Shortly after I graduated college in 2009, I decided to read a book that somehow eluded me during my high school and university studies: George Orwell’s “1984.”
But even when reading it, I lacked the proper context needed to fully appreciate the book. While I knew it depicted a dystopian version of society where everyone is under constant surveillance by an authoritarian government, it came off to me as pure science fiction.
What was lost on me was that Orwell wrote the book shortly after World War II, and at the beginning of the rise of the Soviet empire, where civil liberties were being increasingly threatened around the globe.
It was uncertain time in the world, and this novel painted a grim photo where totalitarianism prevailed.
In America, where we are freely able to insult our leaders on social media without consequence, a government like this is hard to imagine. But in other parts of the world, this is reality. And in 1949, when the world was realigning itself into multiple spheres of influence following a fascist regime’s unsuccessful attempt at global domination – you can’t blame Orwell for being paranoid.
1984 has once again become a bestseller in the United States, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Add me to the list of people who are re-reading it. This time, I have context. And this time, reading it is not simply a leisure activity. It’s chilling.
Now don’t get me wrong. Even with an incompetent leader at the helm who is trying to delegitimize the press and appears indifferent toward protecting civil liberties, America will not turn into a fully repressive and authoritarian state. We have too many protections in place to prevent that.
But that doesn’t mean that some of the things that Orwell warned us about aren’t coming to fruition.
One of the most significant parts of 1984 that has become increasingly relevant today are the concepts of newspeak and doublethink: which, in Orwellian terms, are a way of controlling language and thought to fit the regime’s ideas of reality.
Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, one of three superstates in 1984, dictates how people speak. It limits freedom of thought and freewill.
Doublethink requires individuals to believe certain facts as truth, even if it contradicts reality. It means to tell lies while genuinely believing in them simultaneously. If our government says that 2+2 equals 5, it’s not enough to just believe it’s right, but you must believe that 2+2 always equaled 5.
Now think about what is happening today. Trump’s attacks on the press is minimizing independent thought.
His perpetual lying is presenting an alternative view of reality, and it’s an attempt to condition his followers to believe that everything he says is the truth, even when it clearly isn’t.
And in some cases, his most ardent followers oblige.
Trump says it wasn’t raining during his inauguration, so by virtue of this, it did not rain.
Trump says his electoral win was the biggest since Reagan, so it is now recorded as such by his followers.
Millions of people voted illegally, says Trump. They didn’t, but he said it, so it must be true.
Believing what Trump says and at the same time ignoring the truth is indeed the very essence of doublethink, and the same style of authoritarian rule that George Orwell feared 68 years ago.
This is why we record and preserve history.
Because one day we will need to know where we went wrong, and how we can avoid this shit happening again.
If you’re not scared yet, please read 1984.