Everybody told me I should read the book 1984 by George Orwell. Somehow, I missed it in high school. So I read it. I finished reading it almost a week ago, and have wanted to write a post about it ever since I finished it. But it felt way way too heavy to write. Finally, I think I can do it. At least I can try.
It’s really scary when extreme concepts like the ones in the book don’t seem beyond the possibility of happening, and some feel like they’re in the beginning stages of happening. Just look at the slogans “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” How many times have we heard U.S. President Bush say something along the lines of, in order to protect our freedom, we must lose some personal freedoms? What about the idea that we are going to war to preserve the peace? And as for “ignorance is strength,” well, look how some people will fill with patriotic fervour just because they’re told too, and will unquestioningly do as Bush says and get angry at those who want to question where this is going? If that isn’t strength for the army and a license for the president to do whatever he wants, unresisted, I don’t know what is. What about the statements that the torturing of terror suspects is for the good of the American people, or the way some people have disappeared? Is anyone getting some serious “ministry of love” parallels?
And then there’s all the similarities to the spying that goes on in the book. In the book, no one had privacy and “Big “brother” was always watching you. They listened in on you everywhere you went. Now, since 9/11, the U.S. has been nudging its way towards that point, wanting to listen in on phone calls without reason, read your emails, log what you do and where you go on the net without any kind of reason why. They say it’s for the benefit of the people. Can you swallow that?
Reading the book does strange things to the mind. As I was reading it, I felt the uncontrolable urge to google random references to old British nursery rhymes to see if they existed. They did, in all kinds of different forms, which almost frightened me more. Think about it. The job of the main character is to change records to make them match the current stance of the party. I couldn’t decide if I should be happy that the search results didn’t come up all uniformly the same, or worried that someone might have changed some of them. For half a second, I thought about going and saving newspaper articles about certain historical events, just in case they changed someday. Then I shook my head at the craziness of it all.
Then I got thinking about how we know the human memory is unreliable, and the only way we can truly back up what we’re saying is by looking things up somewhere. So of course, if you change the records, you change human memory, and anyone who insists that events happened in a different way than what is written down is made to look as if they are insane.
The idea of people no longer existing, becoming an unperson, isn’t really that extreme an idea. Think about your own family tree. Can you trace it all the way back to the beginning of time from what you remember? I don’t think so, not without the help of some kind of historical records. You have memory of your immediate family, your grandparents and aunts and things, and maybe your great-grandparents. But further back than that is a mystery. If those records are changed to remove people, good luck proving they ever existed.
Even famous people can fade out of existence if you let them. After they’re dead and the people who can remember them without reminders are no longer with us, who is going to remember? What a scary thought.
The final straw was the general hopelessness of it all, the idea that if you resist the will of the party, you *will* be found and dealt with. There was the horrible idea that no one is strong enough to withstand the things the torturers did to them. If you gave someone enough pain, they would see, actually see, five fingers where there were four. If you made someone face their worst fear, something that was unbearable, they would cry out that you should do it to the one they loved rather than them. I got thinking. What would be my worst fear? Being raped? Going insane? Drowning? Being attacked by swarms of bees? I don’t know! And would I actually be so afraid that I would tell them to do it to Steve? The book, and that horrible nightmare I had makes me think I would!
Worst of all, if they decided to let you back out, you would never be the same. Just when you thought you’d found an ally, you found out they were the enemy. There was no message of hope, no way to win, the party would always control everything.
And now I feel like people who read this are going to tell me to go get a tin-foil hat because I’m a paranoid freak. But I can only hope that was what the book intended. Hopefully, that book never comes true in every possible way. I couldn’t live in a world like that. With no free will, what would be the point of living?