Will 2024 look like 1984
I have watched the rapid “progress” of our society over the past fifty years and I am concerned. I have witnessed the evil of repressive regimes. I fear that what once seemed to have been defeated is being resurrected in an environment that eschews history and pursues an imaginary utopian world that will ultimately return us to the oppression of the past.
I grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War and saw its devastation. When I lived in West Germany as a child there were still massive piles of rubble, leftovers from the Allied strategic bombing campaign against the Nazis. I also served in the military as an adult, and patrolled the borders that divided Europe during the Cold War. It was literally an Iron Curtain of steel fences with guard towers and cleared death strips with minefields.
In the aftermath of the hot and cold wars and the opening of China, it appeared as though we had truly triumphed over the “isms” of the last century (fascism, communism, etc). These threats once dominated our world.
We seemed to have reversed course. The socialist-like agenda of the far Left, personified by Bernie Sanders and now the young radial fire-brand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (AOC), would have government ever more responsible for, and intrusive in, our lives. AOC’s kooky Green New Deal is nothing less than the nationalization of major portions of our industrial base. Medicare of All is socialized medicine with its concomitant queues of sick people waiting for medical care.
This is the abject consolidation of power in the hands of government, to be administered by bureaucrats and distant elected leaders beholden to special interests. It is further compounded by the failure of our elected legislature to do its job (where there is at least nominal individual input into their actions through the electoral process). Rather, we see a government increasingly run by Executive Order and Judicial fiat. Trump’s declaration of a national State of Emergency to reallocate funds to build the wall is a direct assault on the separation of powers that is the foundation of our constitutional government.
Herein lies the seed of the problem. Every time the government sets a rule, it is a reduction of our freedom, regardless of how useful its perceived intent. Each incremental step removes a choice we once had, and it typically is done without just compensation. For example, the increase in fuel economy standards removes my ability to buy a less expensive less fuel-efficient car. Worthy objective perhaps, but it is a direct assault on my freedom of action. Collective interests trump personal choice.
It is death by a thousand nicks. Each incremental rule, no matter how small or how noble its aim, contributes to a society in which personal freedom is subordinated to the good of the state, another slide on the slippery slope towards authoritarianism.
We once worried about the totalitarian vision from George Orwell’s book “1984”, where government would come to control our lives. “Big Brother is Watching You.” It was based on fear, that we would be coerced into giving up our freedoms and that New Speak (fake truth in today’s parlance) would remove our ability to understand the common-sensical world around us. Is this not the path we are on?
I believe it is actually far more insidious. We have created not so much the Orwellian world, where people are controlled by fear and pain, rather it is Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World,” in which our freedoms are not taken, rather we freely give them away in our pursuit of comfort and pleasure.
It is not that truth will be concealed from us; it is that truth would be drowned in a sea of insignificance. In fact, the internet does just this, and social media is manipulated to the point that it is almost impossible to determine what is “true.”
When I was growing up, we resisted the amalgamation of authority in a centralized government. We saw, as I did in Europe, firsthand what happens when power is consolidated in the hands of the few. Our leaders may “pretend, perhaps they even believe, that they seize power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lies a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.” Regardless of how power is “seized,” by elections manipulated by money or brute force, we must realize that “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.” Our two political parties seem far more interested in gaining the majority and voting as a block for their agenda than they do for undertaking what is best for the country as a whole.
Today, we freely give ourselves away through social media, like Facebook, or on-line shopping at Amazon. Our personal information is now available to the public. Our financial information resides in the cloud available to hackers. We are manipulated by popup ads that track where we go and know our desires. How big a leap is it for that information to be subverted to allow others to control our lives?
We saw the shadow of that appear in the 2016 Presidential elections. Clearly, information was stolen (e.g., Hilary Clinton’s emails) and manipulated (through fake social media posts) which influenced people’s actions in voting. Although we are more cognizant of the process today, in a sharply divisive political environment, we are still vulnerable to such exploitation. We only want to hear what we already believe. Such conditions make the specter of totalitarianism a real threat to our future.
I fear we are creating our own Brave New World, one in which we freely give Big Brother the ability to monitor and control us. It is a world of our own making, where in the pursuit of personal pleasure, we are willing to cede our freedoms to a government that purports to meet our needs. Our focus becomes myopic in the pursuit of immediate gratification. The individual who prefers the pain and difficulty inherent in living free and facing life’s trials is becoming the aberration.
To paraphrase, the one-eyed man in the world of the blind is not king, he is the pariah.