Monday, March 03, 2008

Book Review: 1984

I recently reread George Orwell’s 1984. I had first read 1984 in 1984, when I was in high school. I am not sure I appreciated much of the books message but this time it was an interesting read. Since 1949, when Orwell wrote the book, I am sure there has been countless reviews of 1984, so I will not review it as much as pull out some thoughts I had while reading it.

While reading this somewhat disturbing book, it really struck me how many little details in Orwell’s book were very close to reality today. First is the issue of the technology in the book. Things like the telescreen and the versificator are technology essentially used today. Granted, our TV’s do not transmit, but Tivo does monitor your viewing and provide you with suggestions based on your viewing habits. Computers can show a picture while projecting another with a small camera. These are eerily close to the telescreen. Songs are not written without any human invention as in the story, but one person on a computer can create a symphony (although, they usually don’t and it usually comes out more hip-hop than anything else). One really cannot contemplate today’s popular music and it almost seems its purpose is to numb the mind of the masses. Compared to something like Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, where each movement presents a musical interpretation of a season, today’s music seems a little less complicated, to say the least. Will it be long before pop songs are written entirely by a computer with no human behind it?

Second, some of the philosophical issues are very real today, which is exactly the point of the book. Orwell did not believe the socialism of his day went far enough. He conveys this thought through one of his characters, O’Brien, he says,

“We are different from all the other oligarchies of the past in which 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 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.”

This does not mean Orwell was against socialism. He just did not believe it would work in it form in which it existed in his day. And he was right. He believed that for it to work, socialist leaders needed to be honest about their motives, and do everything they could to keep the proletariat from raising to the middle class. This can also be seen in the book from Winston’s continual thought, “If there is hope, it lies in the proles.”

It always strikes me about those who reject a capitalistic society desperately want a system of governance in place which would allow them to think differently and act differently than the "oppressive capitalist", when everyone under a socialist government are not allow them to think differently from the government and cry out to be saved. The problem with their thought process is they begin from the false premise that people are good. They believe people will work hard and at the same level as everyone else. They believe people want to share. The problem is, as Scripture reveals, people are not good at their core, they to be compensated fairly for the work they do, and they are by nature selfish.

The final thing which was eerily close to circumstances today is the issue of revisionist history. Historians are essentially allowed to rewrite history and that revision then is the way it happened. This was evidenced by my wife and daughter on a recent trip to Washington D.C. They were either in the rotunda or in the Supreme Court and were listening to another group being led on a tour. The tour guide pointed to the images which were obviously Moses and the 10 commandments. The guide told the group, “The one through ten Roman numerals on those two tablets represent the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which we call the Bill of Rights.” This simply was not the case. However, someone has “written history” and has declared these were not the Ten Commandments but the Ten Amendments. Thus, that is what they are and have always been. This is but one example which permeates children’s textbooks and other areas of our live.

1984 has some vulgar content in it but overall it is fascinating read, if read critically. As the version of the book I read said, it is a warning. If you have some extra time, I would suggest rereading it. It is not the best book I have ever read but it is a classic and it is worth being reminded of the warning.

2t22 Rating: