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Thursday, April 01, 2010

1984 by George Orwell

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake”

George Orwell’s 1984 is a novel exploring power. As literature, I found the writing good but not particularly compelling. The novel was clearly written to discuss political and philosophical points of view. From a purely literary perspective, one might object to such a practice. In the case of 1984, however, I find that Orwell’s imagination and creativity overcomes any objection to writing a novel for the sake of theoretical discussion. In actual practice, I do not think that it is possible to divide the message from the media, the content of writing from its language. The two are inseparable.

The genius of 1984 is Orwell’s ability to create a totalitarian world that explores power, politics, and the human subject. The Orwellian world of Oceania sets its characters in a context of absolute power and domination. The Party differs from the Fascist or Communist powers of the modern world in that they do not pretend to embody any humanistic ideals. Their objective is clear: “power entirely for its own sake.” The undoing of German Fascism or various Communist regimes is their ideological pretense. The Party recognizes that it must root all of its activities in terms of power, stated explicitly.

The symbol of The Party is Big Brother. Big Brother is a giant face that can be seen on posters, walls, and screens throughout Oceania; but Big Brother is also the representation of the power of the state, the symbol of its strength, the divine and eternal metaphor.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Big Brother is omnipresent. Big Brother is ever-present, keeping watch to be sure that there is no one who will oppose the power of the Party. Through technology, Big Brother is able to monitor the masses and every individual. Everyone at every time knows that they are being watch.

Big Brother is given credit for his benevolence. If the economy grows, manufacturing forecasts are surpassed, or food rations increase (as they always do), this is due to the wisdom and foresight of Big Brother. Big Brother provides all that is needed.

Big Brother is omniscient, all-knowing. Big Brother demands that your speech be controlled by controlling language. The language is continually being reduced so that the fewest words may be used. As language is reduced, the capacity for consciousness, reflection, and critical thought decrease accordingly. Free thought is a vice. Big Brother can do all of the thinking necessary for the world. Big Brother knows all.

Big Brother is the one who is everywhere, monitoring your movements. Big Brother is the all-knowing one, controlling your speech and thought. In addition to these two exercises of power, there is a third method of domination: the power to crush any rebellion. Big Brother is the omnipotent, all-powerful one who can unleash a force that will bend any will. Big Brother can use violence to exterminate any act or expression of freedom. This is not just any independent act that threatens the Party; rather, Big Brother will destroy any act of a free self. Through violence, torture, and pure force, Big Brother will break the mind and will of any rebel. What is most shocking, however, is that Big Brother will even unleash such immense power as to force a person into loving Big Brother.

“Winston, you are no metaphysician”

Within this context of absolute power, there are two individuals who dare to assert themselves as human beings, each in a different way. Winston Smith is the primary character, the main protagonist. Winston is the everyman, and as such he is not a philosopher of surpassing intellectual powers. Nonetheless, he is no slouch, and his self-discovery is a theoretical and ideological one.

Winston works for the Party. His job is to rearrange the “facts” of the past so that Big Brother is always correct and always looks good. Winston changes history. It is through this that he begins to question the Party and desire to defy Big Brother.

Julia’s path is not ideological. Winston was born before the Party took power; Julia was not. All that she knows is the power of Big Brother. So she plays along with the whole thing as though it were a game, and she looks for opportunities to slip outside of the watchful eye of Big Brother and live her life as fully as she can. Her sensuality and lust for life are her way of rebelling and asserting herself as a self.

Together Winston and Julia seek to defy the Party by meeting in secret. They become lovers, friends, and co-conspirators.

Orwell’s world in 1984 is one in which technology advancement allows the government a level of god-like omniscience, monitoring the movements and speech of each person. Technology is also used to transmit a continuous stream of media propaganda, to keep all citizens aware of the power and glory of the Party. Controlling the language and speech of individuals is important to Big Brother. There is a word, “duckspeak” that is praised by the Party. It is not speech in the true sense; rather it is “noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.”

If Orwell’s world appears to be one in which technology has invaded the freedom of individuals, is the situation all that different in our contemporary, Western world. The Orwellian totalitarian future is one in which there is a centralized intelligence that controls the media stream and monitors the speech and actions of citizens. Our media world is perhaps much more random and chaotic. There is no centralized control of media, but does this mean there is more freedom?

