The visions in Orwell's "1984" and the reality in the year 2000. - Referat
A. Big Brother
In March 2000 a new TV show came over from the Netherlands to Germany. Its name is “Big Brother”. The concept of the show is simple but somehow revolutionary. There are ten people locked up into some kind of “living container” for 100 days. That doesn’t sound very interesting so far, but in addition to that, the container is filled with dozens of cameras and microphones, so that everything this people do and all their more or less intelligent expressions can be watched and heard by a multi million audience in front of the TV screens. Then every two weeks, one of the container inhabitants is chosen by the audience to leave the container. The inhabitant who is allowed to stay until the end of the show receives 250.000 DM. Even before this TV show was launched, a huge discussion about it started. There were two opposing groups. One group saw these show as another piece of good entertainment, just another TV show as there are already thousands. There other group saw this show as basic offence against human rights. They even wanted to forbid the show, but they, in order to anticipate the result, were not successful. Big Brother has just finished its second 100 days, it is watched by millions of people and nobody really cares about the discussion before the launch of the show anymore.
I think that most of the people, who watch the show, did not read George Orwell’s “1984” and unfortunately Mr. Orwell called his book “1984” and not “2000”. If he had done so, perhaps some more people would think about what is the real meaning and the idea behind the expression “Big Brother” and about the question what total surveillance means today. The Big Brother-phenomenon is not the only point where the utopia “1984” became reality in our society. There are lots more and in the following text, I will show you, that this utopia is not so utopian as it seems.
B. The Visions in Orwell's "1984" and the Reality in the Year 2000
1. 1984 – a Short Summary
Orwell’s “1984” plays, as the title already says in the year 1984. It is set in London, the chief city of a country that was formerly known as Great Britain. Today it is called Airstrip One and is part of a state called Oceania. “Oceania comprises the Americas, the Atlantic islands including the British Isles, Australasia and the southern portion of Africa.” (1) The rest of the world either belongs to Eastasia or to Eurasia. Oceania is in a constant state of war with one of them, but it is not really important with whom exactly. These three super states are all ruled by totalitarian regimes. A party called „INGSOC“ or simply „The Party“ for example rules Oceania. Their leader is the omnipresent and omnipotent “Big Brother”. He’s not real person, he is something like a symbol. The whole government is parted into four ministries. “The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs.” (2) What the Ministry of Truth really does is to modify historical facts that were not opportune for the Party. A better description what the Ministry of Plenty does, would be rationing.
Then, there is an organisation called Thought Police. You can compare it to the “Gestapo” during the Third Reich in Germany. The Thought Police hunts and arrests people, who committed a Thought Crime, which is the worst crime in Oceania. Thought Crime means, that you have thoughts which are against the Party or Big Brother. If you are arrested because of Thought Crime, you will be vaporized, that means, that you just disappear. You are not only killed, but all evidence that you ever existed is destroyed. After you have been vaporized, you are a so-called “unperson”, that means you practically never existed.
In every room, on every public place, nearly everywhere in Oceania are so-called telescreens. A telescreen is something like a TV, a camera and a microphone combined in one apparatus. You are constantly watched and tapped by the telescreen. That’s the reason, why you can’t say anything against Big Brother, because someone behind the telescreen would hear it and you would be arrested some minutes later. Even in the nature outside the big cities, you aren’t in secure. There are microphones hidden in the landscape. This fact makes it absolutely impossible to establish something like an opposition against the Party.
The society of Oceania consists of three classes. There are the members of the Inner Party, they make up only one percent of the population, but they are the really powerful people in Oceania, something like the Upper class in our society. Then there is the Outer Party, comparable to the middle class in our society. They make up around 18 percent of Oceania’s population. The other 80 percent are so-called proletarians or just proles. They form the working class of Oceania. The funny thing about that is, that the proles are not allowed to be member of the Party, which sounds like a worker party, as it has “socialism” in its name. The proles just live or better vegetate in the slums of the big cities, like London. The Party more or less ignores the proles. “Proles and animals are free.” (3) That’s the official statement of the Party concerning the proles. They are no danger for the rule of the Party and so they can do what they want.
