Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How is 1984 relevant today?


George Orwell’s prophetical account on post World War II social order allows twenty first century readers to reflect on how 1984 still applies to today’s society and government. Like most Dystopian fiction, this story is allegorical and it is easy to see that there are certain distinct parallels between the fictional government of 1984 and our modern governments in reality. 

The form of dystopian society which Orwell portrays features a society that has sacrificed its privacy and individualism to the state in return for security. Telescreen surveillance is an intrusion of citizens’ private lives, instilling a certain fear in them to always obey the law out of a sense of paranoia that they are being watched. As found in the novel; “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen.” (Part 1, Chapter 5). Any facial gestures that suggests abnormality is a punishable offense, which in Newspeak is called facecrime. 

The issue of surveillance seems more relevant in today’s world then it was during Orwell’s time. In 2001, Malaysia became the first country to use identification cards that integrate both photo identification and fingerprint biometric data on an implanted in-built computer chip called the MyKad. Biometric data facilitates data surveillance of citizens by the government. Some would argue the enclosure of highly sensitive personal information in the MyKad like electorate information is a very ‘Big Brother’ Orwellian concept since it enables the ruling government to monitor citizens’ voting patterns, corrupting the entire voting system. This excessive data surveillance grants the government even greater control over citizens by providing information of MyKad holders making all civilian behaviour transparent to the State.

Ignorance is strength

Towards the end of the novel, readers are presented with a secular equivalent of a catechistic-like process. The state brainwashes the once liberty-seeking Winston into loving Big Brother. Winston is hence reborn as a patriotic citizen as a result of this catechism. He is made to believe he is happy by accepting Big Brother as his God. 

This Orwellian idea of catechism applies to religious extremists in today’s world suicide bombers. They are motivated by misguided religious doctrines into assuming that dying in the name of religion is an honour that guarantees them a place in heaven. Terrorist organizations adopt an Orwellian mind control approach and utilize it in systematic campaigns over their own people. These organizations enforce total obedience to their ideology that their members are “prepared to commit suicide, if and when we order you to do so” (Part 2, Chapter 8). This chillingly accurate description of the mentality of today’s suicide bombers explains the nature of how these extremist groups recruit their members. 

North Korea also appears to represent the concept of Orwellian dictatorship. Strangely enough, North Korea’s history formally began with the formation of the Democratic People’s Republic in 1948 following the establishment of two rival governments. The following year, 1984 was published. the North Korean single party government relies heavily on propaganda and mass mind control at a national scale to foster love and obedience to its leaders. Propaganda posters with slogans like “Let’s live our own way” and “Adore Kim Jong Il with all your heart” reminiscent of the slogans of 1984: “War is peace”, “Freedom is slavery”, “and Ignorance is strength.” Christopher Hitchens, during a 2005 event, pointed out in his speech more shocking similarities between 1984 and North Korea. For instance, state radios and public loudspeakers that mainly air praises to the leaders can be found everywhere. Shockingly enough, their volume can be turned down but never off. Even at work places separate sessions are allocated o yell cries of hatred against South Korea and the West every day, almost like the Two Minutes Hate in 1984. 

War is Peace 

In 1984, the recognition of a common enemy is essential as the universal centre of hatred for Ingsoc to thrive. For example, The Two Minute Hate functions to shift citizens’ displeasure of their controlled state of living away from the Oceanian government and toward enemies. Goldstein, whose existence is highly questionable, mainly serves as a fall guy for the government to justify all its political misconduct and warfare. 

Following the Gulf War, President Bush declared that the United States was going to establish a “New World Order” that will ensure the safety of the American people. Americans fear of terrorism has been indulged by different Goldstein figures like Osama bin Laden over decades on their television screens. Each time there is a new enemy; steps are taken to ensure national security by providing the public with a false sense of patriotism. Similar to the ‘telescreens’ in 1984, the mass media of the United States mainly function to spread propaganda each time there is a conflict by singling out an enemy. By faintly reinforcing American authority, whatever that is conveyed is no longer value and judgement-free. Assuming the Bush administration invaded Iraq mainly for oil rather than what the media says is, which is to defeat a dictatorship, it is apparent that the United States is like Oceania in the sense it creates wars for its own convenience. It is interesting to observe that even a country that prides itself of its liberal views is in reality subject to such totalitarian-like media brainwashing.

Another example of media indoctrination to convince the world that war is indeed peace is by manipulating language. In 1984, critical thinking is not required since all information is conveyed by telescreens in the form the Party wishes it to be. This is further enforced through the introduction of Newspeak, which intends to decrease words to provide specific meaning, while our modern media creates new words and complicate meaning. This is explained in the novel when Syme tells Winston, “Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” (Part 1, Chapter 5). 

One example is the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. Cohn (2002) points out how the international media use”linguistic manipulation” to lead people to side whoever governments support. Israeli occupied territories are categorized as ‘disputed territories’, while Israeli settlements are already recognized as Israeli neighbourhoods. Just like the society of 1984, our media attempts to shape our opinions by rendering us of our own ability to think and judge critically by providing bias reports rather than comprehensive coverage of events. 

In conclusion, we can see that Orwell's outlandish interpretation of our world in his future is to a certain extend accurate if reviewed in the right perceptive. Indeed most parts of the world are free from totalitarian governments. However, Orwell is trying to warn readers against a government that strip its people of their power to think critically and reasonably, and express themselves. Democratic or not, the government still has control over its people and can take action if its position is threatened. Orwell’s ingenious classic conveys the fact that the society of the future generation, which is ours, might not be too far from being similar to the Fascist society he wrote of.

1 comment:

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