The contemporary discussion usually presumes that because we can choose to shut of the television or log off of the internet that we are free. However, the fact remains, that most of us in the developed tech-savy West we are no less plugged in than the members of Orwell’s dystopian society. It begs the question of whether we are really more free. Are we more free because most of our populace can choose between Fox News or CNN? Or is this choice more a matter of illusion. Perhaps the point is not that we can choose between cable news or the internet, perhaps the greater point is that we are constantly plugging in to media, a media that always seeks to capitalize on ratings by selling advertising.

In a sense, our current climate is sort of a voluntary limiting of freedom, based on a perceived choice between which media we want to be our Big Brother for the day. While we often praise ourselves in the U.S. for being the land of the free, there is a disturbing parallel between Big Brother and the media.

Every society and culture has its mechanisms of control and manipulation. What perhaps is most disturbing about life in the States is that we seem to be under the naïve assumption that our perceived freedom of choice with regard to media means that we are less subject to manipulation. In reality, our nation has become polarized into two ideologies, both of which are often inconsistent and seemingly random. On any particular issue, we can be sure that the same people will line up on either side, and that the discussion will be less rational or fact-based, resembling more the quacking duckspeak of Orwell’s novel.

This all raises a very serious question of what it means to be free in an era of our eternal news-byte media. If the result of media submersion is the same in Orwell’s novel as it is in today’s Western society, a sort of “duckspeak,” then how much “freedom” do we truly have? When public discussion is more about “noise uttered in unconsciousness” than it is about creative and original thought, then what right do we have to say that our freedom (so-called) is really and truly all that superior to Big Brother. That we choose to submit our minds to hours a day of connectivity does not make us any more free. In fact, it is probably more the perception of choice, much as an alcoholic may have a momentary sense of freedom in choosing between spirits for his next drink.

“God is Power”

Reading 1984 is helpful to me because it states that the Party’s explicit aim is to power for its own sake. Our modern Western ideals center on democracy as a control measure for power. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So we assume in the United States that if we have appropriate checks and balances, then we can gain more freedom. Many in the U.S. are disturbed by any perceived expansion of government power. An expansion of governmental power means a loss of freedom. It is an equation that is a given in many circles of thought.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed strongly in the will to power. He criticized democracy. Democracy, Nietzsche believed, will limit the ability of great people to do great things. It will, in essence, make everyone mediocre and prohibit the rise of great creative people. Democracy, says Nietzsche, merely gives rise to a herd mentality.

Looking at the current state of political discourse in the U.S. today, with its tone of “duckspeak,” groupthink, and talking points, it is clear that there is a marked inability for individuals to cultivate their own unique perspectives. For me, this speaks in favor of Nietzsche’s critique of democracy.

While Big Brother pursues power for its own sake, in our democratic society the power plays are more subtle but no less real. The lesson of 1984 in light of our contemporary society is to understand that power is always at work. Power is no less controlling or manipulative in democratic societies as it is in Orwell’s totalitarian state. In democracy, the masses must simply perceive themselves as making their own choices. Because democracy requires the illusion of choice, the manipulation and control mechanisms cannot be overtly manipulative, as they are in 1984.

What seems to me to be the commonality between Big Brother and contemporary society is that both evidence a lack of rationality and love in public discourse. We tend to see the worst in our opponents, the various sides being convinced that other political parties are out to limit their freedoms or otherwise do harm to their fellowman. This intense fear and suspicion, ironically, makes one most vulnerable to manipulation by those who are presumably “on my side.” When one proceeds in public discourse with humility, reasoned arguments, and charity toward those who disagree, one is far less inclined to fall into duckspeak, and far more likely to create a society where members are far less naïve to the workings of power.

Power is always with us. Power is god, in the lower “g” sense.

“You must love Big Brother”

In the end, Winston and Julia are caught by the Party. They undergo torture to cleans their minds. By sheer force, Big Brother forces Winston to believe what they want him to believe.

But belief is not enough.

“To die hating them; that is freedom,” Winston thinks to himself. If he can retain this thought, this private, inner rebellion, then at his death he will have reserved for himself a moment of freedom and independence.

