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'1984' at Seventy: Why We Still Read Orwell (newyorker.com)
142 points by pseudolus 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 168 comments



The article asks "What accounts for its staying power?" but misses what I think is the main reason for its staying power - it has something of relevance for each era in which it is read. In the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of The Cold War, people primarily saw it as a critique of totalitarianism. In the 1970s and 1980s, in the context of increasing use of CCTV, people primarily saw it as a critique of the surveillance society. And nowadays, in the context of "fake news" and "alternative facts", people primarily see it in terms of the malleability of "truth". Interestingly, one of the main themes that hasn't been the focus for any past generation, is how controlling language can control thought, but maybe that is something still to come.

Anyway, given it was set 35 years after it was published, and it is now 35 years after it was set, we've reached a turning point - the title year will be closer to the author than to us.


>...controlling language can control thought, but maybe that is something still to come.

Over the last couple of years, I've been collecting passages that touch on this point. I'm always surprised when I come across them. Two of my favorites that I've randomly come across (and from non-political books):

>It would be in the interest of kings, czars, nobles, and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slavelike in mentality. The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings. [0]

>...the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements — all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics — to make it easy from him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think. [1]

[0] "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall B. Rosenberg

[1] "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer J. Adler


Reminds me of a quote from Schopenhauer:

"When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. In learning to write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the greater part of the work of thought is already done for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book after being occupied with our own thoughts. And in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground of another’s thoughts. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid."


It is funny how people who read a lot say the same thing about people who watch a lot of movies/series or play a lot of [video] games.

I suppose Usenet was the first public massively available cesspit to read and write. You could regard it as a practice ground for either.

With regards to creating content, it requires life experience in general as inspiration. You could obtain such life experience by doing things such as climbing or hiking or traveling or reading or watching TV or playing video games or interacting with random people on the Internet or going out every Friday night to the pub. Who's to say which of these are effective, or not? Why even make such a bifurcation in the first place?


For creating content in a particular media, if your life experience is mostly built from that particular media, all you would product will be derivative of that particular media.


> In the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of The Cold War, people primarily saw it as a critique of totalitarianism. In the 1970s and 1980s, in the context of increasing use of CCTV, people primarily saw it as a critique of the surveillance society. And nowadays, in the context of "fake news" and "alternative facts", people primarily see it in terms of the malleability of "truth"

I'm curious why you see these as distinct phenomena!

Anyway, the obvious cure is simply to read "Manufacturing Consent" (literally any part will do good) and to act against these forces.


Lets take totalitarianism and the surveillance society. It's easy to see how totalitarians want a surveillance society, but it's also clear that even liberal democracies contain forces that are trying to create surveillance states, so clearly they are distinct.

Similarly fake news became a meme in the free west and is a quite different concept from propaganda, for example it is created differently and propagates differently as a bottom up phenomenon rather than top down.


I think part of the problem here is that 1984 has so utterly permeated our cultural milieu that it's hard to even conceptually surveillance independently of totalitarianism. The book instantly inextricably links them in our minds.


created differently and propagates differently as a bottom up phenomenon rather than top down.

Some does. Fake news produced by groups like the IRA (Russia edition) is absolutely top down. Fake news produced on the chans is neither bottom up nor top down, it's incubated and filtered and disseminated with strategic intent from start to finish and could be considered as top-down propaganda produced by non-state actors aiming to slice off a little state (qua establishment) power for themselves. This sort of multifaceted and highly asymmetrical political conflict is sometimes referred to as 4th generation warfare or 4GW for short.


>Interestingly, one of the main themes that hasn't been the >focus for any past generation, is how controlling language >can control thought, but maybe that is something still to come.

Isn't that what political correctness is all about?


In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is...in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

- Theodore Dalrymple


Good quote, until the last sentence as I don't see political correctness being based on lies, obvious or not.


Political correctness is sometimes modern doublespeak. Not always but a large percentage of the diction.

It's certainly the focus of whatever machinery gifted you this definition of "political correctness".


While control of language is not in the public's attention, it has been used quite knowingly for decades.[1]

More recently though, rather than too much propaganda on a savvier public, the more modern addition is to convince a public that ultimate truth is unknowable. Often just by validating conspiracy theories just enough to the rival of real news.

For example: the Russian news for the MH17 shoot down was not a consistent particular story but a wide variety of extremely wild stories on different outlets.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy#Evolution_(1...


Really most conspiracies come out of official stories that are incomplete. People want to complete them and tie together all the loose ends. Sometimes it is just fluxes and highly unlikely events. Sometimes it is because part of the true story is classified and can't be widely discussed. Very rarely is it where the conspiracy goes. Which often rely on large and exceptionally organized groups/individuals that keep a story together (which in reality never happens, because there are leaks everywhere). And frequently those colluding individuals are all morally corrupt. Which I find interesting too, because even corrupt people have morals (which is why we have whistleblowers).

What I do find interesting is Flat Earth Theory. Because it is the only conspiracy theory I'm aware of that there isn't clearly someone gaining power. Like sure, they claim NASA is winning, but it isn't clear what they are gaining from it.


The Flat Earth movement is simply about trolling.


That's a dangerous mistake to make. Some of them clearly are trolling, but there are people who genuinely believe the Earth is flat.


There is no such notion in this world that you wouldn't find some people who genuinely believe it :) I specifically said "the movement", my point being it's not the "true believers" who built and lead the movement. Every trolling platform will attract some people who aren't really in on it. That's one of the core elements of trolling.


Yes, but like many other kinds of jackassery trolling can go really bad. Look at the qanon conspiracy; there have been several suicides already and there's a lot of people emotionally involved to an unhealthy degree. The things that make conspiracies engaging are very similar to those of cults, and what starts out as an ironic joke can devolve. Scientology is an example of something that started as an ironic grift and is now regarded as a rather skeevy cult. The extreme case is something like Jonestown or Aum Shinrikyo.

Sure, I'm not saying it can't be harmful. My point is just that I see it as something more akin to the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" than "AIDS was created in government labs".

I definitely believe it started that way, and that is why I suspect it has different features to it, but I do not believe it is purely trolling now. I think idiots found themselves in "good company".

It seems like flooding the zone with false stories might be a way of making the truth actually quite difficult to figure out?

In response, understanding that you are confused might be the best way to start getting a grip on the situation.


Absolutely, it's a basic technique of information warfare. One variation on this is to undermine a political consensus by creating false support for it that appears enthusiastic but depends partially on fallacies.

For example, suppose you run a baseball team engaged in psychological warfare with another baseball team. You are so evenly matched that it is impossible for either of you to win other than by having the loudest cheering fans. Sadly, neither side can gain an advantage through cooler uniforms or better walk-on music, so you are forced to use more clandestine methods.

