Dystopian classic 1984 is depressingly relevant in 2016.
George Orwell’s anti-totalitarianism novel was published almost seven decades ago. 1984 proved prescient on a number of fronts. In many ways, the further we get from the book’s original 1949 publication, the more on the nose it becomes.
The surveillance state predicted in the novel is practically a reality. The proliferation of security cameras in public places had already ensured that, in some areas, you are almost never off-camera. The addition of satellite and drone technologies has cranked that exposure up even further. Governments monitor our e-mail, internet traffic and phone calls. Home computers and security systems can be compromised to monitor what’s happening in your personal fortress.
1984 presaged the devolution of language. “Text speak” and acronyms are an eerie parallel to the LCD ethos of “Newspeak.” The intricacies of language are actively shunned. The search engine optimization function on my blog will likely tell me this piece is hard to read because I’ve used complete, complex sentences.
“Doublespeak” is all around us as we languish in election season. Candidates from across the spectrum bend themselves into unrecognizable shapes to appeal to as many voters as possible. That in service to an election process that encourages blind, mindless devotion to a party; it’s right out of Orwell’s novel.
“Thoughtcrime” was a key part of 1984. It’s become an odious part of our daily lives. Daring to have a view that departs from the thin-skinned orthodoxy of the moment brands you a pariah, an outcast, an aggressor. In an age where college campuses are awash in “trigger warnings” and hysterical charges of “micro-aggressions” the concepts of pluralism and challenging thinking all but dead. Anything that doesn’t reinforce comforting illusions of insular thinking are shunned.
We see the kind of cultural revisionism practiced in 1984 more and more. Bill Cosby proved to be a terrible human being? Erase him from entertainment history. And let’s outlaw The Dukes of Hazzard for its casual incorporation of Confederate imagery. If you’ve sinned, we must make you cease to exist. Unless you’re part of a privileged elite. Then you can write a book about stuffing rocks into your infant sister’s vagina and continue to receive plaudits for your HBO sitcom.
1984 was a warning about what happens when we let others think for us. When we let fear of the unknown and the different make us not engage one another. When we don’t use our brains and our individualism. This happens across the political spectrum. The major parties in the U.S. have become about who can scream the loudest and make the most damning accusations against their opponents.
1984 showed us where all this leads. When we don’t think, when we submit to the expedient, when we don’t demand the best of ourselves and our institutions, when we don’t preserve provocative opinions. When we don’t insist we confront reality, no matter how unpleasant. Liberty is not passive, it requires thought and effort.
When we live in a protectionist bubble and filter out all the challenges we need to face, we surrender too much. When we let any institution become too important or too powerful in service to a short-term end, we give away the basic things that make us free. That make us human.
We’re still doing it. Big Brother is still watching. It’s still 1984.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on February 1, 2016.