Big Brother knows this, and so it is not enough to merely bend the will and mind, Big Brother will use his power to force Winston to love him. And it works. In works because Big Brother breaks down his body and soul, forcing Winston to deny Julia, his only true love. After months of torture, Winston is completely broken. There is nothing left. He spends most of his days drinking. Everyone pities him. The Party no longer monitors him. There is no need, because Winston’s psyche has no power left in it to assert itself in anyway.

Striped of all power of the mind, will, and heart, Winston is sitting in a café, drinking some filthy gin. He hears a report of a military victory of Big Brother. He is genuinely cheered by the news. And finally, something clicks in Winston. He realizes the folly of his rebellion. He understands now. Everything is clear.

“Oh cruel, needless misunderstanding. Oh stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast…but it was all right…he had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

With this the novel closes. Winston loves Big Brother. Big Brother, of course, does not love Winston; but even if he did, the love was gained by force. Here, at the end of the novel, we find the correlation between love and freedom. We understand, at a fundamental level, that love gained by power, by brute force, is not love. Love without the freedom to choose love is still brutality. Love is only true when the lovers are free to reject or embrace the other.

On their own, these sayings can seem cliché. As such, it is the narrative of 1984 that brings to life phrases that have been overused. The story, the characters, the world that is created through fiction can bring us to really see love and freedom in real life. This brings me back to my first point in this review: that the form of writing and the content are inseparable. The ability for ideals to stir us through story is directly related to the ability of the writer to take us into the narrative and into the minds and hearts of the characters. There are certain things that we have to be shown, not merely told.

I believe 1984 to be an important novel. By carrying power to an extreme, we can reflect on the ways in which power is always working, in ways that are subtle but no less extreme. It would only be a superficial and shallow reading that would presume that the control and manipulation of Big Brother is no less present in all societies. This tends to give support to the idea that power itself is not the issue. Rather, power must be discusses in the context of a society whose modus operandi for public discourse is charity, humility, and rationality.


john doyle said...

I've been thinking about the issues you pose here, Erdman, which are large. You suggest that our freedoms are as limited today as they were in the world of 1984. I'd like to explore some of the specific examples you highlight.

You note that the choices of information channels available to us are limited, and typically controlled by commercial interests. That's true, but I wonder if it's necessary to unbundle the "we" in terms of responses. While unbiased information might not be easy to find, with some effort it is possible to find out more than sound-bite spin-control news about important issues.

For example, on the top ten Yahoo news stories this morning was a brief story about how Republicans are trying to combat the Democrats' proposed regulatory overhaul of the financial sector. The story begins like this:

"End the public lifeline for large financial institutions, Republicans are demanding as they push back against Democratic efforts to set new rules for the financial industry... Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, a member of the House Financial Services Committee, said that creating more federal agencies and putting taxpayers on the hook for more bailouts will not help revive the economy."

Reading that, you get the impression that the Democrats' proposed legislation includes more financial payments to the big banks. So I dug around a bit to see what's in the proposed legislation. As far as I can tell there's absolutely nothing in there about financial bailouts; it's all about regulations intended to prevent a recurrence of the abuses that led to the meltdown in the first place. WTF? All I can figure is that opponents of the bill know what buttons to push in order to sway public opinion, even if those buttons are completely disconnected from the substance of the issue at hand.

Regardless of where you stand on the specific legislation or which party (if either) you support, it is possible to ferret out the facts, or at least some of the facts, rather than just listening to the opinion-mongers' crapola. To do so requires the exercise of individual freedom and will. Usually that requires effort to overcome indifference and inertia and smoke and mirrors. Presumably that's where freedom and will are most valuable: in pushing through resistance.

Now I'm going to take a run, then come back and watch the MSU-Butler game. I MUST watch, I cannot resist...

Jaakko Wallenius said...

Your analysis of 1984 was a real eye-opener for me; I realized how Orwell described how the communist dystopia described in the book is really a practical implementation of the original Christian idea of a world where the omnipotent ruler of the heavens follows your every deed every second of your life, follows your every thought and also punishes you extremely severely for any inappropriate thoughts.
He also demands and orders you to love him and is not satisfied with outward signs piety, but demands real love as a price for getting to his heaven, or else.

Jonathan Erdman said...


My sympathies on the loss of your team to one of our humble, little Indiana schools.


