Saturday, September 6, 2014
Thirty years ago 1984 was already just another number for so many young people, not the sensational novel George Orwell wrote in 1949. Orwell, an Englishman, was describing a future society, a nation ruled by an anonymous Big Brother. The nightmarish content of his novel captured the imagination of future generations, portraying a place where the very meaning of words was altered, where history was redesigned and always where "Big Brother is watching". A process which later was named "brain washing" was the norm. People everywhere were instructed in a new revision of language and events, "Doublethink" and "Newspeak". You heard "war" and it was explained that the correct meaning was "peace". Battles fought years earlier which resulted in defeat were to be remembered as "glorious victories."
Every home was equipped with microphones, listening devices, and a large screen, from which Big Brother constantly reassured all listeners that a brilliant new age was dawning. The social class hierarchy consists of three levels: The Inner Party elite represented 2% of the population. The middle class Outer Party was 13% of the population and the lower class Proles constituted 85% - the uneducated working class. The Party controls the populace with 4 ministries:
Ministry of Peace (Minipax) deals with war
Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty) deals with economic affairs (rationing and starvation)
Ministry of Love (Miniluv) deals with law and order (torture and brainwashing)
Ministry of Truth (Minitru) deals with propaganda (news, entertainment, education
Thought police spy on everyone and people are indoctrinated to spy and inform on suspected thought-criminals - those who question the new language and belief systems.
Here we are in a new century, a different country, and it's 65 years after "1984"'s publication. Are you getting an eerie feeling in your gut? Have you read "1984"? Do we have any thought-criminals today in our democracy? In "1984" such people were tortured until they could speak Newspeak and Doublethink with sincerity and conviction. America has a sad history with citizens whom we call whistle-blowers. Too often their courage makes them victims rather than heroes. Our laws technically protect such individuals but in practice they lose their jobs, risk arrest, and endure rejection and isolation. But we do seem to have learned some things from "1984." We have names like "Operation Freedom" to describe our invasion of other countries. We deny the devastation wreaked on agrarian peasants using terms like defoliation (blanket napalm killing anything and everything in its path), Agent Orange-poison gas that affects our soldiers while the government denies its use; collateral damage for civilian injuries and deaths. The list is too long for one article.
But we do surpass "1984" in a tremendously important way. Whatever its limitations, we are a government of laws, and we have groups who use those laws to challenge those who would allow us to slide into a 1984 world. In particular, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a long history of taking to court those who would abuse and persecute citizens unable to defend themselves. Unfortunately, in return, the ACLU has been vilified for defending abusive arrests of public protestors, those denied their constitutional rights, and providing protective cover for whistle-blowers in government and large corporations. Their work in courageous because it is financially unrewarding, but more so because by challenging abuse of the law in many eyes they are challenging the existing order. In an uncertain world uninformed individuals will cling to authority whatever its faults, rather than trust their common sense and fight for a more just "justice."
Our "free press" includes newspapers and newscasters from world class to guttersnipes. I personally wear the scars of naiveté for years of believing I was getting the whole truth and all the news that's fit to print. These sources, however good their intentions, are too often overruled by publishers and advertisers whose financial interests take priority over journalistic ethics. Some of our most important stories are filed by serious investigative reporters working for magazines and newspapers that accept no political ads or even no ads at all. "Mother Jones" broke the comment by Mitt Romney about 47% of people who shirk work. But almost nobody among the newspaper giants broke the story of Romney's 200 IRAs that enabled him to avoid taxes for 25 years. Recently, the ACLU magazine, "Stand", sent a lawyer to Russia to interview Snowden about revealing the Big Brother tendencies in our own government.
The similarities between "1984" and our political leadership since the Nixon administration, one which now threatens to immobilize our electoral process, reaching into the U.S Supreme Court, is absolutely chilling. Without a determined electorate we will continue to slip into government plutocracy run by money and power for the very few rather than one built on those democratic values which insist on true representative government and fair sharing among all of our working citizens.