From 1984 to 2013
(or is it: the world of 2013 moving to the world of 1984?)
After the NSA revelations, the sales of the book 1984 by George Orwell increased. I am one of those who bought and read the book in late July 2013. I was quite surprised to find how relevant the book is though first published back in 1949 (almost 65 years ago). The book is still germane because it is more about human nature than about particular people or places at the time it was written.
Our human nature is inherently groupish (a term from the book The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt) and there is a natural tendency for conflicts among groups. Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of this tendency by persecuting, suppressing, or depriving those in one group to the benefit of their own group. This site has a number of recent essays about this topic (including Social Evolution and Social Equilibrium).
When looking at the social hierarchy portrayed in 1984, there are many comparisons to be drawn with contemporary society. There is not necessarily a real conspiracy involved but a number of separate groups pushing for their own interests to the detriment of others is causing society to suffer.
At the top of the 1984 world (oligarchical collectivism) is the Inner Party. Unlike historical dynasties that are ruled by a ancestral line of dictators, the ruling party in 1984 is a group that is not strictly driven by a bloodline. Dictators can have internal forces arrayed against the single point (so an assassination ends the regime) and there can be foreign opponents that can take advantage of the unhappy populace. The three countries in 1984 (Oceania, Eastasia, Eurasia) have removed the threat of competition through the perpetual state of war (always at war but never a winner to disturb the rulers) and by the constriction of information flow between countries - so one populace cannot be enticed to revolt by the knowledge of an alternative.
The rise in power of the multinational companies and the international banking firms has created an inner circle of our time, an elite that cannot be held accountable by those in any country. Within our country, an additional inner circle has been created though the use of tax cuts and access to government privilege. This wealthy upper class continues to accumulate further wealth, while the rest see reduced wages and a worsening quality of life. The upper class has access to private education and to health care while the rest see under funded public schools, unaffordable colleges, and access to health care hindered by health insurance companies whose profits rely on denial of care. Because people are inherently groupish, becoming part of one group (this upper class) makes it so much easier to rationalize the persecution of other groups. There is no danger of a national elite trying to overturn an international elite because one group helps serve the needs of the other and there can be mingling between the two groups (no one is ever elected to any of these groups). With the accumulation of wealth, the upper class is hereditary because the children are born of privilege (education and health care) and possess great wealth without ever having to earn it.
In the middle of the 1984 world is the outer circle, the government bureaucracy tasked with maintaining the social hierarchy. People are inherently groupish and when working as a group they can achieve collective goals, even when success is only for the benefit of another group. This works in companies (workers getting a low wage but still being productive for the companies profits) and in government (workers managing the propaganda or policing the populace). The group's cohesiveness is aided by being bound together such as (in 1984) the time hating others, or when those not in one's group are demonized or made to appear less human (and so less apt for a feeling of empathy to arise).
In the 1984, there is a telescreen on the walls of a person's home to ensure conformance. This monitoring could catch any possible rebellion in the outer circle before any coherence can take shape. For recent years (at least since before the 9-11 attacks, early in the Bush 41 administration) the NSA has been monitoring American citizens. This is clearly against the Fourth Amendment but there is obviously a lack of accountability for America's Homeland Security bureaucracy. When public officials make statements so counter to the needs of the electorate, one can only wonder whether the NSA now has the means of blackmail over any opponents.
At the bottom of the 1984 story are the proles, the poor masses. In light of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when people are kept in a continual state of near survival they are unable to work toward higher goals, such as banding together to carve out a healthier way of life within this dystopian arrangement, like the creation of a more equitable form of governance.
This is where the relevance is far too striking. The last few decades have seen the success of economic policies meant to drive down wages, with many American jobs sent to foreign countries where those workers are so poor they are willing to work for much lower wages than Americans can afford. There has also been a concerted effort to destroy the American labor unions, because the unions force the company to bargain over fair wages but companies are no longer willing to provide those fair wages with their impact for those at the top of the corporate ladder.
As the book within the 1984 book reveals, an informed population is a threat to the ruling elite. There has been a three pronged assault on the American public education system: the suppression of the teacher's unions (to lower their wages and then inevitably a demoralized staff of teachers will be less effective at teaching), the No Child Left Behind program that stresses teaching to a test rather than teaching to be an informed, intelligent adult, and the push for charter schools (where people can choose to put their child in a private school (nearly always based on a religion) but by taking funds from the public school system, making them underfunded). At the same time, the suppression of the national wage system has the side effect of insufficient funding within communities for public programs including the schools.
The strength of our human society is at its foundation, the family and community. Both are under attack. The criminal justice system is a disaster putting far too many people behind bars, often for minor offenses. The war on drugs (a politically motivated effort to benefit the police and prison systems, while keeping the populace in fear) creates many single family homes. The religious based efforts against birth control and abortion deny the families control over the critical decision when to have children, so unwanted children will probably be denied the love and financial support they should have. The degradation of the public school system weakens the strength of the community (the children playing and learning together, making friends and dealing with issues in life, while the parents of these children get together for various school activities). When there is diversity in a community, with different races and/or religions, the children should learn about other groups and to live with other groups, hopefully developing tolerance. Charter schools are the opposite, where children go to school outside their community and are being taught only with those in the same small group, whether that is a single religion or race, so these children instead learn to live without tolerance for those outside the group of their parents.
There are groups also worsening the quality of education. For quite a few years, there has been the push by various religious groups for the teaching of creation rather than evolution. One is a religious teaching, that God created everything rather than natural forces at work, while the other involves critical thinking, questioning various theories by observation. The first pushes believe what you are told while the second pushes question what you are told, which is definitely not the teaching desired by someone firmly held by the chains of religious dogma.
The other is the unfortunate push a decade ago (and maybe still) by many schools of The Inconvenient Truth, the alarmist that claims the carbon dioxide from people's activities is destroying the world's weather through warming that is unstoppable. I find it quite appalling (even beyond the lies and misleading presentation) that children would get such indoctrination, with the intentional goal of making them afraid of the future, while being unable to do anything about it (not an adult). However this does serve the useful purpose of making everyone unsettled and worried about life, just as the proles in 1984. Global warming fanatics also practice the demonization of anyone attempting to consider the science of the situation, calling them deniers as if they are on the same level of those that deny the atrocities of the Holocaust, or declaring them guilty of treason (Paul Krugman in 2009). Hate is a powerful tool when reason is not applicable. Hate Week is part of 1984.
The fanaticism of the global warming movement has further consequences. With the targeting of any source of carbon dioxide, the solution is the closure of coal based power plants and the prevention of any new ones. The consequences of this is the destruction of the economy because there is no better energy alternative with current technology. Therefore poverty will become even more widespread than now, as businesses close without adequate power. In the developing countries, power generation is critical to their development and to the improvement of living conditions but instead (with the solution brought by the CAGW fanatics) those people should remain power deprived and so in the same abysmal living conditions (lack of power for heat and cooking, lack of infrastructure like drinking water and sanitation, lack of jobs from a manufacturing base, and so on).
In 1984, the supposedly competing countries are alternately an ally or enemy while collectively they maintain the continual state of war. This transition is never truly explained to the masses; they are expected only to remain in the constant fear of survival; there are those intermittent nearby attacks serving as an additional reminder. There are interesting parallels in modern history, with Iraq being an American ally against Iran in the 1980s but then Iraq becoming an enemy around 1990 for the first war with Iraq. Taliban was our ally just before the Bush 43 Iraq War, then they became our enemy for our occupation of Afghanistan. The US created Al Qaeda to become the rebels against the Russians in Afghanistan through our training, funding, and arming of a group of religious radicals. Al Qaeda was again our ally during our overthrow of the government in Libya and our current attempt in Syria but at the same time Al Qaeda is our enemy when used to justify our war on terror against Al Qaeda's terrorist activities that maintain the unrest in both Iraq and Afghanistan. China was at one time a Communist adversary, then it became our economic ally as it became the manufacturing base for Western manufacturing using the cheap labor to raise corporate profits, and now it has become an economic adversary because its wealth has grown so significantly (after we put so many jobs there, forcing the improvement of the Chinese infrastructure) enabling it to seek its own trade agreements with other countries.
In 1984, Flying Fortresses are built for the war effort but with the real purpose of consuming any economic surplus, to keep the proles on the edge of survival. Our modern economy has its military industrial complex where military funding sustains the many companies (and their executives) living off that taxpayer money, to the detriment of the domestic economy. We continue to fund very expensive unnecessary weapons programs, which are designed to be built among different facilities scattered across the country so Congress can always claim a widespread economic impact for their cancellation; the money is spent but no product is ever offered to the taxpayers as a result, that might provide any kind of benefit to the economy. The Missile Defense program will never work but it (and its companies) continues to get funding. We continue to refurbish our nuclear arsenal rather than just getting rid of it all, though the evolution of the missile defense program could someday suggest a time for nuclear first strike against an opponent (where the 'winners' might be no better off than the 'losers). We continue to consider the very expensive, less safe, uranium based nuclear power program because of its necessary basis for nuclear weapon development, even though (as a non coal based alternative) a thorium based nuclear power program avoids many of the safety problems of uranium.
The story in 1984 included Room 101, where the human spirit is broken by torture, both by physical and mental methods. The recent book by Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, revealed the use of torture by the United States is intended to break the spirit of those being targeted, whether those under a military occupation (like Iraq) or those who are personally a problem for our country and its policies (this those not guilty of anything but were just captured and sent to Guatanamo or Abu Graib, or those like Bradley Manning who dared to reveal many atrocities committed by American forces). A confession is never really the goal of torture, since it is well known torture will get the person to say anything but not necessarily the truth.
The story of 1984 included the manipulation of language, like Newspeak and the three slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. This manipulation of language continues, like the Affordable Healthcare Act which is really not about health care but is instead a program that forces everyone to pay premiums to health insurance companies (and the 'affordable' part of the name involves only tax credits toward these payments to those companies) rather than a true health care program where everyone gets access to quality health care regardless of income. The widely popular proposal of Medicare for all, a one payer system, was rejected but instead the health insurance companies maintain their profit stream by the government forcing everyone to pay premiums, while additional profits can be attained through the denial of health care services.
Human beings are naturally groupish. 1984 suggested ways this nature could be manipulated in a dystopian future. Unfortunately this groupish nature is also being manipulated now, bringing death and misery to many in the world with the war of terror the United States brings to the world (it created Al Qaeda and the many drone attacks are hardly anything other than attacks of terror) and also bringing misery to many in America with policies that benefit only the upper class.
The alternative is the strengthening of our communities, including universal health care and efficient public education, but that requires the weakening of the power wielded by the large corporations and the government officials they have paid off. It is difficult to imagine that transition given the current strength of those at the top of the hierarchy.
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created - September 2013
last change - 09/02/2013