Needless to say, I am quite thrilled at how the Bulldogs have been playing. I can't wait to see what happens tonight!

I believe that I can appreciate your point. Your example is a perfect one: the news story creates a false impression without actually lying. You say it is possible to still sniff around and ferret out the facts. Fair enough. But Winston, in 1984 was able to do the same, at least to a limited degree. He once held in his had a piece of documentation that proved the party wrong. This momentous event was something that Orwell continued to come back to as he explored the psyche of Winston.

I don't mean to say that our world is identical to the one created in 1984. However, I do think that people have a lot less freedom than they believe that they have. I think that's my main point in making the comparison, and your headline example illustrates this perfectly. In some ways, our society may be at a disadvantage to the one in 1984 because we believe we have freedom. In fact, our politicians and corporate entities use "freedom" as a tool to manipulate us, to manipulate themselves, even. "Be careful," they warn. "If you don't vote for us (or buy our products) you will lose your freedoms...."

Jonathan Erdman said...


Yes. I share your perspective. It was on my mind a good deal as I read through the novel, particularly near the end. I would like to blog more on the parallels between the Party and the God of Power.

There seems to be a serious tension in Christianity. On the one hand is the God of power and sovereignty, the king who rules and reigns. On the other, the God seeks to free humanity through love and grace, the God who incarnated to heal the sick, then died on a cross as a servant. Much of the New Testament can be read as wrestling with this tension.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I was reading your blog and noticed that you are an atheist who just started blogging. I can also tell that you are quite thoughtful in your criticisms of Christianity. I hope that you will make stops here to Theos Project and offer similar critiques. This blog is an attempt to bring together diverse perspectives on the questions of G/god(s) and religion. So, there are some conservative Christians, non-conservatives as well as atheists.

Your question in one of your early posts is particularly applicable here: "If you were a god, how should you behave? How should you act toward your creation (humans)? Do gods need a personality?"

After reading 1984, I would answer your question by saying: If I were a God I would set people free and try to demonstrate love and grace toward them, in order to awaken love and grace within them and in their relationships with each other.

john doyle said...

I agree about the relationship between 1984 and contemporary America, Erdman. One has to believe that professional journalists, like Winston, are either explicitly or implicitly expected by their publishers to hide the facts and to promote the official spin. If they quote the president, a congressman, a business leader, etc., then they hope to curry favor which might be useful in getting closer access to sources of power/information. But what access do they usually get? More spin.

The US military intentionally coopted the journalists in the Iraq/Afghanistan occupations in order to spin the news. Soldiers gave the journalists access via "embeddedness," while at the same time restricting their ability to do investigative journalism on their own. And the government forbad showing body bags or caskets of soldiers killed in the war returning to the States for burial.

I was talking about these things over breakfast and our daughter said that the government learned these lessons from Vietnam, where independent journalist coverage of the war contributed to popular renunciation of the war back home. That a high school kid knows such things is I think a good sign about what public schools are teaching our kids -- or at least some teachers in some school districts.

john doyle said...

"In reality, our nation has become polarized into two ideologies, both of which are often inconsistent and seemingly random. On any particular issue, we can be sure that the same people will line up on either side, and that the discussion will be less rational or fact-based, resembling more the quacking duckspeak of Orwell’s novel."

In the USA I think they are two variants on the same ideology, only slightly different from each other. The point it seems to me is not to offer real alternatives but for the professional politicians to stage a dispute, to put on a public performance. The show arouses public passions, then the politicians respond to those passions as if the voice of the people is being heard and the democratic process is working as it should. But don't you get the sense that the end of the performance has already been scripted?

Those who buy the politicians have enough money to spread around; they can diversify their portfolios by investing in both parties. Either way they win.

Jonathan Erdman said...


It's always great to hear your daughter's perspective!

Yes, I largely agree with you. I tend to get the same sense, that the deep division (so-called) between the parties is actually quite insignificant, though it seems like many folks buy into these differences as though there was something serious on the line, a "culture war." But I tend to agree with you, that there seem to be larger interests that are not being voted on, and both parties seem to be working toward maintaining a certain status-quo. So, either way, Dems or Repubs, the power structure remains in tact.