You dress up as a fan of the opposing team and mingle with their fans. 'I sure love X team, we are so much better than Y team,' you say over and over, and soon you have penetrated to the core of their seating section. Now you strike. 'I sure love X team, we're so much better since we got Babe Ruth on the roster,' you say to anyone who will listen. Of course, Babe Ruth is not on the roster because he is dead these many years. And that realization and subsequent confusion causes a few fans to cheer less while they try to figure out your strange remark. If you can cause sufficient confusion before your tactic is recognized and deployed against your own side, it may be enough to tip the game.


The relevant thing about 1984 is not the time by which this is "supposed to happen".

The important give-away from the book is that when we (ppl of earth) allow our governments and the industry (in whatever form) to take that amount of control over our lives (it also doesn't matter what technical devices exactly are used etc.) we'll be screwed, similarly.

What we face now is the point of no return in this development - that's why it's relevant now but probably won't be for some future (?) generations.

Look around you how many use stuff like Alexa and how they use computers, their phones and what they think about their data. Already a big part of our society has lost the fear of someone taking away the freedom from them that we were used to when we grew up.


The "language can control thought" idea is called linguistic determinism, and has been considered bogus by linguists for a while now, at least the strong form of it.


I agree that "language can control thought" in the sense of parent post and in the sense of the idea of Newspeak wouldn't work. In a free society, the language should naturally evolve to be able to express every important social concept, similar to how creoles form.

On the other hand, that is not to say that an authority can't use language (in the sense of diction) and linguistic censorship as a powerful vehicle to shape thought. Many examples of this exist. Here are some real-world examples

* Modern Hebrew to foster an Israeli identity.

* Sanskritization of Hindustani into an Hindu-Urdu distinction of identity.

* Heavy and active Internet censorship of diction in China to reinforce what topics are taboo for social discussion or treasonous, and remind that Big Brother is watching.


Could you point me towards some linguists who think this idea is bogus?

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12165254_Language_s...

This study found that a child's language production abilities predicts performance on a reorientation task: simply - young humans tend to perform like rats until they learn to use prepositional phrases.


OP is referencing the Whorf hyopthesis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity


I was under the impression that Linguistic Relativity (or Sapir-Whorf) as in "the structure of a language affects its speakers' world view or cognition." was well recognized. I would think programmers would be particularly fond of this idea, because I for one tend to go about problems differently when I write in different languages (also a technique I use when I'm stuck on a problem).


It seems self-evident to me that if you present humans with a set of novel stimuli, giving them a 'vocabulary' for the configuration of the stimuli would help them remember the configuration more durably.

Ex. sets of 3 blocks of various colors are presented to subjects. Either the experimenter gives a 'control lecture' showing possible upcoming sets and they just list the colors, or they teach the subject a name for each of the possible sets - gibberish like 'flurback' and 'orshwalg'. Present a list of sets, spending the same amount of time 'discussing' each set with each set - either with or without using names.

I would predict the 'names' group would significantly outperform in long-term memory formation of which sets were shown in which order.


Another good example I heard is with colors. Different languages have different words for colors, blue being a specifically unmentioned one in Greek. So if you're calling the sea "wine-red" and the sky white, it just makes sense that you would compare other similar colors with the limited set of categories you have. I mean it seems easy to simulate. You set up a classifier to classify colors but leave out blue. Sure, it is going to poorly predict blues and misclassify them as things like reds, whites, or greens, but isn't that what SW predicts?

I believe that applies to languages in their entirety (eg having no words for numbers). I believe this maybe an important difference.

Changing the emotional context of a small number of words; moving a concept from a socially unacceptable word into a socially acceptable one, seems fairly different. So I think we're talking about two different things here.

So while Orwell's "new speak" seems clearly to embody linguistic determinism, using "collateral damage" for "civilian deaths" inside a larger language may not be.


Considered bogus by many but I don’t think it’s fair to say the door is shut on linguistic determinism.


The word "gay" today conjures a completely different image than it did 100 years ago. Culture controls language.


For a little while it was taking on a new meaning too. Same with another similar word. Hell, there was a South Park episode about the latter.


> Interestingly, one of the main themes that hasn't been the focus for any past generation, is how controlling language can control thought, but maybe that is something still to come.

To pick an obvious example, the Department of War was renamed to the Department of Defense just 2 years after this book. I better the current funding would look very different had the change not been made.

Language is controlled via wrongthink, aka political correctness in the initial "adherence to soviet policy" definition, this affected a generation of communists and socialist including Orwell himself. There are also modern version of wrongthink, opinions you can't share publicly for fear of reprisal for better or worse.

Control of language seems to be intertwined with controlling history too, being openly racist is now wrongthink, so history gets rewritten into things like "the civil war was about states rights".

Like the other aspects, it's there just not as draconian as Orwell predicted.


You can't disconnect that bit of Newspeak from what really happened, a hostile takeover of the Navy Department by the Army and Air Force that previously comprised the War Department (all this a couple of year before publication). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolt_of_the_Admirals for just one bit of fallout from this.


That isn't an issue of language but social pressure and ideas of acceptability and normalization. There will always be ideas which fall into Wrongthink even if what is acceptable varies drastically. Language is the carrier but not the end idea in itself.

So yes you might get different approval ratings depending on how you say it but ideas are a limitation as well.

It isn't like people are appalled by saying "we should kill the Jews" because they said "Jews" instead of "Jewish people" or because they said "kill" instead of "liquidate" or "euthanize". The whole idea is an abhorrent attempt to repeat dark history which gets people to stop while they are a head in the same way a president trying to make an appearance in an open topped vehicle would be vetoed by the Secret Service.

As any Yankee would tell you the fact it was once a slur of their foes doesn't matter.


The problem of rebranding that distorts perceptions of you nature in your initial favor is that unless you change to match the new name, you fail at your new mission/brand.

Having been renamed from the Department of War to the Department of Defense, many years later after the failure to "defend" America well on 9/11 (due to incompetence? or the nature of the Posse Comiatatus Act? or military industrial complex momentum?), the department decided to support creating a new department of defense, Department of Homeland Security, lest anyone get confused about the DoD's true mission and modus operandi (which is more along the lines of "the best defense is a good offense").

That was apparently preferrable to tackling the full mission of "Defense".


Calling anti-authoritarian laissez-faire libertarians "nazis" and "fascists" seems like a modern attempt at repurposing language. Or the term "abortion," a pretty effective euphemism (I'm pro-choice, but it's textbook Orwellian language manipulation). Redefining "racism" to mean "prejudice + power" so that it can only be applied unidirectionally against a single group. This is not "something still to come."


> Or about the term "abortion," a pretty effective euphemism (I'm pro-choice, but it's textbook Orwellian language manipulation).

Abortion is the medical term used for the early termination of any pregnancy. Most commonly, miscarriage. It was used long before the medical procedure we commonly call “an abortion” came into existence.

I agree the terminology makes the politics trickier because it’s easier fan the flames but it certainly wasn’t “textbook Orwellian language manipulation.”


