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Orwell, Snowden, and Privacy in Light of Ong's Cultural History

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 13, 2014: As everybody knows, George Orwell's 1948 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was a big success in the United States in the early years of the Cold War.

In the early years of the Cold War, both Republicans and Democrats were fervent anti-communists. In those years self-described communists were not in the ascendant in American culture, to say the least. Even though Orwell was a self-described socialist, his dystopian novel was a critique of Soviet communism -- and Big Brother was based on Stalin.

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Now, today Tea Party Republicans like to denounce Big Government, with special reference to the federal government. Granted their expression "Big Government" sounds a wee bit less personal than the expression "Big Brother" sounds. But their expression "Big Government" sounds even more ominous because it sounds like an impersonal force that threatens us. (QUESTION: Shouldn't we expect the federal government to grow in size as the population of the country grows in size? The country is bigger now than it was in the early years of our Republic.)

Of course the recent revelations that Edward Snowden has made suggest that the National Security Agency is an Orwellian name for the National Surveillance Agency. As a result of his revelations about the NSA's surveillance, many progressives and liberals are concerned about this "big government" intrusion into the private lives of Americans. Ironically, many conservatives have defended this "big government" intrusion into the private lives of Americans.

So the typographic lesson I have drawn here is twofold:

(1) When conservatives denounce supposed intrusions of the federal government, they are denouncing "Big Government."

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(2) When progressives and liberals denounce supposed intrusions of the federal government, they are denouncing "big government."

Got that?

As you may have surmised by now, my clever typographic distinction does not work when we use these words in oral speech. But, hey, I'm writing written speech. So play along with me for a moment.

And please remember that in the early years of the Cold War both Republicans and Democrats were fervent anti-communists -- even though the Republicans kept accusing the Democrats as being soft on communism.

Incidentally, American concern about the rise of communism goes back to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. However, after the Allied Forces, including Stalin's Soviet Union, emerged victorious in World War II, Americans shifted their attention back to their concern about communism.

But why have Americans been concerned about the rise of communism in other parts of the world? Does the rise of communism in other parts of the world really threaten our American way of life? By definition, our American way of life is characterized by political freedom (also known as our experiment in representative democracy) and economic freedom (also known as capitalism).

In light of this recent historical precedent, perhaps it is not surprising to find that today conservatives denounce "Big Government" for supposed intrusions, on the one hand, and, on the other, progressives and liberals denounce "big government" for supposed intrusions.

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But why do so many Americans today criticize the federal government -- the crown jewel in our American experiment in representative democracy -- for supposed intrusions?

I know, I know, it is a well-established American tradition to criticize the government.

But is something more going on today?

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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