I’m going to lay out 5 arguments as to how we are currently in the state of society described in the George Orwell novel 1984, and briefly discuss how to get out.
First, I need to define what 1984 is really about. If you haven’t read the George Orwell novel, you’ve probably heard a few different versions of what the novel is about, and most likely been provided with a layman’s interpretation. There are actually a number of different social control phenomenon that are discussed in 1984 that often get forgotten in the public dialogue, it’s about much more than Big Brother. Second, I want you to dispel the notion that Big Brother needs to be a synonym for the government.
The first and most obvious topic discussed in 1984 is government surveillance. The idea that the “government” is watching every move you make through a camera in your living room or through direct observation by another person. While impractical for everyone to be watched by someone else at every given moment, nearly bordering on satire, in the moder age this is effectively true, minus the camera. It hadn’t been though up at the time, but today, we have algorithms watching every move we make, through smartphone sensors, and internet cookies, corporations know more about us than most of our friends. The evidence is abundant, and the government which is effectively run by the corporations, allows them to go unchecked as evidenced by the recent pushback against Facebook, which basically gave an apology, and swept the topic under the rug, as it continues to sell your information to other private entities legally and with no effective regulations from the government.
The second topic I want to talk about, and arguably the most impactful, is that the ministry of truth has been established. The ministry of truth is an idea from 1984 that the “government” has control over what is factual information and what is not. Between Donald Trump and Fox News, factual information has effectively become irrelevant. In a sense, this version of the Ministry of Truth is far more effective than the one on 1984. In the novel 1984, the facts had to be manually collected and dumped into a “memory hole” (an incinerator) and a new version of the facts had to be reprinted and redistributed, a very costly and impractical concept. Instead, Trump has just made facts altogether irrelevant! It’s genius! Now you can just say whatever you want, and it doesn’t matter if it’s true or false, everything is simultaneously effectively true and false. In some ways, this is the modern version of doublethink, another topic of 1984, the idea that 2 different things can be true at the same time, and the believer can genuinely believe this unaware of the obvious logical conflicts between the two ideas. The effects of this go beyond supporters of either ideology. The public audience can no longer distinguish fact from fiction at a glance. Most people grew up in an age where newsprint and media could be trusted, to at least provide factual information, if not slightly misleading or spun. We’re now at a point where media of all forms can’t be trusted as providing truth, therefore, everything is effectively true and false at the same time in different social contexts.
A major topic of 1984 that basically gets forgotten in our sex-negative climate, perhaps an indicator that 1984 had been approaching long before it got here, is that the book talks extensively about controlling access to human sexuality and pleasure as central to the creation of oligarchy. The book even talks about chocolate no longer being real chocolate, something that is true if you do some research on the past century of the chocolate industry. 1984 also prominently displays that society has placed a ban on pleasure during sexual intercourse even with one’s own spouse. There are a few indicators that this is the direction we’re heading in, or were heading in. First, the #MeToo movement, which has gone from doing the right thing, and getting serial rapists like Bill Cosby sentenced to justice, and has continued to press forward to such extents that men, powerful and average, are starting to legitimately fear that any casual flirting could result in the complete destruction of their careers or life. I want to point out an example showing that women in power are apparently exempt from the #MeToo movement’s agenda, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry diverted taxpayer funds to pay her bodyguard/boyfriend for improper overtime, i.e. time they spent together having an affair on the clock. Nevermind that she was married, and so was the “bodyguard” with no mention of ethical non-monogamy in the news, all she had to do was pay back the money, step down as mayor, and go on probation (basically nothing) for a few years. A major fear I have is that not only are we moving towards a society where men cannot flirt, but where pushback results in the converse as well, a society where women and men can’t flirt out of fear of the law dropping down on them. That is 1984.
There’s one other major sexuality removal aspect that has even already taken place in society. The mass adoption of circumcision, and the erasure of the foreskin from all medical context. There’s about a 90% chance that you know nothing about the foreskin, and how could you, if you’ve read a medical text it’s literally not even there. Most of the world doesn’t circumcise, and if you want to know why we do it, check out this video. And then, the medical industry was already making money off of it, so they lobbied to protect it, came up with badly designed studies to entrench it, and ignored anypossibility that it was more than just skin, totally forgetting that the reason they started doing it was because it was a pleasureable body part. Need more proof, CIRP.org is a good place to start, or for a more concise video. How is this related to1984? Men have already been largely stripped of pleasure during sex in the developed world.
