Wednesday, January 9, 2013

ORWELL, George - 1984 [Utopian Dystopia]

If you haven't read 1984, you should, it's the novel that gave us terms like "Big Brother" and "Orwellian", in fact, reading and understanding the book is a sign of mental maturity in this brave new world. [Previously] In Equilibrium we had control through religion, drugs, lack of emotions and total submission, in "Brave New World" there was an extreme example of social change, shockingly resembling modern day "homo mallus" in a constant search for mindless happiness and infantile group behavior, now we will be talking about the uber-dystopia.

Perpetual war, perpetual surveillance,  scarcity of basic goods, censorship, lack of any real knowledge, lack of freedom of thought, degradation of human relationships. So which ones do we have?  Anyone reading this on a tablet in a ski resort in Switzerland while drinking Irish coffee will obviously say none, just like the "Inner Party" members in 1984 enjoyed all the blessings of the industrial revolution with little or none of the drawbacks. So it seems that we started with our first and fundamental similarity, one that I have not mentioned above, it's the pyramid of (political) power. I suspect we can easily arrive at a discussion about Communism or at least Socialism but that's not the goal. The way in which humanity deals with these levels in our social structure doesn't eliminate the fact that the levels (or social classes) are here to stay. We can enlarge the playing field with as many levels as we wish but if we are to narrow the field we will get a minimum of two, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the smart and the stupid.

Oceania (in 1984) has the "Inner Party", the members of which enjoy a life of plenty with little to no surveillance and an understanding of "how things work", the "Outer Party" or the middle class, are the ones with the fewest liberties while the Proles which make around 85% of the "1984" population, enjoy a greater degree of liberty because they are perceived as unimportant and inferior. Why does the shortest straw go to the outer party members? Well, it seems they are the prime suspects for starting revolutions even if maintaining a revolution would require involvement from the "lower" class. Some time ago I wrote about an interview between Stalin and Wells, what we need from that now is the following quote from Stalin: "To bring about a revolution a leading revolutionary minority is required; but the most talented, devoted and energetic minority would be helpless if it did not rely upon the at least passive support of millions."

Now that we know who the sparks (middle class) of a revolution are, who are the flames (lower class) and who is the fire wood (higher class), we must know how these three social levels interact.
"There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing except sport, crime and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means on a special kind of kaleidoscope known as a versificator. There was even a whole sub-section--Pornosec, it was called in Newspeak--engaged in producing the lowest kind of pornography, which was sent out in sealed packets and which no Party member, other than those who worked on it, was permitted to look at."
As we can see, what the world enjoys the most now is what in "Oceania" is reserved to the Proles and it is safe to assume that indeed, we have degenerated. Songs composed entirely by mechanical means... who would of thought or films oozing with sex, when? now? neaaah. Oh, and pornosec? Well, we call that the Internet.

Orwell shows us that while Winston (the main character and Outer Party member) hardly has enough to eat, "enjoys" cheap Victory Gin and Victory Cigarettes, and is constantly monitored through the telescreen, O'Brien (member of the Inner Party) drinks wine, smokes quality cigars and is able to close the telescreen while also knowing how the system actually works.

Another important element of this dystopia is Newspeak, a new form of English specially created in order to guide and control the thoughts and actions of its speakers. Reminds you of speaking politically correct no? In fact the question of how language influences us is very real, read here.

"Hate week" and "two minutes hate" are easily recognizable in our society, independent of culture, religion, ideology or economic level. It seems to be another way humans can be manipulated with little difficulty. In Romania for example, the majority of TV stations owned by the opposition started a "hate marathon" against the president and many Romanians bought the act, the only clearly prevailing message was hate against that individual. It's a good example to research the controlling of the masses if you are into that sort of thing. Other examples could be the growing Islamophobia (which actually means irrational fear of Islam but is used for describing hatred towards Muslims) in the West and the "Great Satan" (aka America) in the Islamic world.

In another train of thoughts:
There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League, which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes. All children were to be begotten by artificial insemination (ARTSEM, it was called in Newspeak) and brought up in public institutions.
This reminds me of "Brave New World" (will not get into it again), Communism, Nazism and Canada. In Nazi Germany the plan was called "Lebensborn" and the aim was to create the "master race" while in Communist countries this was not a plan but the result of a number of plans, either the killing of the parents in various waves of mass arrests or due to legislation forbidding contraception and abortion. As for Canada, go here.

The truth is that talking about "Orwellian" measures taken in countries in the "axes of evil" (such an infantile and Newspeak idea) can never compare to the same measures taken in the glorious lands of liberty because this kind of places are the most predisposed to growing rotten. Don't accept surveillance or your kids will grow up with telescreens in their rooms (or chips in their arms), if you don't care then I'm sorry for you.

Read the book online here.

Surveillance links (mostly old news for reference):

1. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/12/public-bus-audio-surveillance/
2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/23/cctv-sky-police-plan-drones
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Assistance_for_Law_Enforcement_Act
4. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2000/02/new-kgb-takes-internet-sorm
5. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2012/12/29/280770/wiretapping-an-unscrupulous-act-by-us/
6. http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2012/12/10/277314/cctv/
7. http://rt.com/usa/news/obama-fisa-faa-signed-143/
8. http://rt.com/news/oliver-stone-us-orwellian-022/
9. http://rt.com/usa/news/drone-surveillance-mesa-colorado-433/
10.http://rt.com/usa/news/rfid-badge-texas-hernandez-269/
11.http://rt.com/usa/news/nsa-government-fisa-inspector-222/

PS. Utopian Dystopia is wordplay.

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