statistics are calculated by the US government was greatly manipulated beginning in Reagan’s presidency, to make things look better than they were, and each successive president has accepted the corruption of previous presidents and added more of their own, especially Bush.

    It is a vicious cycle. If Obama was to add back in all those groups of people who haven’t been counted as unemployed for decades, unemployment numbers would skyrocket and damage his presidency. So, we have phony official figures misleading the public (i.e. those who aren’t collecting UI benefits are not counted as unemployed nor are any in the military once they finish their service).

    We all know about the Doublespeak of the bills and rhetoric during the Bush Admin and right after 9/11 they tried to implement the TIPS program which would have made any service person who visited your home, an authorized spy. It also encouraged people to spy on their neighbors and report any suspicions to the police. Only by spying on and mistrusting each other can we truly be unified and free.

    Fox News and the GOP regularly practice disinformation and endless social and literal wars (we need to fight all Muslim nations because we’re at war with their religion and every December, Fox bemoans The War on Xmas).

    And even on The Left, HP, Hamsher, Green and their like propagandize “liberally” to a trusting Dem readership about how terrible Obama is and not to support him and in the end aid a Republican being elected President…as the best way of getting progress on Progressive values.

    And we can’t discount the parallel propaganda and disinformation corporations promote through commercials and their media to enrich and empower themselves.

    It is truly an Orwellian minefield out there, especially for the uninitiated. And the fact is that this is a real never-ending war between the rich and powerful and the majority of Americans that we will always be engaged in. Though, we do have the numbers on our side and when we can get enough people to break through the facade of propaganda, we have and we will prevail.

    • Excellent reply AdLib. You bring up some very valuable examples. As is said by many, concerning Orwell and his masterpiece 1984, that he was warning us as to what could actually happen, but used extreme examples to strengthen the literary effect.
      No matter what our leaders, political parties and media tell us, 2+2 will always equal 4!

  4. Comparing the Bush/Cheney administration to the Party of Orwell’s novel 1984 is depressingly easy; the Internet is full of blogs and articles that do so. There are numerous valid points of comparison between the two governments, including: newspeak, and the shaping of
    youth through the historical revisions and inaccuracies in modern day textbooks. The comparison is not perfect; Orwell was not a complete soothsayer. Several of his ideas came from the then still recent conditions that arose from the NAZIS and the Stalin’s USSR.

    But here are some examples of tactics used in our present day and not so distant past;

    As Syme explains it to Winston Smith:
    Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of
    thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible,
    because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that
    can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its
    meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and
    forgotten ….Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of
    of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no
    reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of
    self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need
    even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is
    perfect.

    One of the clearest examples of the American version of Newspeak is found in the debate over changes in Social Security. Molly Ivins describes the situation:
    The president’s (BUSH) Social Security plan [was initially described] as ‘partial privatization,’ since it would allow younger workers to put a third or more of their payroll taxes into private accounts. President Bush called them ‘private accounts’ …Then, one day, some focus group showed that people, particularly older people, react negatively to any connection between Social Security and the word private. For some reason, people like the sound of ‘personal accounts’ better than they do ‘private accounts.’ …
    So the Republicans … all about-faced and started referring to the
    privatization of Social Security as ‘personal accounts.’ The Republicans in Congress, the president, the administration and all its media supporters, both paid and unpaid, insisted on referring to the partial privatization plan as ‘setting up personal accounts.’ This is the new political correctness. Journalists’ reactions ranged from amusement to outrage when confronted by the fact that “whereas it was okay two months ago for reporters to use the term ‘private accounts’ they must now refer to them as ‘personal accounts’ because the president decided that is the proper word.”

    Both the 11th edition of the Newspeak dictionary and the changing edicts of the Bush administration rendered some words politically incorrect.
    Legislation restricting individual freedoms and right to privacy was named The Patriot Act. I must have missed the Patriotism in this act.
    I will list more examples in another comment box.

  5. ADONAI says:

    We’re still a long way from 1984. If there were ever an atomic war that ruined modern society, I could see such a world rising from the ashes.

