Who is Winston Smith?
Winston Smith, member of the middle class Outer Party, is the protagonist of the George Orwell’s 1984. Winston is the man in fictional Oceania who began to question the lies and half-truths fed to him by Big Brother. He was an editor of historical revisionism at the misnomer Ministry of Truth, Big Brother’s propaganda ministry. 1984 follows Winston’s private thought flow of his misgivings about the nature of life in Oceania, him falling in love with Julia and his subsequent arrest and torture by the Thought Police. O’Brien, an undercover Thought Police officer, approaches Winston with the aim of convincing Winston to join the Brotherhood, a resistance movement against Big Brother. O’Brien gives Winston The Book.
The Book as it is colloquially referred to in Oceania is a paper entitled “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism” written by Emmanuel Goldstein, public enemy number one of Big Brother and the apparent leader of the Brotherhood. George Orwell gives Winston only enough time (the same for the readers) to briefly read the introduction to Chapter 1 and read Chapter 3.
Now one can draw parallels between their own lives and the fictional world. Those fortunate may draw a parallel with 50 Shades of Grey while some unlucky ones find themselves in the midst of a Shakespearean tragedy. But under the influence of intoxicants and floating through the rarified atmosphere of pretentiousness I found similarities in the utopia of my life and the dystopia of Winston’s.
Chapter I: Ignorance is Strength
George Orwell through Emmanuel Goldstein forwarded by O’Brien makes Winston read an interesting picture. The Chapter explains that society will always be in a state of hierarchy with a High, Middle and Low. A perpetual class struggle is the equilibrium of society. The High wishes to retain power, the Middle wishes to supplant the High (using the Low but subsequently keeping them Low) and the Low can only think about their day to day life. Whilst this dismal representation of the year 1984 was written in 1949, stark examples can be seen even today in 2015.
Noam Chomsky has explained that the watchdog of democracy for the world, ‘Murica, has ceased to act as a democracy[i]. A Princeton Study analyzing policies of the US government has stated that most policies are being passed with a view to cater to the oligarchy and not what is in fact public demand. America has been eerily attributed to an “Elitist Oligarchy”[ii].
The High wishing to retain their power.
In India, the Aam Aadmi Party (translated to the Common Man’s Party) was created as a result of a long battle against institutionalized corruption in the corridors of government in India. They espoused the ideals of party financial transparency, consensus generation and internal party democracy. The AAP swept a landslide election in their favour in the state of Delhi. Following which, founding members of the party were ousted in closed-door meetings with internal politics commanding headlines for questioning members amidst corruption allegations[iii]. All the while operating a model of hand out governance to keep the masses on government dole. Raising the question whether or not to hand out fish or fishing rods.
The Middle using the Low to supplant the High but keeping the Low down.
Forbes Magazine compiled a list of the happiest and saddest countries in the world[iv]. While the West took the former quite happily I may add, Africa was ranked the saddest continent. It boils down to that which is in the West but lacking in Africa makes the people happier or sad. On the flipside, no one in Africa is going on about this. While we feared Ebola, the few African nations had to deal with it. While we fear economic hyperinflation, they had to deal with it. While we say we’re famished before a meal, they grapple with famine.
The Low can only think about their day-to-day life.
Chapter III: War is Peace
This Chapter sets out the ironic peace enjoyed by the inhabitants of three super states; Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. The Chapter explains the concept of continuous warfare as a means of maintaining the hierarchical society. As an economic maneuver it provides the emotional justification for the destruction of resources, which could instead be used to uplift the Low. The theory suggests that if the resources were to be used for the benefit of the Low, once comfortable the Low would rise up. Therefore, providing a justification keeps the Low in place. The propaganda, however, has to be aimed at the Middle. This war is with ever changing enemies deliberately designed to prolong and maintain the war. It constitutes allocation of large portions of public money and is used to police the individual citizen. A means to justify hypocritical State action.
The War on Drugs and/or The War on Terror
They are indeed continuous. The War on Drugs has merely ensured that the cost of supply has increased due to the inelastic nature of the demand.
They eat up resources. In terms of investment and manpower dedicated to these causes a huge amount of taxpayer’s money world over is used to make contributions.
They are used to justify the need to police own subjects. The resources are used to prevent the ease and smooth flow we used to enjoy when travelling. But the media portrayal of drug gangs, warlords and terrorists convince us that the measures being adopted are necessary to prevent those “evil scumbags from putting stuff in their bags”. Yet somehow these men receive their funding nonetheless, their ploys and plans take effect on the streets and we are still standing in line furtively procrastinating the answer to nature’s call.
In the name of these wars horrific crimes belittling humanity have been carried out both by State actors, Non-State actors, Non-State actors wishing to be State actors whilst providing a niche for State-funded Non-State actors (you all know who you are).
Will the real Winston Smith please stand up?
At the end of 1984, the Thought Police successfully remove Winston from his self-exile from Big Brother’s love and Winston gladly welcomes the (suffocating) embrace.
Notwithstanding the fact that Winston Smith is the pilot of this political commentary, this is a story of a man who was not indifferent till the system made him so. This is the crux of the matter. I am neither hoping to correct the flaws in policy or advocate a particular solution to the endemic problems nor am I asking anyone to just bend over.
While The Book was a farce it was also a tool to decry the hypocrisy of the times. Kick back with a spirit in hand, whilst you dissect the spirit of the times.
All we need to do is not be indifferent to the systemic problems around us for Ian Kershaw said, “The path to Auschwitz was built by hate but paved with indifference”[v].