We Have Always Been at War With Eastasia
No, this isn't a commentary on China being "the enemy". You can put your pitchforks away... but you may want to stick around to see if you wish to point them back in my direction by the time this post ends.
Ever since I finished the novel 1984 last year, I have understood why it resonates so well with people. Well enough, in fact, that the word "Orwellian" (Taken from the author's name) was made up to describe heavily Authoritarian practices by governments or those in power. It's not just the accuracy with which it depicts Authoritarian regimes, though; it's also how accurately it portrays people. That's right, if you're reading this, there is a possibility that you are similar to the brainwashed men, women, and children depicted in 1984. Perhaps you aren't brainwashed to the same extent of those poor people, but in this post I aim to show the similarities of our society today and the society propped up by Ingsoc.
I can understand if you might think that the above paragraph was hyperbolic; at first I considered changing it to imply that there are only slight parallels. But the more that I think of the upcoming examples and comparisons, the more I am convinced. Consider this idea: Social media is our world's version of Ingsoc. It influences how we behave, we are constantly trying to please it, and we get much of our information from there (With many choosing to believe memes whether they are true or not). Normally, this isn't so obvious, but with the Coronavirus pandemic taking over all of our lives, it has revealed many people's true natures. Let's start with exhibit A:
At the beginning of 1984, the home country of the protagonist, Oceana, is in a state of perpetual war with another superpower, Eurasia. It is hammered home to the reader that this has always been the state of things in that world. Toward the middle of the book, seemingly out of nowhere, it is stated several times that actually, Eastasia is Oceana's enemy.
"We have always been at war with Eastasia." - Suddenly Eurasia is out of the picture.
And the people just accept that as a fact. Even though mere weeks before, Eurasia was forever their enemy who they have always been at war with. This might seem silly. You might be wondering how anything in the real world could possibly compare to such stupidity. Well...
As recently as one month ago, there was talk on social media and even the news of how those who were in good health and had no Coronavirus symptoms were greedy and selfish if they wore masks in public. After all, the healthcare workers need those and there were shortages. Ignore the fact that China, the manufacturer of the masks, were hoarding them. This is about the selfish individuals. These humanitarians who call the greedy out on social media would never do such a heinous thing!
Fast-forward to a month later, and the narrative has changed. You are now a selfish degenerate if you don't wear a mask out in public. After all, people are getting sick out there! How could you be so cruel?
I don't see many people questioning how and why the narrative changed so quickly. But perhaps that's not important. It's people's reaction to this - as if nothing ever changed - that I find interesting. In addition, the social media outrage caught my attention. Not only are people accepting en masse that wearing masks was always the correct thing to do, but those who don't wear them are being demonized for it. I'm going to dive a bit deeper into the mob mentality of social media and its similarity to those indoctrinated by Ingsoc, but before that, how about another example of how the narrative changes and nobody notices or cares?
Months ago, before the virus was declared a pandemic, many leaders of the United States scoffed at the idea of Coronavirus being a true threat. Donald Trump famously downplayed it early on, and he has been rightfully called out on that. But what about the big city leaders? The ones who said to go out and not worry about the virus? Or how about the ones who said you were Xenophobic if you didn't go out? There was also a general consensus among the public (social media) that you were a crazy person if you prepared for the Coronavirus; comparable to people with nuclear bomb shelters in their backyards.
Fast forward to today, and with the sheer power of hindsight, it was always obvious that Coronavirus was going to be a problem. *Insert country besides China here* did not do a good enough job of containing and preventing the virus. The blood of thousands dead are on our leader's hands.
How many people do you see on social media today with the above mentality? I don't have a ton of friends on Facebook, just over 200. I would say that over 100 of them have the sort of attitude that everything about Coronavirus should have been obvious from the beginning. How many of them were preparing from the beginning? Hard to get a definitive number, but not a lot. These same people were laughing at those who were cautious early on. They're not laughing anymore.
But once again, what is the difference between this type of behavior and how the brainwashed people of 1984 act? In both the story and in real life, narratives changed. Then, in both the story and in real life, people acted like there was no change, and the new narrative was always a fact.
