Tag Archives: 1984

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Welcome Aboard, But First US Marshals Will Scan Your Retina – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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For some 15 years, airport security has become steadily more invasive. There are ever more checkpoints, ever more requests for documents as you make your way from the airport entrance to the airplane. Passengers adapt to the new changes as they come. But my latest flight to Mexico, originating in Atlanta, presented all passengers with something I had never seen before.

We had already been through boarding pass checks, passport checks, scanners, and pat downs. At the gate, each passenger had already had their tickets scanned and we were all walking on the jet bridge to board. It’s at this point that most people assume that it is all done: finally we can enjoy some sense of normalcy.

This time was different. Halfway down the jetbridge, there was a new layer of security. Two US Marshals, heavily armed and dressed in dystopian-style black regalia, stood next to an upright machine with a glowing green eye. Every passenger, one by one, was told to step on a mat and look into the green scanner. It was scanning our eyes and matching that scan with the passport, which was also scanned (yet again).

Like everyone else, I complied. What was my choice? I guess I could have turned back at the point, decline to take the flight I had paid for, but it would be unclear what would then happen. After standing there for perhaps 8 seconds, the machine gave the go signal and I boarded.

I talked to a few passengers about this and others were just as shaken by the experience. They were reticent even to talk about it, as people tend to be when confronted with something like this.

I couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen something like this before. I wrote friends who travel internationally and none said they had ever seen anything like this.

I will tell you how it made me feel: like a prisoner in my own country. It’s one thing to control who comes into a country. But surveilling and permissioning American citizens as they leave their own country, even as they are about to board, is something else.

Where is the toggle switch that would have told the machine not to let me board, and who controls it? How prone is it to bureaucratic error? What happens to my scan now and who has access to it?

The scene reminded me of movies I’ve seen, like The Hunger Games or 1984. It’s chilling and strange, even deeply alarming to anyone who has ever dreamed of what freedom might be like. It doesn’t look like this.

Why Now?

I’ve searched the web for some evidence that this new practice has been going on for a while and I just didn’t notice. I find nothing about it. I’ve looked to find some new order, maybe leftover from the Obama administration, that is just now being implemented. But I find nothing.

Update: a reader has pointed me to this page at Homeland Security:

As part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) border security mission, the agency is deploying new technologies to verify travelers’ identities – both when they arrive and when they leave the United States – by matching a traveler to the document they are presenting. CBP’s goal is to enhance national security and protect a traveler’s identity against theft through the use of biometrics.

Biometric information (such as finger, face, or iris) measures a person’s unique physical characteristics. CBP incorporated fingerprints for biometric identification and verification in 2004, and is now testing facial and iris imaging capabilities to help improve travelers’ identity protection, the integrity of our immigration system, and our national security.

I happened to be on the “one daily flight” that gets exit scanned.

Another change has to do with new rules for Homeland Security just imposed by the Trump administration. They make deportation vastly easier for the government. I have no idea if these rules are the culprit for intensified emigration checks.

What people don’t often consider is that every rule that pertains to immigration ultimately applies to emigration as well. Every rule that government has to treat immigrants a certain way also necessarily applies to citizens as well.

Chandran Kukathas is right when he says that “controlling immigration means controlling everyone.”

Regulating immigration is not just about how people arrive, but about what they do once they have entered a country. It is about controlling how long people stay, where they travel, and what they do. Most of all, it means controlling whether or not and for whom they work (paid or unpaid), what they accept in financial remuneration, and what they must do to remain in employment, for as long as that is permitted. Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.

To be sure, there might have been some tip off that security officials received that triggered these special measures for this flight only. Maybe they were looking for something, someone, in particular. Maybe this was a one-time thing and will not become routine.

The point is that it happened without any change in the laws or regulations. Whatever the reason, it was some decision made by security. It can happen on any flight for any reason. And who is in charge of making that decision?