The official language of Oceania is the so-called “Newspeak”. In the year 1984 it is not yet introduced as the language for oral communication. If you talk to someone, you still speak English, but in the year 2050 Newspeak shall replace any other language in Oceania. Newspeak is based upon English, but its vocabulary contains far less words, and even if you speak English, you wouldn’t understand someone speaking Newspeak.
2. 1984 – yet Utopia or already Reality?
2 a. “Big Brother is watching you” – On the Way to Complete Surveillance?
“Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it completely.” (4)
“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained in the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on individual wire was guesswork. It was conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had top live-did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, expect in darkness, every movement scrutinised.” (5)
These two passages from George Orwell’s “1984” show, that the society he created in his book is the prototype of a completely surveyed society. As a citizen of Oceania, you can’t do or say anything, without running the risk, that every word you say everything you do is watched and heard by some member of the Though Police. There is practically no place, where you can’t be seen and heard by a telescreen. Even outside the big cities in the nature, where there are no telescreens, you aren’t in secure. There are microphones hidden somewhere in the landscape. Everybody, who commits a Thought Crime, that means who says anything against the system or against Big Brother is arrested by the Thought Police within shortest time. Even in your sleep, you could commit a Thought Crime. A man called Parsons, for example was arrested because he said “Down with Big Brother” (6), while he was sleeping.
This all sounds very utopian, but is it really? Of course, there is no organisation like the Thought Police in reality and of course there is no crime like Thought Crime today, but if you have a closer look on some aspects in today’s world you’ll find out, that Orwell’s utopia is not so far from reality, as you might think first.
One point is the increasing number of cameras in the public. Today nearly every shop, gas station, bank or supermarket has at least one camera. Shop-owners survey their customers and even their employees. You could even read in the newspaper, that there were landlords who installed cameras in the apartments, to watch their tenants.
And there is even another, a still more frightening dimension of surveillance. Let’s have a look at Great Britain. In the early 90s the government discovered a new method of fighting and preventing crimes: video-surveillance. Of course video-surveillance today is used in almost every other country, but Great Britain was the first country, which introduced surveillance systems of this dimension and there is still no other country, where this systems have been pushed so much as in Great Britain. Since the early 90s, Great Britain’s governments have spent some hundred million pounds for surveillance projects. Today you can’t walk around in the city of London without being filmed by one of the thousands of cameras. Every public place, the tube, streets, hospitals and so on, are completely covered by cameras. In fact, every person who walks around in the public is filmed permanently. And that’s not only the case in big cities like London. Today nearly every town in Great Britain has installed camera at public places. It’s impossible to live your everyday life without being filmed. The actual purpose of this surveillance is to prevent crimes and to catch criminals more easily, but that leads you to another problem. Let’s take for example the tube. How do you know, who of the hundreds of people, who are walking around there could be a criminal and so should be watched, or, to say it more easily: How does the average criminal look? Of course there is no unequivocal answer to this question. Surely it would be possible to install still more cameras, in order to watch everybody all the time, but that would not be very efficient. The police had to find other methods of recognizing a potential criminal. The most popular idea, the one which used in everyday life, is this one. There are groups of people that, statistically, commit more crimes than others do. Men, for example, are more often criminals than women. If you now have a look at the statistics, you’ll find out that men are filmed more often than women. And that’s not the only example. Teenagers are filmed more often than old people, Afro-Americans are filmed more often than white people, and so on. That means for example, that if you are a male Afro-American teenager, who never committed any crime, the probability for you to be filmed by a camera is higher than that of a white female thief, and that I think, is really ridiculous. To transform this problem to higher level, you could say, that there are people whose privacy is disturbed more often than that of others, and why? They just belong to a group that, statistically, commits more crimes than the others do. (7)
Another problem especially in Great Britain is, that you as an individual have no possibility to prevent being filmed. There is no general regulation for cameras in public rooms. You don’t even have to license a camera. And there is nothing said about, what should happen to the videos after they have been filmed. In Germany for example these things were regulated by laws in 1998. In Great Britain, not even those basic rights are guaranteed. In fact there is no protection of the privacy of a human being. It could even happen to you, that you see yourself on TV, because the police is allowed to give these filmed material to TV stations or newspapers! If you hear this, you have to ask the question: Who cares, that the police doesn’t, let’s say, misinterpret the videos and arrests someone who is not guilty? Who takes care, that these videos do not come into the wrong hands? Who takes care, that your privacy and your basic rights are not disturbed more than absolutely necessary? So, who surveys the surveyors? The biggest problem about this kind of surveillance is the question, whether it really helps anyone that these cameras are there. Until today, almost 15 years after this development started, there is no independent long-term study that proves, that camera surveillance really reduces the crime-rate. Of course camera surveillance is a method of preventing crimes, but it’s not so efficient as the advertisements and the police want to make us think. (8) Do you really feel completely in secure, just because there is a camera hanging around somewhere? I don’t think so! But let’s come to another point.
