“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”
Government. There have been multiple definitions of this word sprawling throughout history. Numerous have tried to put the meaning of this word inside a couple of lines or a play or a movie or… a book. And history has also birthed different forms of systems to sustain power. Many of these systems are still in existence in many countries, some of these countries having massive influence and wealth. All these varieties have intricate and implicit reasons within them. However, their mode of governance, in whichever era they belong to, has an important motive that all of them work towards during their entire regimes.
It is to have people think, at all times, they are still relevant and sometimes, as an entity without which the world would crumble into anarchy.
In this book, George Orwell gives a lens to look at the society you are living in. This lens is special because irrespective of the era you are part of, this lens will always show or make you see for yourself all the stunts that the people of power pull by putting some noble facade to stay necessary to people, whatever the cost. The highlight of this book, other than its frightening foresight and petrifying portentous concepts is that it crushes the notion of a bipartisan political spectrum. The seemingly fictional world Orwell builds and all those aspects in it which appear to be entirely a figment of his imagination finds its home in both sides of the real-world political spectrum. Thus this book presents an important point that politics and power are inseparable however just the ideology of a party may seem to be.
“Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious”
Workings of Totalitarianism
This book builds a dystopian world that is under the control of a regime intoxicated with power from the perspective of a character who, even though it is acting according to the rules of the state, is secretly having thoughts about these said rules. His name is Winston. It may seem odd how having thoughts about something is rebellious. But, the level of control that the government has over you in this world is such that, a person’s only real freedom, his thoughts, are now manipulated by someone else. Every little aspect of this world the author builds is aimed towards the same thing. He knows the unjust nature of the rules and the motives behind it yet survival instincts overwhelm a sense of justice.
This fascinating dichotomy in the perspective of Winston is through which we see the world built.
Orwell is pedantic in explaining the changes to every little normative aspect of society. All those things which seem to be the case since the birth of time, unless of course one search for its origins, is forcefully upended. But the interesting yet hazardously relatable point he makes is that irrespective of whether these changes bring about something good or bad in the foreseeable future, they are happening without people being aware of it.
This is a revelation because, on top of making us see the dangers of obliviousness, he also plants a specific chilling thought in our minds too. What if everyone who is just like the author; the messiahs who break the bubble of bliss around ignorant people and lead them towards the path of basic awareness, just ceased to exist one day. He uses the general lack of awareness by the majority to list out how a small minority could exploit the same.
“To hang on from day to day and from week to week, spinning out a present that had no future, seemed an unconquerable instinct, just as one’s lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available.”
But there is only so much ignorance a person can exhibit. There will come a point when even the idlest of minds will be able to process a minor task of thinking about something. The devil’s workshop ought to harbor an angel fugitive. This is something that is beyond the ability of humans to control. This is a gift bestowed by evolution to mankind to further evolution itself. So how do you control thoughts?
Orwell presents some alarming concepts. These concepts may seem like a fascinating premise for an exciting string of fiction. But unless one is synchronized with the world and has a leg on both sides of multifarious minor and major issues, it is difficult to gauge the scale of deviation from reality.
Thoughts are kids nurtured by memories and language. However much one denies this, fundamentals of a person’s character are laid during one’s childhood. So when staples of your childhood are malleable and constricted, there is no more character.
These staples refer to language and memories. This is such a complex area and also the intersectional effects of these two plays a big part in thoughts too. Despite such complications, it boils down to something less confounding and the regulation of that is what Orwell tries to point out.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
When you don’t have the necessary words to think something beyond the vocabulary, you then rely on your memories, which is just an untrusted source for facts. And when the trusted sources, that’s any evidence for any event in history, is constantly under manipulation, then at least in theory, the basis of your thoughts is not within your control anymore.
This will give an appearance of ridiculous aggrandizement but it’s an irrefutable fact manipulation of information is the major political tool in the modern era. So obviously, the next step in achieving perpetuity in power is language. So these concepts are no figment of imagination but forewarning to the inevitable.
