The intro is a bit dated cause the text appeared on 27. May 2018.
With the disappearance of Tommy Robinson behind bars the question of a return of totalitarianism arises again. According to Fox News the judge has divvied out a gag order on the case until the trial is over. Multiple newspapers have stopped reporting. But this is not even plausible because Robinson was serving a suspended jail sentence from a previous case and he was merely found in violation of its terms. There is no court decision to wait for before resuming reporting. The fact that the media is gagging itself upon the mere rumor of a gag order tells you all you need to know about their supposed independence.
There are also other nations where people disappear and nobody is able to talk about them. The biggest one is the People’s Republic of China. The socialist country prides itself with a modern legal system that – on the surface – looks as if it would fulfill the standards of Western nations.
It is the surface. And even the surface looks ugly. The number of death penalties are so high that the government runs execution vans, cars that roam the country to take out delinquents. Under the surface there is a secret penalty system. Nobody knows how vast the system is, how many people are kept, and how they get back to life after the captivity. Rumors of organ harvesting are abundant. Depraved businessmen and political elites alike claim that China has become “open” or “capitalist” only because the Chinese would glue together some dolls for a dime. I have little to say to them.
I correct myself, maybe I have. They show the ill of our times, the inability of some to recognize totalitarianism when they see it. After Donald Trump was elected some artists and newspapers tried to smear him with the attempt to link him somehow to George Orwell’s 1984. Trump had criticized left-wing news outlet CNN and that reminds of …eh… something in 1984. They urged theater visitors and readers to get a copy of the novel and find associations to the Trump administration.
It is the result of our humanities education that we learn to make up the most ludicrous links between whoever the opponent is to either the Nazis or some other darkish, dangerous entity. Most art and literature classes instill the notion that we can abandon what was actually meant by an author in favor of what the teacher wants to hear.
As a result 1984 is often just something darkish. The details that describe the world how it really is, the world George Orwell observed, are blurred. But the misconception that Orwell just wrote something darkish is as old as the book itself.
Aldous Huxley received a free copy of the novel and replied in a letter to Orwell that his vision of the future were more realistic and that the powerful would become more benevolent.
Orwell did not respond. I believe, he realised that Huxley did not understand his novel. 1984 was not about the future. It was about the present. The author fought in the Spanish civil war and experienced first hand how socialists turned around against their own peers to create a short-lived, local totalitarian regime. The only prediction 1984 makes is the internet, the screen that sees you and lets you see. The prosperity Huxley describes, if it ever came into being, is merely a phase, an inertia from the past, that would crumble under a dictatorship after a while.
But 1984 was not an antithesis to Brave New World. Huxley might have written a sci-fi novel, but Orwell wanted to write a warning. Huxley departs from reality to let the speculation materialize in a specific vision, Orwell departs from reality to avoid tribal folks abusing his work to only point their fingers against the political opponent. He wanted to force them to think about the concepts of dictatorship itself and on their own.
In his letter to Orwell, Huxley says that he does not believe in the picture of the boot that would stomp on a face forever. He predicted correctly that measurements would change to some degree.
The late GDR (socialist East Germany) hardly imprisoned or killed people. They tried to force people into submission or suicide with a system called zersetzung. They did not use drugs as predicted by Huxley, but future systems are likely to do that, too. But there is a concept that Huxley did not understand and that Orwell tried to get across unsuccessfully: People do love Big Brother. Really. And they love him not despite, but because he is evil. This is a disturbing observation and I must admit that I did not understand it myself when I read the novel for the first time.
Neither is 1984 particularly darkish, nor is Brave New World blindingly bright. People in 1984 do love their lives, sing the trashy songs, watch the wars as sadistic porn, rejoice the “minute of hate” with their comrades. This is the reality. It is not some darkish future. At one point the protagonist Winston Smith looks at the proles with their lotteries and vanity and thinks that they will never rise up, no matter how worthless their downtrodden lives are.
Both George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were socialists to some extend. Back in the day, it was the ubiquitous mindset. It is a myth that the ideas which we now call conservatism and which were once called liberalism were prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. Orwell believed that the economy would falter. He followed Marx’s theory in as much as he would expect “capitalism” to fall for economic reasons. Huxley bought into the Frankfurt School that claimed going to a market would distract you from actual problems. The Frankfurt School was very successful with this obsurdity and the belief is voiced by many people across the political spectrum all around the world.
Huxley’s big contribution was his warning that we should take into account the scientific findings that will be used by those who want to control the minds of the masses. If we only look at the dictatorships of the past and present, we will be unarmed to save us against their tools in the future. Will the world be like Orwell’s or like Huxley’s prediction? The answer is ‘yes’. It will be a lot like both.