"When all think alike, no one is thinking very much." ~ Walter Lippmann
How to Defeat Big Brother and Reclaim Your Freedom
George Orwell's 1984 is the story of a future society where individualism has been eliminated, where propaganda is used to control the masses, and where perpetual war is being waged to maintain the "peace." It's a world where false is true and wrong is right, where history is constantly being rewritten to support whatever the regime is currently doing--and where Big Brother watches your every move. It can be summed up in the word's of one of 1984's characters, O'Brien, when he said: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face--forever." But even in the middle of this totalitarian "utopia," there is one man--Winston Smith--who dares to question authority, and who seeks a life and love for himself. The parallels between our modern world and that of George Orwell's 1984 are uncanny. The Ministry of Truth, the Thought Police, the political manipulation of language to distort reality, the hidden censorship of political correctness, and the war on terror as a control mechanism--all echo the themes of 1984. So much so, that reading the news headlines often makes it seem disturbingly prophetic. 1984 is ultimately a depressing story. Winston Smith, the hapless hero, believes he is thwarting Big Brother--particularly when he meets the character O'Brien, whom he believes to be a member of the underground resistance led by Emanuel Goldstein. But in the end, Winston is simply a pawn in a vast conspiracy. A conspiracy which cheats him of his love, Julia, and ultimately of his own sanity--when he is incarcerated in the Ministry of Love, and subjected to the horrors of Room 101. 1984 is a chilling read for sure, and implies that the omnipotent state will ultimately win. It is rarely that a book instills real fear in the reader. But I can say that I literally flinched when reading it, and found my eyes trying to escape the words on the page--much as one closes one's eyes in a horror movie to avoid the graphic images. Such is the power of Orwell's words. However, even as Winston Smith lives out his days in diminished manhood, he clings on to one idea--that if there is any hope at all, it lies with the proles. Now, the "proles" were the ordinary people--the masses, the great unwashed. These people were cannon fodder--and largely ignored by the powers that be. Smith's hope was that one day the proles would "wake up"--and in so doing, would--by force of numbers--sweep away the vast illusion of totalitarian state power. And this is the all-important point. It is an ILLUSION. State power is only effective as long as those subject to it "believe" in it. The state has no power except what we grant it. Its power is derived from our willingness to give up our own power. Thus, the state's primary role is to instill in its subjects the idea that it is absolutely necessary, and that without it, life would be miserable and chaotic (like present-day Iraq, perhaps!). State education, manipulation and control of the media, spin, censorship, fear-mongering, doomsday scenarios, mass hysteria, religious symbolism and "grand visions," are all tools of the state--in its constant quest to maintain control over people. And if that doesn't work, well there's always tear gas, guns and tanks! The only thing that can destroy this illusion is if people simply ignore it and act as if it wasn't there. Just take one example--taxation. Taxation is money expropriated from you by force. Yes, force. If you do not pay your taxes and continue to ignore threats to do so, then you will be charged and likely incarcerated. If you, as an individual, try to stand up to the state and refuse to pay your taxes, then I'm afraid you're a gonner--gone to jail more like. You, by yourself, cannot hope to oppose the state on its own terms. You must set your OWN terms. However, if everyone simply said "no" in unison, there is absolutely nothing the state could do about it. It could not fine everybody (as they would refuse to pay that also). It could not imprison everybody. It certainly could not execute everybody. No, the state would be exposed for what it is--a charade. The big, fat emperor with no clothes. Without our money the state would be nothing--and it would disappear in a matter of weeks. Okay, months. So, the first rule of "statecraft" is "keep the proles in a state of ignorance and fear. Don't let them get a whiff of their own potential power. Because if they do, we're all gonners!" The state's ultimate power is its ability to control the flow of information. And that's exactly how "Big Brother" operated in 1984. All information was in constant flux--managed and massaged to suit the purposes of the party. This information control even extended to history--where accounts of previous events or policy announcements were rewritten to support the present day policies and purposes of the party. Language itself was being manipulated--to eliminate even the words that could be used to initiate certain thought processes--thoughts that could lead to rebellion. In this way, 1984 portrays the TOTAL state. Totally in power, totally in control--and totally aware of why it is there, and how to stay there. Power simply for its own sake. Orwell lived before the Internet was even conceived. In 1984, the TV screen is a medium of one way communication--from Big Brother to all the subjects of IngSoc. So it would be interesting to know what Orwell would have made of the emerging global culture that is the internet. Make no bones about it, the internet is a revolutionary tool. It is a first in the history of mankind. Never before has there been a medium of communication which links the whole world--and where ordinary individuals can both read and say whatever they like. In 1984, the ordinary people were completely subjugated because of the state's control over information. The control was total. In contrast, the internet bypasses the state information control apparatus. On the 'net, one has access to nonofficial news sources and opinions. It is literally impossible to censor the bulk of what goes on online. The internet also provides a communication medium for other freedom-promoting technologies--like the digital camera. Previously, news images were the sole domain of the professional media. Not any more. Now anyone, anywhere, can upload a photo and have it visible to the whole world in minutes. In this way, the modern aspiring "total" state has serious competition, because it cannot fully control the flow of information--as was the case in Orwell's 1984. Even states like China cannot hope to completely control the internet. Oh sure, they try. They block access to the main news site of BBC.com. Ho-hum. They block other specified domains. They are seeking ways to enforce content control on those who host sites. But this is all petty stuff in the face of determined efforts to thwart such control. I know, I've spent many months in China--and I had no problem accessing the many potential "no-go" sites I frequent. The internet is also changing the nature of relationships. Pre- internet, people identified with the traditional groupings of family, society and nation. But these historic bonds are being loosened, as people forge new alliances and relationships via the internet and across national borders. Relationships based on commonality of interests, values and beliefs--not just ethnicity or nationality. As ordinary people (the proles) have increased access to uncensored information, and find themselves making connections with people from all over the globe--it becomes more and more difficult for any state to micromanage the lives of its citizens. They have lost control of the information so vital to maintaining control over people. And it may not be far off before the "proles" wake up--and insist the Emperor has no clothes. So, where to from here? In George Orwell's 1984, the road ended in Room 101. But in the real world--the world as it is--you have the opportunity to take a different road. You CAN defeat Big Brother in so many different ways. It's just a matter of "waking up" and seeing where the power really resides--with YOU. You have the power to withdraw your permission, to withdraw your support. You can do this in a multitude of ways--both minor and major. And you can find support networks of like-minded people, where the "how" of this is revealed. The computer screen in your home or office is not a one-way propaganda tool. No, it is an interactive tool at your personal disposal. YOU can choose what to read. YOU can choose how to communicate, and with whom. YOU can choose the nature of the relationships your forge. YOU are in the driver's seat. The internet can be your gateway to personal freedom. Your portal to the real world--the world without the charade of state power. But you have to want freedom. You have to desire it intensely. If you want to be a prole, that is your choice and your right. But if you want to be FREE, then it's time to wake up and ACT.