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Do recent events and current technologies have us living like it’s 1984? I am seeing the similarities, albeit in somewhat different and sometimes more troublesome forms.
The recent controversy regarding Nick Sandmann reminded me of the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell, 1984. Sandmann had committed a “facecrime” with the “smirk” caught for the world to see on social media. In 1984 a “facecrime” is “to wear an improper expression on your face,” as deemed by the state, and was “a punishable offence.”
That unfortunate incident got me thinking about other disturbing similarities with life depicted in the book. Throughout the story, the all-seeing “Big Brother” is always watching and listening to everyone and everything, looking for anyone that may be stepping out of line with the “approved” way to live, think and act.
In our society today, we are using a crowd sourced model. Everyone is carrying smart phones capable of immediately recording and spreading images and sound to the world. That could be a good thing except for the fact that smart phones also have editing tools that can alter the reality of any situation, just as the main character in 1984, Winston Smith, worked to continually alter information in newspaper articles in order to make history fit the party line.
Today we are even cultivating an altered way of communicating through social media that is diminishing intellectual thought, just as in 1984 the powers that be were in the process of replacing the existing system of language known as “Oldspeak” with “Newspeak.” This new system also decreased the level of intellectual communication. In fact, the stated purpose of “Newspeak” was to “diminish the range of thought.” When this process happens, we tend to return to tribalistic patterns and conflict begins to take rise as a preferred method for resolving differences.
The next piece of the puzzle in 1984 was to harness conflict to help keep the subjects in line and hating others (in this case other Superstates, which is how the world was divided then). They even held marches and “hate week” to help solidify the anger outwards as opposed to questioning their own governing powers within.
In our country today, it seems we have an equally troublesome form of a similar mechanism that is continuing to grow and spread. We have two ruling parties, Democrats and Republicans, that are fostering a constant state of conflict with each other to keep their followers continually distrustful of the other side. In this scenario we maintain our focus on keeping our chosen side in power instead of focusing on how little they are both doing to help solve any of our collective problems. This is why, at the first hint of working in a bipartisan way, the attacks come swiftly to quell any such threat to the established ruling order.
It’s not too late to break this cycle, but it will require more than a few level-headed citizens to stand up to their own sides and say we are going to start a conversation with those on the other side. You may join us, or be on the wrong side of history, hopefully.