Is the Future Present from “1984”?

Dystopian fiction is in. Shows, books, and movies conjure up hellish futures in which humanity is dead or dying and things haven’t looked so bad since the Ice Age. I’m not a fan in general of dystopian work, but I thought I’d read the classic novel 1984 by George Orwell.

As I trudged through the book, I had several thoughts cross my mind:

a) This is super depressing. I’m reading something light and happy after this.
b) This must be what it’s like to live in North Korea.
c) Should I be afraid of socialism?
d) Could America become like this? Has it?

It’s that last thought I want to spend some time on.

The bleak future in 1984 finds Winston Smith working for the Party, fabricating past news events so the Party leader, Big Brother, will come off as godlike. But he’s slowly awakening to the injustice of how things are done in this alternative Britain, now known as Oceania. As he moves through the novel, he meets two significant characters. One is Julia, a woman who claims to love him and wants to help undermine the government. The other is O’Brien, a high-up Party member who seems to be leading a rebellion from within.

The world they inhabit is a bleak one, and while reading about it you can see why this is such a dystopian classic. It sets up tropes and coins significant phrases. It’s an immersive experience that drags you into its gritty depths where little light comes through. And it makes you wonder, could the “free” world as we know it really come to this?

No and yes. As you go through the novel, there’s a significant section that explains some of the politics of the world. This took me out of the story for a minute. Orwell’s view was that socialism would become the ruling philosophy around the world and the governments would become totalitarian, grappling with each other in constant war yet without coming to total victory. For Orwell writing in the 1940’s in the aftermath of World War II, this may have seemed like a reasonable possibility. Today, not so much.

In other ways, though, we seem to be on the knife edge of different aspects of Orwell’s world coming into existence. Winston Smith lives in constant fear of a telescreen, which not only sees everything he does, but can hear everything he says. We’re not far removed from that. The laptop I’m using has a camera and mic built into it and someone could hack that and see and hear what I’m doing right now. While electronics give us convenience, it also exposes our privacy. If the government wants information from your phone, they can find a way to get it (a good example is the recent dispute between the FBI and Apple over hacking a terrorist’s phone, which the FBI eventually did without Apple’s help).

Also in the explanation of how Winston’s world began, he reads that the door was opened to revolution when governments became incompetent of ruling or the people became apathetic toward its control. One could argue you see both in America today. The Obama Administration is taking gross liberties to suppress liberty in North Carolina and elsewhere and people seem to be oblivious to the significance of that. Meanwhile, the GOP is falling apart at the seams, leaving a largely liberal Democrat party standing firm.

Is the end of freedom as we know it at hand? I hope not. Perhaps it died long ago and no one went to the funeral. My point in all this is not to depress everyone by being a doomsday prophet, but rather to awaken people to take a little more concern in current events and what’s happening in politics. Don’t abandon logic, don’t deceive yourself with doublethink, as so many do in 1984. But wake up and stir the fires of hope, before posters of Big Brother appear all around.

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