In 1948, the year Orwell wrote “1984”, the USA, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia entered into the so-called “Ukusa-Agreement”. The result of this agreement was “ECHELON”, an electronic, multinational spy-platform. In 1948, when the Cold War was just beginning, it should be used to spy out Russia. Today it is used for other things, but more about that later. The existence of this system was of course long time denied by everyone. In 1998, 50 years after ECHELON had been established, Australia was the first of the five states, to confirm its existence officially. Today, just as 50 years ago, the system is used to survey the complete electronic communication, such telephone, email, and telex all over the world. There is nothing that cannot be surveyed by ECHELON. They survey undersea-telephone-cable as well as satellites. There is a central computer in every of these five countries. These central computers have some kind of a dictionary with key words, like “bomb”, “Iraq” or “Mossad”. When one of these words appears for example in a scanned email, it is saved and transmitted to the headquarters, so that they can introduce appropriate steps. Today, ECHELON is mainly run and used by the NSA, a secret service in the USA. The NSA is a very mysterious organisation. It is not under the control of the parliament and the more or less only thing you know about it, is, that you know nothing. Estimations say, that the NSA can store 2 Million messages per hour! There are over 120 tap-stations all over the world. In Germany, there is such a station in Bad Aibling. From there, the NSA controls every email and every phone call in Germany. Not even the BND, the German secret service, knows exactly what’s happening in Bad Aibling. Theoretically, the NSA could find out everything about everyone. One thing is sure. Today there is no real need for such a big spy-network, as the Cold War is over, the USSR broke down and the USA is the only remaining superpower. In my opinion, there’s only one “meaningful” purpose left today: economy espionage. The NSA spies out enterprises all over the world, which could endanger the leading position of American enterprises. Of course, everyone denies this, but it’s the only solution that makes sense. Today information means money. That’s for sure. (9), (10)
As you see electronic media and especially the Internet made possible completely new methods in field of surveillance. Since the discovery of electricity, there was no invention, which made such a big step forward on the road to complete surveillance. If you’re surfing the Internet it’s absolutely impossible to keep your anonymity. You’re spied out wherever it is possible. “Cookies” are one method to spy out the habits of a person, who surfs the Internet. A cookie writes down all the websites you surfed on and then transfers back the collected information to the sender. He can now make some kind of a profile of you, which helps him, to find out which kind of advertisements you “need”. If you’re for example searching for CDs, you might find an advertisement of a CD-Shop, when you come back to this website. But it gets even worse. If you do the mistake to write down your address somewhere in the Internet, you can be nearly sure, to receive some advertisement letters short time after. There are even enterprises, which collect every kind of information about people and then sell this information. If you are surfing the Internet, you are more or less a “man of glass”, and everybody, who really tries, may find out nearly everything about you. I think you can summarize the whole thing into one sentence. The main difference between Orwell’s “1984” and the reality today is the fact, that today we are not watched by one „Big Brother“, but by many „Little Brothers“ (11), and I don’t think, that this is much better!
