George Orwell’s 1984 is a claustrophobic fable of totalitarianism. First published in 1949, 1984 is a fictional novel that shows what the world would be like if the government overextended its powers and controlled every facet of its citizens’ lives through manipulation of language and constant surveillance.
One of 1984’s main themes is that of perpetual war, how it can be used to control people through fear of the “Other”, and the concept of taking away freedoms under the guise of keeping its citizens safe. In 1984 the government of Oceania uses the threat of war to pass restrictive laws and abolish freedoms to make its people easier to control.
With the American people fearing another terrorist attack after the 9/11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center, our government was able to use the peoples’ fear to pass a large number of draconian laws that increased spying on American citizens under the illusion of keeping them safe. The most damaging of these laws was the Patriot Act, passed in 2001, which allowed the government to apply surveillance to the metadata of all American citizens and not just the data of suspected terrorists.
The use of the word “Patriot” implied patriotism and values and something good for this nation. Not to agree with what the government was doing implied that you hated America and wished terrorists to win, even though the Patriot Act does not express the values that America was founded upon — freedom and liberty for all.
Six years later, in 2007, the NSA (National Security Agency) launched the “PRISM” program, a clandestine anti-terrorism mass electronic surveillance data mining program.
While the PRISM program (Personal Record Information System Methodology) utilizes extensive data mining efforts to collect information and analyze that data for patterns of terrorist or other potential criminal activity, it also captures the private data of citizens who are not suspected of any connection to terrorism or any wrongdoing, permitting government to collect user data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and others.
It is not widely known, or consumers just don’t care, that social media is collecting our every gesture, purchase and comment we make online as an omniscient presence in our lives, that can predict our every preference. Modeled on consumer choices, where the user is the commodity that is being marketed, the harvesting of those preferences for political campaigns is now distorting democracy. Google recently admitted to election meddling to prevent Trump from winning in 2020.
Newspeak as a weapon of mind control and abuse
Another horror in Orwell’s dystopia was the systematic stripping of meaning out of language. Its real enemy was reality. Orwell believed that totalitarianism and the corruption of language were connected, for tyrannies attempt to make understanding the real world impossible, seeking to replace it with phantoms and lies. As language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating, it is a weapon of mind control and abuse if centralized in a political agency.
Newspeak was a fictional or artificial language of Oceania in 1984. Its purpose was to fulfill the ideological demands of Ingsoc. At the end of the novel there is an appendix on “Newspeak”, the artificial language invented and, by degrees, imposed by the Party to limit the capacity to express or even think “unorthodox” thoughts. Newspeak does this partly by the invention of New Words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meetings whatsoever. The Newspeak term for the existing English language was Oldspeak.
Newspeak can be observed in the following ways:
- When a group tries to replace a word/phrase that is politically unsuitable (e.g. “civilian casualties”) or offensive (e.g. “murder”) with a politically correct or inoffensive one (e.g. “collateral damage”).
- When the term “estate tax” was replaced by the “death tax.” A similar effect may be observed in the abortion debates where those advocating restrictions on abortion label themselves “pro-life,” leaving their opponents presumably “anti-life.” Conversely, those advocating greater availability of abortion call themselves “pro-choice,” and the opposition “anti-choice,” to engender similarly positive emotions.
- When there is an overuse of abbreviations, especially the use of acronyms like “Ofcom,” “AIDS,” “OPEC” and “NAFTA,” which can be pronounced as if they were proper words. Acronyms contain less information than the full term and tend not to trigger spontaneous associations, making them ambiguous and therefore vulnerable to misuse.
- When an illegal immigrant is now just an immigrant who should be welcomed with open arms into this nation.
- When climate change, whatever the weather, is blamed on man, when many are cyclical in nature and are influenced by natural factors outside the realm of man.
First Amendment shift
A shift is taking place in the courts, especially the Supreme Court level, as to the Freedom of Religion clause in the First Amendment. Although the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was the most significant law to protect religious liberty since the adoption of the First Amendment, and was intended to prevent other federal laws from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion, there are some who want restrictions placed on others but not on themselves. Introduced by Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on March 11, 1993, RFRA was passed by a unanimous U.S. House and a near unanimous U.S. Senate with three dissenting votes.
With attitudes shifting in the legal academy, a growing body of scholarship contends that the First Amendment is too favorable toward faith. Accordingly, there is now an interest in putting limits on the free exercise of religion as set forth in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The ten top religious liberty stories of 2018 did signal a marked shift away from the careful balance of concerns at the heart of America’s religious liberty heritage. In both court rulings and government policy, Free Exercise arguments continue to dislodge Establishment Clause principles to create an uneven and uneasy relationship between the Constitution’s twin pillars of religious liberty.
In the Supreme Court ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case the central question was left unanswered, whether Jack Phillips, the owner of a custom cake design store, had to provide a custom cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding celebration to comply with Colorado law prohibiting businesses from denying service on the basis of sexual orientation.
Instead of resolving that issue, the Supreme Court focused on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s administration of the complaint against Phillips. Because members of the Commission, the Court found, exhibited hostility toward Phillips’ faith while considering his request for accommodation, their decision amounted to religious discrimination and was invalid. Because of the narrow basis for the decision, the fundamental question surrounding the relationship between nondiscrimination laws and free exercise accommodation remains unanswered.
In deciding the right for gays to marry in 2015, Justice Anthony Kennedy gave his assurance in Obergefell v. Hodges that the faithful may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same sex marriage should not be condoned. It was said at the time that the decision was not going to end well, which has resulted in the unfair treatment of the free exercise of religious clause in the four years since the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Not so with President Obama, who said we must go out and educate our friends because this is the only right to think –NewSpeak in contrast to OldSpeak.
Politically the left suggests it’s incorrect to be against gay marriage or the transgender movement that is sweeping this nation. Both strongly lobby for their causes, but the transgender lobby is promoting that body altering drugs be used on vulnerable children as a cure-all solution for confused adolescents, at a time when doctors are even hesitating to giving estrogen to post-menopausal women because of risk.
George Orwell’s most famous novel was a warning against totalitarian governments. It’s all the more relevant now than when it was written. The 2020 elections will decide the direction of this nation.