George Orwell’s novel 1984 introduced a dystopian 1984 where three totalitarian superstates govern over the world. The dystopian world in the novel 1984 is a result of atomic bombings during a World War. Near the end of the war, the surviving nations began to create unions which eventually became the three superstates of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. The novel focused on the life of Winston Smith who lives in Oceania. George Orwell wrote the novel in 1949 which was a few years after World War II and intended it as a fictional dystopian future. Orwell used the novel to present his pessimistic predictions of the future. Despite the novel’s fictional genre, it contains ideas and events that are synonymous with the current world. In particular, 1984’s portrayal of the loss of individuality and the manipulation of the higher class directly reflects the world today.
In the novel 1984, Oceania is in constant war against the other superstates. Since the establishment of Oceania, the citizens have witnessed an ongoing war. The other superstates would often launch missiles into Oceania territory and kill their citizens. Ingsoc and the Party, which are the governing ideas and bodies of Oceania, would assure their citizens that they are trying to win the war. However, the novel later revealed that the superstates are in an implied agreement to prolong the war. Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia use the war as an excuse to spend military resources and keep their citizen’s loyalty.
Some parts of the world today are also under an endless war. Central governments continue to fight against violent and destructive groups. For example, the U.S. government sent its military troops to capture Iraq President Saddam Hussein and confiscate any weapons that can harm the public (Rodden 2014). Despite this victory, the U.S. continues to engage in armed conflict against Iraq and Syria. Saddam Hussein was just one of the many radical leaders of terror groups. The U.S. believes that Iraq and Syria hide other terror groups like ISIS and the Assad Regime. Aside from this constant conflict, North Korea has also shown hostility and has sent threats to the U.S. government. The U.S. government has begun to train more soldiers to prepare for any North Korean terror attacks (Colebatch 2017). Similar to the novel 1984, nations tend to prolong conflicts for their benefit or to protect their country.
One of the defining aspects of the world of 1984 was the surveillance system of Ingsoc. The Party installed telescreens and hidden microphones in the streets of Oceania. The telescreens are present inside homes, buildings, and on the streets of Oceania. There are also microphones that the Party hides in bushes, trees, and other subtle places. Ingsoc can see and hear every action of its citizens. In the novel, Winston and Julia would check trees and bushes for hidden microphones whenever they meet. However, the Thought Police eventually found them when they began to use a particular hideout. Aside from the telescreens and microphones, a member of the Thought Police disguised himself as an old man that Winston trusted. This showed the extent of Ingsoc’s surveillance state and how they oversee their citizens.
In today’s world, some institutions also employ an extensive surveillance system to watch over individuals. The social impact of the Internet has provided these institutions the opportunity to subtly survey citizens. Most individuals have entered their personal information online. Websites like Facebook and Instagram collect user data and often use these to direct targeted advertising to customers. There are also reports that smartphones listen and record conversations outside of phone calls (Komando 2019). Smartphone users may find that there will be advertisements about a particular subject on their social media accounts after talking about the product or service.
Due to the strict surveillance system in 1984, the citizens of Oceania have lost their individuality. Ingsoc divided Oceania’s citizens into the Inner Party, Outer Party, and the Proles. Ingsoc uses the figurehead Big Brother as the leader of the Party. The class divide made the citizens refer to one another as either Party members or Proles. The Party also manipulates facts to coincide with their truth. This manipulation allowed Ingsoc and the Party to remain as the authoritative bodies of Oceania. The novel portrays the loss of individualism through the citizen’s quick acceptance of falsified truth. An example of this is when the Party mentioned that Oceania is at war against Eastasia. The citizens were previously aware that Eastasia was their ally and that Eurasia was the enemy. However, the citizens quickly agreed without question that Eastasia has always been the enemy.
The loss of individuality and misinformation is another issue that the current world faces. Individuals have put great importance on their image on social media. People attempt to strictly follow trends and fit into a group. Individuals prefer to call themselves “vegans”, “feminists”, “pro-life”, “anti-vaxxer”, “boomers”, “millennials”, and other terms. They focus on defining themselves as a member of a group rather than an individual. Similar to the citizens of Oceania who praise Big Brother, most individuals today are afraid of individuality since they rely on other’s affirmations.
Coinciding with the loss of individuality is misinformation. As stated above, the Party often rewrites facts to align with Ingsoc’s truth. A person’s loss of individuality will often lead them to easily accept new information as the truth. An example of this would be anti-vaxxers who will spread or share fake news regarding vaccines. One study even showed that ten percent of their respondent shared misinformation online despite being aware that they were fake news (Watson 2021). People who have lost their individuality often try to prove the authenticity of their newfound group. This may cause them to share misinformation to prove that their ideas are valid.
There has also been misinformation in higher public organizations. Some churches use their influence to spread misinformation and harmful ideals. Some politicians attempt to discredit climate change and tell the public that the fact is untrue. The Indian government even claimed that cows breathe out oxygen and as a result are not contributors to global warming (Blakinger 2016). The purpose of some of this propaganda is always to narrow the level of human consciousness, control the range of thinking, and confuse conscience. However, some of these individuals may be victims of misinformation and indoctrination, similar to the Proles in 1984.