>Interestingly, one of the main themes that hasn't been the focus for any past generation, is how controlling language can control thought, but maybe that is something still to come.

Considering the daily bickering over preferred pronouns and whether a term is racist you see on most online platforms I think that time is on the horizon.


In my opinion, Huxwell's Brave New World is much more 'accurate' for Western world, while 1984's surveillance state is what we observe in the East.


Orwell's book primary point wasn't about the surveillance (although there is plenty of surveillance there, to be sure), it was about how history is rewritten and people are trained to change their beliefs on command.

It's much more about "2+2=5" than about the Big Brother TV-show with the cameras. I myself thought the book was about surveillance before I read it, mostly because of the "Big Brother" TV show.


" it was about how history is rewritten and people are trained to change their beliefs on command."

That has been achieved in hyperpartisan US politics already. A lot of people of people will change their opinion and perception of the real world immediately once it's convenient for "their" party.


That isn't remotely new. Just look at English history during Anglicianism's transition.

[flagged]


Can you imagine what they would have said if Obama had called the North Korea guy a "great guy"?


An interesting case, since this seems to be reversed.

Democrats mocked Romney's anti-Russia position in 2012. And remember the "reset button"? Now many think Putin controls American elections and the US President himself.

Which Republican politician says Russia is 'the good guys'?


When he had the summit with Putin he definitely was weirdly nice to him. I don't think he is controlled by Russians but I am sure Republicans would have thrown a complete fit if Obama had publicly stated that he trusts Putin over the CIA like Trump did during the press conference.

Again, the point is that partisans willingly accept the same behavior from "their" guy that they would condemn from the "other" guy and they don't even notice how inconsistent this is.


He's always nice when he's dealing with a foreign power. The leader of China, Japan, North Korea... He's always been very respectful and polite to their face, but that doesn't mean he hasn't implemented tough policies against them.

As regards to trusting Putin over the CIA, what was he supposed to do? Call Putin a liar to his face? Not only is that unwise, it goes against his style of negotiation as I mentioned previously.


Calling Putin a liar to his face was not the only possible alternative to calling the CIA liars.


None of them, it's simply misinformation. These people never have any response to actual debate on this topic. How do people think Trump is controlled by Russia when he's been harder on Russia than anyone else. He armed Ukraine, supported sanctions, and threatened to leave NATO because Germany wanted to build a massive new gas pipeline from Russia, thus making them even more dependent on Russia.


They did.

There was a conservative narrative in the circa 2013 timeframe that Russia had been a key ally in the war on terror by allowing military logistics for Afghanistan to travel by rail through their sphere of influence. Obama was said to have insulted our Russian friends and as a result we were forced to use unreliable roads in Pakistan instead.

IIRC, there was notion that we would be playing a 19th century style “great game” in Central Asia, basically paying off Russia to contain China’s ambitions for heavy rail service into the Middle East.

End of the day, there are lots of different policy positions floated out there as a result of our nearly two decades at war and the various stakeholders as alliances shift.

The difference in the current administration is the unbridled graft and influence peddling. Everything is transactional.


Yep, leaving NATO over a pipeline would really stick it to those Russians.


Democrats indeed mocked Romney's anti-Russia position, but from a position of wary engagement with Putin's regime rather than uncritical enthusiasm for the guy.

You believe the Republican position on Putin right now is "uncritical enthusiasm for the guy"?

As with the above, this sounds like something from another dimension to me. Who exactly are you referring to? What words/actions?


I'm pretty sure that if you do a great amount of research you will find a tremendous amount of evidence for what you ostensibly consider to be a really fantastic claim, folks.

I think Orwell's point was even simpler: the overriding purpose of totalitarian political systems is power over individuals, "a boot stamping on a human face - forever". The actual ideology and stated goals are just window dressing towards this end.


As O'Brien says:

"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."

Edit: Personally, it's this self-awareness of their own real motives that make the Inner Party of Ingsoc so scary.


I must be reading it wrong, because I thought it was about how love was the most important and powerful emotion and how the final defeat of the two protagonists was the realization that they no longer loved each other and instead loved the state.

All of the Big Brother, Ministries of Whatever, censorship, and surveillance stuff was just window dressing for the love message.

Even Brave New World, to me, is about love. The society spurns familial love (like between John and his mother) and committed relationships (like between everyone and everyone) and pain or discomfort is a prerequisite for love and the pursuit of happiness has all but eliminated true love from the world. John kills himself because he hurt the woman he loved, he is humiliated for loving his mother, and is frustrated by the fact that the woman he loves can't love him because she is too busy pursuing simple, immediate, pleasures.

At least, that's my recollection of the two books.


> I must be reading it wrong, because I thought it was about how love was the most important and powerful emotion and how the final defeat of the two protagonists was the realization that they no longer loved each other and instead loved the state.

That's...an interesting perspective, but I think the audience is expected to already view love with that importance, so that the love storyline instead underlines the power of the control of the state.

Similarly with BNW. I think you are reading things that the authors perceived and sought to leverage in their contemporary audience with as being instead the message of the work: neither is about love, but the effect the dystopia described has on love is a key part of painting the picture because of what readers are expected to already feel about love.


> I thought it was about how love was the most important and powerful emotion and how the final defeat of the two protagonists was the realization that they no longer loved each other and instead loved the state.

My takeaway was that love was the most important emotion yet the state has the power to control even love. I don't think we're supposed to believe his love for Big Brother is genuine, but rather manufactured much like revisions to history.


> because I thought it was about how love was the most important and powerful emotion

Except that she doesn't love him and she immediately and fully confesses everything and betrays him.

The book is about the political classes, while the majority of the population (the proles) are not discussed a lot, they seem to have simple lives and can love.


You can have a story about love and love not triumph. I'd definitely say that that was a big element of the book. But I'd also include the class struggle and the so called dressing. Calling the setting a dressing seems a bit of an underplay. Settings are really important and generally also hold a message. But then again, I'm confused about why there's so much discussion about "I thought it was about" and not "this element is what struck me". Because 1984 is about ALL of those things.


There's something ironic about this whole comment. If it was intended, then well done.


I generally avoid politics on HN, but:

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” seems lifted straight out of 1984.

A few years ago I agreed with you. Now I’m not so sure.

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-44959340/donald-...


The West is Brave New World on the surface with a 1984 surveillance state underneath. Obviously, not fully either one, but elements of both are present.


I'd suggest both novels demonstrate the same basic concern: technology in extending our our ability to carry out our desires will actually invigorate our base passions for agression and pleasure, destroying our humanity in the process. In 1984, true power is a boot on another persons neck, and even the last shred of resistance is destroyed in the protagonist, who in the last scenes sheds tears of repentant joy for big brother before he turns himself in for his rightful execution. In Brave New World, the desire for sensual pleasure has completely eroded all capacity to enjoy love, truth, and beauty. Likewise, Huxley's Savage finds the world unlivable and takes his own life at the end of the novel.


