Much has been said about George Orwell’s classic, 1984, as of late. This dystopian novel has recently shot to the top of the bestseller list in the current age of alternative facts and critical thought suppression. The book had been on my reading list for some time, so I thought I was due to dust it off the shelf. Many of the themes resonate with the current political environment we are experiencing in America today. Although disturbing, 1984 illustrates what a totalitarian America could resemble in the future if society is not careful about holding government accountable.
Similar to fascist and communist ideologies prevalent throughout the 20th century, the state of Oceania in 1984 has stripped almost all rights from individuals. Big Brother, the black-mustachio’d face of the party in power (Ingsoc) adorns every commanding corner of the country, reminding its citizens that “Big Brother is Watching You.” Ingsoc organized Oceania around three slogans:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Lurking in the shadows are the Thought Police, who act as the state’s gestapo or secret police. They help enforce totalitarian controls like Newspeak, the state’s official language, and Doublethink, the act of simultaneously holding two opposite exclusive ideas or opinions and believing them both absolutely and concurrently. The party’s slogans are perfect examples of Doublethink, as are Oceania’s four ministries of government: “the Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, and the fine arts; the Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war; the Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs.”
Should you question the acts of any of these ministries, or any principle or belief of Ingsoc for that matter, Big Brother will probably find you guilty of “Thought Crime.” Citizens at all times must adhere to the ideologically purified dialect of the party. Otherwise, they may receive a visit from the Thought Police, and may even find themselves in Room 101, the torture chamber in the basement of the Ministry of Love.
Orwell does a fantastic job describing this oppressive government, and how it destroys the individuality of the story’s main character, Winston Smith. From life in his apartment with a telescreen that watches his every move, to his job at the Ministry of Truth where he serves as an instrument of the party (doctoring historical documents to match the constantly changing party line), and finally to his futile attempts to free himself from totalitarian bondage. Winston’s fateful journey is a warning to human society that unless we fight to maintain individuality and democracy, people across the world risk losing their most human qualities. And worse, they may not even notice when oppressive regimes rip them away.
Governments create the conditions of 1984 by assaulting the truth. Totalitarian administrations and authoritarian dictators (or Presidents!) abolish the concept of truth as an objective judgment of reality so that any minority of one must be convinced he/she is insane. This state monopoly on truth promotes a world of alternative facts where 2 + 2 = 5, not 4. It’s a world where obedience to ideology or party (all hail Big Brother!) trumps rational truth or fact. In this type of society, expression is not free, but controlled. There are no forms of artistry or free thought. Only Big Brother matters.
As we witness increasing authoritarian tendencies from leaders of the modern world, especially here in the United States, we must heed the warnings from this dystopian classic. People must remember that there is in fact an objective reality called truth, separate and apart from political ideology and party affiliation. The political tribalism of contemporary American politics tends to corrupt the thoughts of otherwise good people, and transform them into instruments of an ideology, which is what happened to Winston in 1984. Holding politicians and government leaders accountable to the truth is imperative to ensuring a free and fair society governed by the people and for the people.
If we fail, we risk descending into the untruth abyss of 1984 before we know it.