Narrowing Thought - All the Ways in Which We're Living in Orwell's 1984

On the surface, 1984 is about an oppressive government and the strength of one man to fight against it. However, I firmly believe that is merely the plot and not the overall theme or message directed toward readers. Something eternal had occurred to George Orwell when he wrote this.

It’s not enough to think constant surveillance is all that connects us with Orwell’s nightmare. You already know Big Brother sees everything. Conspiracies about the NSA have been proven. They see everything too. But isn’t that old news?

Why do we need to revisit a work of fiction from the 40’s if it’s only solid prediction is constant surveillance? Because it isn’t privacy you need to be safeguarding in 2017, it’s your own humanity... 

The War on Literacy

“We’re destroying words— scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting language down to the bone.”

In 1984, the world is made up of three groups — the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy. You’re not told how people are separated into groups until much later. However, if you were to make a logical guess you could presume classes are separated by race or background. Perhaps the oppressive government focuses on a certain type of people… But that would be wrong. Race is hardly mentioned in the book. The wealthy aren’t made up of a select few white families. What gets citizens to the top is pure obedience. 
So your next guess would be literacy. Perhaps each descending class of people get dumber until the poorest of them cannot read a simple highway sign. That would be wrong as well. 

Everyone in 1984 is on their way to illiteracy. The entire nation is under the influence of Newspeak— a shrinking dictionary in which complex words become simple words, simple words become acronyms and whole words are taken out every year. The idea of having a conversation with someone is both inefficient and frowned upon. They don’t want to give their citizens the benefit of expressing themselves because expressing oneself is a liberating experience. 

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?”

Text messages, Twitter, and Facebook have all limited our need for personal conversation. We avoid interactions. We clamor to use the smallest amount of words possible. We choose cartoons over phrases. 

I listened to an NPR piece about how emoji’s are helping children communicate better because they don’t know how to express themselves with words anymore. 
The average reading level of an American High Schooler is just above 5th grade. 
Our Dictionary is expanding, but no one is paying attention to it. Incompetency is being rewarded while intellectualism continues to be pushed aside. No child left behind means let’s make the test easier. 
In the book, our central character assumes his intelligent, yet obedient, friend will soon be vaporized because he lacks, “aloofness” or “a sort of saving stupidity.” 
There’s a rabbit hole here where on the other side is the idea that the entire music industry has been orchestrated to prevent any unique sounds or lyrics from becoming mainstream. 

"Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?"

The War that’ll never End 

In 1969 everyone knew who the United States was at war with. Vietnam. Right? Well, technically just North Vietnam. And China. No.

More like we were at war with the idea of Communism. 
Communism is evil, that’s easy. 
Why Vietnam? 
Well, Communism. 
Why did we lose so many men over what feels like so little? 

That was almost fifty years ago. It’s 2017 and the United States has been at war for over 20 years with… the middle east? Who does that include? How many countries? Is Syria one? Was Syria really responsible for 9/11? If so, then why weren’t they on Trump’s list of countries to ban muslims from? Have we won this war yet? Is Terrorism still happening as much we’re told it is? 

The point is, we’re no longer at war with a specific country or a sizable army. We’re at war with an idea. The idea of Terrorism. Which includes any number of different countries, immigrants, radicalized American citizens or anyone not willing to abide by the US dollar. The war isn’t any more concrete than it was twenty years ago because we haven’t narrowed down our list of targets. The list is growing! It’s not just terrorism anymore, it’s radical Islamic terrorism and soon it’ll just be Islam. We’re choosing our targets based on the whims of a few bank accounts and we’re directing the fears of the vulnerable into the unflinching hatred for the seemingly peaceful. 

“A new poster had suddenly appeared all over London. It had no caption, and represented simply the monstrous figure of a Eurasian soldier…striding forward with expressionless Mongolian face and enormous boots, a submachine gun pointed from his hip… The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism.”

If you’ve paid attention to the numbers, you’d see that natural born American citizens are more dangerous than any immigrant. We’re killing ourselves every day and yet half the country can’t let go of the idea that a terrorist can only be one person—a muslim. Donald Trump intentionally used those fears to win affection from his voters. He continually criticized Obama for not using the words ‘radical islamic terrorism’ because he thought it was cowardly not to. When in fact it is far more dangerous to do so. Islam is a religion. Terrorism is a decision. Again, if you follow the numbers, you’ll see that Muslims are the largest target of terrorist attacks. Not Americans who can’t walk past a hijab without grabbing for their gun. Our fears have been cultivated into blind hate. We don’t care for the truth, we just want emotional response. We’re not swayed by which country we’re fighting on Tuesday if on Friday we all still hate that same strange face. 

“And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blow lamp.”