On the plane, finally, my mind raced through the deeper history here. Passports as we know them are only a little over a century old. In the late 19th century, the apotheosis of the liberal age, there were no passports. You could travel anywhere in the world through whatever means you could find. Nationalism unleashed by World War I ended that.

And here we are today, with ever more controls, seeming to follow Orwell’s blueprint for how to end whatever practical freedoms we have left. And we are going this way despite the absence of any real crisis, any imminent threat? The driving force seems to be this: our own federal government’s desire to control every aspect of our lives.

Think of it: there might be no getting out of the country without subjecting yourself to this process. It’s a digital Berlin Wall. This is what it means to put “security” ahead of freedom: you get neither.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

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Categories: Culture, Economics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Dissent Under Socialism – Article by Sanford Ikeda

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The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
August 26, 2014
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The Daily Mail reports that “France’s Socialist government provoked outrage … by becoming the first in the world to ban protests against Israeli action in Palestine.” The socialist interior minister justified the ban by citing the potential for violent clashes in Paris between opposing groups, which he deemed a “threat to public order.”

My object here is not to comment on any aspect of the conflict in the Middle East or on this ban, which may or may not be justified. What caught my eye in the story is the following quote:

Sylvie Perrot, another pro-Palestine activist from Paris, said: “Fascist states stop people demonstrating against wars—it is beyond belief that French Socialists are following their example.”

Au contraire! 

If you understand the nature of socialism, it’s quite believable.

Collectivism and dissent

Let me begin by defining “collectivism” as any economic system in which the State controls the principal means of production. Collectivism requires central planning of some kind over the resources the State controls. The particular brand of collectivism we’re talking about depends on the aims of the controllers. 

In theory, “socialism” aims to unite people around the world regardless of nationality toward a common internationalist goal, while in theory “fascism” aims to unite people of a particular nation toward a common nationalist goal. The ends differ but all forms of collectivism use the same means: State control (de facto or de jure) over the means of production. Given their common collectivist roots, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that fascism and socialism employ similar policies.

Even more than that, however, F. A. Hayek points out, in The Road to Serfdom:  

That socialism so long as it remains theoretical is internationalist, while as soon as it is put into practice … it becomes violently nationalist, is one of the reasons why “liberal socialism” as most people in the Western world imagine it is purely theoretical, while the practice of socialism is everywhere totalitarian.

I would recommend the chapters in The Road to Serfdom where Hayek explains why this is the case (especially “Individualism and Collectivism,” “Planning and Democracy,” “Planning and the Rule of Law,” and “The Socialist Roots of Naziism”), but here are two important points in that explanation.

First, to the degree that the State undertakes central planning of the resources it controls, it can’t allow any person to interfere with or oppose the plan. Or, as Hayek puts it, “If the state is precisely to foresee the incidence of its actions, it means that it can leave those affected no choice.”

Second, the more resources the State controls, the wider the scope and more detailed its planning necessarily becomes so that delay in any part of the system becomes intolerable. There is little room for unresponsiveness, let alone dissent. Hayek again:

If people are to support the common effort without hesitation, they must be convinced that not only the end aimed at but also the means chosen are the right ones. The official creed, to which adherence must be enforced, will therefore comprise all the views about facts on which the plan is based. Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken public support. [emphasis added]

My point is that even if genuine socialism of some kind did exist in France (or anywhere else), the government there could not allow spontaneous political demonstrations, for the reasons Hayek outlines in The Road to Serfdom. Collective political ends must trump individual expression. 

That a socialist government would ban political demonstrations should then come as no surprise.

The problem is central planning 

Friends of mine have objected that these arguments are misplaced because genuine socialism doesn’t exist in France, and that political parties who brand themselves “socialist” aren’t really socialist at all, at least in the sense defined here. 

But Hayek’s point is that intolerance for dissent grows with the scope of central planning. Thus, the principle also applies in the case of a mixed economy, such as the United States, with more limited central planning. To the extent that the U.S. government tries to pursue collectivist ends—say, during times of war—the greater the pressure on public officials to quell open displays of protest.