    First thing is the “wars”. These aren’t exactly global conflicts fought between powerful nations. They’re not even really wars. Just occupations. A vast majority of this country has nothing at stake in these “wars”. They have no impact or control over most of us.

    The 24/7 news channels are a joke and get far more credit than they deserve. Again, most people just don’t watch them. Aren’t influenced by them at all. When big events happen they may tune in, like this debt ceiling debate, but usually they watch something else. If the 24/7 channels really mattered,Obama wouldn’t be President right now.

    Which brings me to my third point; President Obama. I think that just about covers it.

    Most people in 1984 didn’t know people were being snatched off the street and tortured by the government. We know that for a fact and STILL don’t care.

    There is one thing Orwell must have never envisioned or it would have probably changed the book quite a bit. That thing is the internet. Worldwide communication without filters, without censorship. Even a strictly authoritarian country like China can’t keep it all out. And there were no satellites. He had no concept of what was about to come.

    George Orwell’s vision of the future just isn’t possible anymore. No secret wars, no one sided communications, and soon, no more secrets. But, of course, a huge nuclear war would definitely change all that.

    • When bombs and rockets and bullets are being launched, dropped and shot between two groups, nations or political factions, that IS war. You just supplied a good example of how different words are redefined to make a political situation seem more benign than it really is. When people are fighting and dying, that is war. And these wars must be paid for. We’ve spent more than a trillion dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan, while American citizens are hungry and dying from lack of medical care. Teachers and police and firefighters are being laid off, yet the wars continue.
      I think many more people watch cable news than you might believe. And it’s not just cable news, it is talk radio, newspapers and the internet too. You can’t deny that there are huge sums of money spent on distorting the truth, by these media.
      Everybody in 1984 knew about people disappearing and being tortured into confessions of crimes they never committed. The “telescreens,” broadcasted such things everyday, to keep the fear alive.
      I am not talking about president Obama, I’m talking about the rabid GOP/TP, and the corporations that influence their rhetoric and decisions.
      The internet is a double edged sword. Yes, it is used to denounce falsehoods and spread truth, but by the same token, it is also used to spread propaganda and lies.
      The wars in 1984 were not “secret.” Events in those wars were broadcast daily and encouraged by Big Brother, daily.

      • ADONAI says:

        But they were fake ears weren’t they?

        If the internet were controlled and filtered by the world governments, I would be more apt to be with you. It’s not. The truth isn’t just out there, it’s preserved in double space for anyone to see.

        And besides, we’re talking about a government that couldn’t keep a break in at a shitty motel a secret. Or the atom bomb or the hydrogen bomb. Secret wars in South America and Cambodia.

        The world of 1984 is SO MUCH more different than this one. I still see a long ways to go before Big Brother is problem. People still have too much control overt their own lives. even if we don’t appreciate it.

        It’s still a democracy. The weapon for defeating “The Party” is still in our hands. And I believe we will brandish it soon enough.

        • Fake ears? Actually, the internet is controlled in several countries, like China and Iran, probably Egypt too. But that’s not what I was talking about. I referred to the net as just another media where propaganda and lies can be spewed. There are many right wing sites that do this.
          I didn’t say the world of 1984 was exactly like this one. I DID say that there are several similarities and political tactics, through the media and corporations, that were used by Big Brother in 1984.

          • ADONAI says:

            Sorry ’bout that KT. Meant “fake wars”. Fake ears are what Leonard Nimoy wore on Star Trek.

            China does try to control the net. But they fail often. Things they don’t want getting through get through routinely. Thank you hackers.

            And I guess I see your point. Sorry for misrepresenting your words. I’m getting too far into the trees to see the forest. I shouldn’t be looking for blatant abuses. It is the benign evil that is most dangerous.

            • Quite true AD, quite true. The insidious changes, or change by degrees is the sort of negative changes to beware of. Like most things in life, change is a double-edged sword. Positive change works by degrees, but so does negative change.

  6. Emerald1943 says:

    Good job, KT! I think Orwell was indeed prophetic and we see it all around us. How many cameras are trained on our daily activities at the bank, at retail stores, at traffic lights, on the Interstates? We are tracked by satellites through our cell phones so that there is a record of each and every place we go. Our conversations on these phones are monitored by the NSA to make sure we aren’t scheming to make a bomb or give money to some terrorist group. Our Internet usage is recorded with sites visited permanently etched into our hard drives, just to name a few of our eroding liberties.