Read about Australia’s stance on encryption laws and the recent raids on media offices and see if you still think the same way.

Also see the five eyes network.


I've seen good arguments about both being more suitable to our time. Brave New World captured more of the 'entertainment as anaesthesia' technique, while 1984 captured more of the paranoia-as-virtue we're burdened with. However, we have some very large deviations from Huxley's vision. No one would dream of sending their children to be raised by the state. If a drug like Soma existed (yes there is a drug called Soma now, but I mean a substance that acts as the one in Huxleys book does) it would be aggressively and hatefully prohibited.

One of the most prescient things about 1984 that really stuck out to me at the time I read it, and which I think someone could VERY easily get away with actually creating today with few even batting an eye was the Youth Anti-Sex League. It only gets slight mention in the book, I believe Winston's neighbors children were teenaged members. Brave New World handled sexuality very differently, with its 'orgy porgys' and whatnot. That's certainly not the state we have today, where discussion of sex is fine so long as you're condemning anyone who is having or seeking it, especially if they're outside of their 20s or ugly, fat, disabled, etc.

Ultimately, both books are a product of their times and provide interesting insights nonetheless. I don't know what benefit there is in holding one up as 'more alike' the dystopia we've created.


> If a drug like Soma existed (yes there is a drug called Soma now, but I mean a substance that acts as the one in Huxleys book does) it would be aggressively and hatefully prohibited.

It's called Xanax and it's handed out like candy

> The wholesale cost in the United States is less than US$0.03 per dose as of 2018.[15] In 2016, it was the 19th most prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 27 million prescriptions.[16]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alprazolam


Soma in BNW is described in a way that matches a combination of opiates and hallucinogens -- it artificially elevates mood, makes everything seem wonderful and pleasantly exciting, causes sensory hallucinations similar to synaesthesia, and so forth. That's a whole world away from Xanax, which merely controls anxiety & nausea with a side-effect of feeling sedated.


And Soma wouldn't be useful in pacifying a population if it induced tolerance in a few weeks like Xanax and the other GABA influencing drugs do.

>No one would dream of sending their children to be raised by the state.

Unfortunately this seems to incorrect. Consider already how public schooling works. How aware are most parents of the curriculum their kids consume?


I tend to agree. As much as I love 1984, I tend to agree with some of the points Huxley made in his letter to Orwell in 1949.

"Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World."

The letter is very interesting and worth a read.

https://cognitive-liberty.online/orwell-versus-huxley/


I believe that the range and depth of surveillance are pretty much equal in both the East and the West, and the difference is entirely in the respective societies' willingness to acknowledge that they're being surveilled.


There's an interesting comparison of the two works in cartoon form here: https://biblioklept.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/huxley-orwel...

...taken from "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death


I don't think Huxley's Brave New World has aged too well. Many of its central concepts such as 'soma', 'hatchery and conditioning centers', and the caste system - alphas to epsilons - don't have readily transposable equivalents in our modern day society. Granted, many of the technologies in 1984 don't either, but its central concepts resound to our times.


You could argue that constant access to entertainment is the "soma" of modern society.

If you ever feel anxious, unhappy or nervous just reach into your pocket and distract yourself with social media, a TV show, a game, or a podcast.

The fact that we can, at all times, be indefinitely distracted and stimulated means we never have to fully feel sad, lonely, or bored if we don't want to. How many people go home from work to binge watch a show until they fall asleep?

It's been a while since I've read the book but I remember soma being used as a way to regulate unwanted emotions. It seems like there's some parallels there, but obviously it's not a perfect analogy.


But social media and TV shows are what is making me feel anxious, unhappy and nervous... I put my phone away for relief, not the other way around.


Congrats you’re in the top caste. A lot of (other I assume) people read supermarket tabloids.


Arguably, soma = the entertainment industry (what distracts you from real concerns)

Arguably, 'hatchery and conditioning centers', represent mass production. Of people in the book, but we've certainly got an economy based on producing more houses, cars, appliances, digital gadgets, so more people can consume more, very much in line with BNW.

Arguably we have a stronger caste system than in generations, measured by inequality and immobility. Alphas = capital owners, Betas = service providers to capital owners, Deltas, Gammas, Epslions = labor here and in other countries.


I think today's growing inequality together with distraction through social networks and "fake" news translates pretty well to Brave New World. Add to that improvements in gene manipulation over the next decades and it's easy to see how the world may split up into castes that have genetic ability based on wealth.


I was just going to say that "Newspeak" in 1984 basically seems like exactly what is going on with "fake news."

On the surface, it just seems absurd and fascinating in a certain way that we can have video footage of the president saying one then and then he can just claim it's "fake news" and a sizable chunk of the populous seems to be cool with it.


Or the stock market keeps going up steadily over the last 10 years and one half thinks it was a complete disaster until 2017 and then glorious and the other half thinks everything went to hell in 2017. Same for the development of employment rate and other indicators.


> Many of its central concepts such as 'soma', 'hatchery and conditioning centers', and the caste system - alphas to epsilons - don't have readily transposable equivalents in our modern day society

Ah, not yet! Give it time!

- Soma, I'm sure you can imagine

- Conditioning centers... advertisement everywhere?

- Caste system... genetic engineering for the rich


Caste system: lack of social mobility


North Korea has a caste system based on the family's behavior in WW2.

China is actively working on one based on the citizen score.


I always wonder why these two books are framed as mutually exclusive (and F451 for that matter.)

They all reduce to tuning out discomfort, either through pleasure or storytelling. They paint pictures of different forms of self censorship.

You are either using pills, entertainment, religion, lies, propaganda, or marketing to achieve a nirvana of cognitive dissonance and safety.

They are not a zero sum game, they compliment each other nicely.

Another book that doesn't get mentioned enough in this category is Ira Levin's (Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, The Boys from Brazil) This Perfect Day. It's a global AI super computer house sorting hat, like Captain Marvel or I Robot, mixed with Gattaca.


+1 for mentioning This Perfect Day from the 60s. Stop the AI supercomputer!


Soma has a clear equivalent in the form of television and social media. These are things that suck up people's attention and provide short term ego/happiness boosts so that people don't spend a lot of time really thinking about the system that they're in.

Regardless, I don't think any of these things are the "central concepts" of BNW. BNW is about how a society can oppress and degrade people in a subtle and sustainable manner, without being totalitarian, without hatred or fear or the will to dominate, with people by and large believing that they are contented and fulfilled. All this simply by the inevitable progression and continuation of certain principles, e.g. that it's good to maximise how happy people say they are, or that conflict should be avoided at any cost. This all has disturbingly close parallels with modern Western society.


> many of the technologies in 1984 don't either

But one does: the speaker and microphone on the wall that you can't turn off.


Where do you live that you can't turn off any devices in your home? North Korea?

