Is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four the manual for modern times?

Dan Hughes
Nov 25, 2019 · 6 min read

Are we indeed living in the Orwellian age?

George Orwell 1984
George Orwell 1984
Credit: “George Orwell mural, Southwold Pier” by Ian Taylor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four (1984) is a dystopian masterpiece, fuelled by messaging about the perils of a totalitarian society.

Like all important works of literature, the book is timeless, its content is exempt from any form of decay or antiquation. But, while it has always remained relevant, today 1984 feels like an unsettling anthem of the times.

To list all of the parallels one can draw between the book and the madness unfolding around us with the tick-tock of every clock would take forever.

None of us has that much time to waste, so I’ll get to the point: Big Brother, Doublethink, and The Thought Police seem to cut quite close to the bone at present.

While the book isn’t entirely prophetic (for now, at least), there are themes within 1984 that gnaw at the senses with violent intent, much like the rats that embody protagonist, Winston Smith’s, most gut-wrenching fears.

Social media is everywhere, we can’t escape it. And, like any vehicle or movement that promises human progress, its a medium that is used and abused, at will.

There are some positives to social media, but the inescapable Kosh of bullying long after the school bells toll (the kind of abuse free from the shackles of time or geographical location), the threat of governmental bodies invading the lives of consumers from afar, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal alone demonstrate just how fragmented the concept of personal privacy has become. Even the voice assistants are at it — yes, Big Brother is Watching You.

Have we let the likes of INGSOC into our lives wth social media and digital transformation?

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

Arguably, one of the most disturbing parts of 1984 is the gross annihilation of language and verbal expression. The powers that be, INGSOC, see reality as a threat to their regime — if one has the freedom to express their values, they could empower others to broaden their beliefs. Naturally, any dictatorship in history stands against the innovation of the individual.

It goes a little something like this: if two plus two is five, the people, as a uniform entity, must believe it to be so; if we say the sky is pink, you’d better believe it. No exceptions.

What do you feel when you see the word, TRUMP?

In the book, Orwell’s take on such a notion is potent, something that is present in the daily Two Minutes of Hate the Proletarian population must observe. Here we see that the worst part of this hateful 160 seconds is not so much the compulsory nature of the ritual, but the fact that joining in became almost impossible to avoid. A dangerous device in the dismantling of the human mind.

Is that thing we refer to as trolling a digital form of the Two Minutes of Hate? People, in their masses, picking the carcass off a common victim, free from the consequence of confrontation. Perhaps.

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

The concept of doublethink runs through the veins of Orwell’s prose in 1984.

Utilised by INGSOC for statewide propaganda campaigns to keep its crippling regime shipshape and shiny, doublethink is a stun gun for the people — a poisonous sedative for the weary mind.

Here’s a full explanation of doublethink straight from the horse’s mouth:

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… 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 — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

To some extent, we are all guilty of doublethink. To believe two contradictory thoughts to get through the day, the week, the year is so very human — but, when it’s inflicted from above, the consequences can, and will, prove disastrous.

Without digging into real-life instances of doublethink, I’ll leave it to you to read between the lines with themes or phrases that gravitate around the book:

War is peace.

Ignorance is strength.

You must fit in and stand out.

You should execute a murderer.

Freedom is slavery, or vice versa.

“One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

Is anything ever really as it seems? Not enough, some might say.

As technology continues to evolve, there is an evergrowing number of platforms and touchpoints primed and open for media manipulation.

Unethical content targeting, undeniable political bias, and the perversion of facts are rife in today’s society — served up to us steaming hot with the swipe of a screen or the click of a button. Everyone’s a target, and everyone will get involved in the debate of the day from time to time. Like Winston and the inflicted Two Minutes of Hate, sometimes joining in is nigh on impossible.

Political parties, governmental figures, and ‘powers-that-be’ types sometimes use diversion tactics: get them virtually strangling each other over a pressing issue while we slip them sleeping pill — they’ll never see it coming (the dismantling of the NHS, perhaps?). That type of behaviour.

In a less literal sense, slavery, while formally abolished, still exists everywhere. Of course, tragic and downright deplorable cases of extreme slavery are still going on under our collective noses. But, modern-day slavery is rifer than you realise at first glance. It’s present in zero-hour contracts and meagre wages that force everyday people to work three jobs while on the cusp of sleeping on the street. How did that happen? How does it happen?

In many ways, the prescribed rat race holes us up, sedates us, and keeps us obedient while somehow feeling grateful. It seems that INGSOC, in the context of 1984, exists everywhere.

“If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

Wherever you’re reading this from, it’s safe to say that we’re living in uncertain times.

Political unrest and injustice aside, the fact that our planet is in jeopardy puts us all at common risk — and it seems that many of those with the power or resources to do something don’t want to know. But, they might just sell you a raft and some scuba gear at an inflated price when your house is submerged under seawater.

It’s up to you how you interpret 1984 and how you apply Orwell’s prose to the landscape around.

The fact that the book is actually banned in nations where tyrannies rule speaks volumes. And in the UK, the US, India, and Poland, sales have skyrocketed.

Could George Orwell’s 1984 indeed be the manual for modern times? I’ll let you be the judge — it’s a bloody decent read either way.

Anyhow, I’m off to have a beer and listen to a bit of Canned Heat.

Yes, let’s bleeding well work together.

The Geist by D I Hughes

An exploration of words, wellbeing, learning, and this planet we inhabit. Get inolved.

Dan Hughes

Written by

The Geist by D I Hughes

An exploration of words, wellbeing, learning, and this planet we inhabit. Get inolved.

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