Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

15 years following an initial attempt at reading George Orwell’s 1984 I completed the book. It was riveting, and a challenge to my soul. It is a book that stays with you and reshapes your view of reality, the self, power, and freedom. Less than 24 hours after reading the book, here are my initial reactions:

Big Brother is Watching You

One of George Orwell’s most popularized visions of 1984 is that of telescreens listening and watching us in our homes, at work, and even in the forest. Big Brother is always watching you, and he reminds you at every step.

This dystopian dream of technological surveillance has come true in a more effective realization: cell phones. More advanced than Orwell’s telescreens, cell phones are compact, equipped with microphones, GPS, cameras and biometric sensors. And we willingly and eagerly carry them with us everywhere we go.

The data, your life, is uploaded to data warehouses that are owned by a few monolithic corporations who hold a monopoly on our data. What is that data? It’s our thoughts and doings all in one place. As data is centralized, it will be easier to police. How it is policed then is up to us as citizens.

While reading I found myself covering the cameras of my phone like a paranoid perpetrator of thought crime. That paranoia is not necessarily unfounded. One of the closest living examples of Big Brother, Mark Zuckerberg, covers his laptop camera

I suggest a thorough review of the access you allow apps, like Facebook, to your phone. Does the flashlight app really need access to your microphone?

Totalitarian Tip-Toe

In these hysterical times it seems as though we are one reactionary, fear-induced outcry from citizens away from demanding data hoarding corporations to open up their databases to the authorities in order to track down and stop future crime from happening. See recent examples of the FBI and Apple flirting with cooperation following the San Bernadino and Sutherland, Texas Church massacre. The phones contain our lives, and if we know the patterns of a mass murderer, should we allow the policing of our thoughts, and the prevention of crime before it happens? Should there be a punishment for thinking a crime without acting a crime?

Externalizing the Father

Each time we shout for someone other than ourselves to do something, we are calling for the Father, or the Big Brother, to save us.

Take North Korea’s Necrocracy as a living example. The worship of any leader from Steve Jobs to the Pope to Mohammed shows some need of ours to externalize a Father, and our quick reaction for someone, anyone, other than ourselves to do something about our fears following a tragedy underscores a risk to our future freedom. Freedom is painful, and if we do not want it we must learn the consequences of not having the option.

In 1984 Big Brother is not a person. Big Brother is a metaphor for a centralized system of power, with a leader-idol at its head.

In fear, if we believe we cannot protect ourselves then it follows that we must allow Big Brother our bodies, and minds, in order to be safe from the attacks of the invisible invaders.

To stop the Big Brother’s advances, we need to practice self-reliance, move through fear, and take ownership of ourselves and our communities.

Memorable quotes and interpretations from 1984: 

On Sex

“It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party’s control and which therefore had to be destroyed if possible. What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and leader worship.”

From the Roman Catholic Church, to ISIS, to the sexual and mental sterility of a corporate culture, sex is an undeniably human urge. In the cultures where sex is most suppressed we see the most violence. Virgin boys, isolated by geography and radical ideology willingly and excitedly wrap explosives around their chest at the opportunity to become martyrs in the name of their god. In the most sexually repressed individuals we can witness the most sexually deviant and violent behavior. “What you resist will persist,” as your yoga instructor will tell you.

No More Martyrs

“The party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.”

The controlling government in 1984, The Party, was not concerned with killing dissidents as the Nazis or Russian Communists did. Instead, they ensured there would be no martyrs. Death was not granted to a prisoner until they turned their hatred for Big Brother into love for Big Brother and no one else. All love in the world for anything other than the Party had to be cast out.

Doublethink

What is real? “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull.” And reality is created by images and words. We saw in the last election cycle, or any election cycle, that politicians blatantly lie even in the face of the Truth. And it never seems to matter. Facts are not persuasive. Lies are repeated until they are oddly accepted as facts. To admit to a lie is to lose power and admit to creating a false reality. Therefore, to hold onto power – control of reality – the lie must become the truth and evidence of the lie must be made to appear as evidence of outside forces forcing a lie.

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” 34

And yet the past , though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it; in Newspeak, ”doublethink.”

Reality is defined by suffering

“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?“

Winston thought. “By making him suffer,” he said.

“Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

 

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