"Can't because you'll be imprisoned" and "choose not to because you might miss a message" are not the same thing.


I live in the U.S. where many people can't turn off their devices because they're addicted to them. And because they don't really have off switches.

This is one of the things that Orwell did not anticipate: there's no need to threaten people with prison. People will voluntarily set up the spying infrastructure in their homees if they perceive that it's cool or that it makes life a little more convenient for them. They'll even pay for it!


Again, choosing not to switch off a device because you're "addicted" is not the same as "can't turn off".

And every device has an off switch. At the very worst, you either unplug it or don't charge it or throw the damn thing out.

Where you're absolutely right is the voluntary aspect of modern surveillance. If we had a BB style telescreen, it would annoy people to the point of revolt, but package it with "content" and everyone is cool with it.


Always on devices like Alexa (and its clones) are becoming more and more common. Even my parents in their 80s (hardly tech early adopters) have one. If there's a problem with the prediction of 1984, it's the assumption that the threat is government. But William Gibson and other cyberpunk authors got that corporations are the real source of power.


Well, we are totally addicted to antidepressants and all sorts of other mood altering drugs we wouldn't need otherwise. Every time I see how many people are taking meth for 'ADHD' I think of Soma.

And it would be very easy to make the argument that America has a 'caste system'. Zuck, Bezos, Gates all went to schools almost none of us could even consider affording to attend.


Not meth or anti-depressants, but even alcohol and weed to excess.

And yeah, more than anything I think we have a caste system. Social mobility is decreasing, and we certainly don't interact with people of far-away economic classes unless it is required (usually). I don't think the poor like being poor the same way the Epsilons were pleased not to be burdened with responsibility.


1 in 6 Americans take some kind of 'anti depressant'. [1]

That's enough to talk about Soma.

11% of children have ADHD [2]

We give them ritalin, which is meth.

Obviously not all of them, but quite a lot.

So 25% right there on anti-depressants, possibly ritalin. This doesn't factor in all the other legal and illegal drugs.

The Soma prediction is not unreasonable at all.

Also, 'the rich' in America generally do have the burden of responsibility. Wall Street lawyer earning $800K is not an easy field trip.

[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/one-6-americans-t...

[2] http://www.demarleinc.com/ADHD%20NY%20TIMES%20more-diagnoses...


Ritalin is methylphenidate, not methamphetamine (which is what is usually called "meth"). And it's an SNDRI, while by "antidepressant" most people mean SSRI (or older types like MAO inhibitors and tricyclic). Though SNDRI are also used as antidepressants, I haven't really heard about Ritalin being classified/used as such. Do you have a source for that?

I'm not trying to make an argument here, just pointing out some factual errors in case you wonder why you're being downvoted.


Yes, that's technically true, but it's besides the point: Ritalin is close enough to Soma for the predictive nature of the story to make sense.

A very significant chunk of the population are taking drugs, legally or not legally, that materially affect our state of mind. This is a dystopian feature of 'A Brave New World'.


It seems very strange in the first paragraph to claim that 1984 has "outlasted in public awareness" three other books that are very much still in public awareness. Also, in terms of enduring effect, I'd wager that a lot more people have seen the film A Clockwork Orange than have read 1984.


And 1984 is incredibly well written while Brave New World is a very dull read. I've read 1984 two or three times and I think I skimmed the last 100 pages or so of Brave New World, something I rarely do with novels.


Huxley yes, but mostly his emphasis on pleasure over pain and self in order to pacify the population. But designer babies are already here so he could end up being correct on many more things.


Yes, here in the West we are too moral for mass state surveillance.


Huxley


Surveillance capitalism has changed that narrative imo. China is still more blatant but for how long?


The leader of the strongest country lies every time it speaks. Once and again wars are sold as freedom campaigns and coups as saving democracy. Surveilance has been institutionalized and privacy comoditized. We are in the most orwelian era yet.


This attitude may give you some downvotes - BTW: Many people here are from the US and they usually react to criticism about their countries policy and leader in a bad way.


I'm from The Netherlands. Please share all the criticism you have about our PM Mark Rutte or our king Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.


I'm afraid I don't know enough about them and their politics to criticize them. We could discuss about their view of the EU policy but I think it would be another topic for another thread.

Why are you demanding this when I say that a lot of US-citizens have difficulties with reacting to criticism?


My point is the following. We got a saying here. High trees catch a lot of wind. That is true for any US president. Furthermore he sings a different song than the previous president. Those factors alone will cause controversy. We didn't even start about Trump's personality and his controversial election. These are just turmoil on the fire.

Those 2 fellows I mentioned are high trees here in NL but on the international playing field there's much higher ones such as any US president.


Nice phrase, I'll remember that one.

I had to read your answer twice to realize you just compared the "Orange Monkey" to Obama. Very funny though the only thing they have in common is that they will have been POTUS.

I think the basic issue with this inability to cope with criticism is more of this national/patriot attitude that many US citizens still have. They think their country is the single most greatest on earth and that it is their god given right to rule over everything.

In real life countries like China act much smarter as they gain power and influence through superior economic actions (see belt and road project) and not through warmongering and invading other countries (see nearly everything the US does in other countries).

Still it's not easy to find ppl from US who just accept this fact. They instantly start to play their "commy cassette" just like when you try to talk about Russia. It's not about facts anymore and it's highly subjective so a discussion is near to impossible.

About NL: I'm sorry to say that but NL has nearly no power on earth and they don't act that globally. They didn't elect some *)(/&%/&$% like Trump. The worst NL politician I know of is this Nazi Geert Wilders. I didn't hear him publicly inviting men to "grab women by the pussies" and stuff like that and he has no power over armed forces and stuff like that.

In the end I probably didn't quite understand your view. I said that "many US citizens have a hard time coping with criticism about their country's or leader's politics" and you counter with "all US presidents are high trees".

So could it be that your goal here was to weaken my critics in showing how patriotic the people from NL are as well to tell me that it's normal to defend "your country and leader"? I don't get it.


I'm not trying to weaken your criticism or make you upset, I'm trying to broaden your view. I'm probably -politically- much more aligned with you than it may seem throughout these posts. That being said as understandable as it may seem I suggest we refrain from unnecessary name-calling.

My point [with the high tree saying which also has an apparently has an English version [1]] is that the leader of the US of A is also a leader of the G7/G8 and G20. Plus, the US is the one of the strongest forces in the world. If not the strongest, military speaking, economically speaking as well (AFAIK). Its also a democratic country where people are free to criticize the sitting president. Such factors matter. They count for every US president. The factors (controversy) regarding Trump's personality amplify these factors even more.

Your points about nationalism/patriotism/fascism might also be true (or not). I have no clearly formed opinion on that in combination with this subject. Either way, it'd also be on top of the factors I already described. You could also be patriotic and be against Trump, though, just like you could say what Edward Snowden did was an act of patriotism.

