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Why is 1984 Relevant Today? – Part One

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Hey everyone, it’s David, I hope this doesn’t seem like a 1984 overload, but I was planning to make this post part of my 1984 review. I decided against it in the end as I thought it would end up being much too long and there was easily enough content for three posts.

In recent years, sales of 1984 have been steadily increasing. However, over the past weeks sales of 1984 have skyrocketed and 1984 is currently top of the Amazon’s best selling books section following Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway’s statement regarding so called “alternative facts”. To say that this statement is the sole reason for the dramatic sales of the book, or the explanation for why 1984 is relevant today, would be too simplistic however. To attempt to give an explanation as to why I think 1984 is relevant today; I will focus on key themes from the book that are being exhibited worldwide.

If you have never read 1984 previously, then be sure to check out my review here. Without further ado, lets get into it.

Surveillance

Surveillance is a key theme of Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. The population of Oceania is constantly observed, and monitored through a variety of means. There are telescreens in almost every room, every corridor and every building, which are capable of hearing and seeing what anyone is doing. Where there are not telescreens, such as in the countryside, there are hidden microphones and there are constant patrols of police and helicopters in the urban areas. Furthermore, even children are indoctrinated to spy on their relatives and turn them over to the government at the first sign of dissent.

Relevance

In the age of the Internet, privacy is being constantly eroded away. Every single action carried out by anyone online is recorded and stored for future reference, including personal data such as your name, age and address but also any messages you send, or sites you browse. The extent to which this is done varies from country to country and it is likely very difficult to ever know the true extent to which it is done.

In the UK alone, the current government recently passed what is known as the Investigatory Powers Act or “The Snooper’s Charter“, which makes it legally binding for Internet companies to store records of individuals web activity and make it available to government agencies. This is incredibly reminiscent of the government of Oceania, which monitors its populous and their actions constantly. Even more worrying is the fact that the 1984 telescreen is a reality. The CIA is capable of watching people through their own device’s camera in order to spy on them, without even showing the indicator light to say that your camera is on. If you’re using any device to read this with a camera on it then they could in theory watch you through it and you would never know.

Often measures such as these are brought in under the guise of “protecting people” particularly after terrorist attacks and the like. However, although terrorist attacks are undoubtedly horrific, they are incredibly rare and statistically you are more likely to be killed by your clothes when getting dressed than in a terror attack. That is absolutely not to say that it is not crucial to secure ourselves against terrorism but two key considerations need to be made. Firstly, how likely is it that increased surveillance reduces terrorist threat? And secondly, how far will we allow our privacy and our civil liberties to be eroded in order to do so? It seems disingenuous that these measures are simply for our own good. Many may argue that if you don’t have anything to hide then you have nothing to fear, however this argument seems really to miss the main point that privacy should be a right.

In the face of so many invasive government policies and agencies worldwide, it seems only logical that 1984 is incredibly relevant today.

Freedom of Speech/Media

In 1984, freedom of speech and the press is entirely non-existent. Any exercise of free speech is certain to end in death, and the media is completely state controlled and moulded to agree with what the government says, even to the extent that any wrong predictions are rectified retrospectively. Furthermore what the government states as fact does not even need to be true and can in fact completely contradict reality.

Relevance

Globally and historically, freedom of speech and media is relatively new and definitely not widespread concept. Outside of the western world, freedom of speech and media is not widely practiced and many powerful nations have little to no freedom of speech and press. According to Freedom House, only approximately 13% of people on earth today have freedom of press (I was amazed by this when I did my research for this post) and they have a map showing, free, partly free and not free press countries. Many large and powerful nations such as Russia, China and India do not have free press. Globally therefore 1984 is incredibly relevant.

