When the year 2020 has more similarities with a fictional, dystopic interpenetration of 1984 than the prior year, it’s evident our world has become quite familiarly unfamiliar.
In George Orwell’s 71-year old book 1984, we follow the main protagonist Winston Smith as he navigates London in what he believes to be the year 1984. Working for the Ministry of Truth, he spends his days as a journalist altering news articles and erasing the past — not by choice, per say. It’s the world he lives in. A world where the past, present, and future are run by Big Brother and the Inner Party members of Ingsoc, the region of Oceania’s governing ideology.
In Oceania, privacy doesn’t exist. Telescreens and secret microphones are everywhere: the streets, workplaces, restaurants, and especially homes. They’re watching you and they’re listening to you. All you have to yourself are your thoughts, and even those are illegal if they don’t obey the beliefs of Ingsoc. Thoughtcrime, it’s called. Thoughtcrime describes a person’s politically unorthodox thoughts, such as beliefs and doubts that contradict the principles of Ingsoc.
2020 has seen a wave of pulling wrong thoughts from the minds of others. Articles and social media posts that don’t align with the story we are fed are quickly censored and taken down under the context that spreading false information is a major safety concern for the health and well-being of our society during a time of crisis.
It’s not just the pandemic though. Personal thoughts are also under siege, resulting in cancel culture. Internet-dwellers are pulling up outdated information of previous thoughts and jokes, demanding the people responsible be “canceled” for their decade old thoughts. Its the same; thoughtcrime. It’s happening to celebrities, YouTubers, and regular folks too. They are losing their jobs and careers, and their reputations are being tarnished as a result of cancel culture and essentially 1984’s thoughtcrime.
As for those telescreens in Orwell’s 1984, well they are also making their own appearance — beyond just our cell phones, that is. Take Moscow for example. The city introduced 178,000 surveillance cameras with facial recognition software to spy on its citizens and keep them in check during the coronavirus pandemic. Owellian, right?
Another thing Big Brother does is alter statistics to favor the Party whether it’s used to instill fear or love in the citizens of Oceania. Take the production of boots, for example. Many people of Oceania are under educated, hungry, and living in poverty. Boots are needed. The Ministry of Truth released inflated production records, despite the fact that in reality production had decreased significantly. As a result, the records showed that there was an enormous surplus of boots, though citizens were still walking around barefoot. It’s Orwell’s word doublethink, meaning that we are supposed to accept false statements as truth.
Beyond that, Winston believed that bombs and explosions were not actually the result of its supposed war with territories Eastasia/Eurasia (it’s constantly changing), but came straight from Big Brother and the Inner Party itself as a way to instill fear and correctness in its citizens.
How does this relate to 2020? A number of ways. For example, COVID-19 numbers are not consistently being recorded in the most accurate way. For example, in the UK COVID-19 deaths are recorded by those who die within 28 days after testing positive — for any reason. Meaning that if a person who tests positive for coronavirus dies a week later in a car accident, his or her death is added to the toll of coronavirus deaths in the UK. This means we are potentially receiving inaccurate numbers of those who have died from coronavirus.
Like in Orwell’s 1984, we are essentially being manipulated by a greater force. We let our cell phones fuel us with fake news and we are unable to voice our opinions unless they coincide with the political agenda or general ‘wokeness’ of the world. And I can only hope this story doesn’t send me down the thoughtcrime tunnel, too.