After twenty-two years on this crazy rock, I finally read 1984. At the time of its publishing in 1949, it was a chilling dystopian tale of what the future could hold. But even now, sixty-nine years later, it is still too real. I’ll try not to get too political here, but the book is partially about politics.
We live in an age where “fake news” and “alternative facts” are normal. Not only are they normal, but they are to be expected. Readers, whether they finished the book sixty years ago or two days ago, will notice the parallel between the Ministry of Truth (or in Newspeak, “minitrue”) the ironically named branch of government which pumps out propaganda and rewrites history without batting an eye.
Of course, I must state that the story of the disastrous Ingsoc, or English Socialism, and the dictatorial Big Brother, is still vastly more dangerous than the situation that we Americans find ourselves in.
Still, the concept of invading the privacy of everyday citizens by listening in, watching, seeing what they do, every minute of every day, is where we find ourselves now. Don’t believe me? Try saying “Hey, Siri.” or “Hey, Alexa.” They, whether it be our helpful cyber-servants or the National Security Agency, are always listening.
In the book, Big Brother, the ruling government of the superstate Oceania, was constantly bombarding its dutiful citizens with footage of the eternal war with either Eastasia or Eurasia. The people had become desensitized to the footage of dying and suffering refugees, even cheering them on as their painful death was broadcast across the nation. Now I’m not saying The United States is there, but George Orwell did do the war, and the way people react to it, justice. Rightfully so, as he himself lived through both world wars.
The scene in the book, which I found most profound, was when Syme, Winston’s friend at the Ministry of Truth who was writing the Newspeak language, elaborated on their quest to create this new language. The goal was to eliminate so much of the English language that you simultaneously eradicated free thought and political rebellion because people simply could not convey their thoughts properly. What shocked me was that, if someone were to successfully implement that tactic, it would likely work. We are given the right to speak, to think, by our ability to convey our thoughts.
The themes in the book of totalitarianism, government surveillance (The NSA), a manipulative and all-ruling government, even the dangers of mass media are applicable today. I know this sounds cheesy, but that’s why it’s so important to read. I’m not talking about reading Harry Potter, as much as I love those books. I’m talking about reading these books that have always been so popular in our society. Because there’s a reason they are popular. They are a mirror. Books like 1984, or Brave New World, force us to question ourselves and our situation. And questioning ourselves? It couldn’t hurt.
“The best books are the ones that tell you what you already know.”
~ George Orwell, 1984