2 b. Influencing the Public Opinion in the Age of the Internet
“But actually, as he readjusted the Ministry of Plenty’s figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely a substitution of one peace of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connection with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For example, the Ministry of Plenty’s forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at a hundred and forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been over-fulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than a hundred and forty-five million. Very likely no boots had been produced at all Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” (12)
What the protagonist Winston Smith does in the Ministry of Truth can be said in one sentence. He changes historical facts after the needs of the Party. If anything which is written down for example in a newspaper turns out to be wrong or inopportune to the Party afterwards, it has to be changed. The article is rewritten by some employee in the Ministry of Truth, the whole issue of the newspaper is reprinted and then put back to the archive. The same happens to every book, poster, journal and so on. In fact there is no piece of printed paper left in its original form. The Party has the power to change the past just the way they want. One example where you can perfectly see that is the war. At the beginning of the book, Oceania is at war with Eurasia. But the suddenly the enemy changes. From one moment to the other Eastasia had become the enemy and Oceania was now allied with Eurasia. Of course the Party does not admit, that something had changed. They just say, that Eastasia had always been the enemy and the people believe it. The truth is not a constant factor anymore. The truth is dictated by the Party. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” (13) That was one of the Party’s main slogans. If the Party would say, that two and two makes five, the people would believe it. You could read in every historical book, that the Party, for example, invented the helicopter, the aeroplane, and so on. They could even say, that they discovered the fire and the people would believe it because there won’t be any books left, you could prove the opposite with. The Party does not only influence the public opinion, it makes it!
Today there are several more or less successful experiments made, in order to influence the opinion of other people. If you are surfing the Internet, especially sites about economy, stock-trade and the stock exchanges, you’ll surely find a discussion-board on every site. There everybody can say what he thinks of a certain stock, the development of an enterprise, and so on. As there is the fact, that you can make money by trading the right stocks, some people try to manipulate others. There are two main kind of manipulating people. On the one side, there are the so-called “Pushers”. They want to make other people buy a certain stock, because they already have it in their own portfolio and want to make money quickly. Of course he only writes about the positive aspects of the concerning enterprise. The other type is called “Basher”. That is the more rare type. They want to make the people sell their stocks, in order to reduce the price of a stock, because they want to buy this stock cheaply. Of course they only write down the negative aspects of the concerning enterprise. What these two types have in common is, that their posting are mostly wrong or at least highly exaggerated. Of course, most of these Pushers and Bashers are people like you and me, but this technique of manipulating stock-prices is also used by the organised crime. They buy big amounts of a certain stock, and then make other people buy the stock by posting positive news, and then sell their stocks again. The result is, that many small shareholders lost their money. Sometimes the posting are even supported by ad-hoc-messages by the enterprise itself or statements by an analyst. You can perfectly see that, when you have a look, at the development of an enterprise called EM-TV. With ad-hoc-messages and the analyst-statements from two banks, the price for one EM-TV-stock was raised up to 130€. Of course many people thought, that it would go on like this forever an invested their money in EM-TV. Today, after soap bubble called “EM-TV” has exploded, the price for one stock is 8€. And the result of the whole thing is, that millions of people have lost their money, because they trusted too much in the statements of two banks.
Another form of influencing the public opinion is done by the German “Bild-Zeitung”. What you see first, when you look at a “Bild”, is the huge headline on the first page. You even can read this headline, when you only pass by a kiosk. This headline really covers about one quarter of the complete first page. You could say, a “Bild” does only consist of headlines, pin-ups, sports and some few articles about “sex & crime” and so-called prominent people, the more hair-raising, the better. With its circulation of 1.5 millions issues “Bild” can reach a big part of the German. No other daily newspaper has such a high circulation. The purpose of “Bild” isn’t to inform the readers, as that’s the case at mostly every other newspaper, but to influence their opinion. This aim is reached by very short articles, normally articles in “Bild” aren’t longer than 100 or 200 words. In addition to that, the German, that is used to write an article in “Bild” isn’t very complicated, for example there aren’t used many technical terms. (14) The style of writing in “Bild” is very emotional. They try to influence their readers, by describing a situation, as drastic, as manipulating, as it is possible. The result of this kind of journalism, if you should call it so at all, is that the readers are sometimes really set into panic. You can perfectly see that, when you look at the reactions to the topic “BSE”. One result of this development, which is party caused by the articles of “Bild” about “BSE” are, that many people don’t know, which kind of meat they can eat at all.
