I’ve heard people say that George Orwell’s 1984 is very representative of modern America. That’s true, but not in the way they mean it.
The focus of 1984 is often political. Rightly so, for it’s a dystopian novel aimed at totalitarianism; Orwell was very clear about that when he wrote it. However, the story, and the dialogue in particular, reveal a deeper and more central problem to Oceania than Big Brother. In fact, it’s the very issue that made Big Brother possible.
Winston is a government worker in 1984 in what’s called the Ministry of Truth. There are many things wrong with Winston’s country, but the most obvious is dealt with in his own work quarters: he changes written records so that they match what the government has predicted. It’s not seen as corrupt; in fact, that’s the point of the entire ministry! Does anyone protest the practice? Of course not. Because if they did, they’d be captured by the Thought Police (which actually does, in fact, grab people for something called “thoughtcrime”) and tortured in the Ministry of Love (that’s not a typo or mistake, the ministry that tortures thought criminals is the Ministry of Love).
Winston’s first offense occurs when he purchases a journal. This isn’t technically speaking illegal (the laws are not expressly defined for party members), but it is dangerous. After all, if the Party saw the sort of things he was writing, they would immediately arrest him. Since all of the televisions, called “telescreens” allow the Party to observe its members, he has to write with his chair’s back to the TV while hunched over so that they can’t see it.
Winston’s second offense, however, is where moral relativism starts to rear its ugly head. He engages in an affair with a woman at work. They have to be careful, working around the system, but they are able to get away with it for a short period of time. Winston has no remorse or moral aversion to engaging in this behavior; he only has paranoia that they will be caught.
His third offense comes when he tries to join the underground resistance organization known as The Brotherhood. Then comes the capture. The Thought Police swarm in on Winston and Julia (his lover) and he wakes up later in the Ministry of Love. What follows is a brilliantly-written tale of torture and brainwashing, administered by one of the Inner Party members. Winston is resistant for a time before succumbing to their tactics. It is during one of his discussions while he is resistant that the most revealing part of the narrative occurs.
“No, I believe it. I know that you will fail. There is something in the universe—I don’t know, some spirit, some principle—that you will never overcome.” (Winston)
“Do you believe in God, Winston?” (Inner Party Member)
“Then what is it, this principle that will defeat us?”
“I don’t know. The spirit of man.”
Herein lies the problem. The entire issue of the Party and their manipulation of the truth lies in a sort of postmodernism. They say that the past only exists in written records and in memories, so if they change the written records and manipulate the memories, the past is what they say it is. That same postmodernism works in the morality of the book. Winston wants to believe that what they are doing is wrong, that it is immoral. Based on what? The spirit of man?
You see, if there is no god, there is no morality. There is no standard based on which to say one thing is right and another is wrong. That’s why Winston’s arguments fall short at this point in the book. If everything is relative, how can Winston say that what they are doing is wrong? He can’t. And therein lies the comparison to modern America, and the modern world as a whole.
Abortion. Homosexuality. Polygamy. Pedophilia. Once accepted as deplorable acts, these things are now being proclaimed not only as acceptable, but as the rights of individuals. The Pro-Life movement is dubbed a “war on women.” Homosexual marriage is called “marriage equality.” A judge in Utah recently struck down the state’s ban on polygamy as unconstitutional. Not too long ago the DSM listen pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” How have we slipped so far? We have abandoned the standard of morality.
When I reached the end of 1984, it was chilling. It’s a scary image of the future, and one that I hope we don’t ever arrive at. But we’re well on our way there now, not just with the offenses of government corruption, but with corruption and debauchery at all levels of our society.
May God help us all, before we pass the point of no return.