Wednesday, July 22, 2009
1984 by George Orwell
Since the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, especially, but on a regular basis these days, I keep hearing people say, “What is wrong with this country?” “ What is wrong with people?” “What’s wrong with this world?”
These sentences said with a great deal of passion and shock! What is wrong with this world is precisely what’s right with this world: we are all capable, encouraged ... ALLOWED to have our own opinions!
George Orwell’s 1984 left me feeling philosophical, and simultaneously hopeful and distraught. Frightened and optimistic. Filled with my own doublethink, which irritates and intrigues me. (We kill killers because killing is wrong.)
1984 is a classic dystopian novel about a repressive, totalitarian regime; about the destruction of civilization and the breaking down of humanity - by mankind itself and by weapons of mass destruction - written prior to their discovery! What makes this book interesting and frightening is to observe the future we do live in and the one “predicted” by writers of the past such as Orwell.
Have we created a world where we build machines that act like men and develop men who act like machines? It’s up for debate even as we speak. Do we long for a transhistorical concept of life or a political one? Because “we” have decided we don’t want both.
1984 delves deeply into a “future” where one major power “the Party” controls every aspect of human life, mostly through telescreens and propaganda. Big Brother is watching you! In this novel we follow Winston Smith, a middle aged somewhat flawed character, as he attempts - on his own small level - to fight the Party in the name of preserving truth and freedom if only for himself. While reading, I became a little obsessed with the idea of thought control and a mechanical life.
I read mostly on the Metro rail system in Washington DC and I was struck by how I have become an automaton with my fellow passengers. We mechanically move from point A to point B with our blank faces and business-quick movements. We don’t look at each other too closely, we don’t speak too openly, we listen for the programmed voice to tell us to “step back” or “move forward”. I had this same experience in Basic Military Training where “they” (the Party?), literally break you down and then rebuild you into what “they” want. Granted, we do all of this voluntarily, but I was still intrigued by the similarities and how easily I fall into it!
We are all born with basic needs we instinctively strive to achieve: freedom (each day a child yearns to become more and more independent), equality (“No fair!”) and love. We absolutely need these things and our decisions nearly every single day for our entire lives are based on achieving our needs.
There’s the old philosophical question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, but what about what comes AFTER .... and I am not talking about afterlife, I am talking about future life. We question our beginnings and therefore, must question our end.
Hope v. Despair
Erich Fromm (who died in 1980, it is worth noting) wrote in the 1984 Afterword, “There could be nothing more paradoxical in historic terms than this change: man, at the beginning of the industrial age, when in reality he did not possess the means for which the table was set for all who wanted to eat, when he lived in a world in which there were economic reasons for slavery, war, and exploitation, in which man only sensed the possibilities of his new science and of its application to technique and to production - nevertheless man at the beginning of modern development was full of hope. Four hundred years later, when all these hopes are realizable, when man can produce enough for everybody, when war has become unnecessary because technical progress can give any country more wealth than can territorial conquest, when this globe is in the process of becoming as unified as a continent was four hundred years ago, at the very moment when man is on the verge of realizing his hope, he begins to lose it.”
“Anonymous” left a comment on a book I reviewed last year. I didn’t like the book and my review, as all my reviews, was about how I, personally, felt about the book. “Anonymous” wrote, "An interesting comment made in a gifted english class: ‘Whoever doesn't like this book cannot think on on a higher level’.”
What is interesting is that “Anonymous” thought that was an interesting comment (by the way, "Anonymous" is the one who used a lower case E in gifted English class). If you don’t like this book, you’re stupid. That’s rich! A gifted 4th grade English class, undoubtedly!
Well, I did like 1984. But even if I didn’t, it isn’t because I am incapable of thinking on a higher level, it is precisely that I am capable. That I am encouraged and ALLOWED to think on a higher level.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way!