Monday, July 31, 2017

1984 (a book review post)

I first read 1984 in 1984. I was in 8th grade, and I suppose my teacher thought it was appropriately timed, though I do think 8th grade was the normal time to have the book assigned anyway. Maybe. At any rate, I remember reading the book and having thoughts like, "Isn't it great that someone wrote such a great warning for us so that this can never happen here." And that seemed to be the consensus, even from the teacher: This will never happen here.

Oh, how wrong we were.

No, I'm not saying we're full on living in Big Brother world, but, in many ways, we have taken our first steps toward it. And I'm not just talking about how we're (the USA) the most surveilled nation on the planet, either.

Here's an example:
In the book, the proles (the mass of common people) are kept uneducated, just enough education so that they can do the menial labor jobs they need to do. This serves multiple functions, but the primary ones are that the uneducated tend to question authority less and do as they're told more. It makes them unquestioning of their lots in life so that they don't rise up in revolt. When they're told that their lives are better than the people's of days past, they accept it and are thankful.

For the past several decades, the Republicans have been working at undermining education and preaching the worthlessness of education to their followers for these exact same reasons. When they tell their followers something like "the Republican healthcare bill is better for you than Obamacare," their followers swallow it whole and think it's yummy because they don't have the facilities to question what they're being told. The Republicans have discredited science in favor of dogmatism, and that's straight out of 1984.

At this point in my life, though, the thing I probably find most interesting about the book is the stuff about language, because Orwell has been proven, yet again, to be ahead of his time. The idea of Newspeak in the book is to reduce language to a point where things like freedom and equality aren't even concepts, and we, today, tend to think that that's kind of a dumb idea. I mean, you can't get rid of concepts, right?

Well, let me give you another example:
Anthropologically speaking, all cultures started out with only two colors: light and dark, or white and black, depending on how you want to say it. Other colors didn't exist for those people. You might think that's crazy talk because, if you look out the window, clearly, you can see a whole range of colors: blues and greens and reds and all of these colors that are just part of our world. Clearly, those colors exist, right? Well, sure, from an objective, scientific standpoint, those colors, the wavelengths for those colors, exist, but those people didn't see those colors, not the way we see them; conceptually, they were just lights and darks. But over time, other colors got added in, and it was actually an expansion of the world for those people.

See, here's the thing, and this is a science fact: Language changes our brains. How we speak and what we speak affects our brains and how we see the world and interact with the world. Learning other languages and new patterns of speech changes the "wiring" in brains and causes us to see the world differently. [So does reading, by the way.] So this concept in 1984 where they remove the ability from people to think of freedom and independence by removing the concepts from the language is not very far-fetched. It's not far-fetched at all.

And, hey, Trump is doing a great job of reducing language. And rewriting facts and history to suit his own agenda, another thing covered in the book.

I mean, it's like the GOP read 1984 and decided that they could use it as their own, personal playbook.
"...a hierarchical society [is] only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance."
That sounds like them to me.
"...human equality [is] no longer an ideal to be striven after, but a danger to be averted."

So, yeah, this book is still vitally important and everyone should be reading it. The thoughtpolice, though not quite real in the sense they are in the book, are growing in power, and a huge segment of the population have fallen under their sway and believe every fabrication and alteration that comes out of their mouths. Right now is a time for clinging to facts and truth and upholding them because "reality" isn't as objective as we'd like to think it is. In fact, reality is only as objective as we make it, and we can't allow Trumpism to bend and warp the truth of the world around us into the madness he'd like to make it.


  1. We read this in high school, although I barely remember it at all. It might've been one of the books I just sort of faked my way through.

    I disagree that the government is controlling the language, though; I think that the Internet has made it both easier and harder for people to communicate and changed the way we interact with government. Trump, far more so than any other president I can remember, has the ability to reach out directly to people through Twitter.

    Reagan was called "The Great Communicator" for his ability to get people to listen and sell his message, but even Reagan depended on someone carrying that message to people -- the mainstream media, as talk radio didn't even exist.

    Trump, though, has taken that to a new level. And the people fighting back don't seem to have grasped how this works, yet. Trump says something, and his backers take it as truth. Then they ignore the other side, period. We hear what Trump and his administration say because what they say is news, so media that I follow reports on it, however skeptically or angrily.

    But media that Trumpers follow don't carry the alternatives; how often do you think Chuck Schumer (and why is HE the liberal icon? Windsock Chuck only does whatever is most popular at the moment!) is on Fox News? I just did a check, and the only thing they seem to report on is bad news about him, not news about what he's proposing.

    That's something Orwell didn't predict. Everyone thought the government would control our thoughts in the future, but instead, it's us controlling ourselves.

    *cue ominous music, lower voice*


    1. Briane: I didn't mean that our government is controlling language. Yet. But I do think it would be fair to say that our government is undermining language.
      And, you know, with the new news the White House has been overseeing the fabrication of stories for Fox... Well, that's all very 1984.

  2. This is one book that I haven't read, and I'm going to rectify that soon. Thanks for making me feel the urgency to educate myself better :)

  3. I was never assigned that book, which isn't surprising considering how conservative the town I grew up in was. It would have been considered "too offensive". There were teachers who encouraged us to read it on our own, but couldn't go out and assign it because it might upset someone (that is, someone's parents). And then there were the people who did read it and sprayed "2+2=5" on the school.

    1. Jeanne: We may have only had it assigned because of the particular school I went to. I don't remember any of my friends who didn't go to my school having to read it. I'm still kind of surprised we read it because, you know, sex.

  4. I was in high school when I read it, though not assigned - good, light summer reading. I think I may have read it the same year I tackled Roots and Grapes of Wrath. Cheery stuff.

    Fox News is terrifying from an Orwellian perspective.

  5. So, we're the same age. I was in 8th grade in 1984, although the book was never assigned to me. While we need to worry about those who are taking in what's being said and taking it as fact, keep in mind that there is a very vocal resistance out there. There is still hope.

  6. Thanks for the reminder. I've long thought I need this book in my life.
    V :)