Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
George Orwell - ©1949

This is the most alarming book I have ever read.

 I was moved by Farenheit 451, another dystopian novel, but it didn't rattle me like 1984. I now can see why it has left such an indelible mark on our culture. Big Brother is watching, Newsspeak, Ingsoc, doublethink… *shudder*

The structure of this possible 1984 makes the most sense as a vector from war weary 1940's England. Orwell writes about the never ending wars with continuous bombing, the citizenry being required to hate the enemy, the Ministry of Information (which spreads dis-information), Ministry of Plenty (which controls food rationing), ration cards, revolutions gone bad, people being punished for spreading anti-war messages. I think Orwell’s invention, Ingsoc (English socialism), is a derivative of the terrifying result of failure of the Russian revolution. All these things were heavy on the minds of the populace during that time.

I'll never hear the phrase "Big Brother is Watching" with the same indifference. Invasions of privacy didn't bother me because I never felt I was doing anything worthy of attention. Amy has purchased diapers and cat litter twice this month and receives regular calls from her husband at eleven in the morning. Snooze-fest right? But, what if my life was suddenly objectionable to a the government and all of the ways I've accepted invitations to peer into my privacy could be used against me? What I've watched on Netflix, what books I've downloaded from B&N using my membership. What states I've bought gas from on my credit card. My posts on Facebook and pictures I've uploaded. Book reviews I've posted—like this one? What if I don't hate our "enemies” enough? What if I don't like something the president said? What if all of this data could be aggregated by a super algorithm and my fate was decided by the output?

In Orwell's 1984, those guilty of thoughtcrime, perhaps your face twitches into an expression deemed unorthodox, were collected by the Thought Police and left in the tender embrace of the Ministry of Love. Wherein lies the secret of Room 101 and the Inner Party.

The sole desire of those in power is to keep it.

Never before has the right to free speech and privacy seemed more precious.

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