Are We Approaching George Orwell’s Vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

by | Aug 29, 2019 |

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Nancy Thorner is a contributing author – 

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a claustrophobic fable of totalitarianism. First published in 1949, it is a fictional novel that shows what the world would be like if the government extended its powers to control every facet of its citizen’s lives through manipulation of language and constant surveillance.

With the American people afraid of another terrorist attack after the 9/11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center, our government was able to use the public’s fear to pass a large number of laws that increased spying on American citizens in order to ‘keep them safe.’  The Patriot Act, passed in 2001, allows the government to apply surveillance to the data of all American citizens.

In 2007, the NSA (National Security Agency) launched the “PRISM” program, a clandestine anti-terrorism electronic surveillance data mining program. The PRISM program (Personal Record Information System Methodology) utilizes extensive data mining efforts to collect information and analyze it for patterns of terrorist or other criminal activity.

PRISM captures the private data of citizens not suspected of any connection to wrongdoing, permitting government to collect user data from companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Yahoo, and others.

It is not widely known, or consumers just don’t care, that social media is collecting our every gesture, purchase and comment we make online as an omniscient presence in our lives that can predict our every preference.

Modeled on consumer choices, where the user is the commodity that is being marketed, the harvesting of those preferences for political campaigns is now distorting democracy. Google recently admitted to election meddling to prevent Trump from winning in 2020.

A horror in Orwell’s novel was the systematic stripping of meaning out of language. Its real enemy was reality. Orwell believed that totalitarianism and the corruption of language were connected, for tyrannies attempt to make understanding the real world impossible, seeking to replace it with phantoms and lies. Language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating. It can become a weapon of mind control and abuse if centralized in a political agency.

Newspeak was the fictional or artificial language of Oceania, the dystopian society of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Its purpose was to fulfill the ideological demands of the government. The artificial language invented by degrees, imposed by the Party to limit the capacity to express or even think “unorthodox” thoughts. Newspeak does this partly by the invention of New Words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words, and by stripping such words that remained of unorthodox meanings and so far as possible, of all secondary meanings whatsoever. Ideas such as freedom, skepticism, and debate became practically unthinkable since no words existed to describe them, aside from a generic term “thoughtcrime.”

Arguably most insidious was “duckspeak,” a type of speech consisting entirely of words and phrases authorized by the party, language that promoted politically correct messaging only. A citizen who employed duckspeak could make ideologically pure assertions without thinking at all, their words emanated from the larynx like the quacking of a duck. It was considered a sincere compliment to be called a “duckspeaker” since it demonstrated that you were well-educated in the official language and views of the state.

The Newspeak term for the existing English language was Oldspeak, something to be avoided at all costs by loyal citizens.

In Berkeley, California the town has voted to remove all gender-related words to descriptions of people and things. They are actually renaming “manholes” that give entry below our streets to city workers. They are now to be referred to as “maintenance holes.” 

Newspeak can be observed today in the following other ways as well:

  • When a word/phrase that is politically unsuitable (e.g., “civilian casualties”) or offensive (e.g., “murder”) is replaced with a politically correct or inoffensive one (e.g., “collateral damage”).
  • When the term “estate tax” was replaced by the “death tax.” A similar effect may be observed in the abortion debates where those advocating restrictions on abortion label themselves “pro-life,” leaving their opponents presumably “anti-life.” Conversely, those advocating greater availability of abortion call themselves “pro-choice,” and the opposition “anti-choice,” to engender similarly positive emotions.
  • When “climate change” is defined as a man-made phenomenon even though changes in climate are cyclical in nature and are primarily controlled by natural factors outside the control of humans.
  • When carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are referred to as ‘carbon pollution,’ when, in fact, it is plant food and so the breath of life and the very opposite of pollution.
  • When energy sources that emit low levels of CO2 are called green. In reality, sources that emit high levels of CO2 should be called green.
  • When there is an overuse of abbreviations, especially the use of acronyms like “Ofcom,” “AIDS,” “OPEC” and “NAFTA,” which can be pronounced as if they were proper words. Acronyms contain less information than the full term and tend not to trigger spontaneous associations, making them ambiguous and therefore vulnerable to misuse.
  • When illegal immigrants are not differentiated linguistically from legal immigrants, implying that all should be welcomed with open arms into this nation, or that any opposition to illegal immigration constitutes opposition to legal immigrants.

First Amendment Shift

With attitudes shifting in the legal academy, a growing body of scholarship contends that the First Amendment is too favorable toward faith. Accordingly, there is now an interest in putting limits on the free exercise of religion as set forth in the First Amendment:

The ten top religious liberty stories of 2018 did signal a marked shift away from the careful balance of concerns at the heart of America’s religious liberty heritage. In both court rulings and government policy, Free Exercise arguments continue to dislodge Establishment Clause principles to create an uneven and uneasy relationship between the Constitution’s twin pillars of religious liberty.

In The True Lessons of 1984 by Nathan Schlueter, reference was made to the left’s co-opting of George Orwell’s novel as a dramatic warning of the dangers of the Trump administration. But the novel is really a warning against socialism, not capitalism.  

For insight into this nation’s current political situation the following questions should be asked:

  • Which political party had a leading presidential candidate proudly declare himself to be a socialist? (The Democrats)
  • Which party’s president consistently sought to expand the regulatory administrative state. (The Democrats)
  • Which party dominates the institutions of higher learning, where the possibility of truth has been consistently undermined by assumptions of skepticism and value relativism. (The Democrats)
  • Which party controls America’s public-school system, where these same ideas are consistently promoted? (The Democrats)
  • Which party is most closely associated with Hollywood’s celebration of “sexual liberation”? (The Democrats)

Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning against totalitarian governments. It’s all the more relevant now than when it was written. The 2020 elections will decide the direction of this nation.

Throughout Orwell’s novel, his not so fictional new world maintained the citizenry in a constant state of fear. He likely learned this from fellow writer H. L. Mencken who was famous for saying that the purpose of politicians was to keep the public in a constant state of fear by scaring them with endless though imaginary hobgoblins. Even Orwell did not imagine the very effective scary mechanism of the Climate Delusion requiring the world to give up fossil fuels or see all life perish. Actually, taking a page from Nineteen Eighty-Four, today’s world leaders recognize that without inexpensive fossil fuels the standard of living of all on the planet will be reduced to a state of begging the government to care for them.

If our readers enjoy good novels but doubt our warnings, no better antidote would be to read this prescient novel. Focus especially on the appendix, The Principles of Newspeak.


In addition to Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris, Nancy Thorner is a contributing author to this article. Nancy Thorner writes regularly for the Western Free Press, the Illinois Review and the Heartland Institutes Freedom Pub.

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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