by Christian Rivera
In George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the author writes about the life and times of Winston Smith, who is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the propaganda of “the Party” by revising historical records. The novel is set—from Orwell’s perspective at the time of publishing—35 years into the future, in the province of Airstrip One, the Oceanian province that “had once been called England or Britain.” Oceania is a dystopia that under the totalitarian rule of Big Brother is constantly at war; a nation whose citizens are constantly under the surveillance of their government, and whose basic human rights are always negated by their government. The novel also tends to illustrate the class struggle between the lower-class “proles,” the middle-class Outer Party, and the upper-class Inner Party.
Our protagonist is eventually arrested for thoughtcrime in response to his covert dissent of the ever-oppressive government of Oceania, and is brutally tortured into submission, and eventually, acceptance of the mantra that states, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” In the final pages of the book, Winston awaits a bullet to the back of the skull, to be administered by an agent of the government.
Although in most cases, a bit exaggerated, some of the parallels between this novel and present-day American society can be almost alarming, and although a socialist himself, demonstrate Orwell’s outstanding insight into the perversions of socialism and communism; therefore, I interpret this novel to be more of a warning, lest these exaggerations become reality.
As it stands today, our government has the ability—normally without our knowledge or consent— to monitor our telephone conversations, our activities on the web, our spending habits, and even conduct direct surveillance on citizens through the pervasive use of cameras. In fact, the USA PATRIOT Act includes provisions that authorize federal agents to write National Security Letters, or more bluntly, their own search warrants–much like the British “Writs of Assistance” did over 200 years ago. Don’t think this is an issue? Federal agents have written and excuted search warrants on well over 120,000 unsuspecting Americans since October 2001. What’s more, is that these warrants include a gag order making it illegal for our employers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to challenge or reveal these self-written search warrants. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.
Advocates of this sort of government intrusion will tell us that this is all done in the name of public safety. But as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, “those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” I stand in direct concurrence with the latter; I love my liberty, and I don’t agree with government encroachment upon it. As in the novel, our government is growing to almost omnipotent levels, its tentacles reaching as far as the mind can imagine. Our government has even gone so far as to regulate the types of light bulbs and toilets appropriate for use in the homes of private citizens!
The novel also describes doublethink, or the act of simultaneously accepting as correct two contradictory beliefs. According to the novel doublethink is:
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.
Most ordinary citizens would read this description and simply dismiss it as a great work of fiction, oblivious to the fact that doublethink exists in our society today. A great example of this was illustrated brilliantly in the essay, Why Polarized Science is Dangerous, written by the late Michael Crichton. Crichton tells us of a theory that was embraced by the elite; it drew support from leading scientists, politicians, and celebrities from around the world (and he was not referring to global warming).
This theory was called eugenics, and its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. Other well-known advocates of eugenics research and legislation were Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood; John H. Kellog, of breakfast cereal fame; John D. Rockefeller; Charles Darwin; and novelist, H. G. Wells. It was researched at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins, and funded by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations.
People who subscribed to this theory generally believed that the best human beings were not breeding as rapidly as inferior humans, and thus conditions such as mental retardation, deafness, epilepsy, and many other disabilities (which were thought to be directly attributed to one’s genetic make-up), could be stamped out by means of compulsory sterilization. In fact, more than 30 states—Indiana being the first in 1907—had adopted legislation aimed at enforcing compulsory sterilization. The plan was to identify the “feeble-minded” people (Jews, Blacks, and foreigners were largely considered to be feeble-minded), and stop them from breeding. In the time period between the ratification of the first eugenics law, and the middle of the 20th century, over 60,000 Americans had been sterilized.
Crichton points out that the Rockefeller Foundation so enthusiastically supported this theory that even after the center of the eugenics effort moved to Germany, and involved the gassing of individuals from mental institutions, that they continued to finance German researchers at a very high level. This atrocious ideology eventually evolved into what I consider to be the darkest chapter of human existence: the holocaust.
After World War II, as far as the United States of America was concerned, nobody was a eugenicist, and nobody had ever been a eugenicist. It had been wiped clean from the American experience, and erased from the pages of American history. Classrooms ceased to mention it, and biographers rarely touched on it. It was completely eradicated from mainstream American memory in just a few generations, if kept alive only by virtue of our increasingly endangered First Amendment rights. This is a case of our government not only just being able to control what we read or learn about, but being able to control reality. I have never before seen a more striking parallel between a work of fiction and the real world in my entire life.
If I were to tell you that the parallels between the novel and events in American history end with doublethink, I would be engaging in the practice thereof. Consider the current administration. It seems that President Obama—much like Big Brother—has the remarkable ability to reverse his position on various issues without missing a beat and without question from his followers, as if any evidence of his original position had been slipped into a memory hole by some dutiful civil servant at the Ministry of Truth. Some examples of this would include his positions on the following: offshore drilling, disclosing lobbyist contacts, immigration enforcement, release of Guantanamo Bay detainee abuse photos, gun control, and sweetheart deals to buy votes, or government transparency altogether, for that matter.
What’s more is that the Obama administration’s routine assaults on our personal liberties (one of the more recent assaults came in the form of a massive government takeover of the healthcare industry) go largely dismissed as being in the interest of “the greater good” by members of his party. They arrogantly ignore the fact that if this trend of massive government expansion continues, Americans at large will grow increasingly dependent upon the government and future generations will become enslaved by the government by means of confiscatory taxation, that is, if the economy doesn’t implode altogether. Notwithstanding the moral ramifications of indebting posterity, those who dare speak out in opposition of these encroachments are dismissed and ridiculed. Political dissent, it seems, is slowly metamorphosing into thoughtcrime, and I’m blatantly guilty of it. But unlike Winston, I will never allow that metaphoric government bullet to enter the back of my skull.