What is frustrating to me, is that there are many people on the right who are against big government, but they are advocates of big business. That's one of the things I have had in my mind in reading through 1984 and then again in the Orion article that I blogged on yesterday.

I'd be for big government if I was convinced that they were truly working for the people: helping the poor and sick, creating more sustainable and beautiful ecosystems in the U.S., etc. I think that the government has done some good things that can't be dismissed. But I also tend to agree with you that it all seems to be supporting the same basic power structure. A radical transformation of the structure itself is yet to be seen: real change in healthcare, transformation of the prison system, empowerment of the poor, racial equality, eliminating ghettos in the U.S.

It's almost like each party does just enough to limit the good ideas of the other party, while allowing the basic power structure to remain in tact. As such, I think I am starting to thing of government and corporate interests as one and the same power structure. I think this seems to be what you are getting at. In such a context, it seems like anarchy is the only answer. A resistance to all forms of power and control, be they corporate or governmental.

john doyle said...

Big government in our lifetimes has mostly been stoked by the military. Single-payer healthcare wouldn't appreciably increase the numbers of people working for the government. Medicare is mostly administered by private-sector insurance companies who pay the bills charged by private-sector doctors, pharmas, hospitals, etc. But I share your skepticism about the government's willingness to serve the people rather than the moneyed interests. The federal government is already the single payer for submarines, missiles, bombs, mercenaries, and so on, but I doubt that the government negotiates really tough deals with the military contractors, which are big political contributors and lobbyists and, as with guys like Cheney (former CEO of Haliburton, sometimes actual participants in the government itself.

john doyle said...

Following up on one of my earlier comments, there's at least some independent journalism going on in the military occupation zones -- see this story.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes. Well, that's a good point, about military being the engine of big government. In 1984, it was important for the Party to be continually at war....and continually winning.

And, thanks for the link. Does online journalism and whistle-blowing give you any sense of hope?

john doyle said...

Sense of hope? Dude, you're talking to the wrong guy ;)

You'll note that the whistle-blowing video of the American soldiers lighting up the civilians and journalists took 3 years to see the light of day. Big Brother offers a lot of resistance.

In a recent conversation you talked about the apophatic Lacanians and meditators who propose not seeking out something to fill the lacks and losses and holes, but accept the holes as starting points. Hope is often used as a hole-filler, a morale-booster, a placeholder for what's missing, even a positive moral good in its own right. But what if hope is just another opiate of the masses? Hope feels better than despair; it can become addictive. If you only do things that reinforce your sense of hope, maybe you're not confronting the real and apparently hopeless problems.

Is it possible to act, individually and collectively, even without hope, to push back against Big Brother without any real expectation of prevailing? This is part of what Albert Camus meant when he talked about "the absurd."

Jonathan Erdman said...


Good thoughts on hope. I have recommended to Tamie that she join the conversation, because she has some damned good thoughts about hope.

Tamie said...

This is Tamie.

I once read that in Iran, the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties are compared to the differences between Pepsi and Coke.

I think Nietzsche was really onto something in his critique of democracy. Of course, I think he also may have missed a thing or two. It's not like creativity has totally dried up in democratic societies or something. Geez, Nietzsche.

A friend of mine feels that our energy and time should be put into spiritual communities, that we should basically tolerate government, and be decent citizens, but otherwise just kind of ignore the whole thing. He makes the point that all throughout history there have been wonky, oppressive, wrong-minded, power-hungry systems of rule, and through them all the spiritual communities have persisted, and have been the holders of wisdom, love, etc. What do you guys think of that idea?

John, Camus and Merton were the two primary influences on my thoughts about hope. Camus was the first influence, and then I read some literary critiques, by Merton, about Camus (specifically on "The Plague"). I thought about it all for a couple years and then wrote an essay about it! That essay is part of what got me into grad school, but anyway. Sadly, I'm writing this at work so I can't reference the essay and I'll have to get back to y'all.

I think I may alert my good buddy Pat to this discussion though, because he and I have been talking about hope for over a decade now. Off and on.

Tamie said...

"Email follow-up comments"...

john doyle said...

Hi Tamie. What do you think of your friend's advice about the spiritual communities? Who are the "we" comprising such communities? And what do these communities do while ignoring the oppressive political-economic systems in which they're embedded? Is the recommendation to ignore the oppressive system an example of the wisdom held by the spiritual community? If so, and if I'm part of the oppressive system, I would certainly encourage the propagation of such communities within my realm.

