Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Countdown to 1984

(from the book "Finding Liberty")

Author's Note: This article, along with the previously posted "In Dependence", form the basis of the storyline for my upcoming novel "What So Proudly We Hailed". I decided to post this one as well because the two articles kind of go together (this one coming first). I apologize if it sounds too political; I make no claim to knowing what I'm talking about and I hope that the two articles together do not prejudice anyone's perception about the remaining articles, stories, & essays included in "Finding Liberty" (the overwhelming majority of which are thoughtful & positive), but if the subject matter of these two articles is of interest to you, then you may also be interested in "What So Proudly We Hailed" which, while not being a "happy" read, attempts to show a future that I believe is not so very preposterous at all. So please accept my apologies for the shameless book plug, and know that I will make every attempt in the future to simply post what I hope will be thoughts ranging from the inspiring to the downright silly. I'm really not quite this paranoid in real life.

In 1945, George Orwell’s Animal Farm gave a simple yet realistic account of Stalinist communism, including an eerily accurate description of what its condition would degenerate to by the time of its collapse more than 40 years later. Not only did Orwell get more right than not with his depiction, but many of the examples of the slow & systematic governmental decay that he used to illustrate the novel can be seen with glaring clarity in institutions of government all over the world, including our own.

One year before his death in 1950, Orwell’s 1984 was first published. Like Animal Farm, it also dealt with a totalitarian government, but in this novel, we do not see the steady decay over time. Instead, total corruption is shown to have already reached its apex, except that in this instance, the government is not about to allow itself to lose its power. 1984 depicted a nightmarish world where war was constant, thought was an arrestable offense, love was outlawed, individuality did not exist, and Big Brother watched your every move. If Animal Farm showed how a government corrupts itself, 1984 showed what that corrupted government can create.

In it’s day, 1984’s depiction of the future was the topic of much discussion, and there was a good deal of speculation as to how correct Orwell’s vision of the future might really be, regardless of how impossible it seemed at the time. As the real year 1984 came and went, it was generally concluded by all – myself included - that Orwell had missed the mark quite badly. 23 years later, I’m not so sure. In fact, today I think it is much more likely that the only thing he really “missed” badly was the year itself.

As I reread 1984 again last month, I was struck by something that was mentioned near the very beginning of the book, something that I would never have noticed upon my first reading a generation ago; flat-screen TV’s that hang on the wall. We didn’t have flat-screen TV’s that hung on the wall in 1984, I thought. No, we didn’t. But we do now. Granted, unlike the novel, we have the ability to turn ours off if we so choose, but I have to wonder, will that always be the case?

My curiosity sparked, I started looking for other things in the novel that didn’t exist 23 years ago, and as I continued to read, my list grew alarmingly long. To make matters worse, most of the things that I stumbled across were not even mere physical devices, but instead were things that were much more vague and disturbing. Things that fell into the categories of “guideline”, “policy”, and “practice”. And all of them not only seem to be universally expected in today’s world, but also accepted as well.

One of the first “unthinkable” premises presented in 1984 is the one in which everyone is being watched. “Big Brother”, while an invented imaginary head of state, has the very real ability to see and hear everything that you are doing. Anytime, anywhere. At the time of it’s publication in 1949, I imagine this idea had to appear almost laughable. In the year 1984, perhaps not so laughable as far-fetched. Today, even the most ardent skeptic would have to admit to a certain amount of truth to the concept, albeit maybe at present still in a more limited, primitive capacity.

But when was the last time you stopped to really think about the level at which we are being watched today?

It’s well known that if you have a TiVo, all forms of data on your viewing habits can be collected. If you have a satellite dish receiver connected to a phone jack, customer service technicians can access it. And if you have internet access, any educated hacker has a free pass into every file on your computer. Even with firewalls, how can we prevent access into our homes if those wanting access are the very ones who created the firewalls for us? TiVo’s, dish receivers, internet . . . none of those things or the potential capabilities they provide existed in 1984. But they do now.