The astounding aspect of this thought police is the grooming of young cubs to eat their parents for thoughts. This is a master plan if you ignore the insidiousness. It simultaneously takes away the necessity to expend energy and personnel to monitor thoughts (more than already what is being monitored of course) and facilitates preemptive suppression of any form of heresy in the future. So ultimately, Thought police are just kids with misdirected enthusiasm. Nurturing the evilness inside the seeds of the future and directing it towards something that fits the agenda of the State ensures its perpetuity.
“All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.”
Not everyone can be fooled all the time. People ought to see the pattern eventually. Thus a revolution is imminent. How does the Government tackle that?
This is where a unifying factor is held as the trump card by the government to modify and cull any form of rebukes.
This factor, it exploits an innate form of tribalism and an undeniable urge to survive. When subjects of a group form a subgroup to question the decisions of the leader, there is no choice for the head but to denounce them by bringing the majority to his side. Not just rally their support but instill a sense of guilt in them for even having any opposing thoughts. To conjure and wake up such a feeling of culpability, some form of automatic loyalty should be built. This loyalty should also be in a way a necessity to be part of the group. So, the abject tribalism should be something which piggybacks on fear of treachery, an unreasonable feeling of thanklessness and an unequivocal need to live. This chaotic concoction is strong enough to destroy basic elements that differentiate humans from beasts. This mixture has a name in this book. But that’s not why it makes the book great. Because this contrived blend evolves to always be used to control any form of dissidence. So whatever may be the ideology of the rulers, they will always want to make sure everyone stays within their bubble. The universal application of this propaganda potion is made clear by the book.
This idea needs a physical form. People in general love to ascribe and associate. However noble or nefarious an ideology may be, it has always been associated with the human figure throughout history. It doesn’t mean the idea is worthless, but it cannot be removed from the shackles of its physical form. It is unclear whether their existence is co-dependent but the longevity of both sure is. When such ideology falls on the extreme category, its imposition would also be extreme, as plotted in this book. So over time, it merges with its personification and the actual principles disappear. In the end, the figure is the idea. All the initially stated objectives and policies of the doctrine have ceased to exist. It has essentially become all about a brand. This is subversion and conversion of people’s devotion from a belief to a trademark.
That trademark eventually becomes an indelible identity that keeps people united. Generation after generation, all these schemes, and cacophony of lies may take different forms, but the Idol is the one which negates the evolution of the blind crowd. That idol is, Big Brother.
“His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization”
Characters Under Control
The story unfolds from the point of view of a single character, Winston. Then it throws in Julia, his love interest. Even though she is part of the plot as a shadow initially when she becomes brighter the story accelerates and starts peeling away the wretched world it is set in to reveal more sinister plans inside.
There are other characters who exemplify the successful existence of the rulers. They serve as an example to both the submission due to subjugation and devotion despite the knowledge. These two are the dual pillars of a totalitarian government. They are diametrically opposite in terms of behavior, knowledge, and thoughts. One is a subject of oppression while the other is the militant scientist. Their ability and inability to think is the foremost necessity for the perpetuation of the Party.
Characters Out of Control
There are also some interesting contrasts and commonalities between Julia and Winston. They are united by love. But more than their love for each other, it is their love towards rebellious thoughts. They both had thoughts. They both acted upon it. But the degree of violation varied. Winston’s actions were brimming with trepidation and tentativeness. The thrill of jeopardizing his life is overwhelmed by his fear for it. And his reasons for breaking them were not to realize some personal goals but to escape an inescapable feeling of inquisitiveness. His thoughts yearned for more information that would fit his pattern of logic which is something different from what he knows to be false.
“You’re only a rebel from the waist downwards,” he told her.
