Tuesday 1 May 2007


I’ve just been re-reading George Orwell’s 1984. I first read it when I was a teenager; then, never being one to avoid a clichĂ©, I did so again in 1984. I remember putting it back on my shelves, thinking smugly “He got that wrong.” Now it seems that he was merely around 25 years out in his timing. Who would have dreamt that a book by a socialist writer, intended as an awful warning, could have been mistaken for a blueprint by a nominally Labour Government?

It’s nearly all in place now. The monitoring cameras are already ubiquitous in public spaces, and the microphones and loudspeakers are on their way. True, they have not yet cracked the installation of intrusive telescreens in our homes, but you don’t have to be paranoid to assume that they will follow soon enough. How else will it be possible to ensure that we don’t harm ourselves by smoking, feeding our kiddies lard, or indulging in thoughtcrimes like racism or the denial of man-made global warming?

The Lottery has become a reality, and only awaits the Orwellian refinement of awarding its top prizes to people who do not actually exist. Pornography to distract the proles is available everywhere. Newspeak has also become universal. This is partly due to the invention of text messaging, but one local authority recently announced a crackdown on “major envirocrimes”, by which it meant the fly tipping of rubbish. Orwell himself could not have put it more chillingly.

We have already made brilliant progress towards the extinction of the traditional family, and surely no-one will be surprised when the equivalent of Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League starts arguing that it would be much better for society if all children were born by artificial insemination and brought up in public institutions.

Orwell was remarkably astute, too, in his assessment of the “new aristocracy” that would control the world: “bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organisers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists and professional politicians”. When he wrote that in 1948, the notion that a juvenile Mr Bean lookalike with no experience outside politics could be strongly touted as a candidate for the Labour leadership would have caused nothing but mirth; not so in 2007.

The re-writing of history to conform with currently approved beliefs and values is well advanced, and will take a huge step forward if the plan for common EU-wide textbooks comes to fruition. One of the few things Orwell got wrong was assuming that Britain would form part of Oceania (also comprising the US and what used to be called the White Commonwealth) rather than Europe.

His other major error, understandable enough in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, was to believe that everyday life for all but the Inner Party would be characterised by acute material deprivation. The horrible reality of obese proles waddling from the fast food outlet to the 24-hour supermarket mercifully never occurred to him.

He was right, though, about the background of a permanent and unwinnable war. This is currently being waged on two fronts: against “Islamic militants” and “global warming”. Both are being used by our “new aristocracy” to justify vast increases in surveillance and social control.

The Islamists are at least real. It is true that they were called into being by the actions of Western governments, notably in encouraging resistance to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, but even I baulk at the idea that the attack on the Twin Towers was actually orchestrated by the CIA.

Climate change is also taking place, though whether it is the result of human action is altogether more questionable. Unfortunately any deviation from the new quasi-religious orthodoxy on this subject produces reactions uncannily like Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate.

We have indeed moved into a 1984 world of doublethink, where “anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, [is] always vaguely suspect”. As Winston Smith knew from the start, resistance is useless. Room 101, here I come.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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