NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR AND “BIG BROTHER” (part 2)

The first part of this article addressed different aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four such as the organization of its proposed future dystopia, the structure of the regime of Ingsoc in Oceania, the ultimate goal and ideology of the Party and the usefulness of maintaining a never-ending war. This second part will be about the mind control and brainwashing techniques used by the regime, the tragic and sad personal odyssey experienced by the main character of the book, Mr Winston, the historical fiction through which this proposed and malevolent universe had been created, and some of the many references to real world Orwell detached in what is surely his magnum opus.

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(Read the first part of this article here)

 

Mind control techniques

“There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power” it is stated on the novel: “Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented middle group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern.” The first two possible causes would be solved thanks to the “perpetual war” and the other two would be fixed with proper and constant indoctrination and mind control. That is the reason, therefore, for the enormous commitment shown by the Party to mentally control and brainwash absolutely each and every one of its members.

In addition to an absolute control over emotions, sexuality, privacy or family life, indoctrination and constant repression, the mere appearance of any subversive attitude is avoided even before it rears into consciousness through a mental discipline called “thoughtcrime”, the ability to stop any potentially hazardous thought. In the book this ability is described even as a kind of “protective stupidity”, a will to always follow the orthodoxy of Party´s ideology by not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. This pursues a voluntary surrender by the individual who will be able to profess love only towards the Party and its great leader. The obsession with mind control is such that the regime does not limit itself to eliminate any possible dissention: the Party feels the necessity of educating and breaking its internal rebels, even if it is going to physically remove them right after. This means it does not allow deviation even at the moment of death, and the mere existence of rebellious people is only allowed because, by smashing them, the Party can defeat its opposition again and again.

To this end, the Party also operates its very particular dialectics, a sort of speech and a peculiar terminology, which although not without an irony obviously introduced by the author of the book, also have their own sense. So, are slogans phrases like “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength”, and likewise the names and functions of the various ministries can be explained. The best example of this is the so-called “newspeak,” a new version of English designed to redirect the thinking and eliminate any vocabulary of undesirable effect that could lead to committing “thoughtcrimes.” Although at the time when the action happens “newspeak” is still being implemented, it is said the regime of Oceania is expected to completely replace the “old English” (or “oldspeak”) by 2050. Examples of “newspeak” are, for example, terms like “bellyfeel” for a blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea coming from the Party; “crimethink” to refer to the “thoughtcrimes”; “goodsex” and “sexcrime” for those forms of sex considered acceptable or not by the Party; “ownlife” to emphasize the negative aspects of individualism; or “doublethink”, the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct for the sake of the Party´s ideology.

The one in charge of wielding repression on the minds and bodies of their people is the “thought police”, an organization which pursues crimes of thought (the aforementioned “thoughtcrime” or “crimethink”), considering them the most serious crime that could be committed within the Ingsoc. This body constantly examines citizens, from birth to death, at all times, particularly focusing on Party members, this while being deliberately negligent towards the “proles” as they are seen as devoid of intellect or will, having little concerned towards issues such as common crime or anything that does not directly interfere with the regime. “Thought police” conducts listening activities without respecting individual privacy placing “telescreens” and microphones everywhere, even in private homes, regulating relationships and marriage, suppressing sexuality, inciting members of a family circle to monitor and, if necessary, denounce their own relatives and, when necessary, arresting any fractious subjects, torturing and rehabilitating them, applying death and, for the most serious cases, placing them within “room 101”, an area specially designed to completely break the will of any individual.

Another Party mechanism is memory control, a technique which is applied by constantly manipulating publications and historical documents not only to fill them with propaganda, but in order to shape and change history in a retroactive way deleting from the official records any member fallen into disgrace, for example, or claiming that Oceania has always been at war with a certain power when, in fact, has recently changed sides betraying its former ally. This memory control would be useful even to steal from the executed people their potential status of martyrs, because by deleting any trace or record of their existence the possibility of any claim from posterity would not even exist, becoming those who have been executed “vaporized” people, or according to the regime´s “newspeak”, “unpersons”.

(“Who controls the past controls the future”, 1984, film by Michael Radford)

 

Winston Smith, editor at the Ministry of Truth

The story of Nineteen Eighty-Four focuses specifically on Winston Smith, a middle-aged man living in what remains of the city of London, a doomed place regularly subjected to bombardment by the enemies of Oceania. The protagonist lives in a small apartment with a “telescreen” and is employed as an editor in the Ministry of Truth. There, Smith is fully aware of the existing lies, propaganda and manipulation techniques by receiving daily reports about the “newspeak” or instructions and directives about how to retouch certain documents or publications in order to remove records about recently out casted Party members or changes happened in international alliances which feeds the aforementioned “perpetual war”.