Moreover, the more things the central government plans for, the less freedom—of expression, assembly, association—there can be. If the State controls all means of production and all resources are placed in the hands of the authorities, then in effect all forms of expression—in politics, science, religion, art—are political and any form of dissent from the official creed is intolerable and must be forbidden. That would lead, and has led, to the death of free inquiry, because dissent, rebellion, and radical criticism are essential to the growth of knowledge.

One of the political virtues of private property is that it establishes a sphere of autonomy in which we are safe from the threat of physical violence. In that sphere of autonomy, we can say or not say, or do or not do, anything we like, so long as we don’t initiate physical violence against others. Private property is the garage where we can form a band or invent the personal computer or paint protest signs. As private property disappears, not only do our economic liberties disappear, but so too do our political liberties.

What is not forbidden …

Indeed, taken to its logical conclusion, under pure collectivism no freedom at all would remain, and not only the freedom to peacefully assemble in protest against government activities. In a completely collectivist system, it’s not a stretch to say that what isn’t forbidden would in fact be mandatory.

From California, which at least for now is a ways off from pure collectivism, comes an even-nuttier though still-scary scenario:

A Southern California couple received a letter from Glendora city officials threatening to fine them $500 if they don’t get their sun-scorched brown lawn green again, reports AP. Which Laura Whitney and Michael Korte would gladly do, except for one thing: They could also be fined $500 if they water their lawn too much; they’re currently only watering twice a week.

Thus, what is mandatory may also be forbidden. Don’t forget, 1984 was 30 years ago.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.
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This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

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Lessons on Dictatorship in Da Chen’s “Colors of the Mountain” (2003) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 29, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2003 and published in two parts on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay received over 500 views on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 29, 2014

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A Glimpse into the Mindset of a Dictator

 

In Colors of the Mountain, the autobiography of Da Chen, the author relates an interesting episode from his life as a student in the Chinese schools. As Chinese schools rapidly convert from anti-intellectualism to centers of educational encouragement, the quotes of Chairman Mao are used to uphold the new shift. Yet Chen comments on Mao’s incompatibility with genuine intellectual progress.

It was ironic to bring Mao into this drive for intellectual excellence. If Mao had known what his Little Red Guards were doing, he would have howled like a lonely wolf in his icy coffin and cried his smoke-ridden lungs out. Mao, the dictator, was the friend of the devils…” (256)

This passage directly and brilliantly unveils the essence of dictatorship and the means by which a dictatorial entity seeks to maintain its power. The philosophy of Mao the dictator had been to foster perpetual conflict among the Chinese and create the impression of an imminent crisis where none existed. In the words of the author, Mao “made fake smoke over fake fires.”

The mindset of the dictator suggests to him that his subjects will flock to his side at a time of urgency, while peace and prosperity will breed unrest, and, worse, an across-the-board desire for individual autonomy. Chen shows the consequences of this approach with a chillingly perceptual flair: “And strewn down his long path lay the bones of millions of angry ghosts.”

The soil in which autocracy springs its roots is chaos and suffering; this is required to drain resources from the general population for the alleviation of the imagined threat, as well as for the amassing of attitudinal support for the dictator’s initiatives. All the while, it is key to keep the masses ignorant and quell intelligent dissent, as Mao’s Red Guards had undertaken throughout China during the Cultural Revolution.

It is quite convenient for the dictator to brand as the source of the newest “crisis” those autonomous individuals with the greatest potential to establish social justice. This, in effect, kills two birds with one stone. Hence, extending Mao’s policy to its logical conclusion, it would come as no surprise that the man was categorically averse to any genuine, objective education.

Mao’s ruling style reminiscent of another masterful analysis of a totalitarian regime, George Orwell’s 1984, in which the collectivist ruling elites overtly claim that the purpose of their power is to inflict suffering and thereby secure their power, in brazen disregard for standard of living, while squandering the country’s resources on a perpetual world war.

