The term “Orwellian” is utilized by political pundits, on both sides of the ideological spectrum, most commonly to characterize events that they perceive to be similar to those envisioned by writer George Orwell in his premonitory 1949 dystopian novel, 1984. I read Orwell’s novel back in the 1980s, and decided to read it again recently.
The book seemed a lot more chilling this time around than when I read it back in those carefree, freedom-and-strength-certain years of the Reagan-era. In contrast to reading it during those bygone days, the impact of Orwell’s novel now is more akin to realistic horror, than I recall it being when I read it decades ago. With age and life experiences comes a change in perspective, which is probably one reason why reading 1984 today was such a different experience than reading it when I was a teenager. But there is another reason the reading experience was so different as well: the vast contrast of American life in the 1980s under the Reagan administration compared to the unpleasant circumstances of the present.
While Orwell was a socialist, 1984 centers on the danger of anti-capitalist totalitarianism and describes an oppressive party regime that maintains control by crushing the will of the individual. The government-worker who is the protagonist of the novel has the job duty of essentially rewriting history, by omitting or changing facts in written accounts, in order to support the collectivist-societal structure and prevailing narrative of the party that controls it. Even though the protagonist distinctly remembers things from the historical past, accurately and differently than the false official-government narrative, the sole memorialization he has of the truth is in his own mind. While Orwell’s eerily prescient work did not predict the advent of the Internet, it is evident that the ability of any government, either individually or in concert with others, to control a narrative, to wipe away history, to obliterate or alter facts, and to surveille its citizenry, is facilitated with the advance of technology.
While it would have been unthinkable in decades past, it now seems entirely within the realm of possibility that in the not-so-distant future, factual accounts of events both past and present will be relegated to the individual’s memory and right-leaning opinions or perceptions of events may be banned altogether. Examples of present-day events that may be in peril of being revised in the near future are as follows: 1) Gas prices were already high and increasing throughout the United States before Russia invaded Ukraine; 2) Inflation was already a thing under the Biden-Harris administration before the Russian invasion; and 3) For months, and, in some cases, for many months, mask mandates and/or vaccine mandates were imposed upon individuals in various settings by local, state, and/or federal officials; and, some COVID-19-related mandates remain as of the writing of this column.
Here are some examples of right-leaning commentary, the nature of which would most certainly be banned by the type of totalitarian government envisioned by Orwell: 1) The Biden-Harris administration incompetently handled the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan, as a result of which thirteen American service members lost their lives; 2) While the Biden-Harris administration suffered a legal defeat in the Supreme Court of the United States earlier this year, prior to that time, the Biden-Harris administration had adversely impacted the livelihoods and usurped the bodily autonomy of millions of American workers by forcing them, under the auspices of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to make the untenable choice of either taking a COVID-19 vaccine, undergoing regular COVID testing, or getting fired; 3) There was an extensive period of mask mandates and vaccine mandates galore, imposed primarily by Democrat officials, but, with polling looking disastrous for the Democrats come November – Poof! Just like that -millions of home COVID-19 self-tests were mailed out, the government-recorded COVID-19-infection rates dramatically decreased, and mandates all of a sudden weren’t so important to the Democrats anymore!
Oh, this list could go on and on. I’m sure you get the picture. It’s no wonder Biden’s approval ratings are so low!
As for 1984, the novel eerily speaks to the times we live in today and, regardless of whether you lean to the left or to the right or are somewhere in the middle, it is a worthwhile read, even if you already read it many years ago.
Columnist’s note: The publication of “1984” that is referred to in this column is “1984, a novel by George Orwell, with an Afterword by Erich Fromm,” Signet Classics, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC, copyright 1949 by Harcourt Inc., copyright renewed 1977 by Sonia Brownell Orwell, Afterword copyright 1961 by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.