2 c. Torture and Human Rights
In Oceania, the human rights do just not exist. There is no freedom of speech, not even a freedom of thought. If you say something system-critical, you’ll be killed or at least brainwashed, what’s the same in fact. It may happen, that if anyone is arrested by the Thought Police, this person just disappears somewhere in the Ministry of Love, and never appears again. You don’t get a fair trial in a court if you are arrested, you get no trial at all. There is no right of gathering. The people in Oceania do not even have the basic right of life. Torture is an absolutely normal act, as it is used to break the resistance of the people.
In the so-called industrial states, like the European countries, the USA and so on, there is consensus about the human rights. There are of course some countries on the earth, where the human rights are not guaranteed and even torture is more or less normal, but not in Germany. That’s the standpoint most Germans have concerning human rights and torture, but the reality is different. Amnesty International says, that in the year 2000 people were tortured in more than 150 states on the earth. (15) Of course, these 150 states aren’t only so-called developing states somewhere in Africa or South America. No, even in Europe and in the USA, as well in Germany, human beings were tortured in the year 2000. Torture is mainly used by the state, especially by the police. The most cases of torture were reported in prisons. The prisoners are abused and even beaten by the guards. In Germany it already happened several times during last years, that a refugee, who should be returned to his homeland, because his proposal for asylum was rejected, died in this action. Two years ago, a man, who should be to his homeland Sudan died, because he could not breathe under the heavy helmet he wore. Another very inhuman aspect of our so human society can be seen in the USA. People, who are sentenced to death, sometimes wait more than twenty years, until they are really executed. They wait a big part of their life, always hoping to be pardoned. I think that this uncertainty, this feeling of not really knowing, whether you will still live in one year, is much more cruel, than the final execution itself. In my opinion the so-called “capitol punishment” itself is a basic offence against human rights. Every democratic constitution, as well the one of the USA, guarantees every human being some basic rights like for example life. These rights are “unalienable”, that means you can’t lose them at any time. If a state kills a human for whatever, this state just hurts this basic human right. The so-called “capitol punishment” is nothing else than a murder committed by the state. A state cannot on the one side punish people for murdering others and one the other side commit murders itself, that is highly illogical and bare of every understanding.
These points are only a few examples of basic offences against the human rights. As you see, those things do not only happen in “underdeveloped” or undemocratic countries, but as well in democratic systems.
2 d. Political Correctness, Euphemisms and the Newspeak
Newspeak is based upon Standard English, or “Oldspeak” as it is called, but the vocabulary of Newspeak is much smaller than that of every other language. Newspeak is, to say it with a euphemism, a very direct, precise and simple language. You can be sure, that no sentence of Newspeak has a second meaning. Every word has exactly one meaning. To reach that, every word and every meaning of a word, which is not absolutely necessary in the eyes of the Party, has been deleted, for example every word that could be expressed by its own antonym or synonym was deleted, as well as all the comparative and superlative forms of the verbs.
“After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good’, for instance. If you have a word like ‘good’, what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good’, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague, useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning; or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stringer still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak, there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered be only six words – in reality, only one word.” (16)
Sometimes a word, or one meaning of a word was deleted, because the thing it expressed just did not exist anymore. “The word ‘free’ still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’, since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless” (17) Sometimes words were deleted and a summarizing word was introduced instead of them. “Countless other words such as honour, justice, morality, internationalism, democracy, science and religion had simply ceased to exist. A few blanket words covered them, and, in covering them, abolished them. All words grouping themselves round the concept of liberty and equality, for instance, were contained in the single word crimethink, while all words grouping themselves round the concepts of objectivity and rationalism were contained in the single word oldthink.” (18) But the main point about Newspeak, and the fact that makes it really dangerous, is, that they did not only change the words. They changed the meaning of the words either. There are several words, which express the total opposite of what they meant before. The Ministry of Peace, for example, deals with nothing else than war and what the Ministry of Truth does is simply to change and forge historical facts. Newspeak is more than only a language. It’s another instrument the Party introduced to preserve its power. “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees if Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” (19) It makes any kind of opposition to the Party absolutely impossible, because there are no words, you could express your dissident thoughts with. In the end it will even be impossible to think something system-critical.