However, with the presidency of Donald Trump, freedom of the press is at risk. Trump attacks media outlets, which disagree with his policies and ideology branding them as “fake news“.  Furthermore, his advisor Kellyanne Conway’s bizarre mention of “alternative facts?” is eerily reminiscent of the way The Party, in Orwell’s novel, can claim complete lies as facts. Global warming is a Chinese hoax anyone? Most frightening however is Trump’s worrying attempt to get the Environmental Protection Agency to remove mention of Global Warming from their website and his gag order which prevents scientists employed there from speaking to the press. These signs are all worrying as these scientists are producing hard factual data, which goes against Trump’s ideology. In Oceania science is abolished and only the ideology of The Party is told.

Overall on a planet, which largely has no freedom of speech it is no clear that 1984 is relevant, especially when in bastions of free media such as the US, freedom of media and speech is under attack.

Existence of Three Superpowers and Global Tension

In 1984 there are three superpowers all locked in endless conflict.

Oceania: A conglomerate of North and South America, Australia, half of Africa and The UK.

Eurasia: A conglomerate of Russia, the European mainland and the Baltic states.

Eastasia: A conglomerate of China, Mongolia, Japan and other fragments of modern day Asian countries such as India, Myanmar, Thailand and many others.

These three superpowers fight endlessly over the rest of the Earth, which is known as the disputed territory.

Relevance

Now, in our modern times, the lines of 1984’s nations would be likely drawn very differently and the chances of this coming to pass are incredibly unlikely, However there are parallels in global politics today.

Global tensions are becoming more and more highly strung seemingly constantly over regions such as Syria and the middle east in general, Ukraine/Crimea and the South China sea. The nations of NATO and the Russian federation have experienced a great deal of tension in recent years firstly in Ukraine following Putin’s invasion of Crimea, which NATO has refused to recognise, and now in Syria where American backed rebels, fight against Russian backed government forces. These areas are potential flashpoint for direct war between these two superpowers.

In the South China Sea, the Chinese and the Americans are again experiencing tension as the American’s feel that China is overstepping its boundaries in the South China Sea with its island building whereas the Chinese believe they have a right to the territory. As a result a large fleet of American warships is patrolling the South China Sea.

Although these tensions are unlikely to escalate, the possibility cannot be ruled out and would almost certainly cause the outbreak of WW3 as other nations are dragged into the conflict. This is very reminiscent of 1984 and the state of constant war as well as the somewhat similar key players in these conflicts. The USA, the Russian Federation and China.

So there it is, the first part of my article on why 1984 is relevant today. I hope it is interesting and that you guys enjoy it! Look out for Part 2 coming soon…

Be sure to check out Book Depository using my link here: Loisreadsbooks

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Until next time, 

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7 thoughts on “Why is 1984 Relevant Today? – Part One

  1. An excellent analysis. I am reminded (again I know, bear with me lol) of the Handmaid’s Tale. How people will give away their personal freedoms when they are in fear.
    “That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.”
    It reminds me of what happened after 9/11. The Department of Homeland Security was created in response to that, and it’s powers (and the ones subsequently given to our NSA) were awesome, not in a good way. No one complained because we were afraid, and figured the government had our best interests at heart. So the American people let them do what they want. There are freedoms we will never get back because of that. Meanwhile, for days I couldn’t get John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance to stop playing in my head. It feels like a slow downward slide into authoritarianism. But I am hopeful when I see so many people trying to voice opposition and reading books like 1984. Art will help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much! The handmaids tale does have a lot of similarity as well though, you’re very right. It’s very worrying to see how quickly peoples rights and liberties can be eroded in the wake of a catastrophe. It’s not as concerning when a benign figure like Obama is in power, but when these powers fall into the hands of dangerous people, it is cause for concern. That’s why art is so important, whether it’s literature like 1984 or the music of John Lennon! It can be a warning, an education and a comfort all at once.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Lost In A Good Book and commented:
    As part of the RESIST! series, I am hoping to bring attention to articles by the wonderful Lois & David of Lois Reads Books blog. These focus on 1984 by George Orwell. In the second installment, David focuses on the releveance of this book in today’s time. Please enjoy. If you missed the first installment, please click here!

    Liked by 1 person

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