In 1949, writer George Orwell published his infamous dystopic vision, 1984. This was a world where free thought was violently suppressed, and every social class minus the low, were ruled by the Party and their leader, Big Brother. Apart from setting a clear standard for the genre, Orwell also (somewhat creepily) predicted a lot about future society. A lot of this seems to go unnoticed by the general population. Maybe this is because we don’t look out windows and see billboards of Big Brother staring back at us, or maybe we are just born into accepting our reality, like Aldous Huxley writes about in his own dystopic vision of “Brave New World”(but that is another article for another day). Regardless, there are some things in our world that are not unlike the horrible totalitarian state of Oceania (the setting for the book). Let’s have a look at just how Orwellian our world has become.
Torture was the mechanism used by the Party for people who were not up to scratch in the eyes of Big Brother. This consequently spread fear throughout the Party to deter any possible rebels (or thought-criminals!) to the system. Room 101, the basement in the Ministry of Love where the horrific torture was carried out by the party, became the most feared placed within the novel, as it was clear that no one left the room the same. Obviously, the inhumane nature of torture is not well-reported on because it encompasses so much horror. Horror that neither governments wish to acknowledge, nor people wish to hear of, yet it exists and has throughout history. In the Middle East, there have been concealed rooms found in Iraq, featuring ominous décor such as hooks hanging on the walls, and dried blood stained on the floors. Some residents in Fallujah even reported being able to hear the screams at night. Yet perhaps a more distressing (and relevant to 1984) example is Syria. The Syrian Assad ‘government’ has been accused of funding torture chambers to house enemies of the state, and extract information if necessary. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 847 prisoners, including 6 women and 15 minors died in the first four months of 2014, and 18,000 people are missing and believed dead, and undoubtedly those statistics have risen since then, particularly with the Aleppo crisis. This massive statistic regarding missing people is tragic yet fascinating to study, as one of the traits of the Party in 1984, was to not simply kill anyone, but to ruthlessly eradicate any trace of a victims existence. Put simply, they never were. Moving to Iran, where a very chilling recount of a torture chamber not unlike the one Winston Smith was in before Room 101 was reported, an entirely white prisoner internment. Amir Fakhravar, was imprisoned in a colourless cell that emitted perpetual light, and starved virtually all your senses. The result was serious psychological damage, with Mr. Amir stating “I could not remember my father and mothers face”, this type of torture is distressing because of the simplicity yet dangerous psychological repercussions, and mimics the inhumane “silent prisons” which dehumanised the inmate to the point of insanity. Torture is used by many Middle Eastern states, to interrogate enemies or rebels, and because of the volatile nature that is the Middle East, I believe an enormous amount of torture cases go unreported on. Though it isn’t just Middle East who use torture to get answers, Western civilisation is just as ruthless. Just look at the CIA’s “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”, which range from rectal feeding (it’s as unpleasant as it sounds), to waterboarding to sleep deprivation. Slept deprivation could be the worst, as the agency have been authorised to keep detainees for up to 180 hours, which is just over a week. All these gruesome government ‘interrogations’ are mostly conducted in offshore, highly classified black sites. One black site which was brought to light, was the sadistic CIA-run prison in Afghanistan codenamed, Salt Pit or Cobalt, but more colloquially known as the Dark Prison. Torture there was unchecked and brutal. Loud music blared constantly, the lights were never turned on, prisoners were naked and ignored. The cold was so intense men died of hypothermia in custody. There were reports that the interrogators forced prisoners with broken legs and ankles to stand. To summarise the conditions, prisoners reportedly whimpered in the corners when their cell doors were opened. Torture has been around throughout history, but the rise of psychological torture such as seen in the white room, and the governments formal involvement in such acts, not to mention US President-Elect Donald Trump’s condoning of waterboarding, draws similar motivations to those held by the Party.