“From the foregoing account it will be seen that in Newspeak the expression of unorthodox opinions, above a very low level, was well-nigh impossible. It was of course possible to utter heresies of a very crude kind, a species of blasphemy. It would have been possible, for example, to say Big Brother is ungood. But this statement, which to an orthodox ear merely conveyed as self-evident absurdity, could not have been sustained by reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available. Ideas inimical to Ingsoc could only be entertained in a vague wordless form, and could only be named in very broad form which lumped together and condemned whole groups of heresies without defining them in doing so.” (20)
There are several points, where you can see some kind of Newspeak today. There is for example one phenomenon, which came up in the last decade: it came, as so many things from America and it is called “political correctness“. It simply means, that there are several expressions, you just cannot say anymore without being called a fascist, communist, racist, radical, or something like that. If you for example see a man with black skin, you can’t call him a “Negro” or a “Black”, because that would be politically incorrect! The politically correct expression for a man with black skin is “Afro-American”. In Germany there is, in addition to that, another type of “politically incorrect” words. They mostly have to do something with the time from the beginning of the World War I to the end of the World War II. As a German you only have to use words like “fatherland”, “national pride” or “national honour” in the public, and you are put in connection with the right political corner. Even the word “German” or especially “proud to be German” could be misunderstood today. Of course that’s got to do with Germany’s past, but I think that’s clear. The political correctness leads to some kind of regulation of the vocabulary. The society tells you, that you can’t say these words anymore and after a certain time, you really won’t use these words, because the society tells you, that you’re a racist or something, if you continue using these word. And again after a certain time, you won’t even think these words. The consequence of this development is, that those words were deleted by the society. That’s one reason why the vocabulary really is getting smaller constantly. Another reason for that is the increasing use of “all-round-words” like “cool” or “nice”. They include several other words and so make them useless. (21)
Another symptom of Newspeak in our society is the point "euphemisms". Today it’s become normal for many people, for example for politicians, to use euphemisms, when they have to express something unpleasant. A politician for example would never say, that the income of the parliamentarians, in Germany that’s called “Diäten” was raised. He would use a euphemism instead and say something like “the income was adapted”. Of course that does not change anything in the thing itself, but it sounds a little bit friendlier. In the last years, hundreds of such euphemisms were invented and so you can find lots of them in today’s language. Take the expression “ethnic cleansing” for example. When you hear this expression for the first time, you probably wouldn’t expect something negative behind it. It is something positive, if you cleanse a thing. But the real meaning of this expression is not so positive. It just means “Driving out an ethnical group from their homeland”. Another euphemism, as well from the field “war”, is the German word “Kollateralschaden”. The word “kollateral” means something like “on the side” or “not important” and “Schaden” is the German word for “damage” So if you translate the whole expression into English, it would be a “damage in the side” or an “unimportant damage”, but he real meaning of this expression is much more cruel. After the war against Yugoslavia in spring 1999, the NATO used the word “Kollateralschaden”, to describe the civilians, who were killed during the attacks. You see, that euphemisms are often used to make cruel and inhuman things sound more human. Another perfect example for that is the expression “sozialverträgliches Frühableben”. Karsten Vilmar, the president of the German „Bundesärztekammer“, first used it. What he meant with this expression is simply “death”, but the way he connected death with the word “sozialverträglich”, meaning that someone who will die soon, shouldn’t cause too much costs for the health insurances, is just inhuman and cynic.
As you can see, there are hundreds of euphemisms, but why? What is the purpose of using euphemisms? Using euphemisms is more or less the art of saying something negative, without letting it sound negative. I think, by using euphemisms for example in a speech, you try to manipulate your audience. You want to make them think the same way you do. And that is comparable to the purpose of Newspeak in “1984”.
