I swung by O’Neill’s for two containers of sour cream and a bottom round roast, which amounted to exactly $19.84. The freckle-faced cashier seemed of high school age, so I asked if she had read Nineteen Eighty-Four. She didn’t, which isn’t her fault.
But it might make no difference anyway. Orwell himself knew his warning to the future was probably doomed, hinting his pessimism through protagonist Winston’s secret alcove jottings:
“How could you communicate with the future?” It was by its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him; or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.”
It is the first scenario that materialized: The future turned out to “resemble the present” (that is, a brainwashed citizenry) so that Winston’s warning has no power to appeal. America, once the home of free speech, now has a new federal bureau of speech censorship—and it will produce a big yawn.
O’Neill’s freckle-faced cashier, even if she were to read Nineteen-Eighty-Four at this point, would think it a nothingburger. She has been well marinated in cancel culture, the forbidding of “offensive” opinions in class, the forbidding of nonmainstream medical views, and the commonplace specter of social network suspensions for “violating community standards.” Cancellable speech is now how she thinks.
My first thought when Biden announced the “Disinformation Governance Board” was: Has the man no self-awareness? No sense of irony? Wouldn’t you want to conceal this dead ringer for the “Ministry of Truth” in Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel? I myself can hardly pronounce “Disinformation Governance Board” without an exaggerated Russian accent. And administered under the DHS? You mean the federal department that, second only to the military, is armed to the teeth?
Who, pray tell, will decide what is “disinformation”? The people who suppressed discussion of Biden’s foreign business dealings, berated those who suggested Chinese origins of the pandemic, claimed that all is well at our southern border, and called inflation temporary?
The freckle-faced cashier was driven to work today past yard signs with slogans: “Love is love,” “Science is real,” and “Hate has no home here.” She has no idea of the dark meanings assigned to them, or historical or literary context to make a connection with fictional Oceania’s “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.”
For those who do see what’s happening in our land, how should we live? A good thing is that the worse things get, the more simplified, brass tacks, and less academically pretty our communications may become. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Siberian Gulag prisoner, offers this advice to the individual who feels helpless, in words hurriedly penned the day of his arrest on Feb. 12, 1974:
“The simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. … It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. … Let us refuse to say that which we do not think.”
What follows is a partial list of things Solzhenitsyn suggests for the honest man:
“Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.”
“Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor in a theatrical role.”
“Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance, or film if he hears a speaker tell lies or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda” (“Live Not by Lies”).
Sounds like something we already heard two thousand years ago: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).