1984 And Today By John Reed

Dystopian fiction seems to be all the rage these days, running the gamut from “The Hunger Games” to “Mad Max.” Writing warning stories about how society can go wrong is nothing new. The middle of the last century saw seminal works by William Golding [“Lord of the Flies”], Ray Bradbury [“Fahrenheit 451”], Aldus Huxley [“Brave New World”], among others.

Spawned by the horrors of two world wars and the perceived failure of the various governing systems of the times, these writers created future societies that in many ways have left the pages to become reality. George Orwell’s work, in particular, has seen this happen: his “Animal Farm” was intended as a protest against Stalin and how propaganda can be used to misdirect a well-meaning public. Certainly there are those who would see comparisons today in the arguments over “fake news.”

Orwell takes things further in “1984,” writing about a future society controlled by Thought Police. Language itself becomes controlled by the government, a “Newspeak” requiring a vocabulary that only follows the ideology of the authorities.

Sound familiar? How many times lately have we heard of people being banned or persecuted for thoughts, actions, or even daring to utter a single word? Think of some “trigger words” that cause controversy today: “conservative”…“Confederate”…“snowflake”…there are many others.

Two Orwellian lines come to mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” [Animal Farm] sounds just like how some universities proudly claim to be free speech havens and then ban anyone who speaks differently. “Big Brother is watching you” [1984] reminds me not only of the ways the IRS and FBI have run amok in recent years, but also how Facebook and other social media know far more about ourselves than we ever knew.

The only way to combat these dystopian efforts so prevalent in today’s world is to develop critical thinkers who can see through the agitprop and make informed choices on their own. These books used to be part of the curriculum in most high schools; I daresay modern education’s groupthink would find those books too troublesome to deal with.

This may be the most dangerous time since the World Wars and the rise of fascism and communism. Dystopia is most certainly closer to reality than even then. Open minds and critical thinking is the only defense.

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