Maybe he should have titled it “2016”

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Penguin UK, 2008, design by Shepard Fairey

Big Brother. Even if you haven’t read 1984 by George Orwell, you probably know what it means. Big Brother — the all-seeing, all-knowing, (not-God) entity that is ruler of all.

Orwell prophetically wrote this novel of negative utopia in 1949, describing life in 1984 as the removal of humanity from humans. There is Big Brother, the Inner and Outer Parties, and everyone else (the proletariat “proles”). Joy, love, hope, all are gone for everyone, even the elite. The proles “enjoy” a life with little oversight, but constant fear of random death.

1984 lives on almost every “must read” list. In the same genre as Brave New World which I read earlier this year, I enjoyed reading 1984 much more. Yes, it is extremely depressing, but despite the way that it ends, I felt an undercurrent of hope that was absent in BNW. Maybe I just wanted to see that hope.

But did Orwell predict the future? There are lots of cameras in public places (I am particularly fond, for some reason, of British crime dramas and their police calling for the tapes from CCTV). Have you ever been given a ticket from a traffic camera? Our computers certainly know everything about us which is a little disturbing. Seriously, does facebook have to pop up with ads showing that I have just looked at orthotic sandals? Geez.

What else did he predict? I’ll let Orwell tell you in his own words.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary … . [p. 62]

In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. [p. 129]

What is concerned here is not the morale of the masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. [p. 158]

It is absolutely necessary to their structure that there should be no contact with foreigners, …. … he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them is lies. The sealed world in which he lies would be broken, and the fear, hatred, and self-righteousness on which his morale depends might evaporate. [p. 162]

A party member is expected to have no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm. He is supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party. [p. 174]

Draw your own conclusions, but there are elements of truth in this book throughout our world today.

On a scale of 1 (the negative end) to 5 (it depends) to 10 (the positive end), my conclusion about 1984:

Readable: 9 (a page-turner in many chapters)

Enjoyable: 7

Does it deserve to be on “must read” reading lists: 10

Am I glad I read it: 10

Would I read it again: 5 (maybe)

Would I recommend it: 8

Score: 8.2

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