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hoge_bomen_vangen_veel_wind


Ok thank you then for pointing that out and I agree that name-calling is unnecessary most of the times. In the case of Trump however I think he has become a figure of a certain way to think and act which is almost meme-esque.

Of course we could instead still use Nixon for attitudes like warmongering but the younger generations don't know him that well anymore and to be honest he was not on the same "level" as Trump is. That's why I like to use Trump to clarify certain points and in this case I just wanted to jokingly warn the user about this kind of criticism because I noticed how US-dominated this platform sometimes is.

Probably, as all of us speak different languages even when we use the same base (like English) to communicate. Many problems just arise because of misunderstandings.

Of course my hypothesis about the nationalism & Co. is based on my experience with US citizens and to my knowledge not scientifically proven (I haven't searched for it and instead just try to do meaningless small-talk when I meet ppl from the US). It's similar with Chinese and Russians - most of them seem to have problems dealing with criticism about their politics. In Germany I know you should restrain yourself from criticizing Israeli politics whereas there is people with whom you can discuss German politics (I mean a real discussion).

What you say is also true I think when Austrians or Germans would stand up to their Gvt. if another Nazi-Party tries to take power it would be very patriotic. They love their countries enough to not let something like that happen again.

Also I am not "that kind of person" who sees words like "nationalist" or "patriot" as statically but instead know that meaning is also part of the construction of a common reality.

I enjoy respectful conversations/discussions like these - you seem to be intelligent and open-minded.


I get downvoted sometimes for expressing my opinion, i've come to expect that here (though your prediction and my expectations were so far wrong in this case), but i dont think saying that Tr*mp lies shamelessly is new to anyone, even its suporters.


Supporters of a dishonest leader are mostly well aware of the dishonesty (pity the few victims that actually fall for it, because they're most likely to be the eventual casualties of a catastrophic resolution). For them, the lies function as a shibboleth which allows mutual recognition and cooperation through the pretence of a shared counterfactual.

An amusing example is when people complain about 'virtue signaling' - almost everyone engages in this, but because the word virtue has moral connotations it is projected onto people who make moral arguments and superficially appears consonant with and a critique of their behavior, when actually the underlying purpose of the complaint is for people who ostensibly object to virtue signaling to recognize and team up with each other by shared recognition of an in-joke. That is to say, pejorative use of the term 'virtue signaling' is an instance of covert virtue signaling.


There has been no president in any of our lifetimes that hasn't lied shamelessly.

True

I like the "prototype" book, the one that inspired Orwell to write his 1984, much better. It's https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_(novel) I read it in Russian though, and the language of the book is just like poem! Love it. I also find it superior in terms of plot and characters, and it's so much more atmospheric and real to me.


One of the most important books I read in college. I don't remember which translation to English I read but it was good.


English copy in the public domain in certain jurisdictions:

https://wikilivres.org/wiki/We

https://mises.org/library/we

In Russian:

http://az.lib.ru/z/zamjatin_e_i/text_0050.shtml


I read 'We' quite some time ago and greatly enjoyed it. Unfortunately I don't recall the translation I read being particularly poetic, which is a shame. But it was still an amazing read that I would recommend.


I guess that Orwell is more understandable to people who did not live under an authoritarian dictatorship. Just a guess.


It wasn't a book about prophecy. It was a book on his present. He just set it in the future since he couldn't afford to tick off the censors in britain.

1984 was inspired by his work as a propagandist for the BBC Eastern Service during ww2. He based the "Ministry of Truth" on the BBC and the dreaded room 101 on a BBC conference room.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ministries_of_Nineteen_Eighty-...

Animal Farm is about the absurd and hypocritical political structure of the Soviet Union. 1984 has always been about Britain/West with a heavy focus on truth, propaganda and the news. But whether eastasia, eurasia or oceania, the ultimate message is that it's all one and the same and 1984 applies to all of them.

"In the end he succeeded in forcing her memory back until she did dimly recall that at one time Eastasia and not Eurasia had been the enemy. But the issue still struck her as unimportant. 'Who cares?' she said impatiently. 'It's always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway.'"

                                                    - Orwell 1984

Sound familiar? What was true of orwell's 1940s britain or oceania seems true today.

Funnily enough, the BBC ( in the 1984 style ) "rehabilitated" orwell's legacy for their own purposes. Just like big brother "rehabilitated" winston in 1984.

https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-41886208

In 1984, who are the champions of censorship? The ministry of truth. Who are the champions of censorship in the west? The news industry - one of the major supporters of censorship is oddly enough the new yorker. Who are the ones demanding that social media censor and who are the ones insisting certain words or topic shouldn't be discussed?


> Who are the champions of censorship in the west? The news industry

What 1984 is talking about is state-wide censorship, where news organizations are punished for reporting on topics that make the state look bad. That is Russia, China, North Korea, and other repressive regimes.

In the west, some media might choose not to cover a topic, but you still have other news organizations, and now blogs and social media.

So, yes, censorship does happen within bubbles, but if you live in a free country you can simply look into another bubble to get the other perspective.


> What 1984 is talking about is state-wide censorship, where news organizations are punished for reporting on topics that make the state look bad. That is Russia, China, North Korea, and other repressive regimes.

Sadly, it seems that Australia can now be added to this list.


I suggest you read 1984 critically instead of repeating the nonsense you were told.

Which "news organization" in 1984 was punished for reporting on topics that made the state look bad? Did you even read the book?

The point of 1984 was that even the opposition was controlled by the "state".

You can talk about Russia, China, North Korea and mindlessly participate in your 2 minute hate. But 1984 was not about Russia, China or North Korea. It was about 1940s Britain and the West.

And your comment didn't address what you quoted: "Who are the champions of censorship in the west? The news industry". Who were the champions of censorship in 1984? The Ministry of Truth.

Even if everything you wrote was true ( which it is not ), it didn't address what you quoted.


One thing about Nineteen Eighty-Four that I find interesting is that in the society it depicts, only a minority of people actually demand a big effort from the oppression mechanisms. Most of the population seems to be effectively pacified by ignorance, drugs, sex, simple entertainments, simple propaganda (such as militarist nationalism against *-asia), and usually having enough food to not starve. They probably are not actually likely to engage in wrongthink except on rare occasions. It is the minority in the "Inner Party" (and probably higher levels as well) that demands extra attention.


It’s really too bad Hitchens isn’t with us anymore. I’m sure he’d have a lot to about this and many other topics.

“The Importance of Being Orwell”

https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/08/christopher-hitch...


We still have Peter Hitchens, who won the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2010[0], two years before his elder brother was memorialised in 2012[1]. The two disagreed vehemently on a great deal of fundamental stuff, but Peter posseses all of Christopher's independence of mind, perhaps more, and has plenty to say because of that.

[0]: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/journalist/peter-hitchens/

[1]: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/special/christopher-hitchen...