Control from Beyond the Grave

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In Colors of the Mountain, the young Da Chen is declined the opportunity to attend Chairman Mao’s funeral ceremony and laments this, as he has developed a vague cultist devotion to him. Da recalls,”As though the rift between the Red families and the landlords’ families were widened by the death of Mao, I was told by the school authorities not to attend the ceremony…” (138).

Despite the horrendous harm inflicted by Mao’s policies upon his family, Da Chen continues to harbor a mentality of unquestioned devotion to authority, whoever may hold such a position. His social upbringing has inculcated him with a mindset of never seeking to analyze Mao’s actions, for “he was wiser, no, the wisest.”

The submission of Da is Mao’s even beyond the grave, even though the physical control of the dictator over the lives of the Chinese people has already crumbled and been replaced with a more benign regime. The general Communist Chinese sociocultural milieu preaches that the people exist to serve the government and scorns the individualist philosophies of the Enlightenment.

Despite his striving for individual success and his recognition of the colossal obstacles placed in his way by Mao’s regime, Da cannot help but absorb this perception, almost subconsciously. There are numerous references to this: “I had been told…,” “I was to follow him…,” “I didn’t know any better,” “A cult mentality had already been forged in me…”

This is the consequence whenever an individual rejects the laws of objective reality in favor of the arbitrary edicts of other people. Because the laws of reality can be grasped by reason and authoritarian whims cannot, the individual’s rational sovereignty is discarded and he comes to worship that which possesses the greatest potential of harming him.

Simultaneously, this devotion to authority will never ingratiate the outcast individual with the elites of his society. Just as Da’s former record of academic excellence had failed to advance his prospects for a successful future, so does his reverence for Mao fail to convince the elites of his community to permit him to attend the funeral ceremony. The intent of authoritarianism is not to reward those who espouse love for it, but to punish invented “enemies” by deprivation or outright assault.

In Colors of the Mountain, Da Chen powerfully demonstrates that a cultic devotion to another human being, especially a powerful and brutal one, is always a self-defeating proposition. Dictators such as Mao are always thirsty for the blood of the innocent; the devotion of the latter will merely fuel the destroyers’ appetites.

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The Incompatibility of Individual Rights with the Coerced Institutionalization of the “Mentally Ill” (2002) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 29, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2002 and published on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay received over 600 views on Associated Content / Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 29, 2014

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The idea that “mentally ill” persons must be locked in institutions against their wishes is a profoundly authoritarian idea, opposed to the rights of the individual and the founding principles of the United States. Yet it is an idea held by many elites and members of the psychiatric establishment today.

Let us examine the following statement by a prominent contemporary psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Slovenko: “Crazy people are [now] everywhere. Modern notions of civil liberties and fiscal considerations have combined to produce a population of very disturbed people in every city in America. The notion of local treatment alternatives for mentally incapacitated citizens in a cruel hoax. It is clear that the vast majority of dangerously impaired people are out there in the streets.” (Dr. Ralph Slovenko, professor of law and psychiatry at Wayne State University. 2000. pp.47-48)

This man proclaims, without even any subtlety, that individual rights, the foundation of freedom and prosperity in this country, are a root of derangement within the country’s populace!

Slovenko seeks to deny citizens of the United States the ability to select treatment within their communities should they detect a genuine mental illness and volitionally attempt a recovery. Instead he suggests (as is the application of this particular argument) that persons designated as “insane” or “mentally ill” must be locked against their consent in government-owned institutions for treatment.

Civil liberties as well as concern of officials for proper spending of public funds (which does not encompass the imprisonment of persons who have not committed a crime) had resulted in widespread deinstitutionalization during the 1950s, but people like Dr. Slovenko have been clamoring for the reinstatement of asylums ever since.

