1984 Totalitarianism Essay

The appendix details Oceania’s attempt to replace Oldspeak, or English, with Newspeak, a linguistic shorthand that reduces the world of ideas to a set of simple, stark words.

“The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought.” It will render dissent “literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”But it never comes to pass.

In Orwell’s novel, technology is a purely oppressive force, but in reality it can also be a means of liberation.

Snowden has claimed that tech companies are in collusion with the government, but he’s also using those same channels of technology to tell his story.

This is contemporary technology’s founding myth: the garage band ethos of its early founders going up against centralized, bureaucratic cultures like IBM by putting technology into the hands of the people.

Obviously, scrappy startups have grown into multinational corporations led by wealthy CEOs, and most successful social networks are now run by powerful companies.Daniel Ellsberg had to photocopy the Pentagon Papers and distribute them in hard copies; now our language of dissent includes emails, tweets, and IMs.It’s worth recalling Apple’s famous ad that unveiled the Macintosh computer to the world in 1984, making full use of the reference to Orwell’s novel.“On January 24th,” the screen tells us, “Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” Apple’s Board of Directors tried to block the ad, but Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak pushed it through.He did not anticipate the full reach of digital technology.Even so, he was correct in seeing a future where the government had greater control but also a belief in the people’s ability to use language for dissent.This appeal to the integrity of language and principled thought may sound utopic or academic, but we are currently in the midst of a similar struggle.Consider the names of the post-9/11 programs that were ostensibly designed to protect the United States: the Patriot Act, Boundless Informant, and practices like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The justifications of these 1984-sounding schemes—and PRISM too—follow the obfuscating principles of Newspeak and the kind of manipulative euphemism Orwell skewers in his famous essay, “Politics and the English Language.” He writes: “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell maintains that misleading terminology and evasive explanations are endemic to modern politics.The “author” of the appendix argues that these ideas cannot be expressed in Newspeak, specifically the part about governments deriving their legitimacy from the consent of the people, and citizens having the right to challenge any government that fails to honor the contract.As long as we have a nuanced, expansive system of language, Orwell claims, we will have freedom and the possibility of dissent.


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