Book Review: 1984
So I just finish “1984” by George Orwell. It’s a pretty amazing and unique book. I think there are many people familiar with this book. If you haven’t read the book, I’m sure you are at least familiar with one of the main concepts in the book: Big Brother.
Big Brother is the figure-head of “The Party.” The Party is the governing party that has created a society where they desire to completely maintain the social hierarchy of power. And they will go to any means to do so. They employ constant supervision of every member of the high and middle class (termed the inner and outer party, respectively), torture and complete control over the people. They will stop at nothing to maintain their control and even pride themselves in being more sinister and cruel than the Nazis and Communist Russians.
One of the most interesting concepts outlined in the book is “DoubleThink.” DoubleThink is similar to the commonly known concept of double-talk where you say one thing and actually mean something else. DoubleThink however is at a totally different level. It involves not only saying or thinking something that you don’t really mean, but it’s actually believing in something you know really isn’t true.
A few examples are the slogans of the ministries of the government; “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength”. These of course are oxymorons and strong examples of DoubleThink.
Sometimes I wonder how many people we encounter in our lives that “unknowingly” employ DoubleThink. I really think many politicians (and sales executives) have to use DoubleThink in order to survive. They actually have to believe their lies. Perhaps I just believe people are fairly decent at heart and I am hoping that people are not truly evil enough to just flat out lie like they do. I think DoubleThink is perfected by some of these guys.
The other concept with which I was very much intrigued was “NewSpeak.” The Party wanted to exert complete control over the people and a major part of that is to control communication completely. The best way to control communication is to create a new language in which the people cannot express themselves properly.
NewSpeak isn’t really about changing the language. It’s more about reducing the language and eliminated words that conflicted with their philosophy. They also reduced the definitions of some words. The word “free” no longer had any connotation of political or intellectual freedom. It only connoted a price.
Other parts of NewSpeak actually make sense. Rather than all the odd conjugations that the English language currently has, they eliminated what they deemed as the superfulous ones. They even removed some words that could be expressed by the negation of other words. For example, the word “bad” was eliminated in favor of “ungood.” In doing so, they not only exert control, but also seriously hinder poetry and literature — two traditionaly very rebellious “professions.”
And of course, you always have the question of whether something like 1984 could actually happen. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible. Not in the American society of today. Of course, my two friends, The Idealist and The Centrist don’t agree. They have strong feelings that we need to “jealously” guard our rights granted by the Constitution. I don’t have anything against that. I believe that we need to seriously guard our rights, but I guess it’s a matter of trust.
I believe in the American people as a whole. They have been given the tools to combat such attempts at taking power from the people. The Constitution was very much an inspired document, brought forth by the hand of God, to prevent just such power plays. The American people, who often show a lack of intelligence when it comes to political choices, in the long run will make the choices to keep the power where it belongs — in the hands of the people.
There are bigger fights in which to place our efforts than in something that is already sufficiently protected by our Constitution.
Our situation maybe worse than that in 1984 because it’s much more subtle. We have the impression of free speech, but anyone who speaks outside the presumed elite paradigm is labelled a crackpot or radical to be ignored or squelched. There is no ability to truly question and demand accountability from the government because those who control the media and schools and government want to perpetuate the paradigm.
Let me give an example: in 1985, Iran was removed from a list of enemies. This was done very quietly and secretly. For what purpose? So that we could “legally” sell weapons to Iran in order to generate revenue to fund another dubious battle in Nicaragua. After the weapons were sold, Iran went back on the list of enemies. They had to be there so that we could justify the financial and military support the U.S. was giving Sadaam Hussein in Iraq.
But we are completely expected to forget that we were allies not only of Iraq, but also of al-Queda. We are now at war with Eurasia, and must forget that we ever were allies with Eurasia. This stuff, although not literally scrubbed from our history, is essentially removed because anyone talking about it is blown off with the comments: “Well we have to do what’s in our own interest;” as if integrity and righteousness are something to be sacrifices to security.
I must say that I believe in the the American people as a whole…I will need to resume this comment later.
I believe, as you do in the American people as a whole. However, I don’t trust anyone with power. Unless there are appropriate checks on that power, it will be expanded and ever increasing. You partially quote Jefferson in the Kentucky resolution when you talk about jealously guarding our liberties, but it’s important to consider how to do that. Jefferson demands that we use the Constitution to do that. However, for years now (more than 100) our Congress has not placed the proper checks on the executive branch over and over again. Additionally the states (who in the original constitutional arrangement were co-equals with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches) have no ability to check the federal government, except to refuse funding which Utah attempted to do with No Child Gets Ahead. The Constitution that actually protected our liberties has been gutted by bad precedent and trivial legislative code so as to completely weaken the strength of the simplicity of the document.
As much as I believe in Americans as a whole, I distrust the monied and political elites. They are entirely self-serving and have no one’s interest at heart but their own. They have thrived in an environment of winner-takes-all and zero-sum-game mentality. They are driven by their lust for money or power or both.
This is not anything new. Greece, Rome, England, Egypt, Sumaria, Babylon…all suffered from the same disease. Without powerful checks on power, it will grow and eventually opress. So you can believe that this outcome will be different, but human nature is still the same and we have already blown holes in the checks initially established in the Constitution to the degree that the government would be entirely unrecognizable to Madison, Jefferson, and Adams.
