I have just started reading George Orwell’s 1984 and it’s not something you should do if you are already feeling a touch depressed. First published in 1949, It is the tale of a man trapped in totalitarian society ruled by “Big Brother”. The party controls all aspects of life, watching its members through their “telescreens” (televisions equipped with cameras) and informers. History is constantly rewritten in books, newspapers and other media to conform with the Party’s current versions of events. Those who do not work for the party, the “Proletariate” are kept passive through trashy entertainment, newspapers containing only “crime, sports and horoscopes”. Sound familiar, Daily Telegraph? (I don’t think Orwell knew about mind-numbing “infotainment” TV).
The constant manipulation of truth and language inventions also has a disturbing parallel in the way that information, corporate and public, is increasingly under the control of spin doctors. Even in scientific research organisations, it’s not a matter of bluntly telling the truth, but of framing the information in a way designed not to offend sponsors and to attract funding. It is difficult to treat information, especially that released in the commercial world, as credible any longer (it is always good to retain your skepticism on anything). The Australian government, with the boat people overboard episode, demonstrated this is just as true for our elected officials.
In 1984, the Party plans to overcome the problem of skepticism and disbelief by adapting and simplifying the English language (“Newspeak”) towards the elimination of a form where dissenting ideas could even be thought, let alone expressed. Today we have advertisers and “gurus” who mangle language and invent new words and phrases in such as way as to attempt to force our minds to conform to their concepts (“fat-free”, “empower”, etc…). New ideas stifled, old ideas repackaged to seem fresh. Is that how we want society to develop? Well, it’s easier to control than a society where people think and decide for themselves.