Darryl W. Perry: Is Orwell’s 1984 better than the reality of 2017?

Darryl W. Perry at FPP.CC:

For most of my adult life, I’ve heard about the eerie comparisons between George Orwell’s 1984 and our present day. After reading, or rather listening to the audiobook, 1984 again recently I noticed not only the similarities, but also some stark contrasts between Orwell’s vision of the future and our present day.

Most of the oft-mentioned comparisons to 1984 involve Big Brother, and indeed the first mention of the telescreen and Thought Police does sound remarkably similar to the NSA. “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. 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. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

However, later in 1984 Orwell makes it clear that the Thought Police and the several Ministries of Oceania (Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Love & Ministry of Plenty) were only concerned with members of The Party. “As the Party slogan put it:‘Proles and animals are free’” with proles being used as shorthand for the proletariat, i.e. the working class. This seems to be the complete opposite of our present day, where the various laws, statutes, and regulations are applied zealously against the average American while bureaucrats, politicians, and other government agents are rarely punished for actions that violate someone’s rights.

Aside from this major difference between Orwell’s 1984 and present day, some of the slogans of The Party seem to have seemingly been implemented in multiple ways by governments at various levels. “‘There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,’ [O’Brien] said. ‘Repeat it, if you please.’
‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,’ repeated Winston obediently.” What better way to control the past than to control what is taught? This is done largely through compulsory education laws and government run schools. And by controlling what is taught and what is allowed to be taught, the bureaucrats and politicians essentially ensure that they control the past, and thus the future.

By doing so, they try to ensure the populace remains complacent. As Orwell writes, “The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.”

While we do have standards of comparison – such as the Human Freedom Index & the Freedom in the World Index – to show that we are in fact being oppressed, the vast majority of people will simply deny that they are being oppressed under the guise of “well, it’s better here than it is in (fill in the blank dictatorship).” This is the essence of cognitive dissonance, or what Orwell called doublethink, “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.”

Whether or not the world of 1984 is better than our present day is not a valid question. The question is: what’s the best way to have people recognize the tyranny around them without dismissing it because “it could be worse”?

5 thoughts on “Darryl W. Perry: Is Orwell’s 1984 better than the reality of 2017?

  1. DJ

    The question is: what’s the best way to have people recognize the tyranny around them without dismissing it because “it could be worse”?

    Man, I’ve heard that so often, usually said as; if you don’t like it leave, or, my personal favorite: Why do you hate America?

  2. wolfefan

    In a discussion thread over at Simple Justice, Mark Barnett raised the question of whether tyranny is greater now as opposed to previous eras, including the era of lords and serfs. In response to someone mentioning that the long arc of history bends towards freedom, he replies, “If history teaches us anything, it is that its arc bends inexorably toward tyranny, interrupted only by brief spasms of freedom.” The full thread is here: https://blog.simplejustice.us/2017/08/13/the-day-we-lost-our-minds/#comments

  3. dL

    Big Brother tortured the politicos…Uncle Exceptional tortures the proles

    Yes, the big brother apparatus in Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty Four largely spared the proletariat, a literary fact that is often overlooked. Although they had no social mobility, the proles nonetheless operated in what today one term red light district free enterprise zones. The proles could more or less freely trade and they spoke and thought in plain english, not new speak.

    The novel offers competing rationales between the protagonist Winston Smith and the antagonist O’Brien why the proles do not revolt(incapable vs no reason to). Personally, I’ve long thought this plot subtext offered an interesting opportunity for a revisionist literary exploration that challenged the perspectives of both Smith and O’Brien. Namely, the proles weren’t as stupid or ignorant as they were portrayed. Using a book within a book construct, the proles circulated their own dystopian bootleg, Twenty-Fourteen, that warned against the future of life under Uncle Exceptional(which, of course, could only transpire by a political change, ie., revolution). The question would be then was this insight an organic one or one simply manufactured by the State to discourage revolution from below by cleverly laying bare the illusion of choice? Obviously, the author of Twenty-Fourteen would be Emmanuel Goldstein.

    Lastly, it is interesting to note that Orwell thought The Ministry of Truth was vital to maintaining the authority of the State. In our world, it appears w/ choice(or the illusion of choice), the Ministry of Truth appears to be a type of spontaneous order of the polity that requires no official bureaucratic agency to enforce.

  4. Rebel Alliance

    Mr Perry should’ve been the LP’s nominee in 2016, instead of the sad babbling presidential candidate and his fake “libertarian” Republi-con VP sidekick that we got stuck with.

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