1984 is a political fiction and dystopian science fiction, one of George Orwell’s greatest classics. He penned down his horrible vision about a ‘negative utopia’ that could emerge if a governing body of authority were to be left unchecked and unchallenged. The admonitions that he gave about the horrible world in which nobody enjoyed anymore freedom and love and where everybody behaved according to the wills and powers of Big Brother were at first exaggerating and laughable, yet these visions are able to strike a cord in most wary readers who identify with the stubborn nature of politics and power, and how a blind combination of both could possibly lead to a social system that is worse than anarchy – a social system containing imperceptibly lost souls and individuals who are incapable of generating personal thoughts. It is this indubitable wariness that George Orwell had hoped to awaken among those who are as yet blissfully ignorant or lost.
It was interesting to discover that terms such as ‘Big Brother’, ‘Thoughtcrime’ and ‘Doublethink’ were actually coinages of George Orwell for this book – terms that have perpetuated time and remained relevant regardless of the renewal of a century; terms that one would cautiously employ in deference to the infallible ‘Mind Police’. ‘Big Brother’, for instance, is a noun phrase frequently used to express farce towards a governing authority being referred to within a certain context. Subconsciously though, the nagging feeling that somebody could really be watching us 24/7 remains. Henceforth, when somebody says that ‘Big Brother is watching’, it is veritably an amalgamation of perspicuous mockery with a blanket of underlying disquietude.
It was certainly the intention of George Orwell to underscore the susceptibility of mankind to bow down to authoritative pressure and bureaucratic processes; to learn to consent and remain contented. In the early chapters of the book, the slogan of the fictional party of the Oceanian province was clearly spelt out to the readers: ‘Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.‘ The main character in the plot – Winston Smith – made a thought to himself that ‘the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered.’ So then:
‘How do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?’
This chunk of text was what caught my attention and made me pause my reading for at least 5 minutes.
Whoever has not heard of history being manipulated and rewritten to glorify the existence of a state must have been living in a world of his own. More often than not, history as a state matter is more concerned with decisions about what to include and what to rub out than it is concerned with the content of history as a subject matter. Such decisions are believed to be effective in affecting the perceptions of not just the current generation but also the posterity. This is (still) the main reason why nation building and national education are frequently prioritised as a studying subject in many education systems around the world today (controlling the present) – to ensure that everyone acquires a common understanding of a shared past (controlling the past) and is motivated to work towards a common goal in the future (controlling the future).
Subsequently, I posed the following questions to myself: (1) To what extent has history been altered? (2) To what extent has my perception of history been influenced? (3) What proportion of history that I’ve learnt in school is factual? (4) Will I ever obtain answers to the preceding questions? ………………….
Organisations, too, operate with a similar set of principles. Newly hired employees would often receive induction sessions to learn about desired corporate values of the organisation at the same time they orientate themselves to the new workplace. In this way, what is deemed as desirable behaviours immediately becomes biased towards benefiting the organisation rather than the individual. Such methods might help to tame the young and rapacious minds and hence encourage everybody to work collaboratively towards a common goal for the company. But – at what cost? Whatever happened to innovative, non-conformal and out-of-the-box thinking? Even while organisations and organisational leaders publicly extol the values of groundbreaking ideas and practices, many of them remain secretly cautious, perhaps even resentful, towards those who behave in such a manner.
At the end of the day, a basic level of conformity is required for any polity or institution to function at least minimally. It is this inevitable loss of individuality that allows company goals to rise to the alter at the expense of idiosyncrasy and selfhood. Perhaps this is not such a bad thing after all, especially if it helps to move things forward. But hey, don’t ever forget who YOU truly are.