September 19, 2021
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Orwell’s Prophetic Novel, 1984

Orwell’s Prophetic Novel, 1984

George Orwell (1903-1950)

In 1949 George Orwell published a tale of a totalitarian country in which self-appointed elites gained the power to erase people’s memories, control their thinking, and alter their values. He titled the book 1984, and it has been terrifying readers ever since. In the afterword to the 1977 edition, psychiatrist Erick Fromm called the book “a warning that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it.” Judging by recent events, that warning is very close to fulfillment.

This essay will describe the main tactics the elites in the novel used to achieve their ends, and compare each tactic with recent (and earlier) actual events in this country.

Tactic 1: Destroying history so as to manage people’s memory. “The past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished . . . We know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and stress and building has been renamed, and every date has been altered . . . History has stopped . . . And if all others accepted the lie which the party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

America Now: For decades the role of history has been diminished. Its curriculum status was first changed from required to optional, and the professors who taught the course generally took an increasingly liberal, sometimes radical perspective. Thus, what students learned was likely to be heavily slanted and the opportunities to compare different interpretations were slim to none. But that was not enough: statues of famous people have been torn down, names of famous people sandblasted off buildings. The latest “adjustment” to U.S. History has been the “1619 Project” which made slavery, rather than independence and the Constitution, the beginning of American history.

Tactic 2:  Sowing division among people. We have cut off the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends … There will be. . . no love . . . laughter . . . curiosity . . . no enjoyment of the process of life.”

America Now: Division over political preferences has been growing for decades, but it has dramatically increased since 2016. Accusations that Donald Trump’s election was illegitimate began even before his inauguration. The charge that he colluded with Russia continued throughout his presidency, long after it was disproven. Those who made that false charge not only refused to admit their error; they doubled and tripled down on it. The effect of this intransigence has been to increase disunity and disharmony, which was then (conveniently) blamed on Trump.

Tactic 3: Uprooting old values and establishing new ones: Examples of this are the slogans “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

America Now: Love of God and loyalty to country have been portrayed in movies, television shows, and college classrooms as anachronistic and, worse, as offensive to those with different values. Thus, religious and patriotic expressions have been banned from schoolrooms and sports contests. The traditional family has been disparaged. Women have been told that marriage is an offense against their gender, and aborting their children is their sacred right. More recently, the very concept of gender has been called into question; many claim there are no longer two but many genders, and a person is whatever gender he or she feels like being at any moment! The intention of replacing old values with new ones is especially evident in “Progressive” Democrats’ talk of changing the constitution in a number of ways—ending the electoral college, “packing” the Supreme Court, restricting free speech and religious liberty, abolishing the right to “bear arms,” and redistributing wealth.

Tactic 4: Manipulating language to control thought.“Words such as honor, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science, and religion have simply ceased to exist . . . All words grouping themselves round the concepts of liberty and equality, for instance, were contained in the single word crimethink, while all words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word oldthink. . . Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” 

America Now: We have gone far beyond banning the words mentioned above. Political Correctness has changed BC (Before Christ) and AD (Year of the Lord) to “before the Common Era” and “Common Era”; merged Miss and Mrs into Ms; banned “man” as a prefix; and eliminated a host of words, including Christmas, Easter, homeless, prostitute, immigrant, terrorist, global warming, jungle, husband, wife, lying, promiscuous, blacklisted, ghetto, waitress, stewardess, lazy, ugly, spinster, and many more. Other terms have been given new meanings or applied irrationally—rioting, looting, and the destruction of property are called peaceful demonstrations, while peaceful demonstrations are called acts of anarchy. Approved lies like “a video caused the Benghazi attack” are called factual information, whereas disapproved truths such as “Hunter Biden profited financially from his father’s vice-presidency” are called “disinformation” or “conspiracy theories.”

Tactic 5: Encouraging negative emotions and actions toward out-groups and opponents: “The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement . . . There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother.”

America Now: Government agencies like the NSA and CIA have been used to spy not only on foreign enemies but also on American citizens thought to disagree with authorities. Democrat hatred of Trump was extended to everyone who worked in his administration, and some Democrat officials suggested that those people be confronted and harassed in stores and restaurants. More recently, Trump-haters have urged that anyone who worked in the Trump administration be barred from working again, even in the private sector! As if that were not enough, all citizens who supported Trump’s policies and voted for him were called “deplorables,” reviled as racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic, and accused of plotting insurrection.

It had long been common to ban conservative speakers like Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro from college campuses. But during and since the Trump administration the demonizing of conservatives has intensified. Donald Trump himself and other conservatives were banned from some social media. When the alternative site known as Parler offered them a platform, the site itself was silenced. When Peter Navarro produced an unusually well documented, three-part report on 2020 election fraud, the media did not examine its findings but simply dismissed them as unworthy of examination. When Senator Josh Hawley supported Navarro’s findings, Simon and Schuster cancelled his book contract. When Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz joined the challenge of the electoral college vote, a number of senate colleagues called for their censure.

How can these five similarities between the fictional government and culture depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 and those of contemporary America be explained? One possibility is that the influential people responsible for the current “program” have the loftiest of intentions but are unaware of the terrible consequences of dictatorial rule throughout history, perhaps because their own study of history has been so meager. But another, considerably darker explanation is that they have come to embrace the overarching principle of Orwell’s fictional country: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power . . . We know what we are doing . . . Power is not a means; it is an end.”

If the latter explanation is more accurate, the challenge of restoring traditional American principles and values is likely to be considerably greater than most of us can imagine.

Copyright © 2021 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero