Posts Tagged ‘1984’
In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell‘s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, he received a letter from fellow author (and Orwell’s French tutor at Eton) Aldous Huxley — who had, 17 years earlier, published his own grim vision of society’s future, Brave New World. What begins as a letter of praise becomes a comparison of the two novels– and an explanation of why Huxley believes his own, earlier work to be the more realistic prediction…
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
* George Orwell, 1984
As we reach for the Soma, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that Benito Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio (literally, “bundle” or Sheaf”; here, a small political party) as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Party). Its 200 members, answering Mussolini’s call for men “ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep,” were the seed from which the Italian Fascist Movement grew.
We expect maps to tell us the truth. That is their eternal promise. But maps can’t help lying to us. That is their original sin. To be more precise: the map’s lie (or sin) is one of omission. They show us just one version of the truth, carefully edited by the cartographer.
This map does one better: it gives us not one but two versions of reality. Both are contained within the same frame, staged on a single world, denoted by an identical set of shading. All you need to do is tilt the image a quarter turn, and the cartographic form reveals an alternate version of the truth, while remaining entirely commensurate with the first one.
Clever and simple, as most brilliant things are.
The map shows you the world as it is in Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s political parable of a dystopian future (he wrote it in 1948) in which the world is dominated by three totalitarian superstates.
The book is set in Airstrip One, “once called England or Britain”, a province of Oceania. This superstate covers North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, southern Africa and large parts of middle and western Africa.
The second superstate is Eurasia, which covers continental Europe, Russia all the way to the Bering Strait, a small sliver of North Africa and a big chunk of the Middle East and Central Asia. The smallest superpower, at least in area, is Eastasia, essentially China, Japan, Korea and the northern half of the Indian subcontinent.
These three superstates are engaged in a war for global dominance. The battle is fought in two contested zones: the Polar Front, covering the North Pole plus northern Greenland and bits northern Canada and Siberia; and the Equatorial Front, a zone stretching from North Africa via the Arabian peninsula and the southern half of the Indian subcontinent all the way to New Guinea.
No single superstate is strong enough to win a victory on its own. So one superstate allies itself with another against the third. But no single superstate is weak enough to be defeated by the other two. With alliances shifting over time according to perceived strategic advantages, this is an eternal war…
Winston Smith, Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s protagonist, works at the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to eradicate newly inconvenient truths from photos, newspaper archives and encyclopaedia entries. All evidence of what was previously self-evident and true must be destroyed by throwing it in the Memory Hole.
This map, by pointing out the before and after simultaneously, would have been tantamount to blasphemy. But, by pointing out the similarities between two opposites, it hints at the frightening ease with which an audience preconditioned to Doublethink can process cognitive dissonance in accordance with the ruling ideology.
Or, as David Kendall, who found this map here on The Visual Telling of Stories, puts it rather more straightforwardly: “You tell me that isn’t the most clever use of shading, orthography, and legend placement to ever grace the printed page.”
Read the whole story at “Orwellian Cartography 101: How to Tell Two Truths with One Map“… and remember: the map is not the territory.
* William Irwin Thompson
As we toe the line, we might spare a thought for Orwell’s critical antagonist, Evelyn Waugh; he died on this date in 1966. A prolific journalist and writer of non-fiction, Waugh is best remembered as a novelist (e.g., Decline and Fall, A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited, and his trilogy of Second World War novels, Sword of Honour. Waugh was a “difficult” man; writer James Lees-Milne judged him “the nastiest-tempered man in England.” Indeed, when asked by Nancy Mitford how he reconciled his often objectionable conduct with being a Christian, he replied that “were he not a Christian he would be even more horrible.” On his passing, long-time acquaintance and photographer-to-the-stars Cecil Beaton reckoned that Waugh “died of snobbery,” observing that “his abiding complex and the source of much of his misery was that he was not a six-foot tall, extremely handsome & rich duke.”
Readers may well have seen this photo, which has been making its way across the web:
If the irony seems too perfect, it’s because it is… It is a crop of this photo:
So, if the image isn’t, after all, an “actual” evocation of Orwell’s Oceania, it is a pretty powerful portrait of “Big Brother”…
Still, it may be that Orwell’s worries, while all-too-prescient, were less valent than Huxley’s– that our challenge isn’t so much the fear-infected world of 1984 as it is the soma-laced, desire-driven future of Brave New World:
Orwell was almost exactly wrong in a strange way. He thought the world would end with Big Brother watching us, but it ended with us watching Big Brother.
As we practice our newspeak, we might recall that it was on this date in 1943 that the “White Rose,” a student protest group, painted “Freedom” and “Down with Hitler” on the walls of the University of Munich. The leaders of the group were arrested two days later, and beheaded on February 22.
Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst- leaders of the White Rose (source)
Readers may recall your correspondent’s respect and affection for the extraordinary novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions— so won’t be surprised that he’s excited to discover the work of Vi Hart.
Hart is an artist and composer with a gift for using mundane materials (like balloons) to illustrate abstruse concepts. Her most recent creation is a wonderful animation of Flatland… on a moebius strip.
[TotH to BrainPickings]
As we we give up our search for a beginning or an end, we might recall that it was on this date in 1984– two days after it was introduced in an epoch-making commercial during Superbowl XVIII– that the first Apple Macintosh went on sale.
From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
– George Orwell, 1984
China’s State Council Information Office (SCIO), an arm of the Central Propaganda Department, operates an “Internet Affairs Bureau” to oversee all web sites that publish news, both the official sites of news organizations and independents.
This Internet Affairs Bureau sends very specific instructions to all large news web sites, often multiple times per day. Sometimes these instructions ban contents outright, but often they instruct web sites to highlight or suppress certain type of opinions or information– in a very detailed manner. Consider these directives (issued March 23, 2010; translated by the China Digital Times):
(The link to “China’s princelings” goes here.)
But technology marches on… these government directives are meant to be confidential. But while they are not showing up on web sites per se in China, some of their recipients– the web editors at whom they are aimed– are using Twitter, Sinaweibo (Sina’s popular micro-blogging service), and other social media to slip them into cyberspace. To wit, the CDT coverage.
It should come as no surprise then that the SCIO is expanding: an “Internet Affairs Bureau 2” is being established to control social media and other Web 2.0 services driven by user-generated content. (More background on Chinese “management of web content” here.)
As we remark that a vigorous independent media is the infrastructure of democracy, and that it is an issue of some valence not just in China, but essentially everywhere in the world,* we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that a German referendum ratified Deutschland’s armed occupation of the Rhineland earlier that month, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler acted when he did for a variety of reasons, main among them that France, the most directly-affected/threatened other nation, was in internal political and financial disarray, and that Germany was in the midst of an economic crisis of its own, from which the Fuhrer needed a foreign policy distraction… the Chancellor’s timing was good: France’s response was limited to a strongly-worded condemnation, and 99% of the votes cast in the German referendum (44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million registered voters), were in support.