The Real Meaning of 1984

I don’t know what sparked off this thought, but I figured it might be worth writing down here anyway – I doubt I’m the only person to spot it, but I’m sure we’d be in the relative minority.

When people talk about Orwell’s 1984, it’s almost always about the surveillance state. And that seems to be the be-all and end-all of it. “Oh, Microsoft are taking telemetry data from your software and logging it! It’s like 1984!”, or “Another CCTV camera has gone up, Orwell was right!”, and “My phone knows where I am, we’re living in 1984 amirite‽‽”

To me, the more interesting part of 1984 is the doublethink and the reactions people have to news and facts presented to them. Because that is the actual end result of the surveillance or the impression of constant surveillance, and the thing we should be most weary of:

For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grammes a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it. Parsons swallowed it easily, with the stupidity of an animal.

Quite literally, Big Brother tells the world “we’ve increased our choco-ration from 30 grammes to 20 grammes” and people cheer at the increase.

Isn’t this much more apt for what our world is like? One day a newspaper can tell us all that migrants will swarm the country, the next day they will demand that the government do something about this terrible refugee crisis. On page 2 they’ll complain about a child sex ring, on page 4 they’ll take a 14 year old girl and drool over her developing breasts. And people will swallow it – as Winston Smith notes – with the stupidity of an animal.

Or more pointedly – and relevant to the machinations of the Ministry of Plenty from the quote above – we know that the cost of food is going up, and we spend a bigger proportion of our income on it, and that in fact it causes a lot of stress for people. Yet the television can’t go 15 minutes without an advert for a supermarket, showing how it has slashed prices, and making things cheaper.

And we swallow that, too, shopping at a cheap megastore that’s just slashed the price of a tin of beans from 70p to 96p.

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