Monday, June 8, 2009

Big Brother is watching

Was reminded tonight that it's the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four -- once required reading in American high schools, it relates the story of an individual trying to experience bits of freedom in a totalitarian state, and paying the price. Some call it "science fiction" because at the time it was written, it was set 35 years in the future... it's taken a bit longer, but a huge amount of what Orwell foretold is coming to pass. Most notably, the government's need for "total information awareness" on all citizen activity -- an article published today discusses how the UK government is monitoring and recording ALL internet and telephone activity in the name of combating terrrrism. The US government is likely not far behind, but just isn't admitting it. Orwell had a two-way screen in every home, broadcasting propaganda while monitoring activity within its view. You're probably looking at one such device right now. The protagonist's job in the book is to revise old news stories to fit the current political orthodoxy, or adjust the facts as necessary -- again, this is happening online all the time, with websites constantly revised to reflect the current state of truth. The demise of the printed newspaper will make revisionist history just a few clicks away -- much easier than in the book, where old newspapers were routinely collected, destroyed, and replaced with "corrected" versions.

He also missed by forecasting scarcity of basic consumer products, while the better way of placating the masses is by providing plenty of cheap food and entertainments. (Aldus Huxley's Brave New World got that one right.) Rather, he expected perpetual war whose purpose is not victory, but to consume resources and destroy them, rather than improving anyone's standard of living. We've just decided to do both, while creating massive debts.

As grim and unsettling as the book is to read, I find it simply fascinating. And if you've not read it since you skimmed the Cliff's Notes back in your school days, I'd suggest picking up a copy and reading it, while you still can.


Alan Klem said...

I read 1984 maybe 5-6 years ago. When paranoia was running high after 9/11 and Bush was on his terrorist witch hunts...

It's almost funny to note that he came up with the title simply by reversing the numbers of the current year. Written in 1948, he chose the year 1984.

Zombie Edward said...

I don't think Toledo Public Schools have a required reading list as I have not read ANYTHING that people everywhere else has been forced to read in school. I was even in honor's English if that tells you anything.

I found 1984 at work quite some time ago. I need to stop slacking and get to reading it.