Thursday, 4 August 2011

1984 revisited: here today? Some observations

See also

1984 revisited: collective post-modernism

In George Orwell’s book 1984 he depicts a totalitarian future (it was written in 1948) in which the Inner Party (2% of the population) governs for the sake of power alone and forces the Outer Party (13%) not only to submit, but to believe in, a reality dreamed up by the Party founders, who give themselves and their successors absolute power. Below the Outer Party are  the proles (short for proletariat, forming 85% of the population) and they are encouraged to be ignorant, absorbed in trivia or drunk, and are kept safely free of energy for revolt by exhausting them with work.

There are three areas: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, all similar in power structure and governance. Throughout history the ruling clique has always lost power due to either conquest by foreigners or revolt.

The three territories are too big to be conquerable and each has most of the natural resources it needs – something which does not apply today because of the relentless growth in consumption; nevertheless the economic power blocs can see that military invasion would not benefit any nation because it would destroy the multinational trading system on which wealth is based.  

So the only possible loss of power in Orwell’s world, and arguably even in the actual world, is from revolt; but in 1984 revolt is impossible because of various stratagems and methods. These are listed below along with notes which I believe show how Orwell had foreseen certain aspects of today’s capitalist parliamentary democracies of the West.

  • Restriction of thought.  Anybody in danger of proposing ideas outside the narrow, rigid framework imposed by the Inner Party is likely to be arrested and worked on by the Thought Police. Intellectual activity and creativity are also prevented by restricting the range of ideas and knowledge available. All history is written and rewritten by the Inner Party to suit its current requirements. Thankfully there is little evidence of this in the West but the same can’t be said of all parts of the world (e.g. Middle East, China, N. Korea). Even in the West there is an expectation of submission to the Market and fulfilment through material gain and status: anyone who thinks outside this matrix is often subject to  strong social pressure or marginalised.

  • Restriction of vocabulary and grammar of the Outer Party. The Inner Party restricts the vocabulary and grammar of the majority  to curtail precision, flexibility and creativity of thought and discussion (Newspeak) . Dumbing down is happening in some sectors of western society (e.g. universities), although hopefully this is not deliberately engineered by an oligarchy seeking to maintain power. Witness younger people talking, twittering and emailing and note how often such words as ‘like’, ‘thingy’ and those ending in ‘wise’ crop up in a loose, undisciplined pattern of street lingo where finding the a word with the precise shade of meaning is not considered important.

  • Stupefaction of the masses. The proles are kept exhausted by drudgery, diverted with trivia and befuddled with cheap gin made widely available. This prevents them becoming a threat (the Thought Police concentrate on the Inner Party rather than the proles, since the latter have few thoughts that could amount to a threat to the Inner Party's grip on power).  Today very strong pot is widely available, alcohol is increasingly bought and consumed by older children, TV soaps and talent shows have become addictive, most TV programs are presented in a manic or sensation-mongering style pandering to ever diminishing attention spans, a family has to work more hours to buy a house than 50 years ago, publicly funded education is under financial pressure and trade union power is continuing to decline. Formerly serious newspapers are peppered with sensational crime reports, celebrity gossip, entertainment news, competitions and anything to divert from serious discussion of ideas to upset the status quo. Am I paranoid?

  • Hate sessions. In 1984 the Inner Party invents fictional public enemies (e.g. propaganda about whoever the Inner Party says is the current enemy) and vilifies them on ‘telescreens’ in 2-minute hate sessions, presumably in the belief that everyone needs something or someone to hate. Our press sometimes seem to have favourite hate targets (e.g. bankers, Big Brother villains, certain politicians, especially evil criminals) and this may be taking peoples’ eye off the root causes of social injustice, which could lead to social unrest.

  • Conspiracy theories. Even the anti-hero of 1984 is fooled by the Inner Party into believing in an underground organisation, the Brotherhood, which is conspiring to topple the regime by revolt. Conspiracy theories today abound. E.g. there are those who believe all 6 Apollo missions were faked despite world media coverage (even by the Soviets) and many samples of lunar rock; the recently revived Flat Earth Society says the Earth is not really round -  it’s just been made to look that way by the authorities using digital image manipulation. How such theories originate is a mystery to me.  If it is from the holders of power it would be a good way of diverting attention from a genuine conspiracy to maintain power; if it is from the general population does it just mean it’s ‘cool’ to be cynical?.

  • Denial of an objective reality. The founders of the Inner Party which controls society don’t believe in an objective reality and so feel able to make one up and impose it on the world without any kind of fear of going against a natural or divine order. Scientific progress is halted. There are sectors of our society who seek to impose their own world view on the rest of us (possibly political correctness is an example), having first destroyed people’s faith in an objective reality. Science could lose its impetus if faith in an objective reality with an underlying order is destroyed.

  • Doublethink. Outer Party members are coerced into holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time, e.g. black is white, wrong is right. Certain sectors of society (including some scientists) deny that there is an objective reality. Hopefully, they will revise their view of the world before too much damage is done.

  • Big Brother ‘infallibility’. All news and opinions under the Big Brother label are infallible. If BB makes a mistake the evidence is removed from history. Deletion of emails by corporations.  Government leaders in totalitarian countries (e.g. China, North Korea).

  • Constant surveillance of the Outer Party by the Inner Party. Telescreens are everywhere and two-way. Closed circuit community TV? Use of Internet by governments and corporations to amass data on citizens.
We are a long way from the horrific world envisaged by Orwell writing in the shadow of Stalin but I have found it illuminating in trying to understand the reality of today's world.

Author, 2077 AD