My word verification for getting this comment past the spamcatcher is "whooter." I like it! Whooter!

tamie marie said...

I was just thinking yesterday that the election of certain people (Bush Jr.) and the near-election of others (Palin) may prove Nietzsche right. Anyhoo.

John, good point about how if you were an oppressive gov't, you'd be down with the kind of policy I said my friend has. I'm not sure if I represented him or his community fairly though. I need to ask him. My understanding is that his community does a lot for the homeless, for immigrants, etc., but that they're not involved (at least as a community--maybe as individuals) in protesting particular legislation. But maybe I'm wrong. I'll ask him and get back to y'all. But I think that the thought is that it's people's hearts that need to change more than actual policy. And others would say that while we're waiting around for people's hearts to change, it might be nice to get some fair policies into place! Hm...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon. What do you think of O'Brien?

Jonathan Erdman said...

O'Brien is an interesting character. Winston has some kind of sense about O'Brien. Like he believes that O'Brien is going to have answers for him, that he is wiser than Winston. And this is certainly true. He is wiser than Winston. But he's also insane.

There is this sense in which O'Brien has truth, more truth than Winston; but O'Brien still supports the system (the Party). I think these people exist in all power structures. They might even have some goodness and mercy in them, as O'Brien seems to have. In fact, I think O'Brien is sympathetic to Winston, and I think that Winston sensed some sort of kinship with O'Brien. I don't think Winston's intuition was actually off. (For example, Julia is presented in the book as having a keen intuition about who is good and who's just a patsy for the Party. Julia doesn't suspect that O'Brien is a member of the Thought Police.) I think there is actually some good in O'Brien.

But O'Brien is like many who support the system in the higher levels. He may see its drawbacks, he may sympathize with Winston, and he may even be wiser than Winston; but ultimately he's a sell out. He reminds me of U.S. bankers and corporate execs.

Anonymous said...

I submit that you are selling O'Brien short. Perhaps he is not a sell out, but one who loves the system for the freedoms it gives him. O'Brien seems to be a relatively high ranking party member. Through the magic of double think, he can be both a revolutionary and a counter-revolutionary. He can give vent to all his revolutionary dreams while hunting down an apostate. Indeed, he can even influence that person's views in order to explore a given heresies in more depth. Then he gets to discover that one thing the person believes about herself that will allow him to break her mind and put it back together in any way he wants, before converting her to love big brother.

Did you ever see the movie Brazil?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Wow. Well that's quite the take on O'Brien.

I like it.

I actually think it still squares with my thought. O'Brien is both a sellout and also a man of conviction. So, with doublethink he can be both, right?

I believe there may be reason to suggest that doublethink plays an important role in our Western society, particularly in the U.S. I mean, do all of the evil bankers who screwed everyone, do they really and truly believe that they are bad people? Or do they kind of believe they did something evil but also believe that they are basically good people doing the best that they can. I mean, someone's gotta do the banking, right? And who wouldn't do the same thing given the power that they have?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of crooked bankers:


Unknown said...

I have been reading 1984 again and many of the thoughts which have been fleshed out by the previous respondents are very enlightening. The possibilities of false democracy and hegemonic systems being able to enforce their influence through both ISAs and RSAs are something to really be considered.
The review of Orwell's book that you did was very nice. The views on government control of the media are something that really need to be fleshed out. My interest in 1984 is on a little different current.
Through this post the focus has been on a communist form of government control. Instead of examining the methods that Big Brother and the Party use to control the populace, I would like to see a discussion about the ways that Winston and Julia rebel against the establishment.
Winston's first act of rebellion occurs when he buys a small diary in a prole shop and takes it home. He begins to pen his feelings about Big Brother and how truth does not exist because the past is constantly changed. As he writes his thoughts, he is able to find his voice and understand his true feelings toward Big Brother and the Party.
I think there is a correlation between Winston's use of the diary and the use of social media in today's world. We can look at the Arab Spring as an example of how rebellion was incited through mass communication. I believe that blogs also can play a similar role to enforce change in the world, just like the different blogs that you have created, John. I am very interested in your thoughts about blogging in todays globalized society and how it can make an impact on social interaction and even the way governments operate. I hope I can hear from you.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hi Alan,

Thanks so much for weighing in on this discussion. Your comments are timely for me, because I have been thinking specifically about whether Facebooking and Blogging is subversive or whether it is conformist.