For the life of me, I haven't been able to take Peter seriously. Perhaps his long standing position at the Daily Express and Daily Mail has something to do with that...

I understand. I have taken to reading his column almost exclusively via RSS. But it is worth noting that he works for the Mail on Sunday, which sounds similar but is editorially independent of the Daily Mail. They now share a website.

I believe he left the Daily Express having become dissatisfied with the paper, though I am entirely unsure of that.


One of the fascinating things about '1984' is that in the actual year 1984 the book, which did receive some notable publicity that year, was perceived as being something of a 'dud'. Not that people perceived that they were living in surveillance-free society but rather at that time people were more preoccupied with nuclear war (anyone remember "The Day After"? [0]) and the tools that would bring about an oppressive environment were still in the imaginations of technologists. Strangely enough Apple, with its 1984 type commercial, was one of the few companies that really went all in on the 1984 anniversary [1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_After

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zfqw8nhUwA


I liked 1984, but probably enjoyed Animal Farm even more. It was likely a combination of the narrative itself and the fact that 1984 is more about what _could_ happen while Animal Farm describes through fiction what actually _did_ happen (not that parts of 1984 haven’t happened already).


Animal Farm makes better use of "show don't tell"(or perhaps "describe but don't explain") than Nineteen Eighty-Four, which I think is why I always appreciated it more.


Off topic, but Pink Floyd's 'Animals' record is a retelling of Animal Farm applied to 1970s Great Britain. Great record.

A key idea of Animal Farm seems applicable to many "disruptive" startups.


Animal Farm was a critique of Stalinism and the hijacked Bolshevik revolution more than anything, and it's a good one considering Orwell himself leaned socialist (which Stalinism certainly was not).


It's very interesting to consider that to the extent AF is described as being a critique of Communism, the implicit corollary is that Napoleon's triumph was a systematic inevitability. Few bother to examine the parallels between the Bolshevik and French metaphorical frames, and the latter Napoleon's successful displacement of Sieyes.

Orwell is so relevant today even more so. The man must have seen the future in some way because just the tv monitors in the rooms that are always on and monitor you is such a similar concept to all of our home assistants and smartTVs that collect data about us.


People are PAYING companies to install cameras in their houses and outside doors to let them collect data. He didn’t go far enough.


True! He’s probably rolling in his grave right now flabbergasted at how dumb we are.

The part I always liked the most about 1984 was when O'Brien plays back to Winston the tape of what he would be willing to do for the revolution.

I think it's a reminder that we should be vary of compromising a moral stance with the promise of better society. It is really a case against moral relativism.

And I think that perhaps Orwell trolled us with that one. IMHO it should be considered one of the main theses of the book. However, the argument is made (and hypocritically) by the character we hate (O'Brien) towards character we sympathize with (Winston), I think a lot of people miss it.


The fight for Freedom is constant and never ending. I’m a bit of a pessimist in this case. Since 9/11, anything became a reason to take away individual liberty and we slowly moved towards an authoritarian utopia.


Interestingly, it’s the only movie I have seen that faithfully, and exactly followed the book.


Prophesizing/foresight aside, just as a narrative it's a great book with a really satisfying story arc. Can't say that about most of the books I read in high school.


Any recommendations for books written post 2000 that might bear comparison to Orwell's "1984" come 2070?


Not a book, but you might want to watch Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" [0][1]. It's one of the the closest efforts I've seen to catching what, in my mind, is the 'look' of Orwell's 1984.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_(1985_film)

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1


I always thought of "Brazil" as "Monty Python's '1984'".


Probably Neal Stephenson novels, based on what I've heard (Snow Crash is the only one I've read).


It is on my to-read-someday list but Snow Crash was published in 1992!


La zone du dehors Alain Damasio, only in French unfortunately. Writen in 1999, the book talks about a global ranking system of the citizens akin to what's happening in China with the “credit score” system.


This doesn't exactly answer your question, but John Brunner's "The Shockwave Rider" was written in the mid-1970s, set around now, and is bizarrely prescient to a degree that few authors ever achieve. (Brunner was arguably too pessimistic about the USA, but in many of the cases where he guessed wrong, it's because what he predicted happened in China or Russia instead.)

More on topic, it's difficult to imagine what anyone could write nowadays that would have the devastating impact of 1984. It's not like there is any shortage of works attacking neoliberal capitalism or any other economic/political system, and none of these has the messianic pretensions or fundamental hypocrisy of the Leninism that Orwell was critiquing. (Arguably, Orwell made it impossible for any such system to be taken at face value again.)


Animals farm was about Leninism but 1984 not so much and more about totalitarism in general, that's why it's so relevant today (while the former is much less known).


Not a book, but I'd put The Matrix in the same category. Whether it was through propaganda, newspeak, or the alteration of 'history,' 1984 was at its heart about the ease with which a group can alter one's perception of reality... even down to things like 2+2=5. What better cinematic demonstration of this than The Matrix?


Maybe I'm contrarian but I was deeply disappointed by The Matrix, mostly because I feel it wasted a fantastic premise and opportunity to explore such issues.

I found its approach to the philosophical issues it touched on was facile and pretentious. A very cool looking movie but it could have been so much more profound.


It was indeed facile. There were just enough allusions to common philosophical issues to make the viewer feel smart... "der, it's like that cave and shadow thing in that Socrates thing we had to read in 7th grade... or was it Plato?"

Nevertheless, after the bullet-time special effects are no longer cool, and after the wardrobe and cinematic style become dated, you still have people referring to being "red-pilled". I think that's a good legacy for a movie... to have the central philosophical idea become imbedded into the common vernacular.


I have never understood the love for orwell, 1984 is boring and corny. The insight is not very deep.

Animal farm is pretty much a children's book.

Dr Seuss books had greater thought provoking material than orwell. Orwell basically beat you over the head explaining simple ideas.


It's not a bad novel, but I wasn't particularly captivated by Nineteen Eighty-Four(how the title is actually stylized) because the state it portrayed didn't seem sustainable. This isn't to say there aren't parallels to North Korean society, for instance, but the type of world in Nineteen Eighty-Four doesn't seem like something that today's world needs to be afraid of as a whole; there would be far too many suicides for such a system to be worth it to anyone who wants to maintain power and growth.(Countries like North Korea aren't particularly large in size or population compared to freer nations) Maybe it made more sense in a world that wasn't driven by media and consumer culture. Brave New World made a little more sense, but I also didn't find it that compelling. Maybe I need to revisit the both of them now that I'm in my 30s, as opposed to my early 20s.

