The 1984 Bars Canvas
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What is a prison? It is a very large building surrounded by razor wire, where people wear one of two uniforms depending on whether they are paid to be there or attending free of charge.
But a prison doesn’t necessarily have bars of soap and shower rooms in which you would be well advised not to drop them. A prison only has to confine people – and it doesn’t need walls to do that.
George Orwell understood this. In Nineteen Eighty-Four he portrayed the entire world as a prison, where everyone simultaneously plays convict and guard. Every correspondence, every movement, every relationship and every conversation is pored over and checked for error.
We’re going to do something that has never been tried before: compare the actual world to the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. We would posit that our world, in which middling government bureaucrats can read your emails and track your movements – and aggressive freelance authoritarians can get you deplatformed and fired for saying the wrong kinds of things – is not at all unlike Winston Smith’s Oceania.
Which other aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four can we find in our country? A media which will say anything to protect the ruling party and malign its members’ enemies? A military-industrial complex which champs at the bit to wage war – or at the very least arm warriors? A relentless push to change language, erase history and make people accept what’s false as true?
Perhaps. But at least we have mindless distractions.