Just last night, I read Alan Kirby's thoughtful article The Death of Postmodernism. His primary point is that while "postmodern philosophy emphasises the elusiveness of meaning and knowledge," the era we live in is one in which the audience participates in making and forming art (and texts). He writes in the pre-Facebook era (2006) and cites the example of Big Brother (think American Idol, since Kirby is a Brit!) type television shows where the viewers decide who stays on the show and who goes. Kirby's point is enhanced by the Facebook boom, where everyone is writing on everyone else's page (text). We are now both author and audience. Kirby calls this era of post postmodernism pseudo-modernism.

Kirby is quite critical of this, however. He says, essentially, that the art being produced is crap. I sympathize. We are all creating on the fly now, but is this diminishing our capacity for creative, critical thought? Producing quality writing or art requires time - time is indispensable. We must mull things over, reflect, read differing perspectives to understand all sides, brood if necessary, contemplate our feelings of joy, compassion, or anger. In this age of instant analysis and Facebook stream-of-consciousness, can we still write and create in profound ways?

I've also been reading about how the demand for "free" internet content puts the squeeze on artists, journalists, and others who create for the sake of truth and beauty. There are economic forces at work that are reducing the job opportunities available for thinkers and creators to be able to produce important works.

Alan, I'd be curious as to your thoughts on Kirby.

How does this all relate to 1984? How do these points about our cultural shift correlate with Orwell?

You mentioned that critical point when Winston busy a journal and begins to write. His writing allows him to reflect, to sit back and take time to think critically. He wrestles with thoughts and feelings, internally, then externalizes them in the form of his writing.

We certainly have the freedom and opportunity for critical thought in this new, Facebook era. However, do we have the mental capacity to do so? Or is our technology training us to think in terms of one line status updates?

Those are a few critical questions I have. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. I was once a cautious enthusiast of blogging and Facebook, but I've been rethinking a bit, especially in light of Kirby's article.

Thanks again for posting a comment. I certainly count yours as one of the shining examples of thoughtful analysis.

Unknown said...

I wrote a blog post in response to some of your questions. Here is the link: http://hickeyalan-eng295.blogspot.com/

I really look forward to what you have to say.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your last comment. I try to be optimistic for the future of social media and how it can improve our lives, but I also understand that risks that exist in trusting to much in international corporations with bottomless pockets and individual intel on millions of individuals.

Something that you said has really got me thinking. Since the idea of pseudo-modernity revolves around consumerism, it is interesting to look at the companies of Google, Facebook, and Apple and see how they are focussed on creating products that are widely consumed by millions internationally. These products draw consumers in and many individuals become addicted, or even controlled by them.

For example, Google's search engine and its algorithms personalize each search according to personal preferences. They basically are able to censor what kind of information that we see in order to play to individual's interests on the web. This seems to be a type of Orwellian model of control where thoughts are focussed on certain areas to play to the emotions and feelings of consumers. Kinda like the few minutes of hate propaganda the people of Airstrip One are subjected to each day.

Another example of how consumerism drives how technology influences our lives is in regard to Apple. I personally love Apple products and wish that I could afford a iPod, iPad, iPhone, and an iMac to complete my set of Mac products. I feel like I am part of a select group of individuals part of a club of Apple lovers. This hardware has influenced the way that I consume information and how I desire to connect to the world. It is a chosen control that I have placed upon myself. This is the best way to enforce a hegemonic system. It is something I would like to have some feedback about, if you have any ideas.

This is getting long, so I will save my thoughts on Facebook for now. I want to be able to be like Winston and stand up for what I think while embraced this new digital world. I feel that we can use the new social media to our advantage in stemming the type of control portrayed in 1984, but we have to be wary that we are not broken by our consumerist nature that comes with capitalism and end of loving Big Brother. I look forward to your brilliant thoughts.

Steve Jobs

Unknown said...

By the way, I have no idea why Steve Jobs ended up at the end of my last post. Forgive me for my lack of editing.