# Wednesday, 22 August 2018

19841984 by George Orwell describes a society in which everything is completely controlled by the government, which is controlled by "The Party". Not only are specific actions illegal, but so are many thoughts. Independent thinking, love, and questioning or even doubting the word of The Party are crimes dealt with in the harshest way. The Party has perfected ways of maintaining its authority.

In the giant country of Oceania, it is illegal to question anything the government says. If they tell you that 2+2=5, you must accept this without question.

Citizens routinely disappear, and all traces of their existence are wiped from the public record. Torture is a  common punishment for transgressions.

The country of Oceania is constantly at war with one of the other two countries in the world. No one has seen the war, but the threat of these enemies justifies oppressive measures against the citizens of Oceania.

Citizens are under constant surveillance - from pervasive electronic devices and from other citizens. Every home contains a Telescreen, that broadcasts party programs and watches and hears everything in the room 24 hours a day; Children are encouraged to inform on their parents and workers to turn in their colleagues.

The Party is developing a new language - "Newspeak", which eliminates dissident ideas by removing words that describe free thought as a way of eliminating the very concepts from the minds of the people.

The Party controls all communications, including newspapers, TV, and books. Books that do not glorify The Party are either destroyed or  rewritten.

When The Party changes its name or breaks a promise, or a prediction proves false, all previous news sources are modified to match the current dogma.

The mission of The Ministry of Truth is to rewrite newspapers and other historical records to match the current position of The Party.

Winston Smith is a low-level bureaucrat working in The Ministry of Truth. He has lost faith in the government, but his fear keeps him playing by its rules. Then, he meets and falls in love with Julia. Together they defy The Party by have a secret affair and, eventually, by plotting to actively work against The Party. Smith even keeps a secret diary of his thoughts and doubts - a serious offense.

Their affair gives them brief hope, but The Party is powerful, and its agents are far-reaching. And they know how to manipulate both actions and thoughts. Winston and Julia try desperately to maintain thier humanity, but The Party is desperate to maintain its power. Suffice it to say this is not a happy love story.

This book has maintained its importance in part because it is believable, despite the extremes of the society. It describes how those in power will do almost anything to maintain that power. Orwell's details are extraordinary. He builds a society with controls in place to suppress the populace completely.

If the book has any weakness, it is when it switches to explicit explanations of how the government is conspiring against its own people. For me, it was sufficient to watch Winston and Julia and the rest of the citizenry experience and suffer from these manipulations. But Orwell felt the need to spend pages detailing his warnings, which seems heavy-handed.

Orwell was a disillusioned ex-socialist and some of the novel touches on the failures encountered in socialist countries, such as shortages of essential goods. But 1984 is less about socialism than it is about the absolute corruption of absolute power.

The year 1984 has come and gone without the global dictatorship predicted by Orwell; but the warning signs listed in the book 1984 continue to haunt us today.

Orwell said, "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears" and we see politicians practicing this now. When people in power argue that "Truth is not truth" or "Alternative facts" are as valid as actual facts or that any news critical of themselves is "Fake news", they are exercising the same techniques about which Orwell warned us.  The concept of Thought Crime is still alive, if punishments are not as harsh as in Oceania. The far-right labels "unpatriotic" black men who peacefully protest; while the far left has successfully ruined the lives of people they deemed politically incorrect.

The bleak, dystopian future that Orwell describes has not come to pass. But its warning signs still exist. And 1984 reminds us that we must remain vigilant to avoid this future.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018 20:10:56 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)