Are We Approaching the Real-Life World of Orwell's 1984?

George Orwell wrote his prophetic masterpiece 1984 barely three years after Europe was liberated from the oppressive grip of Nazi socialism.  Victory notwithstanding, Orwell remained preoccupied with the ease and speed with which a nation's freedom could be lost.  Freedom's strength was also liberty's fragility — a free people could choose to relinquish freedom.  This poignant lesson was Orwell's wake-up call that the great draconian nightmare hadn't ended — it was merely postponed.

This existential threat must have terrified Orwell so deeply that he envisioned the resurgence of a tyrannical society a mere 36 years after the blitzkrieg of World War II.  Even with today's 2020 hindsight, one wonders how he could have so accurately predicted the impending demise of civilization.  His only miscalculation was the appointed year.  Nineteen eighty-four came and went without fanfare despite the chilling effects of a "cold war," a term Orwell coined to describe his "peace that is no peace."  His timing may well have proven accurate were it not for one unknown unknown in Orwell's visionary acumen: Ronald Reagan.

Now, 36 years after 1984's forecast, 2020 offers itself as an eerie time portal — a way back to the future of Orwell's prophetic world of freedom lost.

Much like today, Orwell's world of 1984 was divided into three warring superstates: Oceania, which included Great Britain and the Americas; Eurasia, controlled by Russia; and Eastasia, dominated by China.  Oceania, a totalitarian regime founded from an anti-capitalist revolution, was ruled by the Party under Big Brother's leadership and enforced by the Thought Police (Thinkpol), which served as judge and jury for offenses against Party doctrine. Nonconformists were broken until they finally surrendered under their own free will.  As Orwell wrote: "We do not destroy the heretic ... we capture his inner mind, we reshape him."  Today, this psychological oppression and censorship is carried out by "cancel culture" agitators and platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which suppress all opposing viewpoints — mostly recently a New York Post story on the Bidens.

A first step in the loss of freedom is the voluntary loss of privacy.  In 1984, the populace of Oceania is constantly monitored by the Party via omnipresent telescreens.  Today's smartphones are the counterparts of these invasive telescreens, tracking every user's location, consumer preferences, and personal habits.

Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, represents humanity's last hope of regaining this lost freedom.  Smith works as a clerk in the Ministry of Truth, where he forges historical documents to reconcile the Party's ever changing platform — obliterating all contradictory government policies and blundered predictions in a contraption called a memory hole.  Today, technology allows mainstream media to seamlessly rewrite stories or instantaneously alter TV chyrons, creating an endless stream of fake news.

Winston, who secretly loathes the Party, develops a politically forbidden relationship with his colleague Julia, a free-spirited rebel.  Winston's intimate encounter with Julia not only reawakens his sense of humanity, but dispels his long held distain for the proles (proletariats), the non-Party residents of Oceania whose counterparts are today's "deplorables."  In his rebellious act, Winston realizes that, unlike Party members, the proles remain loyal to each other.  They hadn't hardened on the inside and, as such, had retained their humanity.  What Winston now fears most was not the grueling confession the Party will surely extract from them; it is the prospect of betraying each other.  As long as the Party cannot get inside his head, Winston believes he can stay human.

The Orwellian world of 1984 differs significantly from the dystopian Brave New World of Aldous Huxley.  Orwell predicted that government tyranny would be achieved by inflicting pain and psychological trauma.  Huxley believed that this control would depend upon sanctioned narcissistic pleasures, such as the orgy porgy of drugs and group sex.

Today's political climate more closely supports Orwell's prognosis.  Fear and pain overpower hedonistic pleasures.  When Winston and Julia are finally entrapped by the Thinkpol, Winston initially remains unbroken under his physical torture.  But his greatest psychological fears await in the infamous Room 101.  When the torment is too much to bear, Winston commits the unforgivable sin of betraying Julia, pleading that she take his place.  His humanity, only recently regained, is lost forever.

Today, governments often rely on fear to control the population.  In his techno-thriller State of Fear, Michael Crichton elaborates on the overwhelming role fear can play in government control.  "Never let a crisis go to waste" is a common paraphrase of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.  Most crises are difficult to elevate to doomsday pitch.  Global warming, for instance, lacks the immediacy and personal impact to promote widespread  fear-mongering.  Yet, on occasion, a crisis may arise that strikes fear even in the fearless.  COVID-19 is a case in point.  Government lockdowns that would normally be impossible are now mostly accepted.

Another powerful tool for achieving group control is hatred.  Like fear, hatred's consuming obsession can overwhelm large groups of people into addictive frenzy.  In 1984, the citizens of Oceania are subjected to daily "Two Minute Hate" sessions and a weeklong Hate Holiday.  This practice has been carried to extremes in recent years with the nearly 24-7 "Trump" hate forums that are broadcast by even once respected news outlets.

Newspeak is Oceania's official language, a linguistic tool that fosters the Party's ideologies of English Socialism.  Its aim is to limit thought.  "Orthodoxy," Orwell wrote, "means not thinking — not needing to think."  Today we call this groupthink, something that ironically abounds on college campuses.  Individualism in Oceania is equated with eccentricity and given the derogatory Newspeak term ownlife.

Concepts like objectivity and rationalism are contained in the single Newspeak word oldthink.  Orwell lamented that in 1984, "[t]he heresy of heresies was common sense."  This is not surprising, since common sense implies a universal basis upon which decisions are justified. For a society espousing moral relativism, there is no absolute truth or moral judgment — no standard for common sense.

Orwell forewarned that once Newspeak fully superseded Oldspeak, the last link with the past would be severed.  The Declaration of Independence could then be translated only into the single Newspeak word crimethink.

The family unit is intentionally disrupted in the world of 1984.   The Party prevents men and women from forming loyalties.  All this is based on the Party's fear that a stable family structure cannot be controlled.  Today, organizations like Black Lives Matter openly renounce the nuclear family on their own websites, effectively leaving many of today's single mothers married to the same husband: Uncle Sam.  Many on the left, like Hillary Clinton,  believe that government is the breadwinner of today's family — professing that "it takes a village" to raise a family.  The irony is that a village is the human community least dependent upon government intervention.

Organizations like BLM, Planned Parenthood, and Antifa rely on doublethink, a Newspeak term describing the ability to simultaneously hold two opposing opinions.  Planned Parenthood is hardly about parenting, despite its child-centered name.  Groups like Antifa adopt names evoking noble-sounding causes to shield their radical activities from criticism — a tactic used by terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda, who hunker down in schools and hospitals to avoid being attacked.

The Ministry of Peace oversees Oceania's war effort in the continuous struggle that exists among the three superstates.  In Orwell's world of 1984, "the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival."  Today, this concept of perpetual warfare has given rise to a politically formidable and profitable military-industrial complex.

American history now teeters alongside a bottomless memory hole of toppling statues and once inalienable rights.  If we fail to heed this Orwellian future and neglect to dot our is and cross our ts, the United States may well become the Untied States of America.

It's been said that the best way to predict the future is to choose it.  The plight of today's politically polarized society is epitomized in the pivotal dilemma of the Matrix.  The time has come to choose the red or blue pill — accept the unpleasant truth or remain in blissful ignorance.

Image: Mark Hillary via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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