My last point is going to be about the fictional super powers that run the world in 1984. In the book, the Party rules the state where the protagonist exists. Many resources are diverted to go towards a “war” with other countries. The war and the other countries may not actually exist in 1984, no members from another country are ever encountered, and it doesn’t matter if they do or don’t exist in practice. The only thing that the state is actually ever at war with, is its own people, and ensuring rebellion does not take place. I want to make the case that this is effectively the world we live in today, though foreign “enemies” a real thing. China, and Europe would be the only real superpowers that we would be permanently at war with based on 1984’s description, the others are inconsequential mutual enemies on large scale terms. When I say that the “government” is only at war with its own people, what I’m really saying is that the corporations that are in power, want it to stay that way, and in order to prevent that system from changing, they manufacture reasons to have the means of production flow through them. Whether that’s through monopoly ownership, laws that favor financialization, or expanding the rights of the powerful to exert their power however they see fit. A major function of the people being at war with another nation, whether fictional or not, is that it creates an internal need to remain united against an outside force. The consequence of this internal unity is that we remain loyal to those in power, i.e. our preferred political party, and our preferred corporate brands. However, a key factor is that the corporations, and both major parties remain on the same side in the bigger picture, particularly in America. Our permanent state of hostility with the world only serves to strengthen our resolve against our own ability to explore alternatives for fear of changing our global positioning.
So, how do we change all this? When Facebook made the wrong decision about selling individuals data, particularly for political control, real regulations should have ensued from the people, by the people, for the people, not from within the politico-economic system itself. The destruction of net neutrality should never have occurred, and we must push back and reverse this decision to allow the powerful to further gain control of the politico-economic system. We need to educate people actively on how to distinguish objective truth from the mess of Fake News and Faux News that’s all over the place. Misinformation is at the heart of the destruction of a civil society and we need to fight it. The good news is that younger people are becoming much better at verifying data before assuming truth, a response to the untrustable world they’ve grown up in.
In terms of #MeToo and sex-negativity, I think there needs to be a clear line of what is and isn’t appropriate. It’s very clear that rape and embezzlement are not okay. Repeated unwanted sexual advances when it’s been made clear that nothing is desirable, are not acceptable, neither is creating a world where people are not free to sexually advance on other people. Humans are inherently social creatures with an abundance of sexual tendencies built into our nature, to create a perverse world where people cannot express those sexual tendencies is not only inhumane, but immoral. As a culture, sex-positivity needs to be embraced, acknowledging that occasionally people will be offended by other people in a sexual context just like people are occasionally/frequently offended by other people in political and social settings. Sexual awkwardness is not equivalent to sexual violence, and the #MeToo movement has not been clear on that distinction. People need to be able to express themselves and their desires clearly and consistently, with clear expectations of consequences for repeated offenses. We should not be sending people to jail or ruining their careers unexpectedly decades later for non-violent offenses.
Circumcision needs to end, along with all genital cutting practices. Bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right that should never have been taken away, or sold off for profit. Womens rights organizations successfully assembled to prevent female circumcision decades ago, and yet protections for men have lagged behind. For those who truly believe in equality between the sexes, this is a major issue of violent systemic sexism against men that has been completely neglected by society, now is the time to take up this issue despite how difficult it is to discuss sex openly in our sex-negative culture.
Lastly, in order to end the constant “war” against ourselves, we need to stand up to the politico-economic system and make it clear that we don’t believe in the us versus them mentality. We live in a limited unary world where we need to begin to use economic resources for internal benefits, and not perceived external battles. Only through cooperation can we succeed as a collective people. The case could be made to move the battlefront towards a warfare of information about how we should structure society in favor of the collective people, what is fair, and what is just. This is the war that we, the people, must participate in, ensuring our fellow men know how to create a bright future for humanity is far more important than winning an endless war only to impose a failed social system on all of existence.