"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell
Some fictional literature is so profound as to be relevant for decades. George Orwell's timeless 1984 is one such literary work. One of the most influential books of our time, its message resonates today as much as it did when it was first published over 65 years ago -- as shown by its recent surge to the #1 spot on Amazon's bestseller list.
So what can 1984 teach us about the modern day?
At its core, 1984 is a post-WWII interpretation of the relationship between individuals and institutions. It changed the course of social history by spawning new language relating to the structure and mechanisms of our society, expanding the scope of human language and thought, and therefore, humanity's understanding of itself. And that legacy seems perfectly fitting, for in the story of 1984, the world is controlled by so many restrictions that even the expressiveness of the official language, "Newspeak", is deliberately narrowed by the ruling institutions in a way that limits the ability of individuals to express "thoughtcrime" -- that which is deemed illegal by the "Inner Party", the State.
As a work of fiction, 1984 provides a stark view of a burgeoning culture of totalitarianism. As a work of symbolism, however, it stands as a reflection of modern fact in The U.S.A. and the world today. Within its narrative, the five freedoms of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution were infringed and removed; in particular, the freedom of speech was so restricted that there was only one source of news operated by the official governing body and an entire branch of government was dedicated to steadily eliminating language deemed detrimental to the State.
Orwell created new phrases like "Newspeak" (the official, limited language) and its antonym "Oldspeak", "Goodthink" (thoughts that are approved by the Party) and its antonym "Crimethink", and "Doublethink" (the normalized act of simultaneously accepting two contradictory beliefs). The new language allowed his narrative to portray and expose age-old structures of thought and language manipulation -- structures that have exponentially escalated in the modern day.
In 1984 all opposition is controlled and absorbed into the background. 'Big Brother' is the human image that represents The Inner Party (and the Party line) via the Telescreen providing an 'official' narrative while appropriating and misrepresenting the notion of brotherhood and unity into a 'brand name' -- one that actually instills a psychology of collectivism, not brotherhood, just as the controllers in our own world instill nationalism and war-mindedness in the name of "freedom" and "liberty". Indeed, the Telescreen is the primary means through which norms were forced on the society and false imagery and narratives embedded in its collective consciousness. Totally transfixed on the Party line, as told by the Telescreen, the fictional society of 1984 has lost the ability to think such that it will believe two plus two is five, as the saying goes, as long as it is presented as such on the Telescreen. They have been captive to this set up their entire lives, and, with language and thought restricted and outlawed, they are blind to their own captivity, unable to discern for themselves. Thus, lies are made to be "truths" using logic so distorted that it not only convinces the masses that two plus two equal five, but that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.
In reality, individual ignorance is strength to institutions. Such distortions of language and thought (and, incidentally, history) are the perfect means by which to disempower and co-opt an entire society -- means that are not limited to the works of fiction. Orwell knew that ideas do not exist separately from language. Language, in both spoken and written forms, is essential to our ability to form and communicate thoughts and ideas. That is why today the United States government, the shadow powerbrokers that control it, and the mainstream media that support it (the entirety of which is owned by only 6 corporations) continue their war on "fake news" -- i.e. ideas that are skeptical of government pronouncements, and information that proves them to be false -- taking aim not just at independent journalism but independent thought itself. While government surveillance of its own people continues to increase, government secrecy is at an all-time high, the sharing of ideas that challenge the status quo is becoming more heavily censored, releasing information on institutional and State activity is now punishable by law, and whistleblowers from inside the State are systematically destroyed. If that wasn't Orwellian enough, Donald Trump's advisors have begun coining phrases like "alternative facts", and we have even seen the creation of an Orwellian "Ministry of Truth", an "international fact-checking network" charged with deciding what is "truth" and what is "fake news".
If the events of 1984 continue to hold true, and the ruling Party of today gets its way, words and ideas will soon become not only censored, but illegal and eliminated altogether, controlled by increasingly totalitarian governments steering our society down a dystopian path of censorship, blind belief, and misinformation -- all in the name of the State. However, as our minds are freed, one at a time, we are ultimately finding that our society is heavily embedded with such norms and structures that perpetuate false imagery, preserving the status quo of the State from the 'threat' of individual thinking -- hence the modern war on "fake news". We are beginning, as a society, to question such falsehood, and exercise our inherent freedom to expose it.
The Last Man in Europe
"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows". ~ George Orwell
The original working title to 1984 was 'The Last Man in Europe.' This descriptive and evocative title idea provides a clear glimpse into George Orwell's intent, and encapsulates a main point of 1984, a title perhaps too revealing to be anything but a working title. Certainly, that is the way many of us feel when we first become aware of lies and partial-truths that are presented as reality by those in control of our society today, and accepted in totality by seemingly everyone else -- it is as if we are the last lone person. Indeed, the road of the freethinker can be a lonely one, and the story's protagonist, patriot Winston Smith, is made to believe he is the last person who questions, who looks, listens and speaks.
In a totalitarian society -- be it Orwell's fictional world or the increasingly authoritarian political regimes of today -- the official narratives portrayed by the "official" media portray that a society is in consensus with the State, and that those engaged in Thoughtcrime (whether or not it is legally a crime) are isolated social outcasts and lunatics, and demeaned as "rebels" and "conspiracy theorists" (despite the existence of actual conspiracy, against which the truly conscious mind must inevitably rebel.) Yet in reality, Crimethink is what differentiates we freethinkers from those who are lost in the spell of societal illusion and, therefore, pose a threat to the status quo of the State. But this is part of the trap of Goodthink -- it creates the illusion of consensus, and therefore, engenders isolation in those who do not concede.
As a master of his craft, nothing Orwell wrote was off the cuff. Now it is not overtly spoken in the book, but there are four types of people in the fictional realm of 1984. There are three described classes and a suggested fourth, only later is it implied that the Brotherhood, anti-establishment rebels -- has been eliminated from the narrative jut as those in power sought to eliminate them from the society.