Most of us above a certain age were expected in high school to read certain dystopian novels as a part of an effort to condition us to repel the rise of totalitarianism in America. I find it quite distressing that the effort has failed miserably. But one has to understand why this effort failed: it was misdirected from the get-go.
The main focus of the literary effort to rescue America from totalitarianism centered around two of Orwell’s best known works: Animal Farm, which was intended to expose the vile hypocrisy of Stalinism through metaphor, and the more well-known Nineteen Eighty-four, which presented a barely concealed Hitlerian fascism combined with certain technological advances to enhance its power over the population. One could consider these two books an attempt to define the narrow path the West was to follow as the Cold War developed, neither too far to the right nor to the left. But I will leave that task for others to examine at another time. My purposes today are quite different.
Another dystopian reading requirement, one which tended to be reserved for the more advanced readers, was Brave New World. Rather than make the government the heavy as Orwell did, author Aldous Huxley made the corporate world the master — a view which I consider much more realized today than was thought possible when the book was written in 1931. Certainly in the 1930′s, when many of the better-known dystopian novels were written, governments held the power. The global financial collapse of the Great Depression left few economic entities with enough clout to do much to affect events. Thus, it’s easy to understand how authors might fail to remember the power the private sector held just prior to the 1929 market crash. Huxley clearly did not forget, and was able to expand the thought that, if unchecked, corporate power would in time subsume all other authorities. In his follow-up to Brave New World, entitled Brave New World Revisited, Huxley himself admitted to being alarmed that the world was “becoming like Brave New World much faster” than he originally thought.
Yet despite Huxley picking the right master of the future, one can hardly say that our real-life Brave New World Revisited is developing into a benign dictatorship of the manufactured masses. All one has to do is look closely at the BP Gulf Disaster. We’re expected to eat contaminated seafood that the government tells us — on behalf of BP — is safe for consumption. We aren’t even allowed to investigate for ourselves, because the government -on behalf of BP- is preventing anyone from doing so. The government is protecting the private corporation from We, the People, most directly those whose livelihoods spent fishing the Gulf are probably ruined forever. These actions, along with so many more, smack more of Nineteen Eighty-four than they do of Brave New World, for no one in power gives a tinker’s dam about the welfare of the little guy.
Just look at how much Orwell got right. Big Brother IS Watching. Technology is being used to spy on us. Everything you buy is collated into some corporate report, sometimes attached to you personally. We almost have Orwell’s ubiquitous wall screens in our HDTV (even though these still have functional power buttons). School districts have already been caught spying on their students utilizing the cameras built into laptop computers, something that could be added to HDTV wall screens without too much effort or cost. The Internet is under constant surveillance by both the telcos and the National Security Agency, all in the name of “homeland security”. We have always been at war with someone, and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell represents Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League. Fox “News” represents the Ministry of Truth, and spouts almost constantly that “Ignorance is Strength” to the Tea Baggers – including those who would gladly enforce the precept that “Thoughtcrime IS death” on those who disagree with them.
But more importantly, advances in technology that Orwell couldn’t even imagine have made his Ministry of Truth even more possible than ever. While it isn’t possible to make real truth completely disappear down the memory hole as in the novel, anything and everything can be altered in such a manner that nothing can be accepted as factual at face value. There has to be some kind of verifiable provenance for information before anything can be proven as true, and technology has made this task far more difficult – if not impossible. Photoshop can put two people together in a compromising position when in fact neither has ever met the other face to face. Just try to disprove that! I saw it on Entertainment Tonight! False statements can be edited together from real ones to put words into people’s mouths that were never uttered, yet how does one unsay the unspoken? I just heard it on Rush’s show! It must be true! Just issuing a rumor that something might have happened involving someone reviled and detested by a large enough group, and all of a sudden one is a Socialist Muslim Fascist Manchurian President from Kenya no matter what anyone says in rebuttal.
So why would anyone go to such trouble? Power. Complete and total control of anything one touches for one’s personal benefit. The most exposed of these in America happen right now to be the billionaire Koch brothers, but they are hardly alone. The al-Saud family certainly qualifies (see pages 4 & 5), as does North Korea’s ruling Kim family (although that may well be changing). But returning to domestic shores, one can make the case that Erik Prince is well on his way toward such status as he indulges in nefarious activities with nary a hint of consequence, ensuring no interference with his cushy life by moving himself to Abu Dhabi, UAE, a nation with has no extradition treaty with the US. He can still oversee his corporate empire utilizing Skype and other communications technologies from anywhere in the world, as many formerly employed American engineers and programmers can attest. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton -and the now-spun-off KBR- qualifies, for despite the negative image garnered over the previous decade, they continue to harvest vast riches as the people of the world suffer from their intemperance (see: BP Gulf Disaster). Failed CEOs like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina attempt to redeem themselves by buying political office so as to again service those who made them what they are today. Et cetera, et cetera.
As these powerful existences continue to grow, they will collide and compete. Some may buy time through a corporate version of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact so that they can prepare their corporate version of Operation Barbarossa, but gradually one will eat the other until there is only one remaining. At that point, this inanimate beast will be in total and complete control. No government can stand up to them now, so none will then either. This is what the one-world people fear, yet they refuse to face up to the fact that no government will ever meet the requirements for such rule. Only a corporation which has gained control over every national and local government, and has taken over every one of its competitors, can ever achieve such status.
Yet due to the mental conditioning Orwell predicted, and that Huxley utilized as an educational and social control tool in his novels, most people refuse to see the forest for the trees. They want to think that their high school conditioning against rogue national governments is still valid. They don’t want to notice that the World Trade Organization controls them much more completely than does the Federal Government under the US Constitution. Fox fakirs like Glenn Beck know that the people will willingly aid and abet their own enslavement as long as they are told that it is for their own good. Doubt me? Read this! [PDF]
Dystopian novels are not good at offering hope that such conditions can be reversed. Huxley tried in Brave New World Revisited, but he was too late. Madison Avenue’s new advertising strategies from the mid ’60s sealed that opportunity in a sea of stupid characterizations cured by product purchases presented between segments of mindless sitcoms. You can gain a glimpse of this truth by watching Mad Men. The freedom to buy things is more important than freedom itself for too many. And the constant drumbeat promoting patriotic war against all enemies foreign and domestic drones on unchecked. War IS Peace – in the corporate boardroom. Nothing else matters. If you get sick, die quick and decrease the surplus population.
This is the knowledge that Orwell didn’t have, and thus couldn’t build on, in his novels. No corporate entities had yet grown to hold greater power than did national governments at the end of a disastrous and destructive war. This is why he almost got it right. But almost is only good enough in horseshoes, hand grenades, and atomic weapons. Everything else might as well miss by a mile, and will only be good enough to be used as a distraction device by those wanting secrecy regarding their dystopian efforts to take over the world for their own benefit.
Nothing to see here, citizen. Move along! Isn’t Dancing With The Stars about to come on? Are you rooting for Bristol Palin?