In George Orwell’s 1984, the free spirits who resist the Party’s rule are arrested, imprisoned, and subsequently transferred to a facility subordinate to the Ministry of Love in which they undergo a combination of torture and “rehabilitation”, their will the resist broken under a hail of Party dogma. They are declared delusional since their frame of mind differs from that imposed by the social paradigm. Because they see the truth of a single reality and the need to interact with it, they are declared mentally ill and “treated”. Frighteningly enough, real people in our time like Dr. Slovenko also seek to coercively ensnare such “dangerous” persons.

Dr. Slovenko’s words in particular remind one of the major fear of Party officials in George Orwell’s 1984, the so-called “thoughtcrime”, by which concept a man’s freedom, not merely the freedom to do what he pleases but to think what he pleases, is forever deprived from him as a result of the contents of his mind not being in accordance with “socially acceptable” beliefs, i.e. those of the dominant oligarchy. Slovenko suggests precisely that, the containment of persons not for the criminal deed, but for “inclination” or deviation in outward behavior and thought that would brand them with the subjective label, “insane”.

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The Eyes Watching You: “1984” and the Surveillance State – Article by Sarah Skwire

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Categories: Fiction, History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Sarah Skwire
June 19, 2013
Recommend this page.
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George Orwell. 1984. New York: Plume, [1949] 2003. 323 pages.

In the kind of horrifying coincidence that surely would have prompted one of his more acerbic essays, the news that various U.S. government surveillance agencies have been gathering data from millions of citizens’ phones, email accounts, and web searches broke during the week of the 64th publication anniversary of George Orwell’s 1984. As the news reports poured in, and as sales of 1984 surged by an astonishing 6,884 percent, a friend asked me whether the PRISM story strikes me as more Orwellian or more Kafkaesque.

My response? We’d better hope it’s Kafkaesque.

No one wants to inhabit a Franz Kafka novel. But the surveillance states he describes do have one thing going for them—incompetence. In Kafka’s stories, important forms get lost, permits are unattainable, and bureaucrats fail to do their jobs. Like the main character in Kafka’s unfinished story, “The Castle,” if you were trapped in Kafka’s world you could live your whole life doing nothing but waiting for a permit. But at least you could live. Incompetence creates a little space.

What is terrifying about Orwell’s 1984 is the complete competence of the surveillance state. Winston Smith begins the novel by believing he is in an awful, but Kafkaesque world where there is still some slippage in the state’s absolute control, and still some room for private action. Winston says that Oceania’s world of telescreens and Thought Police means that there are “always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape.” But he follows that by saying, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” He also believes that while the diary he keeps will inevitably be discovered, the small alcove in his apartment where he writes his diary puts him “out of the range of the telescreen.”

The feeling that some tiny space for private thought and action can be found leads Winston into his relationship with Julia. Though they know they will inevitably be discovered, Winston and Julia believe that, for a time, their relationship and their meeting place will remain secret. They could not be more wrong.

One day after making love to Julia in their clandestine room, Winston, prompted by a singing thrush and a singing prole woman who is doing laundry, has a vision of a future that “belongs to the proles.”

The birds sang, the proles sang. The Party did not sing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil, and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body.

 

In this very moment, just as Winston comes alive to what feels like hope and possibility and the dream of some kind of a future for humankind, the telescreen that has been hidden in the room all along speaks to Winston and Julia. The Thought Police break down the door. The couple is taken off to be imprisoned, tortured, and broken.

There has never been any private space for Winston or Julia—not in their “secret” meeting places, not in their sexual rebellion, not even in the few cubic centimeters inside their skulls. “For seven years the Thought Police had watched him like a beetle under a magnifying glass. There was no physical act, no word spoken aloud, that they had not noticed, no train of thought that they had not been able to infer.” Winston should have taken more seriously the description of Oceania he read in the forbidden book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein:

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected.
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The Orwellian surveillance state is terrifying not because—as in Kafka—you might be arrested because of a rumor or a mistake, or because despite your innocence you might be caught in the surveillance state’s unnavigable maze. It is terrifying because it never makes mistakes. It does not need to listen to rumors. And it knows that no one is ever innocent.

Sarah Skwire is a fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.