George Orwell’s literary classics, the dystopian novel 1984 and the allegorical Animal Farm, are scathing, satirical critiques of authoritarian regimes. They stand to this day as dire warnings of what happens whenever and wherever such forces are unleashed. Orwell famously coined the name “Big Brother” for his fictional dictator who watches everyone in order to quash any dissent from the status quo. Since then, the term “Orwellian” came to mean a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and deliberate manipulation of facts about the past.
But for all intents and purposes, “Orwellian” has now become a useless adjective, at least since the Bush administration gave polluters the gift of the “Clear Skies Act” and the “Healthy Forests Initiative” that might as well have been titled “No Tree Left Behind.” The Bushies marched far, far beyond the realm of satire as they gleefully gutted the Earth, the Treasury and the U.S. Constitution for the material benefit of themselves and the rest of America’s Owners, all under the cover of euphemisms that would make poor George Orwell cringe. The Obama regime, of course, is a much slicker operator: it crafts messages that on the surface appeal to most Americans’ values, and then it goes and does the opposite, in secret, by spinning interpretations that suit its own ends. For the most part, those are exactly the same ends so well-served by BushCo.
Manipulation and distortion of the past is a full-time right-wing hobby; for example, the rewriting social science and history textbooks for public school children in order to “correct” actual history, in much the same way they worship an English-speaking, blond-haired, blue-eyed Jeezus who, in a happy coincidence, hates all of the same people they do. But the other aspects of authoritarianism Orwell warned of — control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation and denial of truth — are on vivid display in all of their grotesqueness on C-SPAN. Apparently, rather than read Orwell’s writings as a terrifying cautionary tale, America’s Owners and their government servants instead took his books to heart as instructional how-to manuals. Whether we like it or not, we too have moved beyond satire: only when we read Orwell literally does American political culture make perfect sense.
If you want a peek at the playbook, I recommend you read (or re-read) 1984 and Animal Farm. In the meantime, here are a few gems plucked from the novels and from the man himself to get you started.
The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental , nor do they result from from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. –source
Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me. –source
Big Brother is Watching You. –source
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
From Animal Farm:
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. –source
All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. –source
“Ah, that is different!” said Boxer. “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” –source
Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer — except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. –source
From the man himself:
The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. –source
Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. –source
Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac. –source
Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence. –source
The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. –source
To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. –source
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. –source
There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. –source
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever. –source
If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them. –source
Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations. –source
In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. –source
One thing I’ll say for these authoritarian panty-sniffers, from the president on down, is that while I may never truly understand their pathological compulsion to spy on, dominate and control their fellow citizens, they fit the banal, utterly predictable archetype that Orwell described so astutely. They have probably been with us since we shook hands and parted ways from our common ancestor with the chimps, and will probably be with us until we do the Earth the solid favor of going extinct (or we find a cure for Conservative Personality Disorder). In the meantime, the only course of action that offers even a sliver of hope is for citizens who like to fancy themselves “free” to remain hyper-vigilant and do their utmost best to keep these @$$holes as far away as possible from government power, and indeed from positions of authority in every institution, including the nuclear family.