We are being videotaped on the highway, in stores, at bank ATM’s, in parking lots, and at many other times when we might least expect it and possibly never know it. Today, not only can we be photographed, videotaped, and/or recorded with a discreet cell phone, but that information can then be sent anywhere in the world with the touch of a button.

E-mails, credit card transactions, internet surfing, electronic purchases, toll-road speed passes - just to name a few – all leave traceable paths of our whereabouts and habits. We now have GPS trackable computer chips that are being encouraged for implanting into our pets, that have been mandated for use with farm animals (Note 1), and in some cases voluntarily used in people. As far back as 2001, the U.S. government has been floating the idea of using computer chips as part of a universal ID card program for all U.S. citizens, and the option of physically inserting trackable computer chips into the bodies of military personnel is already on the drawing board. I wonder, should that experiment come to pass and be “successful”, how long until it does not seem like a good idea to do with everyone?

And don’t be too quick to brush this off with the notion that most of the above “data collection” is taken in by private companies or disparate organizations. As we continue to see more and more separate corporations merge into near monolithic entities, along with their influence & power over government agencies increasing in proportion to the wealth they have available, how long before most of those “non-government” companies become little more than a branch of government itself, in action if not in name? Is it unreasonable to assume that many are in bed with each other already, and have been for some time?

Most of the above abilities to “watch” people did not exist in the year 1984. It makes me wonder then to what level this continuous erosion of privacy by means of technology will reach 23 years from now.

Another major tenet in 1984 is the need for a perpetual state of war, an endeavor which in Orwell’s world is no longer used to conquer other peoples, but has become instead a tool to control your own. War is a means to use up all surplus of production so that the citizens become more dependant on the government. It is used to incite unquestioning patriotism to frenzied levels, to prohibit travel so that interaction with other peoples is prevented, to grant supreme governmental authority to enact whatever it deems necessary for the “protection” of it’s citizens, and ultimately to provide a distraction for every citizen to keep them from thinking about anything else.

Of course, a government entering into a perpetual state of war is a ludicrous concept. Surely the now 6 year old “war on terror” will ultimately come to a successful conclusion, won’t it? It’s unconscionable to think that anyone would think of using it as a tool for any of the above purposes, isn’t it? And certainly we would place strict limits on any intrusions that might be requested of our own freedoms and constitutional rights, wouldn’t we?

A third reality of Orwell’s 1984 world is the existence of the “Thought Police”, a clandestine government organization whose sole purpose is to seek out those who are having thoughts – any thoughts – that go against party doctrine. I admit, even the name “Thought Police” sounds ridiculous, much less the concept, and I can only imagine what people must have thought in 1949. After all, even today, how could anyone be caught, much less punished, simply for what they were thinking? I would guess that several hundred potential terrorists being held captive at Guantanamo Bay on the grounds of "what they were thinking" might not agree that it is so outlandish a notion.

I know, I know – that’s different. Of course it is, and in all honesty, I have to agree. But that’s how it happens: with a first step. A first justified step. But is it really implausible to foresee that envelope of premeditation expanding over time to include other offenses? If, for example, sometime in the future I make some anti-government statements on a phone call that is being monitored by the NSA, and I also have a gun registered in my name, and my electronic trail shows definite movement towards Washington D.C., can anyone guarantee that I won’t be arrested on the premise that I might possibly intend to perform an act of terrorism against the government?

Because ultimately, all of these things that are mentioned in 1984 work together for one purpose: control. Those who have the power want to keep the power, and they will keep that power as long as they can control the masses, and therefore they will take any and all steps necessary to accomplish that task. While that may sound paranoid, I think we would all be better off not to underestimate how strong the lure of power really is. As a motivator, power trumps even money. After all, if you have power, who needs money?

