Saturday, January 26, 2008
The last time I read 1984 I was 13 years old and only knew US History up to WW2. Mysteriously every year the school curriculum would end before Korea and Vietnam. There was still a Cold War, and a rather dangerous one at that, and we still kept inventory of the supplies stored down in the fallout shelter at our secondary school.
It was fun to revisit Orwell's dystopia and see how the absence of a Cold War has not changed the degree of his prescience. Now free societies in the West are filming citizens and monitoring their movements on a scale to make the Red Chinese envious. The US has more prisoners in its system than the Russians do in theirs, the US uses torture and claims it doesn't, the US media are a sham who do the bidding of their paymaster owners and government power-brokers. Illiteracy abounds in a growing underclass of forgotten and "unsalvageable" proles, relegated to bombed-out urban war zones, their passions stirred by jingoists and Jesus-whoopers and war-mongers, while the wealthy steal funds from the public trough at an unprecedented level. War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, and Slavery is Freedom grow truer all the time.
Orwell always worried about propaganda in "democracies" more than in the tyrannies. As his protege Noam Chomsky often points out, you don't have to control thought in dictatorships because you can bludgeon people if you find it necessary. In "democracies" governments find any means they can to control thought. 1984 is all about controlling thought.
The torture sequences are as vivid as anything in Sade, and there are sublime moments of sadness when Winston Smith falls in love and realizes what he and his fellow men have been missing all along.