If that's the case, why are people acting this way? How can I compare social media to an Authoritarian regime that oppresses people? It's time for a deep dive into how social media like Facebook and especially Twitter compare with Ingsoc in exhibit B:
In 1984, the people are so indoctrinated that thought crimes were conceptualized. That is to say, if someone from that world has a simple thought (Gee, can't you post thoughts on social media too? Hm...) that goes against the party's wishes, they will be heavily penalized by either re-education or vaporization. It's to the point where toward the end of the book, an acquaintance of the main character has some kids who report him to the authorities because he slips up. Just the tiniest thing can set them off, too. But in the end, it didn't matter. Winston's acquaintance was vaporized for his thought crimes. The same happens to a co-worker of Winston's. This co-worker was very much pro-Ingsoc, but he was loud and obnoxious about it; just different enough for Winston to know that he would end up vaporized. One day, Winston's co-worker disappears and no one questions it, but deep down he knows what happened.
How does this compare with people on social media today, you might ask? No one gets incinerated for having the wrong thoughts, do they? No, they don't; but that's where the differences end.
There is a desire to please, both on Facebook and Twitter. In much the same way that the children of 1984 desire to please Ingsoc by reporting their own parents. Now the reasons for this are different, but the result is the same. Both Ingsoc and social media indoctrinate people into believing that they are the most pure, and that anyone who disagrees with them is impure. Don't believe me? See the above examples. Remember: If you don't wear a mask out in public, you're a selfish piece of trash. We'll get to even more egregious examples later.
In both cases, the desire to please is out of fear. The fear instilled by Ingsoc is obvious, but what about social media? Interestingly enough it's different for each platform, I've noticed. On Facebook, there is a desire to please for your social status. Better have 1,000 plus friends on there, even if most are acquaintances at best. Better post often or people will forget about you. Better log in every day or you might miss something. In addition to this, there's a great pressure to show how virtuous you are. Not nearly to the extent of Twitter, but it's there. I've known people who say happy birthday to their parents in-person, then make a Facebook post about it. Actually, most people I know do this. I'm not trying to condemn anyone by pointing this out, but what's the purpose besides showing other people that you wished them a happy birthday? What's more important? Throwing someone a birthday party? Or making sure everyone knows that you threw someone a birthday party? Are you a bad person for doing the latter? No, but it does show that you're giving into the social pressures of Facebook. And if you need further examples of how there is a pressure to appear virtuous, look no further than the examples above. Remember: Of course I always knew that Coronavirus would be a threat! You are evil if you wear the face masks that our healthcare providers need!
But the need to be virtuous is worse on Twitter; to the point where it makes people very, very angry. I suspect that it has something to do with the character limit. It's hard to form complete, structured, thoughts, and as a result it is far easier to be outraged or the greatest extreme of some other emotion to get the point across. Whatever the case, you'll find the greatest similarity between Twitter users and the brainwashed people of 1984. Not all Twitter users are like that to be clear, but more than enough are for it to be noticeable. Every time a scandal involving a famous person (Or even internet personalities) comes to light, the greatest eruption is by far twitter. The same people who would angrily reject bible thumping preachers of the 80's act exactly like they did, except with a different definition of what "purity" is.
Want an example? Let's discuss the controversial topic of the protestors who want the economy to open back up. Most if not all governments have determined that "non-essential" businesses are to remain closed until they say that it's safe to open back up. Some people are ignoring this order and protesting it. The good people of Twitter of course have to respond via a good old fashioned condemnation. Many say that these same protestors should have to forego any opportunity to receive treatment for the virus should they contract it. They are selfish for wanting to end quarantine, after all. Not like the puritans of Twitter, who are virtuous.
Let's not get too deep into who's right and who's wrong here. I instead want to point out the blatant hypocrisy at work. If you're sitting on a computer, furiously posting about something out of the righteous nature of your heart, you have to know what makes you in the moral right, don't you? Or is it actually that you are following the herd and parroting what they say? Consider this: Empathy is commonly believed to be one of the greatest virtues one can have. If you are taking place in the mass condemnation of another person ("Twitter mob", as it's affectionately called), are you considering their side at all?
The idea of these Twitter mobs is to make the target seem like the lowest of the low. After all, do we (Non-Lawyers and Jurors) take into consideration the murderer's side of the story? Or the rapist? Or the child abuser? Of course not, they are morally reprehensible, after all. But on Twitter, people who say the wrong thing get this same treatment. People who have the wrong opinion are evil. So no, the Twitter mob does not consider the other side of the argument, because as a whole, they have no empathy. They justify having no empathy by trying to make their target seem like the most reprehensible individual (Or group) possible. This is why usually people who have nothing to do with Nazis or any other "ists" or "isms" usually get compared to them anyway. It's to justify the unfair beat down that's about to happen. You wouldn't want to defend a racist after all, would you? But are they truly racist? Or are you just afraid to defend someone that is being accused of such? There's that societal pressure again...
