Saturday, March 20, 2021

1984 – 37 Years Later

In 1980, I bought a paperback version of 1984, figuring I should read it before the fateful year arrived. Forty-one years later, I’m still carrying that book around and I still have not read it. But this week, I finally picked it up and managed to move beyond its famous opening line:

“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking 13…”

I’m well into the narrative now and I’m finding it unsettling. I think, if I had read it when I meant to, I might have taken it as a warning of what the world might become. But reading it now, in 2021, I have to acknowledge that most of what Orwell predicted has already come true. And the irony is, we didn’t need a malevolent government to force us into doing those things, we are willingly, and with unbounded alacrity, doing them to ourselves. The government couldn’t stop us if they tried.

The book was written when television was in its infancy, yet Orwell imagined we would have huge screens in our homes, broadcasting propaganda 24-7. It seemed fantastical, impossible, even, but here we are, with 120-inch, Ultra HD Smart TVs in homes, tuned to Fox News or CNN, so they can tell us what to think and to shout our opinions back at us all day and all night.

And we don’t need the Government to mandate the daily Two-Minute Hate, we do that to ourselves—for hours a day—doom-scrolling our Social Media information teat in order to keep our indignation boiling.

In Orwell’s book, the big screen in your home—in addition to telling you what to think—watches and listens to you, and there are microphones hidden around in the outside world to further track your movements and conversations. While most TVs currently can’t hear what you are saying, Alexa, Echo, Siri and Google Home can. And your phone keeps excellent tabs on you—and listens to your conversations—even when you aren’t voluntarily broadcasting your location and activities to the world at large, sometimes with tragic results.

Bill Gates doesn’t need to inject you with a micro-chip so he can track you (spoiler alert: he isn’t), your mobile phone is doing a much better job.

In Orwell’s dystopia, the government forces all these intrusions on the population. In our current society, we buy them ourselves and gleefully integrate them into our lives.

We don’t even need the Thought Police, as we have an army of volunteers who continually patrol the borders of their shattered self-esteem, looking for ways to become offended and, when they find a Tweet or FaceBook post (might be current, but it could be something from long ago) they start a Twit-Storm to make sure that the person who offended them loses their job and is shamed off of social media. That’s as close to being vaporized—the 1984 euphemism for being totally erased from history and society—as you can get without actually employing an army of IT hackers and Blackshirts.

And Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth wouldn’t be a paid position. Altering the past has become an avocation for weekend culture-warriors. Pulling down statues, banning books, outlawing toys and censoring people (via the aforementioned Twit-Storms) because of a past they’d rather not acknowledge is accomplished by enthusiastic amateurs, not government agents. Additionally, people have been known to alter past writings to make it seem as if they had predicted something when they had not. (I’m looking at you, Dominic Cummings.)

In 1984, the Government wanted you to believe 2+2=5. In 2017, the government wanted you to believe that an inauguration crowd that wasn’t there, did, in reality, exist. And we were encouraged to support this fantasy by believing in “alternate facts.” And many did, voluntarily and without the threat of incarceration. (I do wonder, however, how many people believed that the President of the United States could change the course of a hurricane simply by drawing lines with a Sharpie pen.)

Big Brother, 1984: 2+2=5
Big Brother, 2017: The crowd on the right is bigger

As you can see, the hurricane is heading for Alabama...

But, despite all this voluntary assistance, the government isn’t asleep at the wheel. They are working hard to curtail the right to protest, and are pushing laws through that make it possible to be arrested simply for holding an unpopular opinion. Not far-out-batshit-crazy opinions, either. All you have to do is say something—anything—that another person claims offends them, and you have broken the law. And critics of the new Scottish Hate-Crime Bill, fear it leaves the door open for people to be arrested merely for expressing unorthodox views even in the privacy of their own homes.

1984? It didn’t happen then, but it’s here now.

Watch out for Room One-Oh-One.

 "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot 
stamping on a human face- forever."

-- George Orwell, 1984


No boot on face, but this is a photo of Metropolitan City Police London violently restraining a woman at a peaceful vigil, which was not a protest but a peaceful coming together of women, to highlight violence against women and to mourn the death of Sarah Everard who was kidnapped and murdered by a serving Metropolitan Police Officer, occurring on the eve of a bill being introduced to Parliament that will substantially increase the power of police to disperse (violently, one must assume) pretty much anyone at any time for any reason, and you couldn’t fit more irony into a sentence if you tried.