I've found the "Village" portrayed in Patrick McGoohan's "The Prisoner" to be a more profound message about the world that we actually live in. If the viewer can get over it being a product of its time, as well as the confusing ending, there's a lot of allegory packed into the show that reflects the direction our own societies are headed in:

- Surveillance is not only treated as a given but is incorporated into the conveniences of everyday life. (e.g. The door to Six's domicile opens not automatically but because he is constantly being watched)

- The state wants your "information", so much that it knows more about you than you know about yourself. (e.g. The authorities predict precisely what Six would want for breakfast, right down to how many strips of bacon)

- The line between government and corporation are blurred so much that all food is produced and branded by the Village, which even has its own logo plastered on everything. (All of the food provided to Six is branded as "Village Food")

- The inhabitants of the village all wear the same colorful(albeit ridiculous looking) clothing, almost all of which is unisex. People come from all sorts of ethnicities, yet are made to comply with a single bland culture in under the superficiality of being "international". (The push for gender equality and diversity, while laudable, can easily turn into its own opposite)

- Most of the village inhabitants(or inmates) are infantilized, are essentially adult children who wear child-like clothing and are even seen playing like children. They have no responsibility or agency, but are perfectly content to live a pointless existence inside a resort-like prison.

- The village has a "democratic" system of electing "Number 2", but this system is merely superficial as those who are actually in power and the media have already chosen who they want in said position, and the population is easily swayed to vote for the chosen one.

- Children are completely housebound, only every being seen in one scene of a single episode in the series. Some have read into this as suggesting that the children of the village are always kept inside for safety reasons, much like how todays helicopter parents and governments overprotect children out of irrational fears like "stranger danger".

- The veneer of the village is cheerful in a saccharine-sweet way, so as to drown out any of those negative thoughts or "sudden attacks of egoism". Much like how we are constantly bombarded by music when we are shopping or simply trying to have a conversation at public venues, the Village has a vast system of PA speakers that are playing cheerful or calming music. The village only goes further in that it also plays music in people's homes without their consent.

- The government of the Village is difficult to comprehend, and those who run it are really prisoners themselves, but work within seemingly indefinite layers of bureaucracy. Nobody actually knows who is actually in charge.

- Those who don't wish to participate in the society of the village, yet would be content on being left alone, are considered "unmutual" and made to be social pariahs. Labeling someone with such a blanket term is an easy way to convince the dim-witted masses into agreeing with a position they might not even understand.

- The education system in the village, in the little glimpse that way saw it, is very interested in making "learning" so efficient as to sacrifice understanding for the sake of rote memorization. A system called "speed learn" is used to give everyone an education in a matter of hours, yet all those who are "educated" can do is recite what exactly they were told without any insight or understanding of their absorbed knowledge.

A series called "Tyranny of the Masses" analyzes The Prisoner in greater detail, though anyone watching The Prisoner by itself without expecting it to be a spy-thriller should be able to figure out a lot of those things anyway.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2pC1JKwn0Bi2y4v6D6fk...

Overall, I've found The Prisoner to be much more eye opening than even Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World, yet next to nobody I've told has heard about it. It's much more profound and in allegorical to our time, despite it having broadcasted in 1969.


The world of 1984 does indeed seem unsustainable because everything seems to be based on negative emotions, and there are no(?) examples in history of such a system surviving for a significant time. Nevertheless, I was willing to suspend disbelief because of Orwell's amazing prose. "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever".

Or let's take this one from Wikipedia: "We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."


>The world of 1984 does indeed seem unsustainable because everything seems to be based on negative emotions, and there are no(?) examples in history of such a system surviving for a significant time.

Unfortunately we are working on more and more technical means which could enable such a system to persist. Many options to overthrow such systems are already getting less and less successful. With scale able mass surveillance it is (or will be in the future) possible to quell any unrest before it becomes mass unrest. Which is not that hard if you have enough information early enough, can actually process that data and have a functioning security apparatus.

To give an example, in Germany Soccer fans are categorized by the police in A - normally peaceful fans, B- open to join a riot and C- looking to start a riot. Majority of fans are category A, a minority are category B and a few are category C. For the police its generally sufficient to quell category C so category B (or even A if things really go south) wont become a problem for them. Similarly, there is a different willingness of people to go out and protest to topple a regime. Its a lot easier to join in when there are already hundred of thousands in the streets but very few will risk trying to start something like that. Being able to prevent the individuals from the last group from acting up is sufficient to quell the threat of a regime getting toppled.

Another point is that surveillance is becoming more and more absolute. Its not just targeted at the population or even the category C equivalent but everyone, including the people keeping the regime running. In the end you are left with an negative apparatus without anyone actually profiting from it which reinforces itself eternally by complete surveillance of every last individual, which are dealt with as soon as they try to organize with others. Its the perfect prison we are building for ourselves.


Surveillance has ironically been wildly overestimated in their capabilities - even though it is certainly bad in its "half mirror" form it isn't omnipotent.

They always need entities willing to follow orders and the who has all answers which are "bad" in some way including from abilities limited abilities in preference for by loyalty, limited loyalty but able, or under influence. If they become sick of the status quo surveillance can't stop them from deciding they would rather be "king" instead or a more generous "king" would sit better on the throne.

Weaponized autonomous drones may change that but subsitutes subvertability for loyality. Both meat and machines for the dictators of their hellscape require maintenance and means of sustaining and grasping control weakens them.

That tangent aside - if nobody can stop a subject from doing x /right now/ and they don't care about being known it is nothing buy the illusion of control.

We have seen how it is a farce against terrorism as it fails to prevent anything and only at best helps to convict the violent people already out to gain attention who also often don't get trials anyway.


You summed up my point better than I did, and I do agree that Orwell's prose is amazing. Lots of great quotes can be pulled out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and maybe that's its strongest quality. I just personally don't find it to be as relevant as it may have once been, and I don't think it has a lot of reread value, in my opinion. Animal Farm is a much better reread, and maybe that says that I'm a simpleton.

One novel that I like better than Nineteen Eighty-Four, despite it being written in a mediocre way(I think I heard that Vonnegut gave his own work a B-), is Player Piano, which is about a dystopia where automation has made so many people obsolete that the only people who have jobs are a small number of engineers who maintain the machines; the middle class is basically gone and there's either the wealthy or aspiring-wealthy and the obsolete.

Player Piano is worth a read, but Orwell's works are written far better. Yet, Player Piano has stuck with me more because I find it more relevant to current day issues. Sure, surveillance and wrongthink are subjects of politics today, but they are rather hashed out, whereas nobody really knows exactly what the future holds for automation and AI, and what it represents for humanity. If a story is written poorly but is about a relevant or high-concept idea, I appreciate it more than something executed well but is less profound(this is just my opinion, and I'm sure most people will disagree with me on that point).

In a similar vein, the reason I appreciate The Prisoner more than I do the works of Orwell, Huxley, or Vonnegut, is that while its production and writing could have been a lot better, I think it does a better job at addressing modern issues and covers a wider number of subjects. It just doesn't beat viewers over the head with these ideas like Orwell does to his readers, which might be one of the biggest reasons that it gets overlooked.


In a similar vein is E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" where nobody is left who knows how to fix the Machine that supports civilization: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Machine_Stops


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