Many of the predictions made by George Orwell in his book 1984 in relation to "Big Brother" surveillance, corruption of language and control of history have already come about to a great extent in Communist countries and to some extent in the West. The powers of security police in Western countries to intercept mail and tap phones have often been extended, police agencies keep numerous files on law-abiding citizens, and more and more public officials have the right to enter private homes without a warrant. Many government departments keep computerized information on citizens and there is a danger that this information will be fed into a centralized data bank.
Attempts by law enforcement agencies to obtain more information through informer schemes, through new law enforcement agencies, and through new techniques such as computerization of information, are understandable, but the cumulative effect of such Big Brother activities is to make countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia increasingly totalitarian societies. The corruption of language described in 1984 is widespread in the media today, with "Newspeak" terms such as democratic, socialist, fascist, war criminal, freedom fighter, racist and many other expressions being used in a deliberately deceptive, propagandistic way to whip up mass hysteria or simply to ensure that people can never achieve even an approximation of the truth.
Control of the Past
The fact that almost all media commentary, book reviews and feature articles about the book 1984 have ignored the crucial role of controlling the past indicates that Orwell's prophecy has already been partially fulfilled. The central theme of his book, the control of history, has already been largely written out of references to his book and has disappeared down the memory hole.1
The book's hero, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth rewriting and falsifying history. The Ministry writes people out of history -- they go "down the memory hole" as though they never existed. The Ministry also creates people as historical figures who never existed. Big Brother, who controls the State of Oceania, uses "thought police" to ensure that people in the inner and outer Party are kept under control. Oceania is at perpetual war with either Eurasia or Eastasia. Alliances between these three states change without rational explanation. "Hate weeks" are organized against Goldstein, the leader of an alleged underground opposition to Big Brother, and hate sessions are organized against either Eurasia or Eastasia. O'Brien, a member of the inner Party, pretends to Smith that he is part of the Goldstein conspiracy against Big Brother. He asks Smith what he would most like to drink a toast to. Smith chooses to drink a toast, not to the death of Big Brother, the confusion of the Thought Police, or Humanity, but "to the past." Both Smith and O'Brien, the main characters of 1984, agree that the past is more important. Unfortunately, almost all of last year's media commentary about Orwell's greatest book ignored the importance of the past and control of the past as a theme in 1984. The extent of censorship of history is indicated by suppression of the fact that Orwell originally considered giving the title 1948 to his book because of widespread Big Brother tendencies already in the year 1948, including control of history.2 It is also indicated by the suppression of the fact that Orwell queried the allegation that there were gas chambers in Poland.
Orwell wrote that
indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be doubt about the most enormous events... .The calamities that are constantly being reported -- battles, massacres, famines, revolutions -- tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully...
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