By Chet Yarbrough
By George Orwell
Narrated by Simon Prebble
George Orwell published “1984” in 1949. Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism, technology, and thought control match fears and failures of nations from the time of Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech to the present day. Orwell’s relevance seems as spot-on today as it was in 1949.
Totalitarianism continues to reign in many parts of the world; particularly in the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Africa. Technology then and now is a threat to everyone’s privacy and self-determination. Advances in social media through Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with the help of Google, Yahoo, and Bing, are encroaching on everyone’s right to privacy and personal thought.
Jingoism, war threats, and propaganda fill newspapers, television reports, and the Internet to influence and manipulate indigenous and exogenous populations. Libyan’, Iranian’, and Syrian’ governments tell the world that their internal turmoil is caused by outside influences; i.e. their government leaders use “Newspeak” to explain the murders of their own people. The real purpose of the murders is to preserve their governments by any means necessary. They torture the truth just as the victim/hero of “1984” is tortured to say 2 + 2 make 5.
Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism and population indoctrination in “1984” and in today’s Middle East is much more direct than what is happening in 21st century western cultures; i.e. the subtlety of social media seduces rather than murders and tortures people into thinking in a particular way. Google suggests that spying on search engine’ clicks customize and improve consumer searches for information but, in reality, it subtly distorts thought, mitigating free choice. Eliminating free choice is a goal of Orwell’s Big Brother’ screens in every household. Big Brother’ screens are now called computer monitors.
Orwell points to media-manufactured wars that are not really wars between nation-states but thought diversions, minor military conflicts, to make indigenous populations endorse, obey, and follow their leaders. People are killed but not on a mass scale. (Of course, it is a mass scale to any mother or father that loses a child.) Orwell is saying there are no ideological differences between nations; i.e. they all want to preserve the status qua while all recognize the certitude of nuclear annihilation in a real war.
Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as a cause for war is a fiction; i.e. it is a fiction designed to manipulate thought, to rally Iran’s people against western powers, and concomitantly, provide a political tool for American elections. A former Israeli spy master recently said on national television that Iran’s government officials are rational. Mutual nuclear destruction is not rational; i.e. Iran’s nuclear policy may give them the bomb but it is unlikely to change the nature of war in the foreseeable future.
Orwell characterizes nation-state populations as three-tiered; e.g. upper, middle, and lower. The upper class conception is a ruling class that controls a nation; the middle class strives to become a part of the upper class, and the lower class (the largest part of the population) is suppressed by both the upper and middle class to maintain the three-tiered structure. Orwell suggests the upper class becomes a kind of collective with a particular ideology that usurps capitalist ambition by trading wealth for collective power. The “collective” concept for aggregation of power certainly has more relevance in a socialist country but money is power in America so Orwell’s upper class definition is equally relevant in a largely capitalist country; i.e. rather than an oligarchy of socialists, we have an oligarchy of capitalists, each oligarchy seeking and exercising power.
A striking parallel between Orwell’s “1984” and today is the inchoate and confused revolutionary zeal of Orwell’s hero/victim and the 21st century “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has little focus with protesters that cannot formulate an action plan to actualize their revolution. Today’s Moneyocracy is the Upper Class Comradeship in “1984” and the “Occupy Wall Street” protester is Orwell’s revolutionary hero/victim.
Orwell is as prescient today as he was in 1949. However, a monumental difference lays in the rise of non-state terrorism. The statelessness of al Qaeda like movements add a different dimension to Orwell’s “1984”. Invasion of privacy by nation-states, with a status quo objective, become more acceptable, even to democratically inclined nations. Drawing the line between freedom of choice and government control becomes more difficult.