The Salt Pit
and others. The whole program is shrouded in secrecy, the only reason we know about it in the first place, is thanks to wanted whistle-blower hacker Edward Snowden, who leaked its existence. This is a United States program, but you’d be a fool to think that your own country doesn’t have its own version of PRISM. One of the most concerning issues of this ‘surveillance state’, is the incapacity for the legal system to develop fast enough to provide legal protection from both criminals and sovereign governments, which has given both parties a lot of ground to start using our internet presence… against us.
Censorship exists. It has existed for a long time. However it used to be that the state simply controlled what you did and didn’t know. Now while that is still quite suppressive it is not outright Orwellian. Nowadays with such advanced technology, censorship has become more sinister. An example; if you were to go to China and use a Chinese search engine and search June 4th (The date of the Beijing massacre), you would find no evidence that the event ever existed. This is not an example where censorship is simply the government not telling its public, this is an example where the government has actually changed history. It might seem preposterous now because most people in the Western World know that the events of Beijing occurred. However if you were to ask a Chinese person
about the events, there would likely be a different story. This is a fundamental attribute to 1984, as the Ministry of Truth (where Winston works) specialises in constantly altering and updating the past records, so that the Party is always right. The Party maintains its divine status by creating a reputation of pure truth (which has been built on lies), where the Party has never been wrong before so why should it be wrong now. It did this by assigning bureaucrats to constantly monitor and alter past reco
rds, so that the Party was always correct and never contradicted itself. Sadly, we have made it much easier to do this in reality, alas we don’t need our own Ministry of Truth. Social media has created its own dynamic history. We can now ourselves edit what we say, so that it aligns with our image. We can even remove our own posts if we need to. While this is concerning, ultimately people have a right to edit their accounts as they please. What’s truly concerning, is Facebook itself, which could potentially become a digital oligarchy. Facebook reserves the right to remove anything that clashes with their terms and conditions, and while at this stage that power is mostly harmless, if it were to be utilised, there would be drastic consequences. This is an extreme example, but based on the state of the world in 2016, one that is becoming more realistic. A vicious anti-climate change, xenophobic, pro-nuclear weapons candidate is running for Presidency. Somehow he’s gained Facebooks unquivering support and they grant him the bulk of their marketing space for this candidate. Suddenly they are broadcasting thi
s horrifying candidate to 1.79 billion users, and if they dominate the advertising space, this candidate is granted a real shot. Go even further and Facebook simply refuses to run any ads from the opposing candidate and you have a landslide victory. Facebook has pledged never to do this, yet the power we as a society have granted it and other social media servies, has meant it has become a pivotal tool in our world especially with regards to censorship.
One of the most interesting moments for me in 1984, was Emmanuel Goldstein’s ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism‘. This is where Orwell explores how the world deteriorated into such a state. One of the ideas is this notion of perpetual warfare. In George Orwell’s reasoning, the universe is at a perpetual state of war so that it can use the products of the machines thus occupying the lower class, without creating products that can be consumed by society thus raising the state of living. To quote Orwell “the essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives but products of human labour”. The Party maintains its militaristic state by vividly broadcasting the war and how savage the enemy is, basically promoting nationalism and hate (more on that later), meanwhile in actuality there are little differences between the three major belligerents. To a big degree, we cannot analyse this, because few people have experience of all of global combatant’s societies. I will argue that the three main combatants of this world, are the United States, Russia, and the Middle East, and to me, the US is Oceania (Winston’s homeland). Firstly, lets prove that the United States is engaged in perpetual warfare. Since 1776, America has been at war, 222 out of 239 years, that’s 93%. Narrow the margin down to the 20th and 21st century and we can trace this dynamic enemy. First, it was Germany (but then again, Germany was everyone’s enemy), then it was Russia, then it was terrorism a.k.a the Middle East. America’s constant shifting of enemies is very similar to 1984, so there’s something to be pondered. I am not going to take a conspiracy theorist approach to this, but that being said (and you can do further research to prove this point), America’s economy does better in times of war, and as a side note, George Bush’s declining approval rates skyrocketed after 9/11 and his ‘war on terror’, which raises the question of war hysterias effect on society. This is a general summary and I wish I had the time to conduct in-depth research, without sounding like a tin-foil hat guy, because I am positive that Orwell’s prediction of perpetual warfare is actually close to fully accurate.
