It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…
George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5
In America now, there is one surveillance camera for every 10 people. With Congress’s approval of drones on the U.S. mainland, the Federal Aviation Administration estimates 10,000 drones will be filling America’s skies within five years. A recent example of law enforcement’s growing use of facial recognition technology: Slate magazine reports that the Statue of Liberty is being geared with software called FaceVACS, made by German firm Cognitec:
FaceVACS, Cognitec boasts in marketing materials, can guess ethnicity based on a person’s skin color, flag suspects on watch lists, estimate the age of a person, detect gender, “track” faces in real time, and help identify suspects if they have tried to evade detection by putting on glasses, growing a beard, or changing their hairstyle.
Last year, Peculiar Progressive in CFR outlined when our country’s president, with Congress’s concurrence, could become a tyrant, based on the abuse of liberties. You can read that here: July 4: Our Independence Versus Today’s Emergency Powers.
And now in recent weeks we’ve seen a rash of reports of Big Brother activity:
London’s The Guardian newspaper revealed last week that the Obama administration convinced a secret court to order phone giant Verizon to turn over location, length, duration and phone numbers for every call on its system for its millions of customers-a major affront to individual liberty. This is based on the philosophy of guilty until proven innocent, in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution.
The Washington Post reported last week that “the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document.” But the program, code-name PRISM, can also track your information.
In mid-May, The Associated Press reported that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of AP’s reporters and editors “in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.” This is a blatant attack on the Constitution and freedom of the press.
A secret court. A top-secret document. Secretly confiscating a newspaper’s phone records. Those are the latest concrete examples of growing totalitarianism in America. On a broader and deeper scale, here are the four major factors of totalitarianism present in Orwell’s novel which show that 1984 is alive and ill in America.
And while, in America, the problem is not just government control over the people-but Wall Street and multinational corporations’ control over government and the people-the four major factors in 1984 remain at the basis of our dilemma:
Nationalism and Endless War
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “nationalism”:
loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.
Encyclopedia Britannica clarifies nationalism’s place in our society:
Nationalism is a modern movement. Throughout history people have been attached to their native soil, to the traditions of their parents, and to established territorial authorities; but it was not until the end of the 18th century that nationalism began to be a generally recognized sentiment molding public and private life and one of the great, if not the greatest, single determining factors of modern history. Because of its dynamic vitality and its all-pervading character, nationalism is often thought to be very old; sometimes it is mistakenly regarded as a permanent factor in political behaviour.
In 1984, the powerful assure nationalism through the societal structure: Big Brother, the Inner Party, Outer Party, and the Proles. Big Brother is the enigmatic leader only seen on the TV screen and posters. The Inner Party consists of the iron-hand top 2% of the population. The Outer Party is the submissive middle class, 13% of the population. The Proles are the massive poor: the remaining 85%.
Where is the U.S. going? Last summer, Pew Research, in its report “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier,” stated:
Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some-but by no means all-of its characteristic faith in the future…
…Fully 85% of self-described middle-class adults say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle-class people to maintain their standard of living. Of those who feel this way, 62% say “a lot” of the blame lies with Congress, while 54% say the same about banks and financial institutions, 47% about large corporations, 44% about the Bush administration, 39% about foreign competition and 34% about the Obama administration. Just 8% blame the middle class itself a lot.
In 1984, the powerful assure continued control by instilling fear in the people, and conducting “perpetual war”-a lasting state of global conflict with no clear end in sight.
Today, the United States sees the decaying effects of a decade of invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, drone invasions into Pakistan, and looking to spread its military aggression possibly into Iran, Syria, Africa, and beyond. All for the sake of an endless war on terror.
In 1984, Doublethink is accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct:
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary…
George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3
In America today, we tell ourselves we’re living in a free society while we’re seeing our incomes shrivel, credit card debt expand, our young saddled with lifelong college-loan debt, the Federal Reserve print endless money going to banks and not homeowners or consumers, and we continue to pollute our air, water, and earth in the name of industrial progress. Doublethink.
We noticed on TV recently that Coca Cola airs a commercial of citizens photographed in caring situations by public security cameras, e.g., a young couple kissing on a park bench. The catch line: public security cameras record good things, too. Doublethink.
Censorship and Media
In 1984, the Ministry of Truth controls information dissemination in all areas: news, entertainment, education, and the arts. Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, works for the Ministry of Truth. His job: to edit and revise history to fit the party line according to Big Brother and the Inner Party-the 2%.
Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.
– George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 3
In America today, the majority of news, book publishing and entertainment-once shared by a multitude of independent newspapers, book publishers, radio and TV stations, record companies, film production houses, and the Internet-are financially controlled by five major media conglomerates: the Walt Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner, CBS Corporation, and Viacom.
They determine what you’re told and not told about your world, and their major concern is making profits, not a more informed public.
Surveillance, Fear of Expression, and Newspeak
We gave you a concrete view of the current surveillance situation, at least a part of the growing surveillance, at this column’s beginning.
What do you do about taking back your freedoms in a surveillance society? Peculiar Progressive constantly urges you to get organized, get educated and get active. Some lawmakers are beginning to respond to the recent public upheaval caused by government wiretapping and Internet control. But that will be for show, unless you hold their feet to the fire, or replace them if they don’t protect you. Don’t be afraid to express yourself.
Most of all, pay attention to language: Challenge government and business, and yourself, to be specific, not deal in vague generalities…not deal in Newspeak.
In 1984, Doublethink is a mainstay of Newspeak:
Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?… The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.
George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 5