In the book, Winston is given the opportunity to read what is considered the bible of the resistance. It’s a rather large work of nonfiction that explains why the world of 1984 is as evil as it can be. The underlying idea is that the War has been orchestrated to never end. In a few months the enemy swaps places with allies and all records of the past are then altered to reflect this truth. The war must never end because if it ever does then there will be enough wealth and resources to go around to make inequality a thing of the past. Consider our situation: we’ve been fighting a war in the middle east for more than two decades now. The enemy has changed, our allies have changed, the countries in which we fight have been moved and yet no one knows (or cares) about the the difference. In 1969 Americans knew we were fighting Vietnam, but the reasons for it have been lost on us. Now we’re not sure who we’re fighting but we’re so confident in the reasons why that we no longer care who. We could’ve been at war since Dessert Storm in 1991 and the average American wouldn’t know the difference. We could’ve been at war since the dawn of our independence and it would’t make a difference. Technically the US hasn’t gone a single decade without being involved in some war somewhere. 

“…She had shouted at the top of her voice for the execution of people whose names she had never heard and in whose supposed crimes she had not the faintest belief.”

We’ve seen the Trump rallies on television. There isn’t a question as to whether democrats incited violence or not. Trump, himself, incites the violence. He welcomes it, he condones it, and he relishes in it. It excites his voters so much they don’t even care why. He’s turned his base into blind followers of hate. He’s told them our enemies are Muslim and our allies are Russian. Despite the fact that Russians have been our enemies for decades, no one seems question him. 

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

If our War on Terrorism were to end tomorrow, there would be no use for military growth. Trump’s proposed budget cuts billions of dollars from almost every government department except the military. All of our money is being funneled into what we’re told is already the largest and most powerful military in the world. Ask yourself, if the war ended tomorrow, what could we do with all that money? Feed the poor? Enrich our public schools? Clean our water systems? Rebuild our infrastructure? Develop the technology necessary to equip every household in America with a never-ending power supply? The opportunities are endless. But just like in 1984, if the war was ever over, inequality would be abolished and those in power would lose it. That can never happen. 

The War on Our Minds

Half our country didn’t vote in the 2016 election. 
You can get mad all you want at Trump and his supporters but the reason he won is on all of us. We simply don’t care anymore. It’s what this has all been building toward. It’s the reason our schools are defunded and over-regulated. It’s the reason we’re able to enter in and stay in wars our citizens don’t agree with. It’s the reason corporations are in charge instead of voters and the reason lobbyists have stopped listening to their supporters. It’s the reason why 2017 feels like chaos after watching one March after another enlist more support from impassioned individuals who feel as if they’ve had an existential calling toward resistance. America was founded on resistance. The whole idea of fighting the established order shouldn’t be a novel idea. It should be who we are. Marches on Washington shouldn’t be condemned, they should be encouraged. The war on journalism shouldn’t be mocked, it should be feared. 

We’ve built this shitty world we live in. Donald Trump is an amalgamation of all the ignorant bullies we’ve spent centuries avoiding. Donald Trump is the kid in class who makes you smile when you hear they got an F on the last test. But kids don’t get F’s anymore. They get F-Cats and SAT prep and standardized cheat sheets. They no longer have to work hard to graduate because once school is over the class of hard knocks kicks in and it isn’t about who is the smartest, it’s who is the loudest and most obnoxious. Social media could be seen as one large megaphone for anyone bored enough to keep using it and right now the boy with the strongest grip on it is little Donny. 

“Such a thing as an independent political movement was outside her imagination.”

Go back to your middle school days of 6th, 7th, or 8th grade and imagine how many of your classmates couldn’t give a shit about school. Is it safe to say about 30% of them sat in the back of class making dick jokes and jerking off into empty drawers? Now extrapolate that to every class in every school in every county of every state. 30% is a huge number of American citizens who would rather touch themselves every night than pay attention the world around them. And why not? Porn is literally everywhere. Work can be done from home half-the-time. Distraction tactics are in full force in your television, on your computer, and nestled in the palm of your hand. Wages are so low that people have to work 40 hours or more a week just to survive and on those days off do you really think they want to pay attention to what Republicans are writing into law and passing up for a vote? Hell-fucking-no they don’t. Why would they? You work 40 hours a week, you come home and you want to jerk off and watch Dragons burn soldiers alive while you pour another shot or light another joint and let minds wander. 

“Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer, and, above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

We’re worked to death on purpose because it keeps us tired and distracted. Ask yourself, why hasn’t the minimum wage increased in forty years? If the US dollar is going up, and inflation is in full force, then why haven’t our wages gone up with it? How does the rest of the country expect to keep jobs that either a) don’t pay us enough or b) disappear behind technology and cheaper labor? In 1968 the minimum wage was equivalent to what would now be nearly $11 an hour. Yet we would rather stick with the $7.25. 

“Winston was gelatinous with fatigue… He had worked more than ninety hours in five days. So had everyone else in the Ministry. 

