George Orwell’s negative utopia has been a hugely important influence on our society. It is the root of cultural mainstays like “Big Brother” and “double think”, and has been required reading for millions of high school seniors. 1984 can be credited with encouraging a healthy skepticism and wariness of governmental overreach, depicting a worse-case scenario of what a totalitarian government may look like. Whether books like this have influenced Americans’ resistance to the ever-creeping advance of socialism can be debated, but the impact on shaping individual ideologies cannot be denied.
We are blessed to live in a prosperous and safe nation, with strong limits on government and strong protections for individuals, but much of the world is very different. From South America and Africa to Southeast Asia and the Middle East, political opponents around the world mysteriously (or conveniently) go missing all of the time. People live their lives under the constant and unyielding dictates of regimes that have only their own best interest at heart. The fear and helplessness so well presented in 1984 is felt in very real ways in the hearts of millions of people around the world today.
I often wonder, however, how many of us recognize our own deteriorating freedom and the growing dangers of INGSOC-like pressures in our own society. The almost inexorable rise of socialism is at the expense of individualism. Government dependency leads to the need for more government, less freedom, and more regulated lives. This growth of centralized power may not be premeditated and evil as depicted by The Party in 1984, but the restrictions our government places on its citizens in the name of fairness and safety are nonetheless alarming. And it is a trend that is hard to imagine reversing.
I find much of this book eerily familiar. In an age of web-cams, smart phones, street cams, remote weapon-detecting machines, and databases of all sorts, it sometimes feels like we’re living our lives under surveillance. The rise of political correctness, while based in good intentions, brings to mind Orwell’s depiction of thoughtcrime. Hate crimes and hate speech have found their ways into our legal systems, and often in the name of diversity we are practically forced into an un-diverse, homogenous line of political thought. Anthony Holder adamantly maintaining before Congress that The Underwear Bomber, The Times Square Bomber, and The Fort Hood Shooter were not motivated by radical Islam, clearly shows the real possibilities of doublethink. Inconsistent realities showcased by the Ministries of Truth, Plenty, Peace, and Love in 1984 remind me of incongruously-named legislation like the Patriot Act or the Affordable Care Act. The Junior Police (those children in 1984 trained to root out and report incidences of thoughtcrime in their parents and other adults) remind me of stories about kids accusing their parents of killing the polar bears by being energy inefficient or by driving their SUVs. While we are obviously a long way from the horrific setting of 1984, there are ominous parallels to our own New Normal.
This has long been a favorite of conspiracy theorists, and I can see why. Control the past to control the present. Who controls our education system, and who has to power to rewrite the past? Political correctness in history textbooks? You betcha! While I don’t think it likely that we have anything like a behind-the-scenes Inner-Party pulling strings and intentionally repressing freedom, I do think there is a natural tendency of governments to grow more and more controlling.
And it is not only the National government that we need fear. Want to cut down a tree? Better get a permit. Want to have a bonfire? Better get a permit. Want to build a house, dig a well, pave a driveway, put up a fence, drive a car, get a job, sell lemonade, buy a Big Gulp, get a haircut, cook a meal? Where is government needed and where does individual responsibility start? It is a question that societies will always grapple with, but I think that unfortunately the default will typically go towards more regulation at the expense of individualism. In the name of protecting us from ourselves… well, I shouldn’t too get carried away with this line of thought, but needless to say, this book really touched a nerve with me.
1984 is by no means a light or fun read, but it is a read that will encourage serious thought and reflection about the world we live in and the motivations of those in power. And before the Thought Police get too upset by my post here, I would like to assure everyone that I am very proud to be an American, and I love my country. Even with our more and more limited freedoms.
Pages: 326 FoA Pages: 12,789 pages