2 e. Totalitarian Systems in the Year 2000
George Orwell’s “1984” is often seen as a warning against totalitarian systems. Orwell describes very precisely totalitarian methods. There is one group, the Party, especially the Inner Party, which dominates the whole country. Their power is almost unlimited. The Party has no central ideology, at least no one like for example the communism. O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, says about this point: “Power is not a means, it is an end.” (22) and “The object of power is power.” (23) The Party’s ideology is simply power. If anyone says or only thinks something against the system, this person is arrested more or less immediately. After that, he’s brainwashed and then killed, or he’s put into a forced labour camp. There he’ll probably be for the rest of his life. All people in Oceania are, as already said, surveyed all the time by telescreens, their neighbours and even their family. Just as in Germany, in the Third Reich, the surveillance reaches into the families, so that a person has to be afraid of his own partner or children, as he can’t trust them. Newspeak is, as I already told you, another instrument to preserve the Party’s power. It makes any kind of opposition to the Party absolutely impossible.
Most people would say that the time of totalitarianism is over. But that’s just not right. Of course, the most famous, or better infamous, totalitarian sovereigns, like Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini are now dead and parts of history, but there are still quite a lot of totalitarian systems left. You only have to look at Africa and Asia and you’ll find several ones, China for example. The ”Communist Party” of China has an absolute monopole of power. The rule of the party is not legitimated by elections. There is no real opposition existing, in fact there is not even a second party. The last attempt to establish a democratic opposition was bloodily shot down by the army in 1989. It went into history as “The massacre of Tian’anmen”. Communism is the central ideology in China. Already in school, the children are indoctrinated, so that they do not even have the chance to develop their own free will. The state has the complete monopole of information. The only chance of the Chinese to see independent TV-stations is to buy a satellite-receiver, but those things are too expensive for most of the Chinese.
The invention and the development of the Internet and the progressing globalisation made it harder for a totalitarian regime to uphold their monopole of information and to keep the people uninformed. I’m sure that the Internet and the electronic media will be the final reason why totalitarian systems, to express it in very strict way, are sentenced to death.
As you now see, Orwell’s utopia “1984” has become reality. Of course not every single word in the book became true, but the general issues like surveillance have all become true in a more or less direct way, and in my opinion the development is not yet at its end. I’m sure that the classical totalitarian state will soon die out, but you see, that you can find things that you might call something like “totalitarian signs”, as well in democratic systems. The Internet is an accelerating factor for most things, especially for the point “surveillance” and the situation today is most probably only a slight hint of what may happen in the future. If human beings do not start thinking about themselves and about the society in which they live, I’m not very optimistic for the future.
1. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 193
2. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 6
3. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 75
4. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seiten 3/4
5. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seiten 4/5
6. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 245
7. Compare “www.cilip.de/ausgabe/61/norris.htm”
8. Compare “www.cilip.de/ausgabe/61/norris.htm”
9. Compare “www.spiegel.de/druckversion/0,1588,41688,00.html”
10. Compare “www.durchblickonline.de/archiv/1.html”
11. Compare “www.spiegel.de/druckversion/0,1588,41688,00.html”
12. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seiten 43/44
13. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 37
14. Compare “www.zakk.de/ulmerecho/ArchivUlmerEcho/JustizMedien/Presju09.html”
15. Compare “www.amnesty.de/stopfolter/situation”
16. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 54
17. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 313
18. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seiten 318/319
19. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 312
20. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seiten 323
21. Compare “www.argonsoft.de/~cogito/heft3_4/32.html”
22. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 276
23. Orwell, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, Seite 276
• Orwell, George, “1984”, Diana Verlag, Zürich.
• Orwell, George, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Penguin Books, London 1990.
• Poppe, Reiner, “ANALYSEN UND REFLEXIONEN: George Orwell ‘Farm der Tiere’ ‘1984’“, Beyer Verlag, 2. Auflage, Hollfeld 1997.
• Reed, Kit, “Lektürehilfen George Orwell ‘1984’“, Ernst Klett Verlag, 9. Auflage, Stuttgart 2000.
Websites (sorted by URL):
(„Amnesty International Stoppt die Folter“)
(„Wörterbuch der Neusprache“)
(„Cilip Nr_ 61 - Flächendeckende Videoüberwachung in Großbritannien“)
(„ECHELON - Big Brother is watching you!”)
(“Unwort des Jahres”)
(„Druckversion - Titel Der nackte Untertan - SPIEGEL ONLINE“)
(„DIE WOCHE Titelthema“)
(„BILD mahnt Gerechtigkeit an“)
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