This being the case, Winston´s faith in the system is not as strong as it could be, and due to a series of chance events he ends up having an affair with the young Julia, a dissident. Also, in his workplace he contacts O’Brien, a member of the “inner Party” holding a senior position within the Ministry and who, however, seems to oppose it. At some point O’Brien intimates with Winston and reveals himself as member of a clandestine opposition group known as the “Brotherhood”. Winston then visits his home together with Julia, and after having a brief meeting both enlist. Moreover, thanks to the attention of his new friend, Winston begins to read the book of Goldstein, a former Party member long ago fallen into disgrace, demonized, reviled and publicly persecuted, whose pages will enlighten him on the hidden realities of the world where he lives.

Unfortunately, both the book and the brotherhood happen to be a regime´s mechanism of controlled dissent, and the couple, having been watched almost from the beginning, are detained and tortured within the Ministry of Love, entering even the dreaded “room 101 “where O’Brien himself breaks Winston’s will to the point that makes him accept whatever the Party wants, even things which look contrary to logic or common sense, as the nowadays famous statement “2+ 2 = 5”.

Upon leaving, Winston is indeed broken and unable to feel any kind of affection for anyone, including Julia herself, to whom he shortly meet on the street, being neither he nor she capable of any human emotion or even of speaking to each other. Alienated, without any will or judgment, Winston has even accepted his more than likely and imminent disappearance, knowing that after his obliteration there will be no sign, evidence, memory, or even friends. All he can sincerely feel, in the end, is worship by “big brother”, his great and now beloved leader.

(The moment in which Winston’s will breaks. 1984, film by Michael Radford)

 

The road that might take us there

Almost every explanation for Nineteen Eighty-Four universe, except for what Winston directly observes during his daily routine and his job at the Ministry of Truth, comes after reading the book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by the officially declared deviant and previous member of the Party Emmanuel Goldstein. It is in its pages where the division of the world between the three “superstates” is fully explained, as well as the concept of “perpetual war” and its usefulness, and where the philosophy of Ingsoc is deeply analysed. From the main character´s environment only the ubiquitous Party propaganda can arrive. It is only at the end, while being tortured, that O’Brien decides to reveal Winston some occasional harsh facts about the system, some truths he will disclose as cynically as brutally, in order to break his mental resistance.

The construction of the nightmarish world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, mainly according to Goldstein’s book, would have taken place after a particular analysis both of sociology and history and a huge and ruthless determination to build a strongly hierarchical society: the first theoretical concept alludes to the vision of humanity divided into three different groups: “high”, “medium” and “low”, a scheme of three classes of confronted interests that would have replicated in different forms throughout history. “High” (ruling class) always pretends that nothing moves in order to perpetuate its privileges. “Medium” (the emerging class) tries to evolve their position to become “high”. The purpose of “low” (low or oppressed classes, usually majority in number), is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men are equal, this when it has objectives, because by being constantly fighting for survival this class barely has the time to develop its own political consciousness.

The subsequent process always goes as follows: “Medium” would be able, at some point, to beat “high” allying with “low”. Immediately after this victory it abandons “low” to become the new “high”, although some part of their own group creates a new “medium” that will arise future problems. “Low”, meanwhile, never reaches its objective, nor even temporarily, and remains “low” as it has always been.

Throughout history the obvious function of “high” would be to uphold the social and hierarchical order, but “medium” in its efforts to subvert it, would raise the banners of “equality” and ” freedom”. However, various ideologies appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century (this is Fascism, Stalinism or Nazism) progressively abandoning all social utopias and openly accepting eternal inequality, ending the inherent hypocrisy in beginning by promising things and ending by establishing a tyranny, and vindicating, from the very beginning of their struggle, their own tyranny.