The Unseen Enemy & The Promotion of Hate
The unseen enemy is a fascinating concept, especially when used in conjunction with the promotion of hate. In the book, there are two main enemies (or allies, depending how you look at it); the countries Oceania is at war with and the rebels within the system. Our western society has had a consistent unseen enemy since World War 2. Currently, our main unseen enemy is Islamic State, who are off committing atrocities predominantly in the Middle East. Yet some of these acts are on Western fronts, and this in turn created an anxious societal disposition, where we are unsure of any person who could potentially incite terror in the name of radicalism, quite Orwellian if you ask me. Interestingly enough though, this is merely a continuation of the Russian communist paranoia, and this internal threat of “reds under the beds”. The unseen enemy is interesting, because of how it is used as a political tool. In the book, one of the many oppressive and suppressive ways Big Brother maintains power, is occupying the nation with war. Like I mentioned earlier, George Bush Jr.’s approval ratings were plummeting pre-2001, then 9/11 occurred. Suddenly, George Bush and the American people had an enemy, it didn’t matter that the pilots were Saudi Arabian, Lebanese, Egyptian, or Emirati. What mattered was they were an overseas group that had wronged the American people. This gave Bush the edge he needed to secure re-election and thus, fuel the hatred the Americans felt at Middle Easterners culminating in the 2003 Coalition of the Willing and the invasion of Iraq. Move forward to present day, and we again have the unseen enemy and the promotion of hate, being utilised by political candidates (*cough Donald Trump cough). What’s more is we have seen these Orwellian techniques actually work… on multiple occasions. In the United Kingdom, there was Brexit, where the Pro-leave campaigners predominantly focused their campaigns around the UK’s obligations to the European Union and its immigration/refugee policies as a negative impact on the common (white) Briton. The result was a surge of hate-crimes that the UK saw post-Brexit. In Australia, Pauline Hanson’s back, and if you’re Australian, that’s pretty much all I need to say about us in terms of promoting hate. Her stance on refugees is so conservative, that she portrays them as the enemies, not the people they are fleeing from. Moving to the big fish, America… and Donald Trump. Donald Trump was something that everyone laughed about, then he got the Republican nomination, and everyone still laughed, then he started leading the polls, still we laughed. Then he got in, and we are still laughing but it’s a much more hysterical, “well, we had a good run” laughter. Donald Trump, based his campaign on hate, not to mention lies. There aren’t many parties he didn’t vilify in his campaign. To start, women, perfectly summarised by the quote, “grab her by the pussy”. Mexicans, lets deport them all and build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Chinese, lets introduce a 45% tariff on all imports from China. Everyone else, screw you and lets pull out of your NATO alliances and TPP trade deals, because we in America deserve better. Virtually every campaign item Donald Trump (and Mike Pence, for that matter) took part in used hate, in some way. Through this promotion of hate and the unseen enemy, virtually anything is possible in terms of politics. You could get Big Brother, you could get a red-neck, or you could get what America has now, which I don’t think is that easy to define.
George Orwell’s vision was horrifying, what is more horrifying though, is that it is beginning to play out. This article was the result of Google searches and three weeks work, and I still found scary similarities. Dedicate a month or so with some extensive research and you’ll find even more alarming correlations. Our world isn’t quite Oceania yet, but it’s definitely not a utopia either.
If you are interested in this topic, and wish to research further, my personal favourite sub-topics which are fascinating was the:
- CIA Black Site “Salt Pit”
- NSA’s Prism
- The effect of 9/11 on George Bush’s presidency
- Donald Trump’s Campaign
- Perpetual warfare
- Emmanuel Goldstein’s “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism”
- Big Brother
- 2 + 2 =5 (fascinating concept which I didn’t incorporate in my piece but raises some serious philosophical questions about the nature of truth in societies