1984 or Brave New World? (2022)

It’s been several decades since George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984.  It’s considered one of the pivotal books of the 20th century, and if you haven’t actually read it (in the 21st century, most people haven’t) you certainly know what it’s about.  It’s a complicated tale, but the Twitter version is we better watch out or Big Government is going to go power mad and control (read “enslave”) us all.  Orwell lined up the usual suspects – censorship, disinformation, propaganda, surveillance, informants and fear – to create a pretty scary Stalinist view of the future (read “the present.”)  In fact, it’s so convincing that many of the terms Orwell invented — like NewspeakDoublethinkRoom 101 and Big Brother — are now part of our language.  The problem is George may have got it wrong.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Some computer in California is probably reading your text messages and can pinpoint your location, anywhere on planet, but – uh — so what?  Quite frankly, if the CIA, MI5, FSB or the Chinese MSS want to know anything about you, all they have to do is log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and they’ve got all the information they need.  And that’s the crux of the situation.  Who do we have to fear – our government or ourselves?

For my money, if you want a scarier version of the future (read “the present”) take a look at Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932.  Huxley’s view is deeper and darker and a lot more prophetic.  Huxley’s says the future won’t be bleak and hungry but actually rather happy – too happy.  Huxley’s society is just as closed and lock-step conformist as Orwell’s, but the difference is nobody cares.

In 1985, Neil Postman published a book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and part of it is a comparison of 1984 and Brave New World.  Here are a few of his observations.

Orwell said that, in the future, many books would be banned.
Huxley said there would be no need to ban books because nobody would read them.

Orwell said that information would be strictly controlled and distributed by the government.
Huxley said that there would be so much information no one would pay attention to it.

Orwell said the truth would be concealed from the people.
Huxley said the truth would be irrelevant.

Orwell warned us about the dangers of the Cult of Personality.
Huxley warned us about the Cult of Celebrity.

Orwell saw a joyless, sexually repressed, poverty-stricken society that had lost its soul.
Huxley saw a drug-soaked, sexually promiscuous, consumer society that didn’t have one.

Orwell feared a manipulated culture.
Huxley feared a trivial culture.

Here, in the 21st century, the future is now, and Big Brother might very well be watching you — but personally, I think the bigger problem is … he doesn’t need to.

I wrote this in 2019 but it bears repeating!

The Funeral

Jordyn Janet Montrose was buried on a spring afternoon in a Midlands village when the sun was warm, the clouds were puffy white and crocuses ruled the fields and pathways.  She was sixteen.  The church was old enough to have seen Montroses before – weddings, christenings and funerals – and big enough to hold the entire family.  And there was room for family friends as well.  (JJ’s own school friends were in Italy, trying to understand grief with carefully placed flowers, candles and teddy bears.)  It was a small village and everyone knew the family, so besides grandparents and cousins, there were a grocer, a gardener, a number of others and Ms. Janet Miller, Lady Perry-Turner and Dreyfus Sinclair — who all sat near the front.  Plus, there was an older gentleman who sat by himself at the back.

The service was well-appointed — without a flaw — until Ms. Miller’s eulogy stumbled over a memory and she started to cry.  Dreyfus guided her back to her seat, and Lady Perry-Turner ad-libbed the rest, finishing with a like-mother/like-daughter story that tempered the mood.  Then, with two fingers, she kissed the sky and went back to her place.  There was a poem and a prayer and the vicar thanked everyone on behalf of the family, and then everyone stood and waited their turn to leave.

At the door, JJ’s parents, Monica and James, who were too young for this (Monica was only 32) stood like duty — accepting without hearing the sympathies and condolences.  There were a few hugs and some wooden handshakes but no more tears.  They were for later when everyone had gone and the doors were firmly closed.  Monica pulled Janet aside and clung to her arm, James thanked Dreyfus too much and wouldn’t let go of his hand, and Emily stood awkwardly until he did.  Then the two of them walked a short distance away and waited as Mr. And Mrs. Montrose went through the motions – numb with loss.  The last person out was the older gentleman who stopped, leaned down and spoke solemnly for a few sentences.  As he spoke, he took Monica’s hand, placed it in James’ and patted them together.  Then he turned and walked the several steps to where Emily and Dreyfus were standing.  He reached inside his jacket and brought out a crinkled package of foreign cigarettes and offered it to Emily.  There was a second of hesitation.  He shook the package.

“Go on, then.”

Emily selected one, straightened it slightly, and Michael Elliott produced an old-fashioned silver lighter and flicked it into flame.  He cupped his hands out of old habit and Emily leaned forward.  “Cheers,” she said, exhaling.

Michael lit one for himself and leaned his head back, blowing smoke into the sky.

“Family liaison officer,” he answered, without a question.  “Keeping the family aware of the progress of the investigation.”

Dreyfus almost laughed.  Michael Elliott prowled the halls of power; he didn’t wander the shires reassuring the locals.

“And how is the investigation progressing?”  Dreyfus’ tone betrayed his disbelief.

Michael Elliott ignored him.

“Actually, I was able to inform the Montroses that, working with the Italian authorities, we were able to identify the men who injected their daughter with heroin, but unfortunately, they were killed by British law enforcement officers while resisting arrest.  It was in a villa just north of Florence.  You might be familiar with it.”

Dreyfus did smile at that.  Michael pointed a finger.

