Is 1984 Safely Past?
AS 1984 DRAWS to a close, many Americans will breathe a sigh of relief. George Orwell was wrong, after all, they will think. The two-way spy telescreens which can’t be turned off are not yet in every home and office, the Junior Anti-Sex League is nowhere in sight; the first official Hate Week program has yet to be organized; Oceania is not at war with Eurasia. Things are still pretty much the same as last year. It looks like we escaped from Big Brother’s clutches.
Or did we? Certainly, the detailed scenario of governmental repression Orwell spelled out in his novel has not come to pass. But Ninety Eighty-four was not, at root, a book about governmental repression; it was about human stupidity, about bigotry, about blindness, about herd instinct. Orwell was no more trying to tell people what the world would like in 1984 than the author of The Turner Diaries is trying to predict precisely what will happen in the 1990s. Orwell was telling people what they were already like in 1948, when he wrote his book. And the events of the last 36 years have all gone to demonstrate what an accurate description of human nature he set down then.
The horrifying thing about Nineteen Eighty-four was not that Big Brother regimented the lives of people against their wills, and tortured and killed those who got even the slightest bit out of line; it was that people — nearly all of them — marched willingly to Big Brother’s tune. They were not being repressed; they repressed themselves. Big Brother did not control their thoughts; they gladly policed their own thoughts, ever vigilant for the least trace of unorthodoxy.
Is that the way most Americans behave today, or is it not?
In what fundamental way does the public adulation of Michael Jackson differ from the frenzied response of Winston Smith’s fellow workers in the Ministry of Truth to the daily Two Minutes Hate? The latter, of course, was government mandated, but has not the former been given the White House stamp of approval by Ronald Reagan? Jackson fans still have the option of turning off their private television receivers when their idol comes on — an option denied the citizens of Oceania, to be sure — but, in terms of the effect on public policy and on the spiritual environment, is that option really an advantage? Is voluntary degradation better for the soul than the involuntary kind?
Is a White population which has permitted itself to be conditioned to smile with approbation at every form of Black, Jewish, Asian, or other non-White exclusiveness or self-advocacy — at an Afro-American Employees Club or a Jewish Defense League, for example — and to frown disapprovingly at any equivalent White manifestation better off than a population conditioned to display expressions of adoration at the sound of the name “Big Brother”?
Is a government which denies parents the right to choose their children’s schoolmates, landlords the right to choose their tenants, businessmen the right to choose their customers, homeowners the right to choose their neighbors, and employers the right to choose their employees less oppressive than one which denies its citizens the right of political dissent?
When the board of education in a typical American community announces a “Martin Luther King Remembrance Week,” during which all public school students will receive an extra dose of equality propaganda and White guilt, do appreciably more White parents protest than would refuse to participate in a national birthday celebration for Big Brother in Orwell’s Oceania?
Are men who have the legal right to change their destiny, but who are too cowed by fear of disapproval to exercise that right, really freer than those who lack the right?
Certainly, more men and women in America today than in Orwell’s world of Nineteen Eighty-four are willing to grumble openly about the government, about the controlled media, about the social, racial, and cultural trends around them. But in a democracy, where the great bulk of the herd remains as fully submissive as Big Brother’s serfs, does the grumbling really matter? Might there not be more hope of rebellion, in fact, if the safety-valve of grumbling were absent?
In Oceania men could not rebel, for two reasons. First, the Thought Police were too powerful, too efficient, too well organized, too nearly omnipresent. Second, the people were enchained by their own fears, their own narrow-mindedness, their own compelling need to conform.
In America the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not yet have all of the powers of Orwell’s Thought Police; that state of affairs may not come about for another 10 or even 20 years. But the second reason why Big Brother could not be overthrown is fully as operative in America as in Oceania — and in Orwell’s eyes it was the more fundamental reason.
What Orwell really told us in Ninety Eighty-four is that the great mass of men, as long as they have food in their bellies and entertainment on their telescreens, will submit to any degradation, any humiliation, any oppression. Only a tiny minority will ever feel the inclination to rebel.
The only significant difference, then, between Oceania and America is that in America that tiny minority is still free to grumble — and the possibilities for action are not yet quite so limited as in Oceania. That’s not much, but it’s all we have, and so we had better take advantage of it wisely, boldly — and soon.
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Source: National Vanguard magazine, no. 102, December 1984, pp. 2–3; transcribed by Anthony Collins
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