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Thursday, June 13, 2013

George Orwell Resurgence - Those of Us Forewarned were Forearmed

“The best books... are those that tell you what you know already.”
George Orwell, 1984

Those of us who read George Orwell's now classic novel about the future (written in late 1940s) are not really surprised about the extent of electronic surveillance in our everyday lives.  We were forewarned about this impending intrusion when Orwell described the phenomenon of "big brother", now a cliche and euphemism for a mythical totalitarian government watching our every move.

So, now Americans are being told what we already knew was true.  Our lives are not private.  In fact, there's very little an ordinary citizen can do these days without some marketing firm catching on and trying to sell stuff related to what is known about us. sends me messages with lists of books they know I'm interested in reading. Talbots sends me sales messages about cloths I like to buy, with pictured fashions worn by advertising models who are about my size.  When I click on an Internet travel site, my email receives multiple 2 for 1 deals, promoting cruise ships.  If my husband and I were ever to be late with a federal tax payment to the Internal Revenue Service, do ya' think we'd hear about it?  Hello?

Now, some Americans are shocked because they're learning about what most of us already knew.  We're under surveillance.  Our phone calls may be monitored for security reasons.  

Moreover, the current controversy about electronic surveillance has caused a resurgence of sales of Orwell's classic describing a future phenomenon, set in the year 1984.  LA Times reports that sales of "1984", which concerns a discontented propagandist working for the Ministry of Truth in a time of endless war, are up 5,771 percent as of Tuesday morning.

But "1984" is not the future anymore.  It's now.  

Suspicions confirmed. Learning what we already know is true, is like Orwell's doublethink, described in "1984":  “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” 
George Orwell, 1984

These contradictory beliefs are (a) Americans don't like to have "big brother" intruding in our everyday lives; and (b) Americans want assurance that National Security is preventing us from the horror of terrorist acts.  These are not mutually exclusive concepts. A trade off for improving national security means some form of big brother will be evident in our everyday lives. 

In other words, do you want to be the first person who flies in an airplane where the passengers were only selectively screened? 

Hopefully, Orwell's estate continues to collect copyright royalties on the sales of his classic books.  He deserves credit for inoculating those of us who read "1984" and "Animal Farm", by preparing us for today's "new normal".  If we want our lives to be "normal" (whatever that may mean) then we must accept a privacy trade off.  As Orwell wrote prophetically in the 1940s:

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness (ie: national security and safety) is (are) better.” ― George Orwell, 1984

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