There is a lot more to 1984 than I can effectively translate here; the similarities between the story’s “Newspeak” language and the vernacular that has evolved out of our own instant messaging & email, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) twisting of historical events, the bombardment of our senses with media messages at every turn . . . there are so many parallels it would take another book to adequately compare them all. In Orwell’s world, all of these things intertwine together to create a beast against which there is no power on earth big enough to conquer. I have to wonder why I should believe that these things would create anything different in our own.

So, knowing that the world of 1984 isn’t something that anyone wants (other than those who would be in power), why do we allow movement in that general direction to continue? There are at least 4 reasons.

First is that the movement is too slow, and the various interlocking pieces too unconnected, to really notice. It’s a simple case of letting the camel get his nose in the tent. The initial intrusion isn’t very bothersome, and a good excuse for allowing it can always be made. Later, when a hoof makes an inevitable appearance, this new intrusion by itself still isn’t anything to get all worked up about, and again we are provided with a reasonable justification for it. In addition, there is nothing to make us automatically associate the hoof with the nose; we treat them independently as different things in different places at different times. Finally, as time continues to march onward, we simply forget how things used to be.

There was a time, for instance, when income tax did not exist. In fact, for over half of our country’s existence, we were somehow able to survive without it. It was not until the passing of the 16th amendment in 1913 that a permanent tax on personal income was imposed, and then at only 1% (Note 2). Anyone still paying 1%? I have never known a world without income tax, or what life might have been like before it. And since there has always been income tax in my lifetime, as far as I’m concerned, there has always been income tax. How could I really see it any other way? The truth of the past does not change the reality of the present, so is the truth even really true anymore?

Secondly, we sometimes allow these things to happen because we actually want them, and in some cases even initiate the demand ourselves. The convenience that they provide us today outweighs any potential negative consequences that the future might hold. Sure, a cell phone can be tracked with GPS, but I can live with that as long as I can talk to someone whenever I want right now. Yes, letting an unseen technician access my home through my TV receiver might be a little unsettling if I thought about it, but I don’t feel like trying to fix it myself, and I’m so happy that I don’t have to fix it myself that my mind is too occupied with how happy I am to ponder the ramifications very much.

Third, we are lulled into allowing these erosions of privacy and freedom because they are pronounced as “for our own good”. Like carrots they are dangled in front of us under the auspices of our own protection, personal safety, or health, and like piglets to the sow, we accept them willingly because we have in many cases already forgotten how to think for ourselves.

And finally - and probably most disturbing – there is plain old apathy. We see what is going on and fully realize the significance of it, but we simply turn a blind eye and go about our own business, usually with the justification that there is “nothing I can do about it”. Perhaps more realistic might be “nothing I want to do about it”.

Well Gee, Blaine, thanks a lot for killing my buzz. I was actually having a pretty good day until I read this. Not so fast! This isn’t a doom & gloom article, it’s simply a perspective of a future that might possibly happen. It certainly doesn’t need to.

When I think about all of the truly great changes that have occurred in our history - whether they be physical inventions, policies, practices, laws, or whatever - I can’t help but notice that all of them almost overwhelmingly occurred because there was a problem that needed to be fixed. After all, if there is nothing wrong, there is nothing to make us think anything needs to be different than what it is.

As much as we might complain about the problems that we have in our lives, problems are the catalysts that inspire change. Those who understand that opportunity almost always comes knocking disguised as a problem are usually the ones who are able to take advantage of it (while the rest of us sit back and bemoan our bad fortune).

So if we are headed towards some type of unwanted Orwellian future, all we need to do is first recognize that there actually is a problem. Second, we need to realize that problems have solutions, and finding the solution is actually an opportunity to make things better. And third, we need to take some action to make the solution a reality. If those 4 reasons that I mentioned are in fact how we got into the problem, we simply cannot allow them to continue to happen. We have to start noticing what is happening around us, we have to stop accepting (or even asking for!) things that lead us away from God’s word, we have to start questioning for ourselves what is “for our own good” and what is not, and we have to be unafraid - and willing - to do something about it.