“Don’t,” he said, slyly. “Your little adventure stirred a few pots that were best left alone.  The Italians are particularly keen that no one thinks they can make a meal of this.  So …”  Michael shrugged. “… we need to make certain everyone sticks to the script.”

There was a pause.

“Leave Janet alone, Michael.”  Emily said cautiously.

Michael Elliott tapped his cigarette.

The pause was thicker.  Dreyfus chuckled softly to break the mood.

“You didn’t leave hearth and home to have a quiet chat with Ms. Miller, Michael.  She’s perfectly fine, and you know it.”

Behind him, the people from the church were thinning, walking away or going to their cars.  Michael took another inhale from his cigarette and, as was his habit, twisted the burning end off and stepped on the embers.

“I won’t be going to the reception.  Give my regrets to the Montroses.  Duty calls and all that.”  He twisted the cigarette butt in his fingers – flakes of tobacco falling to the ground. “Officially, the drug network that killed that girl has been dismantled and the perpetrators are – uh – gone.  Everyone is satisfied and the case is closed.”

Dreyfus’ eyebrows showed sceptic.  Michael smiled and put the tiny, wadded cigarette paper in his jacket pocket.

“But I’ve always thought it was good practice to let the villains know that Her Majesty’s government has sharp claws and won’t tolerate the killing,” Michael turned his head slightly towards Emily, “or kidnapping — of British citizens …”

Suddenly, Dreyfus understood.

“And you’re here because some of those big bad boys are watching.”

Michael tilted his head without agreeing.

“At the moment I have two Albanians scared witless that some licensed-to-kill somebody is going to come and finish the job, and they’re telling anyone who’ll listen their sordid little tale.  It helps that I’ve taken a personal interest in their dilemma.”  Michael lifted his hand to signal his driver, then pointed his finger at Dreyfus, “You’re not to go near the Kovaci brothers.  Are we clear on that?”

Dreyfus opened his palms.  Emily dropped her cigarette on the ground and crushed it angrily with her toe.

“For God sake, you two!  This is a funeral.  Can’t it wait?”

Caught by surprise, both men stammered to apologise (perhaps explain) but Emily was already gone, walking the few steps back to Monica and Janet and poor lost James.  In their world, a young girl’s death was sad and senseless – not a tactic.  And as much as Emily didn’t know about … she stopped and looked past her friends to the quiet, old stone church … on that day, she knew more than she wanted to.

A Few Definitions

Aside from fire and Velcro, language is the most useful tool humans have ever produced.  Once we went beyond grunting and growling, we were able to communicate complex ideas with a precision that made us the dominant species on this planet.  Unfortunately, these days we’re not playing nice with our words, and they’re losing their effectiveness.  We’ve taken to manipulating the language to try and give words extra meaning that they don’t deserve – and it’s failing miserably.  Here are a few contemporary words (we’ve all heard thousands of times – a day) that are supposed to carry a connotative punch – but they don’t – because we all know what they really mean.

1 — White Privilege – A bunch of privileged white people calling other white people “privileged” as if they did it on purpose just to be assholes.

2 — Twitter – A virtual stick that we beat people with until they agree not to disagree.

3 — Instagram – An historical record of just how culturally shallow we are in the 21st century.

4 – Facebook – Instagram for old people.

5 — Woke – “I live on a higher plane of consciousness than you do.”

6 — Virtue Signaling – This is how you know I live on a higher plane of consciousness than you do.

7 — Hate – Criticism you don’t like. “She said these jeans make me look fat.  She’s always been a hater!”

8 — Support – Criticism you do like.  “She said these jeans made me look curvy.  She’s always been supportive!”

9 — Brave – We’ve been using this word for everything from telling our daughter we’re gay to wearing pink chiffon, yoga pants and a hoodie.  Essentially, we’ve devalued the currency of this term so completely nobody even hears it anymore. (Remember what happened to “hero”?)

10 — Clicktivist – There is no IRL equivalent to this made-up cyberword.  The closest I can find is smug.

11 — Gluten Free – What we’ve been doing to safeguard our health — instead of finding a cure for cancer.

12 — Content Warning – The latest lame-ass attempt to keep the cybermob quiet.  We use it because — in the great tennis match between the eagerly offended and the immediately placated — the offended crowd upped the ante and declared that “trigger warning” itself was actually a trigger.  Go figure!

13 — Conversation – As in “We need to have a conversation about that.”  And it means: I’ll do the talking, and if you don’t shut up and agree, I’ll go Twitter (see Item #2) on your ass.  Not to be confused with “dialogue” which is too yesterday to be taken seriously.

14 — Issues – Problems that can’t possibly be solved.  A handy way to maintain perpetual victim status.

15 – Giving Back – The stuff rich people do when they are a) “woke” (see item #5) b) “virtue signaling (see item #6) and c) have some time on their hands.

16 – Awareness – Wasting time stating the obvious.  Does anybody know anybody who isn’t aware of inequality?

17 — Authentic – Social media sincerity that takes a ton of careful planning.

18 — Shaming – No, I’m not going to go there.

19 – Toxic – I don’t like this, and I’ve decided that nobody else should like it either.

And finally the one that demonstrates just exactly how easily the language can be manipulated:

20 – ‘Splaining – Add any prefix you want (man, age, size, eco, etc.) and you can get pissed off about it.