I had a horrifying realisation a couple weeks ago: I had never read 1984!!
How did this happen?!?!
I have NO IDEA.
Sure, I went to a small private school that one would never call radical in its literary choices, but we read Animal Farm, for goodness’ sake!
And it’s not as if I my only access to Orwell was bound to curricula – I live in a land with free public libraries in nearly every town! I have access to journals and magazines! I have the INTERNET!!!! Amazon can fly books to my house via drone, for goodness’ sake!
However it happened, I realised – during a trivia night at my library, of all things – that I had somehow missed 1984. Clearly, this had to be rectified. The paperback was on hold as soon as I got home that night.
Reading Orwell in the age of Trump is … unsettling.
I know, I know, Orwell isn’t famous for warm and fuzzy … what was I expecting?
Well, I was prepared for unsettling – it’s Orwell, it’s dystopian. I was prepared for darkness, grimness, the periodic tingle-up-the-spine creepiness.
I was not prepared for the resonance.
When I first read Orwell, long, long ago, Big Bad Others – be they Russia, the USSR, Nazi Germany – were clearly the target of my man George’s brilliantly fictionalised warnings.
The warnings were creepy and distressing, but PHEW! They weren’t US! And we knew The Other was evil, so we were prepared! We had the warnings, we would be safe!
It could never happen here.
But reading Orwell in 2017 is different. I’m older now, and I’ve a lot more experience, and awareness.
Even reading Bradbury in the age of Trump, it is easy to see the seeds being planted; how it could someday happen here if we are not aware – but it’s NOT, most of it, actually happening here.
1984 though? Newspeak? Doublethink? That stuff is right here, right now! Heck, some of it is what got us Trump in the first place.
I now realise that Orwell wasn’t bashing the Communists.
Or the Facists.
I now realise that what Orwell – and so many others, God bless them – were really reflecting was not the dangers of one specific social ideology, one specific economic ideology, or even, necessarily, a political one, but the doctrine of divisive, oppressive, totalitarian control.
It’s the same thing that we were unhappy about when we revolted against England. It’s the concern that we had with both Communists, and the Fascists, at various times. With Apartheid. And and of course those charming gents from ISIS.
Orwell was telling all of us that it can happen here.
That it can happen anywhere.
That whether taken by force, or surrendered by our choices, the power of the citizen cannot safely rest with a totalitarian government that pits citizen against citizen to hold onto that power.
That ANY government which concentrates its power, sets people against people, creates mistrust, and limits information, needs to be suspected.
Thankfully, reading Orwell in 2017, I do not live under a divisive, oppressive, totalitarian government.
But I do live under a divisive government.
I do live under a government on the knife edge of oppression. And I do live under a government that would be very dangerous were it to become totalitarian.
Most importantly, I live under that government largely because of a handful of decades of citizens giving up power.
So, yeah. Unsettling. Creepy.
But beneficial, too.
We’ve been lucky. We’ve given up our power, mostly, rather than having it taken by force.
We’ve given up our power, but that power is based on what is actually a pretty impressive foundation, designed to help us take that power back once we wake up!
AND, we have the warnings of history, and of George Orwell, and many others, to raise a red flag when we’re getting into a dangerous place.
Will we do better than others before us?
I don’t know. But I know we have the tools we need to reroute our path.
So, we just need the will.
A government that increases individual voice by encouraging voting, increases freedom of the press, freedom of religion, supports and facilitates community trust, and community empowerment, is compatible with progressive, liberal, and conservative values.
It’s also the least likely to be ABLE to take totalitarian control! Tough to oppress folks who have information, knowledge, freedom, AND the vote, unless they let you.
I maintain hope that we’ll get it together!
Whether you agree with me politically or not, whether you agree with this post or not, I highly recommend the following article and books¹. Make your own decisions, and your own interpretations! 🙂
- Check out this brilliant article discussing the rise of a President Trump in the USA. If you haven’t time for the whole article scroll to the very end for Mr. Bacevich’s eight suggestions; those show the tone of the article.
- Read George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. You’ve probably seen references to both of these in Facebook memes, but if you’ve not read them, get the story for yourself! Any library system of more than one small room will likely have a copy.
- While you’re at it, check out Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. At least try the chapter ‘Burning Bright’. This book, thankfully, is set far enough in our possible future that we haven’t reached it yet. It does a great job of showing how we start by giving up power, then one day find we have none left. Forewarned is forearmed!
¹ NOTE: these books are NOT safe, gentle, pleasant reads. We’re definitely talking ‘The Matrix‘ here, rather than ‘The Sound of Music‘.
They deal with hard topics, and show the lengths, and vices, that people go to when living hard topics day after day.
They will make you feel ill, sometimes. Probably make you want to stop reading. Even if you do stop reading, it’s worthwhile to just figure out what you found so awful that you never want to go there!