In George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984,” he portrays English society – renamed Oceania – as a futuristic version of the 1940s Soviet Union. In this invented society that Orwell calls IngSoc – English Socialism – the populace has even less freedom than the Soviets permitted its citizens and life consists only of drudgery, loneliness and hideousness. The novel grips the reader with fear and loathing of a totalitarian future enabled by technological advances and prompts one with the question: “Can it, will it happen here?”
It goes without saying that the United States in 2023 bears little resemblance to 1984 Oceania. In Oceania, the state had total control over the language, economy, science, history, personal possessions, personal thoughts, music, art and literature. In the U.S. today, however, it is not difficult to see how government intrusion and control reduces freedom, creates fear and confusion, reduces economic opportunity and prosperity, distorts history and science and creates unnecessary interpersonal conflict.
One of the ways Big Brother, Oceania’s leader, exerted total control was by subverting language. This reduced the capacity to think thoughts not approved by the state. “Newspeak,” as Orwell coined it, consisted only of words that expressed permitted thoughts.
“Thoughtcrime,” another Orwellism, punished illicit thoughts. Illicit action therefore became literally unthinkable. Truth is what Big Brother declared it to be at any given moment: 2+2=5 yesterday and 2+2=4 today. History was constantly and literally rewritten in order to satisfy the “truths” that Big Brother was currently promulgating.
The most nefarious aspect of Big Brother’s rule was of course his brutally enforced elimination of freedom, which he accomplished by suppressing the truth and promulgating lies.
In all eras, in all states, in all political parties, leaders tell lies. The danger arises when the state and state co-opted institutions suppress, eliminate and punish unapproved ideas. Big Brother had the power to ensure that his lies were the only “facts” that were knowable. As one would expect, dissent was rare and not tolerated. Disagreement and belief in objective reality and a persistent past was punishable by torture, work camps and usually, death.
Is it a stretch to see hints of this control today, when scientists are censored for sharing findings that the establishment disagrees with; when college students fear they may receive a poor grade for presenting an alternative viewpoint; when employees submit unwillingly to racist diversity training; when government agencies and colleges require diversity oaths for employment; and when government reduces wealth and freedom by shutting down businesses deemed unnecessary?
Orwell intended his novel to serve as a warning (not a guidebook) to Great Britain: that socialists and central planners running an all-powerful state can and likely would use their power for pernicious ends.
Sadly, in the U.S. both political parties have contributed to the growth of the surveillance and controlling state. Here are some examples:
The PATRIOT Act permitted increased government surveillance over individuals in response to an unprecedented terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland.
Joe Biden tried but failed to institute a Disinformation Governance Board. His administration also pressured social media companies to restrict access to posts it deemed untruthful or otherwise harmful. One wonders, why after almost 250 years without such a board, this became necessary. In the 1990s, internet-based news sources led to a vast increase in the availability of information, significantly more than had been available when partisan daily newspapers dominated the information landscape. Philosophers and Supreme Court Justices alike agree that the solution to bad speech is more speech. But according to the Left, now that we have more news sources than ever before, this no longer holds true. Only their approved sources should be allowed a platform.
Various levels of government mandated mask wearing and vaccinations as well as mandatory business closures that created increased dependency on government largesse.
Leftist high-density gatherings were encouraged during Covid’s peak while conservative gatherings were prohibited for reasons of public safety.
Particular scientific theories are deemed settled, while scientists with opposing views are defunded and ridiculed despite having ample evidence backing up their claims. Some scientific theories have become sacred and “science” has been transformed into a dogmatic state-run religion.
The 2022 federal budget replaced the word “mothers” with “birthing people.” The NIH suggests “pregnant people.” Teachers, politicians and scientists tell us that people that are born as men may become women if they choose to do so (and vice versa) and may switch back at will.
Obama’s “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges replaced standard judicial practices with almost inquisition-like tactics for addressing sexual harassment complaints.
College campuses have instituted speech codes. Stanford University even considered banning the use of standard words but following ridicule it withdrew this proposal.
Publishing houses have changed classic literature in order to satisfy approved mores. Affected authors include Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming and Hugh Lofting. In Orwell’s novel, the affected authors included Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Byron and Dickens.
Government agencies and publicly traded companies conduct diversity training in order to indoctrinate employees in a particular way of thinking. Opposing views are impermissible and the resistant are ridiculed and worse. While not quite Orwell’s “Two Minutes of Hate” (directed towards the enemy state), intersectionality, which is a component of critical race theory, directs hatred toward particular groups of people based on their immutable characteristics.
“Anti-racism” which is promoted by government agencies and public companies, posits that all white people are suspected beneficiaries of a racist system – that only whites can be racist and that race explains most economic and social outcomes in society. Somehow this is deemed not to be racist, whereas “color blind” behavior and recognizing people as individuals is now considered racist.
Antifa rioters are lawful demonstrators, while Catholic high school students (see Covington Catholic incident) and parents who protest at school board meetings are a threat to public safety.
Defunding the police makes citizens safer.
The unfounded claims of the “1619 Project” are taught as truth to school children.
In “1984,” Oceania is always at war with one of the two other surviving states. Orwell writes that the reason for this warfare was “to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
Leftists seek to decarbonize the worldwide energy system – thus intentionally destroying a highly effective, proven, and safe energy production and distribution system that has lifted millions around the world out of poverty. This system was refined and incrementally improved over time. The Left wants to replace this system with technologies that are neither currently effective, proven, nor safe and although inchoate are expected to emerge fully formed – meaning that once implemented technological advancement will be more difficult and expensive.
The U.S. already spends billions in order to end up further behind where we are now from an energy, industrial output and standard of living perspective. The planners are talking about required reductions in energy consumption, automotive miles traveled, airplane miles traveled and consumption of energy intensive foodstuffs – thus destroying our wealth and reducing the quality of life.
As Orwell writes:
“In principle the war effort is always so planned … with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another.
War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. What is concerned here is… the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be … a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war.”
Leftists view the effort to stave off the “Climate Catastrophe” as a war. This of course requires sacrifices for most Americans while the elites will continue to fly in private jets and travel the seas on luxurious yachts. Climate hysteria empowers the government to control the economy and therefore our lives. Scarcity pits group against group.
Big Brother’s method of control is itself logically consistent: control the language, control the truth, control history, control employment, and control the populace.
Leftist politicians have learned that they can successively add to their power, one mandate at a time, while eliminating freedom for everyone else. While these power seeking politicians are likely unknowingly following the Orwellian design of language, truth and history control, these are the logical steps required to attain greater authority over the American people incrementally — boiling the frog. Achieving one enables the possibility of achieving the next one.
It seems rather ironic that the Left is constantly calling the Right the party of fascism, yet not even George Orwell could have imagined the level of control that the Democratic Party has tried and (arguably has succeeded) in exerting over the body politic in such a short period of time.