The good news is that that is already happening, and has been for several years. The “silent majority”, tolerant to a fault for so long, has begun to push back. Resistance – peaceful but firm resistance – is taking place all over America.

Regarding education, for instance, if you are homeschooling your children, you have already taken action in joining a growing group of millions of other parents who have politely but firmly said “No, thank you”, and have become part of an even larger group of people who, though they may not homeschool, are in full agreement that our educational system is broken and are also taking action of their own. Like so many things, it may seem like the process is excruciatingly slow, but history will undoubtedly show that it “all happened within a few short decades”.

Women that have left the workforce to be homemakers – a group that is also continually growing - have quietly made their position known to a befuddled and increasingly agitated establishment that they do not wish to participate in someone else’s version of what life should be.

In doing so, they have become role models to other women in that they are leading by example; showing that it is not only possible, but also absolutely acceptable, to move in a direction that your heart compels you to, rather than to be badgered into going down another road by a deafening but ultimately powerless group of people who will tell you with their mouths that they have your best interests at heart even as their hands are busy pushing their own agendas.

Those are just two examples of things – many things – that are already beginning to turn us away from a path that would otherwise lead us into a future similar to the fictional but possible world of 1984. And not to be overly optimistic, but why shouldn’t we think that we can be entirely successful? After all, Jesus told us that with God, all things are possible. In the face of that - if we choose to believe it - Orwell simply doesn’t stand a chance.

Note 1: for more information, go to Additionally, please refer also to and for alternative viewpoints.

Note 2: only for individuals making more than $3,000 annually. Additional surcharges from 2% to 7% were levied on incomes over $20,000.


Mama Hen said...

This was one of my favorite chapters in the book. A thought-provoking one. It is funny, because earlier this year, I too, was prompted to re-read 1984. It was pretty scary, as I could see so many parallels to our current society. The scariest ones to me were the "double-think" and "newspeak" as well as the way the "Ministry of Information" would re-write history to suit the current purposes. Sound familiar? Polls are written to sound one way, when they really mean something else. Laws are written to sound like one thing when they are completely different. How about the "Banking Secrecy Act?" Sounds like a good thing.....but it is where your bank is now required to ask you more intrusive questions when opening an account and report anything unusual to the Government. I know a ministry that just organized a trip to Israel and had their accounts froze because too much money was deposited at once.

And a thought about history/science being re-written to suit the current purposes....I grew up in Wisconsin. We were always taught as CHILDREN (I won't tell you how long ago,LOL) how Wisconsin, along with the upper half of the US was once covered with glaciers...and that the ice had been gradually melting since the ICE AGE. The earth hasn't been getting colder so why would the melting have stopped? The earth has been warming LOOONG before automobiles were ever invented, yet now it is the "PC" thing to blame our modern practices for "global warming." Rewriting history & science for the political agenda. Hoping no one will remember. Just like 1984.

I have Brave New World on my short list of books to read again as well. I remember even as a teen I found these books they almost seem prophetic. And that is more than disturbing, it is horrifying.

If the Lord tarries, I hate to think of what this world will be like a couple decades from now.

Total control over the money. (Cash is increasingly discouraged, the Fed....)
Total control over the communications. (Patriot Act...need I say more? ---I KNOW my name is on a list somewhere.)
Total control over the food chain and health (NAIS, FDA, now a federalized medicine in the works)

Total Control.

The opposite of Freedom in the guise of "safety."

Blaine Staat said...

Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" is another good book to add to the "books about possible futures that we'd rather not really see" list.

- Blaine

Swylv said...

This along with In Dependence were my favorite articles of yours in Making It Home Magazine.

In fact I emailed you a bunch of thought provoking questions after reading countdown to 1984 because it was so thought provoking.

in fact after reading In Dependence I had to share it's signifigance with people I know.

What continues to stump me is the amount of people unaware of what is really going on....that's scary!