This is where a paradox arises, however: while coming to a historical moment in which scholars are already aware of the social pendulum between dominant and dominated, and while some political movements start advocating directly and plainly a form of tyranny, technological and productive development of humanity has finally made material equality possible for the first time, since new levels of production allows the existence of a well-nourished world population. In Goldstein’s book is mentioned, in fact, that world before World War I was richer than that of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and that at that time a social, scientific and technological development envisaged optimism. However, according to the plan made by those new ideologies of the early twentieth century the rise of living standards threatens a hierarchical social scheme based on oppressing a poor and downtrodden mass, making it undesirable. To this end, Goldstein´s book mentions that during 30s, and in order to conveniently address this problem, leaders of some nations tried to stop their economies letting them to paralyze, but since such a measure was viewed as unnecessary considering there were no wars, due to the strong social unrest and protests that followed, and due to the military disadvantage it produced it soon became unfeasible.

During 40s first authoritarian political regimes came to live (again a reference, without specifically citing them, to Mussolini’s Italy, Third Reich or Stalin’s Soviet Union), and within them a new aristocracy emerged, formed mostly by bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade unionists, advertising specialists, sociologists, educators, journalists and professional politicians. Then (and here the futuristic approach of the novel begins) World War II is mentioned, which was followed by a series of conflicts, national wars, civil wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions, and even a nuclear war during the 50s which affected mainly European Russia, Western Europe and North America. These conflicts have helped slow down progress and destroy many of the technological and social achievements of the past years.

In the 60s (and already fully immersed in the futuristic guess of the book) a revolution within many major nations would have taken place under the pretext of pursuing socialism. However, the new ruling class this time had a plan thoroughly thought: First they repeated the traditional hierarchical organization of society but through collectivization, knowing that only in a collectivized world total domain was possible, a world in which the ruling class, individually, would not possess anything, but where it would possess everything collectively. In addition to this, and in order to solve the problem of keeping up the wheels of industry without increasing the real wealth of population, it was concluded that goods were to continue being produced but not distributed, for which the best remedy was undoubtedly squander almost all them in an endless war.

The three “superstates” might have emerged about 25 years before the date on which Goldstein´s book was written. By Russia absorbing Europe Eurasia emerged, by the United States absorbing the British Empire emerged Oceania, and after several years of confusing struggles Eastasia was born. The war between these three superpowers had been going on continuously since then, and so we would finally arrive to witness poor Winston´s misadventures.

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Nazi uniforms and Trotsky´s fall of disgrace

Orwell makes several references towards real elements of his time: the cult of personality for Stalin, for example, is the same that the one dedicated to “big brother”; Goldstein figure is inspired by Trotsky; and the practice of rewriting history echoes real facts occurred within the USSR. The habit of the three “superstates” to create and break alliances is based on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed between USSR and Nazi Germany and its subsequent violation when Germany launched Operation Barbarossa. The word Ingsoc is a corruption of “Inglés Socialism”. Even the black uniform of the members of the “inner Party” is based on the German SS, while the blue uniform worn by members of the “outer Party” is based on the Spanish Falange.

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A violent and brutal version of totalitarianism

Nineteen Eighty-Four is, therefore, a perfect example of the most brutal totalitarianism, a regime that acts by force and rules without mercy, by extreme violence. Whether by watching the sad reality of Winston´s daily life, diving into the revelations given by Goldstein’s book, or listening to the words of a brutally cynical and sincere O’Brien, the book seems to give no oxygen to breath, no space free from the sinister influence of the evil Party, which creates some despair on the reader. Even the smallest hint of rebellion, hope and freedom is crushed, and defeat of the will of the individual is complete, as complete is Party’s domain over its citizens.

Such a world, though alarming, causes also a frontal and sincere rejection in its overall audience. The general feeling of the reader is that, perhaps, if things were bad enough in the future, such a universe could eventually exist someday, but for almost everyone who reads the novel such a perspective is undesirable, rejecting it outright, unreservedly, even instinctively.

There are, however, much more subtle ways of totalitarianism, more attractive ways, which fulfil their task way more pleasantly, making use of more effective tools and methods, and that is what next article will be about: Brave New World. In this novel we will witness a universe called “happy” with some irony, true, but that does not fail to be truly happy in its own sinister way. Here there will be no impositions or violence, but everyone willingly accepting their social order. In that case, the question is: how could anyone reject that? Or even more: Would I, myself, oppose it, would I know how to oppose it, or would I be as “happy” as everyone else?

(Two minutes of Hate. 1984, film by Michael Radford)

(lee este artículo en español aquí)

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One response to “NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR AND “BIG BROTHER” (part 2)

  1. Pingback: Nineteen Eighty-Four and “Big Brother” | marcosmarconius·

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