There is one thing that I think will prevent a situation such a 1984 in the American society. Freedom of the Press! Unless “they” can somehow gain control of all the publications of the nation and then convince the people that we don’t want freedom of the press, we will always have those that will fight against it.
Because of the nature of the American society… where we came from… how America was established. There are a few aspects of the American society that, although we sometimes frown upon it, will eventually protect us from the demise you see very possible.
1) We have an attitude of rebellion. We have that cowboy mentality that we can buck the system and beat the odds. That predilection will always exist in the American heart. The non-conformist will always exist within our ranks and thus there will always be dissenting voice.
2) We often vote for the underdog. As silly as this sounds, many in American society will vote for the underdog regardless of the contest or contestants. This philosophy also protects us from always cheering for the guy on top. Take for example Microsoft. Technology, quality and business ethics aside, there are many in the tech community that hate Microsoft simply because they are the gorilla of the software industry. They support for the underdog or anyone competing against M$. In politics, I think this applies as well. So if one individual become too powerful, there will be those that will not support him simply because “he’s been there too long” or because “he has too much power.”
3) Competition and pride! Although on your blog, you indicate that competition is a bad thing (and it is in many regards), it’s also a saving factor for this situation. The prideful American refuses to be the guy on the bottom. He sees himself as the guy who should be on top. And even once a decent organization/ruling party is in place, there is always going to be someone who comes along and things he can do it better.
These are simply truths born within the American psyche that help protect us.
I’m not saying that a 1984 world is not possible, but it would take some incredibly special circumstances to make it happen. The planets would need to align (in an evil way) for something like this to happen.
Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t think it is anywhere near a bad thing for us to work hard to make the government function as we believe it should. Do all you can do to promote your philosophies and restore power to the people. In fact, I’d be happy to help you as I see it as a just and noble cause.
The more checks and balances we have, the better our government will be. But I will not approach it in the same manner as you. You see it as almost an emergency type situation, as if our government is broken. I see it as a great way to strengthen an already strong and system.
That’s just what “they” want you to think ;-). Unfortunately it is breaking, if not broken. I agree with your points 1, 2, and 3. However, the press has interest in only one thing…that is to generate revenue. Television journalism is a joke (but it makes money by sensationalizing every fearful story). The mainstream print media is getting close to being a joke. The “alternative” media (self-defined by Rush and Hannity) provides little check on the government (unless they ideologically disagree with the policies). The internet media is probably the least influence by money and power; however, it is also the least regulated and more likely to be untrue at times.
I guess my point is that government is force. It is power and influence. When it comes to chosing between money or truth, the press turns a blind eye to things that are wrong (like our promiscuous switching of bed-fellows as exemplified in Iran, Iraq and the Taliban; and like completely ignoring the historical role of the U.S. financially and militarily supporting brutal regimes throughout the world because they were on “our” side). These are real issues and main contributors to our increasing insecurity…but neither the mainstream media, nor the mainstream “alternative” media will ever talk about it. It’s considered unpatriotic to question the U.S. motives. It’s considered unpatriotic to hold our government accountable.
Just one final comment, not from me, but from Jefferson regarding power:
“In questions of powers, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution”.
It would be nice to be able to trust (or have confidence) in those in power, but human nature, human history, and truly wise people indicate that is an unwise course.
Additionally, Madison said the following: If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
To read the entire Federalist Paper on the necessity of having and maintaining (which we aren’t doing) checks and balances, see:
I keep saying “just one more thing,” I’ll probably keep adding because I found this book so fascinating when I read it last year.
The other idea expressed in 1984 that appeared so obvious to me as being congruent with our day is the idea of War. The folks in Oceania were willing to give up there freedoms because there was a big, bad enemy out there trying to massacre them. The enemy was evil and horrible and their cause was awful; Oceania’s cause was just and correct.
In 1989 the “Cold War” ended. It had lasted for over 35 years and led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives of people in countries who were NOT EVEN INVOLVED in the war (see Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador). During this time the government expanded it’s power and influence in society many-fold because they were “protecting us from the evil Communists.”
We then had a decade of short engagements (Iraq, Bosnia) that weren’t escalated into long wars.
In 2001 we declared a “War on Terror” a nebulous, vague conflict with now forseeable end. This “long war” (as it is now being called) again will allow the federal government to grab power to itself and diminish freedoms of individuals.
I think there is a lot in common between the war described in 1984 and our current “war on terror.”
Yeah… I actually saw that link (always being at war) as well, and figured you would comment on that. I suppose in many ways that is true, but I see a primary difference between our current war and the war in 1984.
The Inner Party new exactly what they were doing with the war. It was a form of control. They knew it was all about power. I don’t think our leaders believe it’s about power. It may be about money (which I suppose many interpret as power), but I don’t think they even realize that.
Perhaps I am just too naive. I just don’t see our leaders as being that corrupt. Even Bill Clinton (who I very much opposed), I don’t believe was in it for the power or money. I think these people honestly believe that they are doing good for the country. Perhaps they are deceiving themselves, but I really can’t believe that all our leaders are that corrupt.