A book title that has been thrown around quite a bit lately is George Orwell’s 1984. Many in the media and just in plain old conversation have been saying that the dystopian novel that Orwell wrote back in 1949 bears a lot of resemblance to the world that we live in today. The comparisons seem to heavily rely on the Trump administration, the current state of the European Union and Brexit, as well as WikiLeaks and the hacking of confidential data and files. The ideas of a dystopian political landscape, Oceania, The Ministry of Truth, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Big Brother and mass surveillance are brought up in 1984 and these ideas seem to have a place here in 2017.
It is accepted that this comparison is rather apt and quite alarming, but for a lot of people the comparison does not make a lot of sense for a very simple reason: They have not read the book and do not understand the things Orwell writes about in the text and how they relate to today. So, let’s do a quick look into 1984 and examine the things that George Orwell predicted and how they relate to today.
The Ministry of Truth
The oddly named government organization that is part of the Oceania regime is responsible for controlling all news and information output and essentially making sure that all of the information that is put out into the world is positive news about Oceania and Big Brother. The main protagonist of 1984, Winston, is initially a part of the Ministry of Truth where it is his job to ‘rectify’ historical records to make sure they show that Big Brother is right and that whatever The Party says is true.
In today’s world, this would be comparable to some of the state-run media organizations that attempt to whitewash facts and sugarcoat the truth. Similarly, the communications wing of the White House has attempted to do similar things with trying to dispute the actual size of Trump’s inauguration crowd, terrorist attacks in Sweden, and claiming that Trump and Putin have never spoken before.
Doublethink and Newspeak
Doublethink is the act of accepting two beliefs that are inherently contradictory. Some examples used in the book is blackwhite or 2+2=5. Obviously, neither of those statements make sense as something cannot be both black and white, it must be one or the either and 2+2 actually amounts to 4 not 5. But in 1984 members of The Party are so brainwashed that they accept these Doublethinks as fact.
When Kelly Ann Conway dropped the term ‘alternative facts’ people were quick to point out that that phrase is something that sounds like it came right out of George Orwell’s book. The use of the alternative fact phrase by Conway is a clear Doublethink, because there are no alternatives to facts. Something is either a fact, or alternatively it is false. There is no middle ground on a fact.
A lot of credit has to be given to Orwell for predicting this. How Orwell saw the future of mass surveillance is something to marvel at. In his day and age, a system of cameras and recorders that are able to track your every move would have been ludicrous. But in Orwell’s book, and today’s world, fiction is reality.
Winston is constantly watched by his government through two-way telescreens that are in his apartment and at his workplace, as well as hidden microphones that pick up on every single word he says. Even so much as a wrong look could get Winston imprisoned.
The surveillance state is something that is seemingly becoming more normal in today’s world. The mass surveillance appears to be a necessary evil if we want to be able to keep our streets safe and stop terrorism before it happens. But, we have seen that surveillance can be misused if it falls into the wrong hands or if it is hacked by an outside source.
War as a National Policy
In the state of Oceania, there is constant and perpetual war that is always going on. It almost does not matter who it is against, so long as a fight can be waged and an enemy can be targeted. Oceania uses the perpetual state of war in order to maintain control over its citizens and ensure that everyone is faithful to the state. Because otherwise, you are the enemy.
Looking at the world today, the same can almost be said. It is hard to recall a time when the entire world was at a global peace, or even just one part of the hemisphere for that matter. The United States is consistently involved in affairs in the Middle East while Russia has its hand in Crimea and Ukraine.