Friday, June 21, 2013

2013 = 1984 ?

Re-reading George Orwell's 1984 recently made me see at least 15 ways 2013 is like the world he describes in the book . . . .

Below are some high points from a recent re-reading of 1984, together with links to related blog posts.



(1) You don't know if you're being watched
(2) You learn to control your outward expression
(3) Nothing is "illegal" -- there are no laws -- but violations are punishable by death
(4) Hate is not mandatory; but it's irresistible
(5) People hope that someone else -- somewhere -- is resisting
(6) Associating with others is "inconceivably dangerous"
(7) The very act of free expression, itself, has become so hazardous ... what you say hardly matters
(8) Be afraid of everyone. Everyone!
(9) You are finally in touch with reality when you start to recognize yourself as already dead
(10) You are not to have a life of your own
(11) Two dangerous qualities: "beautiful" and "old"
(12) What the subconscious remembers
(13) Your only life is your fantasy life
(14) The power of sound
(15) Big Brother as emotional focus

Even Barack Obama is citing Orwell!


Enjoy! And be sure to read 1984 yourself . . . .





(1) You don't know if you're being watched

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork." (p.2)

(See Fed Up With Being Spied On)



(2) You learn to control your outward expression

"He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen." (p.4)

(See Facecrime in America)








(3) Nothing is "illegal" -- there are no laws -- but violations are punishable by death

"The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labor camp." (p. 6)

(See Dirty Wars and Extrajudicial Execution (So 1984!))



(4) Hate is not mandatory; but it's irresistible

"The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in." (p. 12)

(See Orwell and the Uses of Hate)






(5) People hope that someone else -- somewhere -- is resisting

"Perhaps the rumors of vast underground conspiracies were true after all -- perhaps the Brotherhood really existed! . . . There was no evidence, only fleeting glimpses that might mean anything or nothing . . . . " (p. 15)

(See Hoping Against Hope (Resistance in America))



(6) Associating with others is "inconceivably dangerous"

"The idea of following up their momentary contact hardly crossed his mind. It would have been inconceivably dangerous even if he had known how to set about doing it." (p. 16)

(See When Did "Free Assembly" Become "Inconceivably Dangerous"?)



(7) The very act of free expression, itself, has become so hazardous ... what you say hardly matters

"He could not help feeling a twinge of panic. It was absurd, since the writing of those particular words was not more dangerous than the initial act of opening the diary." (p. 16)

(See Building Metropolises of Self-Censorship )


(8) Be afraid of everyone. Everyone!

"It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children." (p. 21)



(9) You are finally in touch with reality when you start to recognize yourself as already dead

"Now that he had recognized himself as a dead man it became important to stay alive as long as possible." (p. 25)

(See Edward J. Snowden: The 365-Day Man )



(10) You are not to have a life of your own

"In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except in bed. It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreations; to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous. There was a word for it in Newspeak: ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity." (p. 72)

(See "Ownlife" - A Notion Too Dangerous for the State to Tolerate?)



(11) Two dangerous qualities: "beautiful" and "old"

"It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect." (p. 85)

(See "Antique," "Literary," "Natural," and Other Subversive Terms in America)






(12) What the subconscious remembers

"All the while that they were talking the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston's head: 'Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's!' It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing the bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing." (p. 88)

(See Ambient Sound - Lifeline to Liberty?)


(13) Your only life is your fantasy life

"In a way she realized that she herself was doomed, that sooner or later the Thought Police would catch her and kill her, but with another part of her mind she believed that it was somehow possible to construct a secret world in which you could live as you chose." (p. 120)


(14) The power of sound

"To talk to him was like listening to the tinkling of a wornout musical box. He had dragged out from the corners of his memory some more fragments of forgotten rhymes." (p. 134)



(15) Big Brother as emotional focus

"Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt toward an individual than toward an organization." (p. 185)

(See Big Brother: Not the Watcher, But the Reason We Allow Ourselves to be Watched)




(Page references are to the 2009 Plume paperback edition of 1984.)


* * *

Some background . . . .

At a recent antiwar demonstration in Chicago, my friend Frank -- a retired teacher and photographer, many of whose photos have appeared on my blog posts -- said, "Have you read 1984 lately?"

And that reminded me of a long-overdue "to do."

In fact, a few months ago I did re-read 1984, and I was shocked to find that what I had remembered as an impossibly upside-down world described by George Orwell actually turns out to be -- point by point -- the world we now live in.

Early in the book there's a description of drone assassination that jolted me to my senses. I realized that there is far more to 1984 than I remembered -- it's not just the telescreens, the Newspeak and doublethink and Big Brother; it's not even just the prescient description of the state of permanent war we now live in . . . . It's a description of dozens of ways in which our society has come to be be manipulated by the state.

Don't just take it from me. Read 1984.