May 3, 2015 in General Topics
(As originally posted on Goodreads.com)
Most of my past book reviews have been carefully groomed, edited works, which I go back through and re-edit for clarity purposes. But 1984 is a book that inspires raw emotions in a doublepluspoignant way, so a carefully constructed treatise just doesn’t seem appropriate.
Reading this book, I learned two things: 1) George Orwell is one of the few people I’ve ever encountered who saw the world as I do, even if we don’t agree completely on the solutions to its problems, and 2) he produced what might be the finest book in the English language.
Mankind is a creature of very dual drivers. We want freedom, and justice, but we’re chained by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; all things being equal, a well-fed, warm, and entertained human usually won’t make many waves in the political structure within which they live (see also: the Roman Empire). 1984’s Oceania is an empire built around convincing the populace that the brutal regime they live under has given the very best state of existence ever known, and it has done this by controlling its residents’ perspectives on both the past and the future. In such a way, it lowers the peak at the top of that pyramid of needs, while consciously and savagely attacking the concepts of familial love.
The optimist in me knows such a state might endure for hundreds, or even thousands of years, in the same way that North Korea exists in such a fashion but will, inevitably, one day be torn apart by its own people. The cynic in me, however, knows that mankind is always capable of being driven into such a system in the first place.
What we face in our own American empire is a turn-key Oceania in the making. Our vast surveillance state is unapologetic, imagining that it has an inherent right to the personal information of not just its own citizens, but foreign nationals. Our military-industrial complex is so vast that it has become a dangerously-interconnected aspect of our economy; in which talking heads such as Andy Dean now openly implore the need for its presence as a bulwark against economic calamity (lost, it seems, are Eisenhower’s own warnings on this very same dynamic). We chase shadows of shadows in foreign entanglements our founders implored us to avoid; we see a threat in every fracturing nation within the Middle East; we imagine one such nation as “our greatest ally” (though, tellingly, none can quite qualify why), and defend it with–among other things–an “Iron Dome” defense system that shoots $50,000 missiles at $100 homemade incoming rockets.
Against this canvas of misdirected economic and security resources, we saw an election in 2012 built on “saving the middle class”, featuring two candidates sponsored by a financial sector that no longer believes in reasonable reserve requirements, but took billions of dollars from the taxpayers when said investments folded. We watched elements of both parties co-opt the populist revolts against the status quo, with the Democratic Party claiming Occupy and the Republican Party harnessing the Tea Party (what’s next, the recruitment of Anonymous?).
We perform our own works on the social engineering front, as well. We have attacked the father and denigrated the homemaking mother. The concept of “child” is being eroded as we begin to train ourselves to think of the unborn as parasites, dress our children in increasingly more adult clothing, and widely regard raising our descendants as some sort of unending ordeal taking us away from our free time. We are abdicating the responsibility of the care of friends, fellow man and family to the state. We are more connected than ever, but spend our time together mired separately in smart phones and internet devices. Pontificators and their ilk train us to think that God and Science cannot coexist; that if Red or Blue will simply win the country will be saved; that sufficient intelligence no longer demands humility; that “they hate us because we’re free”; that the internet’s fount of pornography is somehow a healthy alternative to true human intimacy. We are a society at war with our own civilization.
Our culture’s fundamental value these days seems to be distraction; we are anchored to Facebook and enslaved to the meme. We don’t have the time for Orwell’s warnings, especially because we’re the United States, and are thus somehow invulnerable to the same internal forces and ambitions that devastated so many past empires.
It is a time for doublethink, and we are all increasingly proficient at our Two Minutes Hate.
Rating: 5/5 stars.