Julia is the same concerning rebellious thoughts. But her reason for disobedience is more promiscuous and human. She yearns for pleasure and love. She wants to satiate the primal needs. So she does not care about the political wrangles and ulterior motives. She is just concerned about her freedom to choose. She knows the consequences of having a choice. She understands the rules. She has her opinions about the world she lives in. But she differs from Winston in her prioritization. There is only so much she could do while staying under the radar. So she chooses the one where she gets the benefit. She isn’t worried about the future or the past. She puts her life at risk to reap and realize the results exclusively. It is quite a fascinating aspect because she is the poster girl of modern capitalism in a world built by Orwell as an exaggerated spoof of a Socialistic society.
Winston is cradled throughout their clandestine adventures by Julia. It also sort of insinuates that a man will come out of his comfort zone for a woman. It may be her skin that does it or her character or a combined effect. But even in a suffocatingly stringent society of ridiculous austerity with its illiberal conditions, biological urges will always kill any hesitations.
Beyond The Words
The writing style is fairly engaging. It has its places of dry humor with dark metaphors. While some other places of allegories and comparisons make you easily realize the gravity of the subject.
This book says more than what is written. It channels the reader towards new modes of thinking unbeknownst to them. In a way, it jailbreaks you from your own mini totalitarian cocoon. Spotlight is lit on things that we take for granted, such as our ubiquitous privacy, freedom of choice and the importance of bonding. There is a big exposition during the later part of the book, a book within a book, which essentially can be called a Book of Revelations. This one shows the x-ray image of world politics. It definitely ought to make you question the entire system within which the world functions.
“And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.”
It deconstructs the meaning of war. Wars are always fought. But the battlefield and soldiers constantly change. Without war, an ever-looming threat for the safety of your livelihood (a threat you share with many others like you) patriotism is useless. Jingoism can only be maintained by giving your subjects a reason to be jingoistic.
“The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.”
There is also a wider meaning of discrimination in this book. The word discrimination is often associated with abstract prejudices and fear of the unknown. These are all evidence of a lack of exposure. It will eventually disappear as the world gets more inclusive. But the problem arises when other unsaid stipulations for such inclusivity to occur exists. On the face of it, an organization or a nation or a government may seem to be indiscriminate. But when the blanket is torn down, it can be seen that there is, in fact, a disparity. This time, all the previous pointers of bigotry merge into the obstruction of thoughts. It may have diversity in color, gender or race but it quells any form opposing opinion. There is no use in allowing doing everything else if they do not have the privilege to disagree. Orwell points out that incentive for conformity and retribution for disagreement will only form an echo-chamber without any exits.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
Life in Freedom
Apart from the prophecies regarding politics, there a lot of unsaid observations about life and humans.
“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”
A feeling of ownership follows suit after love. It does not matter if you have loved many times or this is your first time. When you have a unique connection with someone, that wiring is so intoxicating. For the first time being buried deep inside the bosoms of self-indulgence after years of being dictated provides an unparalleled feeling. More often than not, that feeling is expressed as jealousy and perceived as insolence on the part of one you love. It is interesting because this expression may be the effect of lust and the confidant you find in love.
There are a lot of ways to break a person’s will. And this book has mentioned many. But it stands out in bringing to center stage one of the primordial battle of a man could face… His worst fear pitted against his unrequitable love. It may not be as extreme a situation as it was presented in this book but it is undeniable that we all have to choose between one of those two in some part of our life. Sometimes we make the choice but some other times mortality does. Here that choice is used as a tool to break the will of a person. This is frightening as it makes you think that your will if you have any, has an expiration date. But in this book his will is replaced with something so pathetic and weak. In a way that replacement is also unrequitable. But what makes it pathetic is that he has no idea if it was his choice. So it makes you wonder, whether all those jingoists, fanatics and extremists are people who ended up on the losing side of the inevitable.
This writing about this book has not delved much into the plot or the story of the book. This is because that is not what this book is about. This is a shred of evidence that convicts invisible criminals and crime. The world has become irreversibly bad if this book has turned from fiction to a step by step instruction manual.
“In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.”
Originally published at http://thevicariousview.wordpress.com on December 26, 2019.