From ‘1984’ to 2017
As reported by The New York Times on January 25th, shortly after Kellyanne Conway’s “Meet The Press” appearance in which she uttered the now infamous “alternate facts” regarding the crowd at Trump’s presidential inauguration, the sales of George Orwell’s novel, originally published in 1949, 1984 became the best-selling book on Amazon.com.
Craig Burke, the publicity director at Penguin USA said that the publisher ordered 75,000 new copies of the book this week and that it was considering another reprint.
The following excerpts from 1984 highlight the relevance of the novel to the world today.
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed- if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became the truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control,’ they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink.’”
The above phenomenon, “Reality Control,” is the crux of what comprises fake news. The party in power controls the present and in order to legitimize its rule and negate its wrongdoings it rewrites the past, altering history in such a manner which works in the party’s favor. An example of this is Narendra Modi’s clean up image and his emergence as the ‘Vikas Purush.’ His incendiary speeches from 2002, shortly after the Gujarat riots, are no longer available. Recently, a documentary filmmaker, Rakesh Sharma’s Youtube page was taken down (and later restored) because it contained many videos of Modi that contained his incendiary remarks.
A similar example of rewriting history is in Rajasthan University’s syllabus where a revised version of the Haldighati battle where Maharana Pratap defeated Akbar has been written. Akbar is portrayed to be an evil foreign invader and Maharana Pratap as a brave patriot. Even the suffix to Akbar, “Great,” has been removed.
In addition to revising history the content of the Mughal Empire has been diminished. Jawaharlal Nehru’s name as a leader in the freedom struggle or as a leader of independent India has conveniently been omitted and the fact that Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi is also omitted.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
Essentially the process to make thought crime impossible is by targeting educational institutions. This has been initiated with the unfolding of events across universities in India like Hyderabad University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and the Film and Television Institute of India.
Universities and schools encourage free thought and help students critically analyze texts, place them in contemporary contexts and help them form their own opinion (at least they are meant to). It is where students are taught to question and dissect everything, engage in dissent, discussions and arguments, look beyond themselves and understand society as a whole.
By attacking universities and educational institutions is essentially “attacking the problem at its root” by not providing an atmosphere of debate and disagreement, of critical analysis of history, evidence and of facts. Instead an atmosphere of obsequiousness to the government, of brainwashing and rote learning is being taught.
“Goldstein was delivering the usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party- an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself might be taken in by it.”
The following statement has been broadcast plentiful times when we see and hear politicians making incendiary remarks so hateful that you expect people to be mortified and disgusted by what they are saying. However, on the contrary, everyone laps up what is being said and to a great extent agrees with it as well, which is what makes these incendiary remarks so dangerous.
Examples of these are, Geert Wilders talking about immigration and Islam. Trump on the LGBTQ community, people of color, Muslims and disabled people. What is alarming about these speeches is that most of these leaders/politicians hold positions of power, they are accountable to the citizens and they do have an influence on people. Thus instead of acting responsibly and respecting the power accorded to them, they indulge in the grave misuse of it.
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold out simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and belonging in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever was necessary to forget, then to draw it back to memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again and above all, to apply the same process to process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness and then once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”
Doublethink is one reason why 1984 became a best seller again. Being rather self-explanatory in nature, doublethink is applicable all around the world.
It is applicable in Syria whether it be Bashar al-Assad’s government, the rebel forces, ISIS, Russian attacks or American interference. All sides are “repudiating morality while laying claim to it” as the civilians are caught in the cross fire.
The same example of repudiating morality while laying claim to it is also applicable to the Israel- Palestinian conflict. The same treatment which was meted out to the Jews during the Holocaust, they are almost replicating to the Palestinians. And the same reason for not allowing immigration of Jews during World War 1 into the countries of the Global North for fear of taking jobs from the local populace is being replicated thus again to the people fleeing from Syria.
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.” This is being replicated in the American scenario of the phenomenon of post-truths. No longer is the authenticity of facts and evidence required to substantiate arguments and campaigns; but any promise, any claim, any accusation used to propel forward an electoral agenda is being used.
The phenomenon of “to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy” is being replicated in Turkey. With a referendum granting unequivocal powers to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters are thus justifying the demolishment of democracy saying it is required to instill ‘political stability.’
“He realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them.”
The above statement is true for all the followers or sycophants of political leaders. They reach such a level of obsequiousness and mania because they do not essentially realize what their leader stands for or what they represent. They are given a false notion of preserving/ purifying certain ideals. And it is under the facade of these ideals that the leaders make them carry out certain tasks.
The best example of this is terrorists or suicide bombers. Their handlers have brainwashed them from an extremely impressionable age and told them that they are the protectors of ‘Islam’ and that they will make this world a better place and go to heaven after killing the designated people.
These terrorists are unable to understand that they are merely pawns in a completely different ball game where religion and ideals have no role to play. No religion advocates for the murder of any human being.
In another context, the same paragraph can be applied to Trump’s supporters or Modi’s supporters. Unable to understand what essentially their leader stands for or what this orthodoxy demands of them, they only see Trump as a person who will increase employment by safeguarding jobs for the local population and Modi will bring development. Turning an absolute blind eye to both the leaders’ comments/actions on various minority groups in both America and India respectively.
“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives but of all the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
The above is an example of North Korea carrying out nuclear tests, Syria’s chemical attacks, bombings in Afghanistan, terrorism by the Islamic State all over the world, terrorism by Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, including the violence bordering on terrorism by the ‘gau rakshaks’ in India.
This idea of perpetuating terror, regardless of how ‘noble’ the intentions may be, isn’t only to destroy human lives but the core of humanity and to frighten humans to such an extent that they refuse to question, to dissent, to argue and most of all to think.
“The only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so called ‘abolition of private property’ which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands then before: but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals.”
The above statement is an example of a sort of neo-colonialism of the world in the form of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. These organisations impose their hegemony on the smaller ‘Third World’ countries since they are mainly run by globally dominant countries such as the United States and countries within the European Union. They force the smaller countries to open up their borders and facilitate world trade, while at the same time keeping their borders tightly shut.
Even the United Nations for example, is mainly run by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. One of these five countries has the power to veto a decision made by the United Nations General Assembly, to stall/ halt a resolution while the other members can do nothing about it.
The entire purpose of the formation of these organisations was to ensure a democratic framework of the world where no one country is the dominant power, to thus ensure a multi- polar world with no tilts. However what resulted was just a mere collectivism of power. Instead of one block being dominant, there are many countries which form this block to make it the most dominant block of the world and thus they rule over the international organisations as well.
It is important to note that there is a difference between a multi polar world, where the power does not rest with one block and a collection of countries to form a dominant power i.e. collectivisation of power. A multi polar world is one in which there are no power blocs and every country has a certain amount of power and all international decisions are made in a fair and democratic manner.
A novel which was published in 1949 is relevant today, across the globe. It is our moral obligation to be cognizant of these trends and change them because as individuals we are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society in which we were raised.