WHY GEORGE ORWELL’S NINETEEN EIGHTY- FOUR IS MORE RELEVANT IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES THAN EVER
Author: Divyanshi Shukla, I Year of B.A.,LL.B from National Law Institute University (Bhopal).
“The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'atrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.”
- George Orwell
George Orwell, one of the personages of the dystopian literature, discussed the perils of totalitarianism in detail. Through his writing career, he argued fervently about totalitarianism and the perils associated. His noteworthiness is evident from the fact that even after 71 years of his death, no discussion on totalitarianism can take place without mentioning George Orwell and his views. The term Orwellian has become part of common parlance to describe a situation, idea or societal condition that is disastrous to the welfare of a free and open society. It has become a catchphrase for anything oppressive or totalitarianism.
George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four over the course of 73 years has achieved a status of poster child in dystopian literature. Nineteen Eighty-Four is the paradigmatic novel of the twentieth century it has been translated into over 65 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, cementing George Orwell’s place in world literature. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written in 1949, it describes the year ‘1984’ as a warning for future. The repercussions of totalitarianism, widespread monitoring, and harsh regimentation of people are central themes in George Orwell’s ninth and final book, Nineteen Eighty – Four.
Despite George Orwell’s support for politics as an essential tool for genuinely improving people’s lives, he was wary of politics’ apparent ability to erode or even eliminate sovereignty. Orwell’s apprehension about totalitarianism systems and ideologies serves as a common thread running through otherwise diverse novelistic interactions with politics. The forebodings of George Orwell have proven to be justified in light of contemporary situation. If power remains unchecked, the dystopian world as portrayed by Orwell could become reality as we are closer to that world than ever and with each instance of totalitarianism, mass surveillance, distortion of truth and advocacy of extreme political ideology, we are inching closer towards it. We live in a world of perpetual uncertainty. The terror of being monitored and controlled, and of suppression of dissenting views is all pervasive. The frightening parallels with present times characterise politicians and bureaucrats restricting freedom in actual world is worrying nowhere and never more often than in current times.
GEORGE ORWELL AS CRITIQUE OF TOTALITARIANISM IN LIGHT OF CONTEMPORARY SCENARIO IN INDIA AND THE WORLD
“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”
The bench comprising of the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli passed an order appointing a committee in the Pegasus issue and the decision is opened with the aforementioned quote from Nineteen Eighty – Four. It is pointed out that the petitions filed in the case raised “Orwellian” concern, the Supreme Court stated that its goal is to maintain the Constitutional values and rule of law without being consumed by “political rhetoric.” The court said, “the present batch of writ petitions, raise an Orwellian concern, about the alleged possibility of utilising modern technology to hear what you hear, see what you see and to know what you do.”
In contemporary times, parallels have been drawn between the subject matter of Nineteen Eighty – Four and real-life occurrences of inter alia totalitarianism, tyranny, mass monitoring, class distinction and extreme political ideologies. The term “Big Brother” has entered the lexicon in modern times as a euphemism for abuse of government power, mass surveillance, and totalitarianism. In the words of Italian essayist Umberto Eco, “at least three – quarters of what Orwell narrates is not negative utopia, but history.” Human instincts are caught in a tangle of attempting to control and attempting to be free from others. One must not overpower the other, and the absence of this delicate balance forms the basis of Nineteen Eighty – Four. In contemporary times, as pointed out by John Broich, “surveillance and political repression today is far more complex than in Orwell’s times and far more technologically sophisticated.” Big brother exists in many forms today, in Nineteen Eighty – Four, there is no evidence of existence of Big Brother rather Big Brother has status of a personality cult.
Although there is no evidence of existence of Big Brother, he monitors and controls every aspect of lives of people. We can relate to big brother even today as the Supreme Court pointed out in its judgement in Pegasus issue that Pegasus, a cyber- weapon is capable of hacking smartphones, retrieving its contents and activating the microphone and camera on the device. The court added that, “we make it clear that our effort is to uphold the constitutional aspirants and rule of law, without allowing ourselves to be consumed in the political rhetoric.” Today, technology has paved way for social media to record every online move, purchase and comment, cementing an ubiquitous presence in our life. To our utter dismay, dystopian fiction mastered by George Orwell has become a nightmarish reality.
