When George Orwell wrote 1984, just after WW II in 1949, he was looking at world landscape scarred by Hitler’s naziism, and inhabited by two notorious totalitarian leaders (Stalin in Russian, Franco in Spain) who perpetuated reigns of terror in their pursuit of absolute power. When he looked ahead to the near future, Orwell imagined a dystopian world where global government’s controlled every aspect of a person’s life, right down to what a person could think.
Orwell especially spends a great deal of time in the book talking about how the Inner Party controls the information that is distributed to the population. Not only does the Inner Party create the facts, they also change them from time to time to meet current needs. The Thought Police are on constant alert, and are seemingly everywhere using a network of spies, and faithful proletarians to report irregularities. The Party has ways to “reprogram” citizens through torture, or simply erase them by killing them and removing any trace of their existence. In predicting the future, Orwell was relying on events that were actually happening as he wrote.
1984 has become a surprise best seller this year in the Age of Trump, but more to the point, in the age of fake news. The ease with which fake information is disseminated and processed, and the uncertainty cast upon the truth is truly Orwellian. Today, a new narrative is being projected as the truth via the internet, AM talk radio, and cable news, even though the new information is demonstrably false. In the book, the main character Winston is tortured into believing 2 + 2 = 5, because that’s what the Party says. He cannot argue as his words are twisted right back at him.
Big Brother, a phrase coined by Orwell, is now used to discuss government overreach. But Orwell meant it as power being concentrated in the hands of a few who would make their decisions under the guise of taking care of the people, but ultimately ruling for the purpose simply of having power. Big Brother, in the book, is a uniting person, whether he “truly exists” or not, to whom the people owe 100% loyalty and allegiance. Orwell got a lot right. Centralized power (now almost solidified by gerrymandering), extreme wealth accumulation, and a complete dumbing down of the population are big indicators of totalitarian rule. Orwell doesn’t talk about democracy, he just talks about how something as big and permanent-seeming as a government can fairly easily be replaced. Anyone who is paying attention should be able to see clearly many warning signs for a darker future, but many can’t for all the fake information and forced patriotic symbolism blocking the way