Monday, August 5, 2013

"1984" today

I wrote before about my recent re-reading of the anti-utopian novels "We" by Zamyatin and "Brave New World" by Huxley. Logically, "1984" also got the attention it deserves: for the first time I read it in original language.

I started reading it with similar question as for the other two: what it can teach us today, is there anything where we fell under some of the prophesied spells?

I remember always having the feeling that Orwell is not so naive to merely describe Stalinism. That he meant more, was an observation of myself as a teenager, when reading "1984" for the first time, about the titular year 1984, when I myself was still deep immersed into a Yugoslavian story. I read other Orwell's books before "1984", so I knew he is not to be taken lightly, that he is a highly responsible writer. However, I see now that I understood his take on Inglsoc in a rather shallow way. This reading, and probably 30 intervening years (!) took me deeper. He really was not at all speaking about Stalinism. Nor the hypothetical Socialist Republic of Great Britain. The society he describes is much more applicable to today's world than we could imagine back in 1984.

When I am writing this, we have news of Mr. Snowden denouncing his own government, we have a character like Mr. Assange immersed in his own thriller. Somehow both cases have to do with obvious involvement of governments in not the best practices. Not that we would not know about it, but we prefer to live an illusion of a politically correct government, not the one actively pursuing control over all aspects of life of its subjects.

Now the perturbation of "un-free" Socialist State of X got vaporized in the working of History, and we can turn to the more important features of Orwell's work.

Naturally, what was missing in the picture with my first reading(s) of "1984", compared to today, was omnipresence of Internet. Now we have Google well groomed into Big Brother, with other online services as Skype, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook, more or less openly prostituting to any government, or, for that matter, group of influence. Phishing for information or direct spying are as common as spies in the border cities along the Iron Curtain were in the Cold War era. Camera of your own laptop could be switched on/off almost at anyone's will, as also the microphone of your headset. And yet, nobody seems to be frightened-we learned to live our benign lives with that fact. Nobody is even disturbed by the very idea. Big Brother? Who cares! We do not have anything to hide, Government(s) spying, advertisements companies prying...welcome!

Is it exactly so? What is then the relevance of Orwell's book for us today?

Privacy is not political matter today, at least for most of us. People like Gen. Petraeus could complain to the Water Works Dpt. of the Universe Services that their email was bugged, but then, it is to their own stupidity they'd think it would not be, or that the bug would not be used! Really interesting would be to have a statistics how many light-weight politicians were blackmailed on the base of their very private emails, on a global scale, but I am certain this information is harder to extract than e.g. how many Roman Catholics men were molested as boys by their priests. Nobody will come out with SUCH information, condemning himself. Or a State, for that matter, (s)he could finish...vaporized. Unperson. We, the ordinary ones, obviously do not have anything to hide, or, at least, not enough interesting that we'd care. We even love Big Brother (see the popularity of Facebook).

Except of the Big Brother screen entering our home freely without even frightening us (today it even follows us everywhere, in our smartphone, and we voluntarily give our privacy away-mind you, I am just confessing to google electronic media what was my reading recently, and even more, I am sharing worldwide what were my most intimate thoughts about it!), is there any other aspect of life from "1984" which we embraced readily or less readily?

One thing was strikingly obvious: mass media became exactly as described for Proles: "[in the Ministry of Truth] There was a whole chain of separate departments dealing with proletarian literature, music, drama, and entertainment generally. Here were produced rubbishy newspapers, containing almost nothing except sport, crime, and astrology, sensational five-cent novelettes, films oozing with sex, and sentimental songs which were composed entirely by mechanical means..."

Is this not what you felt when ceasing to read your favorite newspaper after years of doing so, because meaningful content has been increasingly hitchhiked by idiotic following of celebrities' life or some similar garbage of today? Did you notice that your favorite newspaper webpage contains more and more of "whose breast popped out of a gala dress" or "who is divorcing whom", or "what is X. Kardashian tonight", or some other "picantery" of the currently most (un)important movie stars, than any meaningful news?

Sports content of the newspaper, being a proletarian fun previously (except maybe of a cricket column for Prince This of That and his siblings), became almost intellectual treat when compared to the rest of the "news". Not extracting the current war agenda of this or that idiotic USA president or gibbering of equally idiotic Iranian or X-an Prime Minister or President.

Those two features, unlimited powers of observation and fathomless stupidity of the Media, are two most strikingly corresponding to Orwell's prophecy, at the global scale.

Are there some other, minor correspondences between the book and the today reality, which did not yet become so global?

"Minute of hate" is taken in as a media-hypes, be it directed against moslem, gay, pedophiles or anyone/anything at hand, if there is a current lack of the atrocities of war. Until it became too expensive, USA and USSR were maintaining enough wars around the globe to fulfill such role for their population, but currently even they had to shrink the choice, with USA itself becoming a 3-rd world country, and Russia never fully reaching the importance of USSR. In People's Republic of China, Party has to be more careful not to succumb to Romanian danger of calling a rally and sinking below it. North Korea looks as if its leaders would use "1984" as a textbook.

The same is the case with religion, sexuality-it became a plastic to be mold by anyone at power-it pairs well with media as described above. Occurrence of sects or new popes or new religious leaders or, at the equal footing, some more or less sexually transmitted diseases is always at hand-as throughout the history, they are never missing from the picture.

Friendship, love... it is interesting to see that the development is not necessarily towards more freedom, based on the sheer power of numbers. In India or Arabian countries, ossified, outdated patriarchal systems are ruling the day more than ever, and it is not easy to foresee their transformation. In those places, power of the media turns handy to the government, and it could be some of those countries which will follow (or is already following) the steps of North Korea not in the direct political sense, but by a moral policing, being a ruling power in disguise.

There are many facets of "1984" which could be reached in disguise in today world. At the end, we all have a big chance to finish loving some version of the Big Brother, with his all-encompassing eyes and all-embracing powers.