“1984” And Its Warning to Us Today

George Orwell wrote his novel, “1984” shortly after the end of World War Two, 1948 to be exact (which is why he reversed the last two numbers of the date to come up with 1984).

The reason why everyone needs to read this book at least once is to learn how totalitarianism works. It doesn’t work solely by force but through the acceptance of the masses that believe the lies the government promotes.

The basic story behind “1984” is that there are three nations constantly at war with each other: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Not surprisingly, Oceania promotes peace with one of these nations while promoting war against the other nation. However, Oceania constantly changes which other nation is an ally and which other nation is an enemy. One moment Oceania citizens are told Eastasia is the enemy and the next they’re told that Eastasia has always been an ally. By constantly changing the nature of the enemy, Oceania keeps its citizens constantly at war, fighting an enemy in a perpetual war.

The goal is simple. As long as people are afraid of an outside enemy, they’ll clamor for safety and that safety can only come through the loss of individual freedom to help root out traitors and saboteurs within Oceania. The only problem is that the definition of a traitor is just as slippery as the nature of the enemy as Oceania constantly changes its definition for who a traitor is.

The parallels with today’s world remains frightening no matter what time period you choose to focus on. During World War Two, China was considered an ally of America and Japan was considered an enemy. After World War Two, Japan was considered an ally of America and China was considered an enemy.

In today’s world, most Americans have conveniently forgotten a time when Saddam Hussein and Iraq were once allies against America’s fight with Iran. Then Saddam Hussein and Iraq suddenly became the enemy despite any evidence tot he contrary.

“1984” defined the notion of doublethink where people can hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously and believe both are equally correct. This was easily highlighted when KellyAnne Conway defended Sean Spicer’s depiction of Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd as “alternative facts.” In other words, there are multiple “facts” that are equally correct so if you just choose the “facts” you prefer, then you can support any position you wish.

Irony, contradiction, and blatant deception is the hallmark of Oceania’s government in “1984,” yet it’s little different from our own government today. The Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War were all based on a lie by the American government.

The Spanish-American war started because Americans thought the Spanish had blown up the USS Maine battleship. (It turned out to be a boiler explosion.)

The Vietnam War started because Americans were told the North Vietnamese attacked American ships. (They didn’t, which the CIA later admitted.)

The Iraq War started because Americans thought Saddam Hussein and Iraq were involved in the 9/11 attacks. (They weren’t, and Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction either.)

In “1984,” citizens are kept focused on an imaginary enemy by constantly hating them. By channeling the fury of citizens against an imaginary enemy, the government can keep people’s anger focused on supporting their goals rather than fighting for freedom and civil rights. Sound familiar in today’s world where imaginary threats from terrorists justifies enormous expenditures of time and resources guarding against low probability risks instead of fixing actual problems?

If you believe everything your government tells you, chances are good you’re not thinking. Just read newspapers from other countries and you’ll see wildly different interpretations of “facts” regarding international incidents. There re always multiple sides to the same story, but if you simply believe what you hear and read from one side, you’ll never know the other side. The less you know, the easier it will be to control your thoughts, and as “1984” points out, the more you can control a person’s thoughts, the more you can control their actions.

The world of “1984” has been alive for centuries long before George Orwell wrote his novel, and will likely be relevant centuries later. If you believe that all governments tell the truth, play fair, and strive to justice, then you won’t want to read a book like “1984.”

However, if you’re willing to accept the thought that your government may not be telling the truth, that they may have a reason to suppress freedom and individual thought, then you may find “1984” interesting after all.

If you refuse to read “1984,” then you’re likely afraid of having your own perception of the world shattered. People uncertain of their own beliefs are often the most vocal in defending them. If you’re that type of person, then a book like “1984” will simply convince you that traitors really do exist in this country and we need to resort to more draconian measures to root them out and protect this country from outside enemies.

If you’re the type of person who likes to think, then “1984” can help you see how national governments really work, and no government is completely innocent, even your own.

Read the book “1984” and skip the movies that were made from the novel. The movies often follow the book well but the message behind “1984” is better presented in novel from rather than in movie form.

Skip the movie. Read the book. “1984” isn’t a novel about a future that may happen. It’s a novel about a future that already exists.