Charles Lewis: Orwell’s world too close for comfort

  • June 20, 2019

I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in high school. We were still in the midst of the Cold War and were taught it was a book about the evils of communism. 

Over the years 1984 became more vague for me as so many people have used the title to explain all manner of things, from the silly to the profound. How many times have you heard the term “Big Brother” applied to the government, social media and even your boss monitoring your work e-mail correspondence?

Certainly, and with justification, 1984 has been applied to politically correct language with its goal of rewriting history, social engineering and creating faux science. 

Orwell’s masterpiece is centred on Winston Smith. He lives in Oceania, an absolute totalitarian state — far more controlling than Hitler or Stalin could have ever dreamed of, though North Korea has come close to achieving. 

Smith lives and works in a post-apocalyptic London. Monitors are in every home to make sure no citizen decides to act on his own. Owning a pen and blank paper are seen as acts of treachery. Smith works in a ministry that rewrites history to align with whatever new pronouncements the party has made. 

I decided to read it again just to get a clearer idea of what it was really about and how it may apply to the world we live in today.

What became clear is that there are elements in our society that resemble the underpinnings of an Oceania-like state. 

The citizens of Oceania at some point must have decided that they had to accept tyranny. We, too, have accepted some things the state has imposed on us that violate the principles of a free society.

We cannot debate abortion because it is supposedly settled. We have accepted the legalization of euthanasia and made killing nicer by calling it medical aid in dying. We were humiliated last summer when Trudeau and his cronies declared those seeking money for summer jobs must agree with the Liberal position on abortion. Think about “gender theory,” a field absent for 50,000 years of civilization. Now it is becoming accepted science, in part because to question it is to be called a bigot. 

Then there was the self-described Christian preacher David Lynn who was arrested earlier this month for disturbing the peace in the city’s gay village, said a report in the Toronto Star.

“Const. Rob Reid told the Star some of Lynn’s messages caused alarm in the community, especially since the incident happened during Pride Month.”

He attracted an angry group when he said: “I’m coming out of the closet as a Christian” and “I love the sinner and not the sin.” Did not our police ever hear of sticks and stones? Or free speech? Did those who objected to him ever hear of just walking away?

In Orwell’s book, a new language has been created called Newspeak. Winston Smith is told: “Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make ‘thoughtcrime’ literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.”

The most famous Newspeak slogan: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

Think of our own form of Newspeak: Euthanasia is Not Killing. Abortion is a Reproductive Right. Being Pro-Life Means Hating Women.

Now think of universities in this country. There was the obvious wave of attacking pro-life groups and throwing them off campus. Other students felt pro-life talk was too dangerous for those who may have been on the fence about abortion and other life issues. They called pro-life language hate speech. Think of teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who got into trouble at Sir Wilfred Laurier University for showing a film of debate that included Jordan Peterson.

No, we are not yet living in the world of 1984, but the signs of slipping into something well short of freedom are clear. 

We have the power to reverse this. But those in charge are hoping we are too lazy to care. Do not prove them right.

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.