Recommended Reading: 1984

 Topic: Recommended Reading: 1984

Our topic today is the book 1984 by George Orwell, published 1949, and the theme of using war and other-ing to deliberately inflict suffering on the populace so they are easier to control.

This book takes place in a dystopian future where a fascist government has taken total control of its citizens and keeps everyone in line partly by way of constant war and associated shortages. They also use the familiar tactic of “other-ing” to trigger tribalistic loyalty from the people, who have completely given up the idea of revolution and simply accept the government’s constant surveillance and control over their lives. They are only allowed the media that the government has approved for their consumption, which consists almost exclusively of propaganda. In Orwell’s world, there are three major powers that are constantly said to be at war with one another: Oceania (where the book takes place), Eurasia, and Eastasia. Eurasia and Eastasia are alternatively Oceania’s enemies and allies. When alliances shift, however, Oceania’s totalitarian regime claims that the new arrangement is how it has always been, and all the posters and materials claiming otherwise are destroyed as attempted enemy sabotage. One of my favorite things about this book is that the reader does not know for sure if the other nation-states really exist or if they and the perpetual war are merely a construct, an invention by the government to use as an excuse for shortages and oppression.

This book also pokes fun at the Nazis proclaiming that the tall, blonde, blue-eyed Aryan “race” is somehow superior, while observing that most actual Nazis – like most people in Oceania – are short, dark, hunched-over, and suffering from malnourishment thanks to government-imposed rationing. This is an example of how blind people can be to reality when they are being manipulated. (Also, it should be fairly obvious that there can be no such thing as a “superior race,” since the concept of race, as we have discussed before, has no biological basis.) Winston Smith, the primary protagonist of the book, observes this but, like everyone else, seems content to ignore the contradiction.

Our government will use propaganda to sell the idea that whomever we are at war with at the time totally deserves whatever we are going to do to them. This does not usually take much Effort, as we are often at war with foreigners who are easy for us to dehumanize. It is just as effective when they want us to forget that other kinds of people, like drug addicts and convicted felons, are also human beings. The current target of governmental other-ing is the trans community; Fox News wants you to think they are coming for your children so that you will buy whatever they want to sell to you. And of course, there is that worst boogeyman of all time, brown people. All of this is done deliberately so that we live in perpetual fear and can be easily kept under control.

The good news is that, with Mindfulness, Effort, and most of all, Self-Control, we can take what we hear and apply logic to it, teasing out the truth from all the mis-information. It is a great power to learn that you do not have to live in fear, and that knowledge comes from a better understanding of the things we are afraid of. If you take the time to get to know people of different backgrounds, it helps you to expand your definition of “people” to eventually include everyone.

Do you find it more difficult to recognize somebody as a person if they are from a country with which we are at war? 


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