Last month the news was all about US Government PRISM program watching over all of users communications online or Indian Government’s CMS program to do something similar. This has resulted in multifold sales of George Orwell’s Political satire book “1984” written in 1949.

Last year I had read George Orwells’ other classic “Animal Farm” (in Tamil) and enjoyed it thoroughly. In that book he talks off a revolt by Animals living in a farm who take over it from the owner, the book takes subtle diggs at Stalin’s Russia of that era (1940s). The book reminds us readers that almost all revolutions around the world start with good intentions but once they succeed, power thirsty individuals hijack the cause, focus their energy solely on consolidating power & oppressing people they were claiming to be protecting. As an India I am happy to note that this famous English author was born in India (British Bengal in 1903). His real name was Eric Blair.

Few days ago I bought “1984” book from Amazon’s Kindle E-Book store and I finished reading it from my Kindle DX. Compared to Animal Farm, 1984 is a dry book, serious political ideologies to think about and the story has no place for any humour. This made reading through the book a bit tough in the initial chapters. The book is about a world where there are 3 super power (Oceania, Eurasia, East Asia) that are equally powered, unconquerable by one another yet constantly in small wars – perpetual wars. This has resulted in a world where people are kept constantly in a war hysteria so that the authoritarian regime that rules over them has its power protected. Its a society that is constantly monitored by a two way communication device called Telescreen, which reminds us the 21st century readers of World Wide Web & Skype services. Its amazing how George Orwell has been able to see clearly the possibility of this technology and its potential misuse by authoritarian governments. The picture of the world that is painted in the book feels scary at first, then unrealistic. But on deeper thinking it may not be far off from happening as we can see even today on what is being followed by regimes like North Korea.

Mankind’s evolution and societies progress has been possible because of our ability to learn from past – whether they are mistakes, lessons learnt, knowledge passed from one generation to other. If something is done to break this chain, then its disaster for our race. And that’s exactly what the book warns of happening with two examples:

  1. The basis of power for the regime described in the book comes from their ability to constantly change the past as they believe controlling past helps them control the future.And they can control Past because they are in control of the present
  2. Ability of the Thought Police to make its population (if it wants to) to believe that 2 + 2 = 5

Orwell’s is at his brilliance when he talks of irony of Government’s stated goal and their actions. Look below at the names of the ministries talked in the book and their actual job highlights this irony at its best.

  • Ministry of Peace: In charge of Warfare
  • Ministry of Plenty: The economics ministry controlling the rations and is obsessed with limited the production
  • Ministry of Truth: Controls and limits News, Entertainment, Education and Arts. Constantly keeps changing the historical records
  • Ministry of Live: Surveillance of its citizens constantly, to arrest and vaporize trouble makers

Lastly two other words that I was drawn to in the book are Newspeak the language that the party uses to limit people’s thought and expressiveness; Doublethink which basically is the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

1984

Overall, if you are remotely interested in politics and satire please don’t miss reading this classic.