1984 And Big Brother

George Orwell’s novel, 1984, written after the Second World War, introduced a concept of reality control that the population could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday language and thought. Doublespeak was the method for controlling thought directly. Doublethink is the ability to simultaneously believe in at least two or more mutually contradictory concepts without any cognitive dissonance. You know better and what’s really true, but you keep on believing your own lies. The system requires that all citizens believe every thing that the Party says, even though they know for a fact that it is not true. Ingrained in this concept is also the idea that your mind makes it real. If everyone believes that something is true, then it is true. Thus the Party can literally dictate reality.

Doublethink becomes essential for the functioning of the Party – to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. Ultimately it is by means of doublethink that the Party has been able to control the course of history.

The use of fear and perpetual war was used to keep the citizens of Oceania under control. The fact they handed over the power to a small cast seems natural, unavoidable condition of survival. In Orwell’s 1984 there was a daily period in which party members of the society of Oceania must watch a film depicting the Party’s enemies, and express their hatred of them. This process created a sense of community. There also included the hate week excitement to divert attention from domestic problems, promote national unity, and, where necessary, to motivate people to kill other people in wars.  Hatred makes people stick together to form a community.

Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984 was about packaging images – it was about his administration’s ability to manipulate news coverage. Rather than focus on rational dry issues Reagan’s handlers recognized how to appeal to the people, consequently developed a plan to focus on the image the campaign conveys. This is illustrated by a how a visit to the Rockwell plant in California where the B1 bomber was made was handled. In order to focus the attention away from the B1 bombers, there was a huge ‘Prepared for Peace’ sign behind Reagan when he made his speech. This eliminated the negative that Reagan was more likely to get the country into war than his opponent. (He presided over the largest military buildup in US history.) The mainstream media dutifully reported Reagan is preparing for peace. Reagan’s handlers were brilliant – they knew that facts are secondary to what is reported on TV.1

During this time the mainstream media was becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of corporate owners. With maximization of profit the driver, the quality of the media is negatively impacted. In television money comes from advertising, not the quality of the programing. Advertisers pay based on the amount of viewers a station has. In this competition, issues and hard news do not attract people. This presented opportunities for the Reagan administration to present the media with pre-packaged stories, frame the issue for them, then allow them to ‘cover it’. Reagan enjoyed a resurgent economy, and American citizens wanted to deny the many political problems in the country, and turned to a leader who reassured the nation that respect and prestige for America was re-established – once more it was “morning again in America”.2 After the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide election, his second term set in earnest to dismantle the welfare state and shrink the size of government – the Reagan revolution continued unabated.

In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. It was described by the New York Times Review of Books as a “persuasive . . . new variation on Social Darwinism.” Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs. The New York Times wrote in 1985 that Losing Ground became “this year’s budget-cutters’ bible” noting, “in agency after agency, officials cite the Murray book as a philosophical base” for slashing social programs.3

Murray’s manipulation of data claimed to show welfare programs were the cause of minority poverty, rather than the cure. In order to get the numbers to work to “prove” that liberal social welfare spending created poverty, Murray excluded government spending on the elderly from his “evidence.” As Lester Thurow, former dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management noted, 86% of federal social welfare spending went to programs to help the elderly; and the poverty rate for the elderly dropped from 25.3% in 1969 to 14.1% in 1983, refuting Murray’s thesis. (The welfare system was actually working.) Thurow’s conclusion: “The purpose of Losing Ground is to help President Reagan shoot a silver bullet into the heart of the monster called social welfare spending.”3

In a 1997 speech at an event hosted by the Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County, Murray cheered the explosion of wealth inequality since the start of the Reagan Revolution, noting that greater concentration of wealth meant the rich had much more political power, “making it harder for politicians to bash the rich than it used to.” While the majority of the people on welfare are white, Murray’s efforts triggered a war on African American welfare recipients by painting them as undermining the free market system and family values, which, in turn, united various sectors of the right.3

Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. This policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society. The program is perpetuated by fear – if taxes are raised unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. This goal is achieved through using perceived and real crisis by triggering so-called crisis management situations that require government program reductions. Ongoing tax reductions create budget implications of deficit financing that dictates this crisis management – (with decisions that support their talking points on less government) such as the need to cut government programs that include environmental monitoring, and social safety nets.

Previous dictators made the mistake of mixing equalitarian propaganda with their purpose. The oligarchy presently manipulating the system is not making that mistake. They claim that inequality is a key part of the economic system, and rely on doublespeak to explain it. Their argument is meritocracy is more just and productive, allowing for distinctions to be made on the basis of performance.George Orwell’s prophesy in his novel 1984 was the appearance of a  state in which the truth does not exist; it is merely what ‘big brother’ says it is.

The conservatives have done such a skillful job of selling the crisis, many middle class folks who are being harmed by these economic policies actively support trickle down economics. Even when individuals may be exposed to new ideas the conservatives have their own media – radio and television – to control cognitive dissonance by ensuring that any new ideas that do not support their dogma are countered, such as reassuring everyone that cutting taxes and small government will address economic issues, and everything will be fine. Thirty years after Charles Murray began his attack on welfare, the US poverty rate for children is the second highest in the world among similar developed economies (just behind Romania).5 While conservatives promote policies that support the family, the consequences of these economic theories are that many families need two incomes to meet monthly bills, and quality time for their family has been significantly eroded. The war on poverty became a war on the family.

Today because of various levels of manipulation only 50% of what you read or hear in the media is true. There are mixed messages from the media explaining the effects of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the extent of government surveillance. One explanation is that it is part of the war on terror and the world is much safer because of it. The other explanation is this establishes that big brother exists and the state is interfering in your privacy through massive spying initiatives. The challenge is – what part of either statement is true? Well, big brother exists, but is comprised of global corporations rather than the government, and the scope of interference is greater than just monitoring – it is about controlling what you think. The big oil companies, one of the biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions and climate change denial, control the debate on climate change, as well as the response to climate change – the solution being new cleaner fuel – natural gas obtained from fracking. Agribusiness not only relies on the special formula of sugar, fat and salt for sales, the product image includes the psychology and the marketing that compels us to toss packages of processed food in the cart – you are hooked on inexpensive food.6  Corporations monitor your activity through your electronic purchases and diverse Internet activities. The big banks control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting laissez-faire capitalism, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe – the need for small government and less regulation to drive a global economy.

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” is an Orwell quote from 1984. Thirty years ago (the past) the plans began in earnest to dismantle the welfare state and shrink the size of government with the introduction of trickle down economics which has created an economic system with increasing income disparity between the rich and the rest of society. Today, the oligarchy manipulate the media and control the politicians (in the present) to ensure messaging that creates fear of change to such ideas as turning to a system with emphasis on stability, social conscience and regulation. Until nation states restore the primacy of politics (management of the state) over commerce, and individuals continue to be lulled to complacency by the narcotic of technological innovation, big brother will continue to tell you what is true.

1 “Reagan on the News” http://it.stlawu.edu/~quack/seminar/reagan_news.htm

2 “Presidential Politics.”  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/reagan-presidential/

3 “Project S.H.A.M.E: The Recovered History of Charles Murray.” (10 Jan 2013) http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/01/project-s-h-a-m-e-the-recovered-history-of-charles-murray.html

4 Horsman, Greg. The Average Man (1 Oct 2013) http://questioningandskepticism.com/2013/10/01/on-the-average-man

5 “U.S. Child Poverty Second Highest Among Developed Nations: Report.” (31 May 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/us-child-poverty-report-unicef_n_1555533.html

6 Moss. Michael. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. (2013) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart pp 331-356

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