    As a woman, my uterus is fair game for the government to oversee. My doctor is required to read me a script of erroneous material if I request an abortion of an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, along with performing unnecessary ultrasounds and other “tests”.

    Meanwhile, the corrupt governors sell off the state assets to the highest bidder (or campaign contributor). They break our laws with impunity, and in same cases, don’t even try to hide the fact that they do so. (See the recall elections in Wisconsin in which the rethugs ran “fake Democrats” to force primaries.) Fox News spews the “right frame of mind” for all their sheep who cannot think for themselves. The lies and distortions are beyond belief. The American people are being dumbed-down to the point they cannot function in society and further cuts to education are planned by the far right-wing along with privitazing our schools so that some corporation can control what our kids are taught. Our courts are becoming a joke with “corporate personhood” eroding our elections. Lobbyists buy our representatives with fat contributions to their campaigns…the rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed!

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to get on a roll, but our Democracy is broken and if we don’t fix it soon, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. I think Orwell saw it coming, but I wonder if he had any idea just how prescient he truly was.

    • Thanks for replying Emerald. You cited some points I hadn’t thought of. Especially the attacks on abortion, which is kind of a juxtaposition of the Orwellian idea in 1984, that the orgasm was seen as something to be overcome and abolished. That sex was not in the ideals of “The Party.” That sex would lead away from the collectivism desired, and result in “thoughtcrimes.”
      Similarities to 1984 in today’s world pertain more to corporations than to government. But what is quite dangerous, IMO is the usurpation of the constitution by the corporations, with the unabashed help of our Supreme Court. As you mentioned.

      • Emerald1943 says:

        Hi KT! Thanks for your comment. Your point about the usurpation of the Constitution is exactly right. At times, there is very little space between government policy and what the corporation-of-the-day wants. I looked up the definition of “fascism” a while back just to refresh myself and it listed among several definitions a “collusion” between business and government which is, as I see it, exactly what we have in this country right now. While this is not George Orwell’s vision of total government control of even our thoughts, my point was that corporations are doing a great job on the dumbed-down American people…take the “Clean Coal” advertising campaign that some gullible folks actually believe. Fox News distorts and lies for the republican party on a daily basis, advancing the radical right’s agenda and stoking fear. When Bush was in office, there was little daylight between government propaganda and Fox propaganda.

        I am having problems getting my thoughts organized and typed this morning…only one cup so far. I know what I want to say but it just doesn’t come out right. Forgive my almost futile attempts. Maybe after the second cup, I can discuss this with more clarity…or maybe it’s not the lack of a second cup but the government/corporate thought control that’s causing me problems! :-)

        At any rate, I thought your article was most thought-provoking and relevant! Please do more!!

  7. whatsthatsound says:

    Well done, KT! You took up the idea and ran with it with gusto! Now I feel guilty because I haven’t even thought of an outline for a similar article on Brave New World!

    1984 is a brilliant, terrifying novel. I think in some ways it was prophetic, but in other ways simply exposed practices already taking place behind the Iron Curtain. Technological advances have of course made it easier for the government to spy on its citizens, but Stalin and his minions were able to create a very low-tech reign of terror. The 3 am knocks on the door, the ratting of neighbor by neighbor, the gulag archipelago, etc., all predicated on the awareness that torture awaited the slightest slip-up, this was government at its most nightmarish.

    Compared to that, Huxley’s Brave New World seems downright benign, just keeping people dumbed down and preoccupied. I think that is the model being most copied and applied today, either deliberately or coincidentally.

    • Thanks for your reply wts. I agree, for the most part. Orwell’s novel was more of a warning than a prophecy. Being written right after WWII, he had to have been influenced by both the Nazis and the Stalinites. Big Brother was purposely made to resemble Stalin. But there are and have been similarities between Big Brother tactics being used today. And some that are not now, but were during the Bush administration.
      No need to feel guilty, because we both agreed on a pretty loose deadline. :)


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