George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, is the definitive fictional postulation of an absolute authoritarian society. Citizens exist for the justification of the state, have no status as individuals, and are subject to propaganda which can rewrite history.
In Orwell’s dystopian world, privacy is non-existent. “Telescreens” are omnipresent as “Big Brother” watches one’s every move. The disinformation is profound and all-pervasive.
To anesthetize the populace whose status is hardly better than concentration camp dwellers, the State provides “Victory Gin.” Citizens, at least in the “outer party,” have some dim awareness of their situation, but in fear of Big Brother, they acquiesce. The fictional country’s war department is called the Ministry of Peace. In summary, the citizens are kept occupied by distractions, their country in a never-ending war, where daily victories are reported.
Today’s distractions are far more insidious. People cannot peel cell phones from their ears; a young woman texts as she walks down a sidewalk and falls into a manhole. Social networking has become an obsession. Strangers are classified as “friends.” Although there are no “telescreens” in our homes, our privacy is compromised. Unlike Orwell’s citizens, many of us embrace this all-encompassing connectedness as something good and desirable. It keeps us occupied while our culture is in free fall.
A progressively widening vacuum in our culture has paved the way for this. This can be traced back approximately 50 years ago. We owned a supremacy in technology, established a vision for the future, a good bit of it grounded in the hope of bettering humanity through space exploration. A Presidential assassination, a divisive war and counterculture took us into the 1970s where our supremacy in the world began to be challenged. The dangers of foreign oil dependence, even now an ongoing concern, were known then and what has been done? We put a man on the moon in nine years. President Carter was a “downer” with his famous malaise speech. Someone said he told us the [unpleasant] truth. His successor, Ronald Reagan, gave us a smile. The 1980s sent us on our way, or was it off the path?
When I was in grade school, we were to have colonized the solar system by now. The Space Shuttle program is ending. Sure, we have more pressing problems here, but what are we doing about them? “Carter’s” malaise persists: lack of vision, a long-term stagnant economy, social and political divisiveness not so polarized since the ’60s and ’70s.
And so, as we twitter away, we retreat to “inner space,” a world of virtual connections. Social networking and gadgets keep us occupied; they keep our minds off our credit card debt, they keep our minds off our national character, and they ultimately compromise the will, encourage apathy, devalue our educational system, and usher in the of demise critical thinking. Orwell’s “Victory” Gin was ironically named, for it was emblematic of the victory over human dignity.
Joe Domino is currently an Adjunct Professor of English at Palm Beach Community College in Boca Raton, Florida. His classroom instruction and methodology emphasize critical thinking, cultural awareness, and a sense of history. Joe is also a published fiction author.
Categories: scholars and rogues