“There’s something happening here, What it is ain’t exactly clear”—Buffalo Springfield
The best selling book nationwide since campaign 2016 is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. Bookstore services cannot keep ordering copies fast enough. Orwell’s novel, written in 1949, tells the story of life set in Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain), which is now part of the mega-state Oceania. Oceania participates in a world of perpetual warfare and maintains order through an elaborate and omnipresent surveillance apparatus and an officially sanctioned language called “Newspeak.” Ruled by the “Inner Party” of elites (the 2%), all individualism and independent thinking constitutes “thought crime” and is punishable by death. The Inner Party depends upon the effective propaganda of the “Outer Party” and the “Ministry of Truth” (the 13%). All documentation and communication and “history” in Oceania is vetted by the Ministry of Truth and therefore eliminated if it doesn’t fit the Inner Party’s goal of absolute power and control. In Oceania, the Ministry of Love oversees torture and brainwashing, the Ministry of Peace oversees warfare and atrocities, and the Ministry of Plenty oversees rationing and starvation. Proletarians, the lower class (the 85%), represent the domesticated majority who are tied to ubiquitous telescreens and who are obliterated for all offenses (killed, their existence erased from memory).
There are many in our nation, in particular people who have lived through or studied the Holocaust, who are concerned with the rise of a possible Christian Fascism. Canadian author Margaret Atwood sounded an early warning with her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, in which a Christian movement called “the Sons of Jacob” foments a totalitarian theocracy—the Republic of Gilead—in place of the United States. They suspend the Constitution in the name of “law and order” patterned after the patriarchy of the Old Testament. The takeover is particularly severe against women, whose rights are suspended and whose education is forbidden. One female class is kept for reproduction, known as “handmaids.” Ecological destruction has rendered most women infertile. Thus, essentially the “handmaids” are women whose fertility has reduced them to commodities in service to the State ruled by religious elites. A third book that speaks to our situation is Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985). Postman offered a different analysis of our time based not on fascist scenarios like those sited above but on the insights of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931). Writing recently on Postman’s work, Jerry Lembcke, a Professor of Sociology at College of Holy Cross, stated: “The problem, as Postman saw it, was not that television was a medium through which misinformation could be conveyed more easily—the Orwellian problem—but that it had so dumbed down the American public that voters were more persuaded by the entertainment value of candidates’ appearances and presentations than what the candidates actually had to say about the issues—the problem cited by Aldous Huxley.” In such a cultural milieu, following complex arguments and contextualizing issues with a sense of their historical meaning becomes near impossible because such disciplined thinking moves against the “entertainment” value audiences crave.
In Huxley’s Brave New World, we won’t care about responsibility or accountability or thinking because we will be continually enamored with the devices that keep us in thrall to spectacle and “the next big thing.” Lembcke muses: Books won’t need to be banned, because they take too much effort to be of use. Information won’t need to be concealed because we will drown in a sea of trivia. Governments will not inflict pain but pleasure. We will not hate those in power who feed us. We will love them for amusing us.
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.