Monday Musings – The Orwellian dystopia
Good writing does not only inform and educate – it also indicates what do the winds augur. In a very uncanny way great literature is like crystal gazing – only far more complex. Sci fi writers also do the same thing but they occupy a different realm – of how science and technology will dramatically alter the processes of life and living. Rarely, if at all, do they talk about how will these inventions and advancements fundamentally alter the behaviour of people, the quality of relationships of individuals and groups, both within and across, and finally how will the polity at large change.
Hence the other literature that tries to describe the ‘what can happen’ if the present fault lines continue to be under duress, becomes priceless and only too rare. Anyone who has an eye and stomach for such a literature must read the masterpiece ‘1984’ by George Orwell.
1984 was published in the late 1940’s and describes a polity which is excessively centralised, diabolically power hungry, and as it poignantly describes, power uncorrupted by the burden of having a higher purpose, but for power sake. Most critically it also describes the ones who want to exercise control over its people by controlling two fundamental things – ‘thoughts’ and ‘the past’.
One cannot help but notice how prescient the book was more than half a century ago – suffice it to say that one could have changed the title to ‘2016’ and it would be an accurate description of our times. I am sharing hereafter two critical themes from the book and leave it for you to admire the parallels – and should it tempt you to pick it up, do not resist it.
The first is - He who controls the past controls the future. So an attempt is made by the powers to be, to obliterate all evidences of the past, particularly the alternative narrative. The past is continuously edited; newer versions of history is discovered and pedalled – which serves not only as a rationale for the current actions but also a source of its moral basis.
The second is the concept of ‘thought-police’ – a system which keeps a tab on not only what you are doing but more importantly on what you are thinking. Even a mere thought which is independent of the popular/official narrative (or the narrative that the powers to be want you to believe) is treason. Thinking is no longer an independent act but a wayward force that must be controlled and an attempt to do so considered as defiance.
1984 is a frightening book as we read it today – I suspect if the world would have welcomed this great work as only a fantastic literature of its times or really a warning of the times we might inherit one day.
As a reader generally – and after reading this Orwellian masterpiece particularly, I have grown wary of all ‘history’ – whether of faiths, communities or nations. I am no longer sure if the ‘version’ I know is really how it was – or is just another version of truth. As Meryl Streep's character in the fantastic movie ‘Doubt, where she plays a nun in the church – a place where the currency of faith overrules all thought, says to the Bishop with anguish only a person of faith shaken to her core can experience – ‘Father, I have Doubt’.
I only have doubts now – or so it seems. What makes my position so precarious is everyone around me is so absolutely sure.