The Party’s manipulation also affected the language of Oceania. Ingsoc developed the Newspeak language to limit the thinking capabilities of their citizens. Newspeak is a shortened version of the English language. The new language uses minimum words to convey a message. For example, the term English Socialism became ”Ingsoc” and Ministry of Truth became “Minitrue”. Newspeak also creates new words to avoid anti-Ingsoc ideas. The language developed words like “thoughtcrime”, “unperson”, and “plusgood”. These words ensure that the citizens do not use words like “thinking”, “dead” and “better”.
Ingsoc also developed the idea of doublethink. Doublethink is where an idea carries two contrasting meanings, however, an individual will believe that both ideas are true. The novel portrayed doublethink multiple times including in Ingsoc’s slogan: WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” (Orwell, 1990: 34). The slogan conveys the message that war is synonymous with peace. Here, the Party wanted their citizens to know that the constant war is normal and will eventually lead to peace. Alternatively, they also preach that peace will eventually lead to war. Another good example of doublethink is when the Party claimed that they invented the airplane. Some of the people of Oceania were aware that airplanes existed before the war. However, Ingsoc manipulated documents to make it seem that it was them who invented the airplane. The people of Oceania accepted the fact despite their awareness of the contrary.
The world today has its own version of Newspeak. Individuals often use shortened versions of words when texting or sending messages. Some groups of people even use symbols or “emojis” to convey specific messages. While the government did not create this form of communication for mass manipulation, individuals may develop inferior grammar or communication skills that will limit their ability to think. Political euphemism and correctness are another aspect of communication that is similar to Newspeak. Society refers to wealthy people who take advantage of the poor as “job creators”. They also refer to Nidal Hasan’s massacre of 13 Army soldiers in 2009 as “workplace violence.” People use these “slangs” and “terms” to make cruel realities appear to be accidental or acceptable in the eyes of the common people (Gopnik 2017). This is similar to how Ingsoc created the word “unperson” as an alternative to “dead”. They invented terms to control how the Proles will think and communicate.
The Proles in 1984 is the lower class and the majority of the population. The Party has made sure that the Proles are uneducated and loyal to Ingsoc. The Proles are the common citizens who work blue-collar jobs and live in the slums of Oceania. Bombs from the opposing superstates regularly hit the area where the Proles live. The bombs often kill some of the Proles, however, the Party does not do anything to help or support the lower class. To the Party, the Proles are like wild animals and insects. Most Inner and Outer Party members avoid having contact with the Proles. Despite this, Winston was aware that the Proles’ population can change Oceania and oppose the Party. However, ideas like Newspeak and other Ingsoc propaganda ensure that the Proles will remain incompetent.
There is also a class divide in the world today. There is the higher class, middle class, and lower class. Similar to 1984, the higher class has authority over most of a country’s resources. The higher class involves powerful businessmen, politicians, and world leaders. The middle class is similar to the Outer Party. They have a decent life with regular work and education. The lower class are like the Proles, they tend to be uneducated due to poverty and are often the victims of societal conflicts. Ingsoc’s manipulation of the Proles is similar to how television shows like the Kardashians and Miss USA distract the common people from important social issues (Blakinger 2016). Most youth today follow the lifestyles of famous individuals (Rodden 2014). They focus more on trivial matters instead of helping address relevant issues. This is an apparent similarity between the common people and the Proles in 1984.
1984 was George Orwell’s vision of a dystopian future under totalitarian rule. Orwell wrote the novel to show the horrors of a totalitarian government that has full authority over its citizens. Even in 2021, the ideas and events in 1984 prove to be significant. There are many similarities between today’s world and the society of Oceania. Both experience endless conflicts for the achievement of a particular goal. 1984 and the world today have surveillance systems that subtly listen and observe people’s actions. Society, similar to Ingsoc, promotes misinformation and the loss of individuality through language and ideologies. The class system is also present in both Oceania and the current world. 1984’s portrayal of the loss of individuality and the manipulation of the higher class directly reflects the world today.
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Colebatch, H. G. 2017. The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Chesterton for Today. News Weekly, (2993), 15. Accessed: 11 August 2021.
Gopnik, A. 2017. Orwell’s 1984 and Trump’s America. The New Yorker. Accessed: 12 August 2021. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/orwells-1984-and-trumps-america
Komando, K. 2019. You’re not paranoid. Your phone really is listening in. Fox News. Accessed: 11 Aug 2021. https://www.foxnews.com/tech/youre-not-paranoid-your-phone-really-is-listening-in.
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Rodden, J. 2014. Introduction, or Orwell Into the Twenty-First Century. The Midwest Quarterly, 56(1), 5-26. Accessed: 11 August 2021.
Watson, A. 2021. Statistics and Facts about Fake News in the U.S. Statista. Accessed: 12 August 2021. https://www.statista.com/topics/3251/fake-news/