So how does this have anything to do with Ingsoc and the people of 1984? It's the fear of association. All of the people in 1984 are petrified to speak openly. They don't know who they can trust. One little slip up and they're incinerated. Act a little different and you die. On twitter, what happens if you have a dissenting opinion? What happens if you defend someone that's accused of being evil by the Twitter mob? You are associated with that person or that evil, and you end up crushed too. Maybe not to the same extent of the original target, but you'll get labelled. Even if, just showing a little empathy, you try to present that dissenter's views in a better light respectfully, you will be vilified for it.
This fear, in my opinion, causes many to tweet one thing, but actually feel a different way in reality. They are afraid of the social consequences of the dissenting opinion. This is anecdotal on my part, but I know several people who will say one angry, virtuous thing on Twitter, then face-to-face they'll make a controversial joke on the same subject that they condemn others for joking about. That's because face-to-face, there isn't a mob waiting to attack you for a raunchy joke or dissenting opinion. You suddenly have more confidence in your opinions and thoughts. Just like how Winston in 1984 eventually works up the courage to speak with Julia about his dissenting thoughts. He would never say what he says in front of a group, though. He has to continue spewing the rhetoric of Ingsoc, or face annihilation.
There's also the hyper indoctrinated people of Twitter. Not the ones who fear repercussions for dissenting thought, but the people who truly do think they are heroic crusaders, saving us all from one vile thought criminal at a time. They are most similar to the children of 1984. See, the children in the novel are so brainwashed that they're not tattling on their parents thought crimes out of fear. They truly believe that it is the pure and correct thing to do. Who cares if it's their parents? They're criminals. In this same way, some Twitter users get a dopamine rush out of agreeing with the mob and helping them gang up on someone. Or even better, they help start the mob.
This is getting longer than I wanted it to be, so I want to give one more example of social media and how people behave on there would do Ingsoc proud. The simplification of language and annihilation of the past, exhibit C:
In 1984, the language of Oceana is called Newspeak. It's similar to English, except that in order to limit people in their thoughts, they cut out words and greatly simplify expressions. This allows for a great control, and is constantly being edited to limit thoughts even more as time goes on. What's our equivalent in the real-world? Again, it's different between Facebook and Twitter.
On Facebook, we are not technically limited in any way, but we choose the limited option. Sorry guys, but being informed by memes is not being informed at all. Sometimes you have to look deeper into things. Memes are an oversimplification and should only be used for comedic purposes. Many people fall for hoaxes in this way. Every week there is a new hoax that people are buying into. Why? Because people prefer simplicity. There are far more people who get their news from headlines than get their news from reading the article. But the public does that a lot on Facebook too; they read the headline and then post that, regardless of the article's content.
On Twitter, I've already touched upon how speech is limited to limit thought, so that only the strongest of emotions - regardless of how genuine - are considered in an argument or discussion. In addition, I've already covered how the mob will simplify their target into an undesirable group so that they won't be defended by anyone. Even if you dare to have a dissenting opinion, good luck articulating a different point of view from "That person is evil" in one tweet. It's obscenely difficult, because placing someone into a group (Nazi, for example), says so much about them in such few words that to undo that would probably take paragraphs, not 256 characters. By the time you've finished typing out those ten tweets, you'll probably have about 20 responses to each of them attempting to dissect you. In short, just like Ingsoc's Newspeak, it is very difficult to efficiently get across a dissenting opinion in a tweet as opposed to just labeling someone as something bad and calling it a day.
Have you noticed anything odd about my paragraphs above? I keep on saying "social media" when making comparisons to Ingsoc, but what did I say at the beginning? I'm comparing the people of 1984 to the people of real-life. Social media is merely a platform. We are given the opportunity to act how we want, within reason.
The harsh reality is that no one is forcing us to act this way but ourselves. Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsi have done some bad things, but they're not holding a gun up to anyone's head and telling them what to say. We are choosing to blindly erase history and just roll with whatever society deems as "pure". We are choosing to limit speech. We are choosing to oversimplify, vilify, and label people. We are choosing not to have empathy. We are choosing to strike down those who think differently. And if we're not careful, we may some day choose to forgo our freedom altogether, just like the people of 1984.