“For Orwell, the horror of totalitarianism was not that someone would impose it on you, but rather that you might be all-too-prepared to submit.” – Scott Bradfield
As described by Orwell, in totalitarian States, truth gets distorted as to fit the purpose of the State. Reality is one’s perception and that seems really insignificant and unimportant. In Nineteen Eighty – Four, the party asks the citizens of Oceania to reject their feelings, thoughts and perceptions, and believe whatever the party manifests and. As a result of this propaganda and brainwashing, people can believe falsity and lies. According to George Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle”. In contemporary times, “fake news”, “alternative facts” and “propaganda” are norm. For instance, whether it was case of Farm bills, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the abrogation of Article 370, the lockdown, elections in the US or the Pegasus issue. Fake news and distortion of facts are ubiquitous. The motive behind these things is obvious to obfuscate the truth and overwhelm citizens so they cannot think prudently. Even media distorts facts, media is mirror of any society and how can a society work if its mirror is murky with dust of majoritarianism and propaganda. It is duty of media to reflect views of people, however, nowadays media suppress dissenting views. In current scenario, media has been greatly influenced by the government and corporatized by grub-staker. This is the situation Orwell was apprehensive about seventy years ago. In words of Arundhati Roy, “There is no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Doublethink in its absolute form rejects even the most basic of ideas such as two twos make a four. We cannot let the State control and manipulate our feelings and thoughts because if the State act as gatekeeper of information, ultimately people reject their views, the evidence of their eyes and ears and give it to the Party and what it says. In absolute totalitarian state of Oceania, as described by George Orwell, there was no room for rebel and resistance. It was assured by the Party that only possible loyalty was loyalty to the state. Power was all pervasive and unchecked. Winston pens down in his diary, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” Winston pointed out that even a minor twitch could result to arrest and sufficed to prove disloyalty. Any act that does not concur with the ideologies of the Party constitute thoughtcrime.
Parallels can be drawn between Oceania and our current situation. The repression of freedom of thought and expression, as well as, the use of language to obfuscate facts. Like the “Thinkpol” detected “Thoughtcrimes”, States today also detect “Thoughtcrime” and the accused are given the title of “anti – national”, “seditious” or a “tukde- tukde gang member.” Although, we are not close to what Orwell has described as a totalitarianism state with absolute control on lives of people, still we are inching closer towards that, the strategies adopted can result in a totalitarian State with extreme political ideologies and this might prove detrimental in development of individuals and society. We have come closer to Orwell’s dystopian totalitarianism world than we realise.
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS
“When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you are only telling the world that you fear what he might say.” – George RR Martin
George Orwell is unquestionably and undoubtedly one of the most influential and powerful writers of the 20th century. He has discussed. His noteworthiness is evident from the fact that even after 71 years of his death, no discussion on totalitarianism can take place without mentioning George Orwell and his views.
A sense of social justice, aversion to totalitarianism and advocacy of socialism are major themes of majority of his writings. He has left an unmistakable mark on dystopian and political literature.
Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is the paradigmatic novel of the twentieth century. It is basically about people struggling to hold onto the truth in garb of power and deception. Nineteen Eighty – Four, published in 1949, serves as a warning for the future regarding the dangers of totalitarian regime, that if the power remains unchecked and all pervasive, what our future would look like. Even after 71 years of his death, Orwell’s relevance is undeniable. Phrases like “big brother is watching you”, “war is peace”, “thoughtcrime”, “newspeak” etc. have cemented their place in common parlance. According to Lynskey, “The novel has acquired something of the smothering ubiquity of Big Brother himself.” The world today shares many a similarity with the fictional country in Nineteen Eighty – Four, Oceania. From mass surveillance, manipulation, concept of big brother, suppression of dissenting views to extreme political ideologies, we are closer to Orwell’s dystopian totalitarianism world than ever before. As described by Orwell, in totalitarian States, truth gets distorted as to fit the purpose of the State. Reality is one’s perception and that seems really insignificant and unimportant. “Fake news”, “alternative facts” and “propaganda” have become norm today. The world described by Orwell rings truer than ever and we are closer to it than we think.
“There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations” – James Madison
However, the dystopian world as imagined by George Orwell is still not reality, although, we are inching closer to it. If power is checked and dissenting views are as welcomed as assenting views, everyone’s views and dignity are respected and people are free to think clearly and prudently, we can still avoid the terrifying gloomy future that Orwell has portrayed. It is therefore need of the hour that we pay heed to warnings of Orwell to be watchful against totalitarianism and tyranny and to not be complacent against human will to dominate others and human spirit to oppose this dominance by the powerful. In John Adams’ words, “Liberty once lost is lost forever.”