Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: 1984

1984 1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I missed the 2013 revitalization of this novel when everyone and their mother was picking this old classic up under the wake of the NSA leaks, but I put it on my to-read list determined to get around to it at some point.

And damn am I glad I did.

1984 follows a middle-aged man named Winston through a dystopian world of extreme totalitarianism. The government controls absolutely everything and monitors its people to prevent any of them from revolting against the Party in control. And by control everything, I do mean everything. They even re-write the past to suit their efforts.

Before I get to the lessons in this book, which surely everyone is mostly interested in, I want to address the novel's storytelling, world building, and pacing. I just want to state that all three were fantastic, with the world building being especially deep and detailed. Orwell did a fantastic job of paying attention to all the finer points of living in such a society he imagined that I had no troubles at all immersing myself in this man-made hell. Really excellent stuff and it helped me to get into the story and see the messages he was trying to send.

Mostly, 1984 is a warning about power, particularly the power of thought. The government in 1984 is aware of how dangerous it is for people to think independently and so actively tries to control thoughts and actions, going so far as to dumb down speech so that people will one day be incapable of expressing revolution. It's truly ingeniously wicked stuff, though, as the Soviet Union proved, doomed to fail in a real world application. Despite this, many parallels in our own society can be drawn and lessons can be learned. In particular, I saw a lot of examples with organized religion. Thought police sound a lot like the religious police of the Middle East these days, and of course the NSA seems less like a tool to stop terrorism and more like a weapon to silence those who disagree with the government.

SPOILERS: I want to take a moment to address the fact that 1984 doesn't offer a point of view we haven't heard before. There's the movie Enemy of the State and V for Vendetta for example, but 1984 is particularly interesting because the protagonists lose. The government is not overthrown, the people are successfully controlled, and although the novel doesn't mention it, one day the sun expands and swallows earth whole and all of humanity perishes because of the pursuit of power over itself.

But do I think any of this will happen? No. Not so long as the internet remains a free and open platform for speech, 1984 will always remain a work of fiction. Knowledge and communication are the great unifiers or our time, allowing anyone to instantly connect and talked with people all over and learn things they might never have known. The internet is the ultimate free speech platform and should remain that way. Thanks to the internet, humanity has become aware of how ignorant it is and is slowly working to change that. Some governments, in response, have attempted to control the internet such as Russia's recent banning and then un-banning of wikipedia and reddit so long as the two websites agree to censor their data. Terrible stuff, and I fear we have a great battle ahead of us that I only hope we can reign over.

But I'm totally getting off subject here. Damn 1984 book, making me think! Anwyay, yeah, read this book if you haven't yet. It's some intoxicating stuff!

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