This is a very peculiar book. Written in 1949, it paints a worst-case scenario fictional picture of what is essentially an oppressive government that even has the power to control people’s thoughts. I assume Orwell was intentionally making a political point about too much government power, because that’s certainly the message I took from it.
On the mechanics of the book itself, I wasn’t terribly enthralled. Parts of it are choppy, and there are long sections that are really quite boring. However, the substance of the book is an immensely intriguing thought exercise that would do a lot of people a lot of good to consider. As I’ve mentioned before, I certainly don’t think we’re living in the shadow of Big Brother’s Party in America 2009, but I was uncomfortably aware of some close similarities to things that are happening right now. Let me give you a few examples.
1984, pg. 40:
This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs – to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.
Barack Obama, July 2008 (after almost two years of campaigning against the war in Iraq and especially Bush’s surge):
With respect to the surge, you know, we don’t know what would have happened if the plan that I put forward in January 2007 to put more pressure on the Iraqis to arrive at a political reconciliation to begin a phased withdrawal, what would have happened had we pursued that strategy. I am pleased that as a consequence of great effort by our troops — but also as a consequence of a shift in allegiances among the Sunni tribal leaders as well as the decision of the Sadr militias to stand down — that we’ve seen a quelling of the violence.
He confirmed the revisionism later in an interview with Terry Moran:
TERRY MORAN: If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?
OBAMA: No, because, keep in mind that-
MORAN: You wouldn’t?
OBAMA: Well, no, keep in mind, these kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult. You know, hindsight is 20/20. But I think that, what I am absolutely convinced of is that at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with.
He was against the war from the beginning, he campaigned against the war, he admitted that if he knew then what he knows now about the surge winning the war by providing security in which a political situation could be created he would still vote against it…but he also says he’s pleased that the surge worked, and that it worked because of the political shifting of allegiances.
1984, pg. 50:
It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course, the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other words? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good, ‘what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. … In the final version of Newspeak, the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only … one word.
Exhibit A: “Overseas contingency operations.” That’s the Obama administration’s term of choice to replace “the long war” or “the global war on terror.” No doubt they were inspired by the famous Leo Tolstoy novel, Overseas Contingency Operations and Cessation of Overseas Contingency Operations, later dumbed-down by the publisher to War and Peace.
Janet Napolitano, head of Obama’s Department of Homeland Security — primarily created to deal with terrorist attacks in the wake of 9/11 — has decided “terrorist attack” is too hard-edged. It’s “man-caused disasters” now. “That is perhaps only a nuance,” Napolitano explained to a German newsmagazine, “but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.”
1984, pg. 58:
It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it…with the stupidity of an animal.
…and pg. 156:
In the ramifications of Party doctrine she had not the faintest interest. Whenever he began to talk of the principles of … doublethink, the mutability of the past and the denial of objective reality, and to use Newspeak words, she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing. One knew that it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it? She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all one needed. … In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.
America, 2008, just before the election:
1984, pg. 180-181:
On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns — after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the two thousand Eurasian war criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces — at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.
There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy. … The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled it and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. … Within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the next of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.
America, 2008, just before the election:
1984, pg. 210-214:
…doublethink is the act of conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.
…and pg. 35:
His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, the to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.
In a press briefing last week, Orzag expressed bewilderment when challenged on the spiraling national debt, despite his own projections showing the massive increases in debt created by Obama’s policies (via Morning Coffee):
Q Hi, Peter. Thanks for joining us this morning. Two questions, both are related to the task force. One is, could you be clear — a little clearer, do you intend to raise revenue only through enforcement of the tax gap, or do you also intend to raise revenue from tax simplification and the review of the corporate structure?
And secondly, a related question, you know, when you all unveiled this budget you talked a lot about fiscal responsibility, and the end result is spiraling debt, basically. And I’m wondering if you see this task force as a means to begin to address that.
MR. ORSZAG: Well, let me answer that second question first. Again, I don’t know what spiraling debt you’re referring to, but we’re inheriting a budget situation that is a mess, and that we’re working our way out of. And under both budget resolutions, the deficit is reduced in half — by more than half by 2013, and actually then is either stable or declining between 2013 and 2014. So I guess I just — I take issue with the conjecture that we’re — you know, there’s spiraling debt here.
One has to bear in mind that Orszag was the man who presciently set the odds of a Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac failure at 3,000,000 to 1, and that such a failure would only cost the government $2 million. While at the CBO, Orszag also helpfully corroborated the claims from the controlling party of Congress — Democrats — that Social Security would have surpluses for the next eleven years. Eight months later, the surpluses have disappeared.
Just in case you are tempted to fall for Orszag’s “What, me worry?” analysis again, here are the CBO and OMB projections for deficits over the next twelve years from the Washington Post, courtesy of our friends at Heritage:
Even the rosier White House estimates put the deficits higher each year than anything seen in the past 15 years. All of those deficits get added to the national debt, which is why reporters called it spiraling, and not spiraling downwards. No one who sees these projections can argue that we’re not rapidly adding to the national debt at a rate not seen since World War II, if then.
The examples of Obama’s doublethink are too numerous to illustrate fully here.
The parallels between Orwell’s classic and current day America are just a bit too spooky, don’t you think?
So, as I mentioned above, 1984 is fiction…but should serve as a stark warning of going too far down the road toward a society in which the State is all-powerful. You know, like if the President has the power to bankrupt American industries or fire CEOs of private companies, things like that.
Read it for a fast-forward preview of what America may look like after a few years of Obama’s
rule leadership. It’s an interesting thought exercise…or, at least, it would be if your thoughts weren’t also subject to control of Obama Big Brother…