Is it wrong to pay someone at McDonalds enough money to support a family? Is it wrong to have a family and still be working at McDonalds? Is it wrong to study hard in school, go into debt to afford college, graduate without any prospects for a career, work for the only company that’s currently hiring (McDonalds) and then ask to make a few more dollars an hour so you can support the people you love but only see on nights and weekends when you’re not working 40 hours a week? 

“All that was required of them was primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.”

Donald Trump has done one good thing for America— he has motivated us again. There are people, including me, who didn’t care to consider what our government was doing until his loudmouth antics grabbed our attention. He has turned the podium into a spotlight. The press briefings are like comedic monologues and his tenure in office will go down as the greatest reality show ever made. We pay attention now because we want to. But Donald Trump, our 45th President, has lied to us. His administration lies to us. Administrations before him have lied and administrations after him will lie. Honesty is rationed among us voters to keep us on paths they want us traveling. Sometimes those paths are designed specifically to distract us. When Donny tweets about Transgenders, it’s likely his administration is currently passing some other bill that inhibits the investigation into his ties with Russia. 

“They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones.”

We are told one truth to combat the last; and we are given one scandal to distract us from another. It is a continuing cycle that has exhausted our minds so much that we’ve gone back to not caring. The over stimulation of information from all angles is too much to handle and so we go home and we masturbate instead. This is why it is okay for them to continue lying and why it is okay for them to ask us to forget whatever they lied about last week because this week it’s even more scandalous. It leaves us second-guessing our own instincts and when that happens we look to powerful people for simple solutions. We look to one man who says that ‘only I can fix this.’ 

“His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center.”

The War for Love

On the surface, 1984 is about an oppressive government and the strength of one man to fight against it. However, I firmly believe that is merely the plot and not the overall theme or message directed toward readers. Something eternal had occurred to George Orwell when he wrote this. He knew the secret cure for which we are all still suffering. He knew that human interaction, conversation, love, was the only way in which we could break the cycle of oppression. 

In the book, our main character loses the fight against the Party. He is ultimately victim to their manipulation and torture so much that he find’s solace in complying. The final words of the book are ‘He loved Big Brother.” Winston’s individuality was broken. The logic that governed his mind was rewritten and basic truths were both passively acknowledged and passionately denied. He lost. It took months of torture to bring him to the breaking point and it wasn’t until he finally betrayed his lover did he fully comply. 

“We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between and woman… in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm… there will be no love, except the love of Big Brother… There will be no art, no literature, no science.”

It’s already been established that Millennials aren’t forming lasting relationships like our parents. We’re not getting married, or building families. We swipe from lover to lover between bouts of masturbation in which we fantasize about the idea of having one more orgasm. We’re losing the value of human interaction. We’re distancing ourselves from each other and we’ve lost the ability to trust one another. It isn’t just dating relationships that suffer, its the expression of love. The expression of passion. The proposed budget from our 45th president cuts billions of dollars from the arts, the humanities, from national parks and from education. They don’t want us to be able to express our love for one another because too much trust with our fellow peers means no trust left for the government. Sex has become fucking and lovemaking is a source for ridicule. Sensitivity is a window for humiliation. Love stories are pornographic fantasies. Friendships are formed in bouts of debauchery. 

“When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?”

If we don’t get off our phones and computers and start sitting in parks then we’ll never break the systemic goal of abolishing human relationships. The most depressing part of 1984 is that Winston’s one saving grace was the love he had for Julia and by the end of it he’s ready to throw her to rats if it means saving himself. The two of them betrayed each other to save their own asses. In the end, they only cared about themselves. Look at something as simple as our divided country. We have people in the White House (Erick Trump) who are ready to consider anyone who opposes them as not even being real people. Which is actually a quote from the fucking book! At one point it is said that the Proles (who are the poorest and dumbest) ‘are not human beings.’ We’re so quick to condemn those that we don’t know or understand and yet we have more opportunity today to know and understand people from thousands of miles away than we ever did before.

“They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.”

I’ll leave the article with a thought on someone’s personal journey. I was listening to a podcast (Joe Rogan’s) in which the daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church was describing why and how she escaped the entrapments of a hate-fueled community. You wouldn’t believe it unless you heard her describe it, but what pulled her into the real world was Twitter. Twitter gave her access to other people. It provided the opportunity she needed to talk to different people with different beliefs. It led her to meaningful human interactions with people she otherwise would have never met. Human interaction. Love. She married the man with whom she had private messages through Twitter for months. if she had kept her head low and continued to live blindly in the belief systems of her family, she would never have known how the rest of the world thinks. She may have been protesting funerals with her family for decades until they pissed off a grieving family member enough to finally get themselves into a war of beliefs. 

Do not follow blindly that which has been given to you. Even if it come from your family. There is love outside of your life waiting to be found. Learn about those around you and develop the means to express that love. For it is all we have left to be human in a world in which ideas are king. Because when you give up, and find apathy to be more rewarding than exploration, they will have won the war. 

“But it was all right, everything was all right. The struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”