Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!
This Week’s Question
George Orwell’s 1984 is often referenced when discussions of privacy and oversight arise. Do you think an Orwellian state could happen or is that overstating the case?
I enjoy 1984 as a story–it’s tense and presents a world that’s truly horrifying in its attempt to stifle freedom of thought and free will. However, to me, the book is appealing in the way a story about ghosts or aliens is; the thought of it happening gives me delicious chills, but I know it’s highly unlikely it actually will happen.
I won’t say with 100% certainty that a society like that in 1984 can never exist; after all, anything is possible under the correct set of circumstances. However, the problem with creating and maintaining the Orwellian state is that people really don’t want to consent to it. You need force to create the society, and you need constant force to maintain it. And when you’re using force to maintain a society, people start getting the sense there’s something wrong and maybe they should rebel against you.
The characters in 1984, even though government officials try to keep them content and oblivious of the true nature of history and the current society, are all too aware that there’s something unpleasant going on. A number of them are actually employed in tasks that contribute to the rewriting of history (see our main character). When maintaining the fiction of the society requires a large number of workers, there’s a reasonable chance some of those workers will refuse to submit quietly to their given task. Furthermore, the constant surveillance–even within people’s own homes–is too much of a tip that the government is trying very, very hard to control people. The main takeaway seems to be that maintaining this type of society takes a lot of effort and a lot of manpower. It’s difficult to establish in the first place and difficult to keep safe from rebellions.
This why, although I think 1984 is the better story, Brave New World is more prescient dystopian. In Brave New World, people aren’t forced (too much) to conform to the new world order; they want to conform. The society offers the people things that are appealing to many people: sexual freedom, recreational drugs, stable employment and a clear place in society, etc. The people who rebel do so because they seem to have some inherent sense that the manufactured happiness is boring; they aren’t rebelling because the government is too obviously trying to force them to do things they don’t want to do.
So, no, I won’t be fearing the imminent coming of the Orwellian state. I understand we’re getting feasibly closer with the development of new technologies and a growing demand to have more cameras in society for the prevention of crime. However, we’re a long way from willingly giving up our freedom and letting cameras into our homes. And even though it’s possible to collect a large amount of data about a large number of people, right now there’s no desire and no manpower. Could the government tap everyone’s phones? Probably. If they wanted. But they don’t, and if they did, they don’t currently have enough employees to deal with all the gathered information. Maybe in the future desires will change and new technologies will be able to handle the data. Right now, though, I’m not worried.
What are your thoughts? Link us to your posts in the comments!