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The Omnipresent Surveillance State: Orwell’s 1984 Is No Longer Fiction – John W. Whitehead, Herland Report

The Omnipresent Surveillance State: Orwell’s 1984 Is No Longer Fiction – John W. Whitehead, Herland Report

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“You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”—George Orwell, 1984

Tread cautiously: the fiction of George Orwell has become an operation manual for the omnipresent, modern-day surveillance state.

It’s been 70 years since Orwell—dying, beset by fever and bloody coughing fits, and driven to warn against the rise of a society in which rampant abuse of power and mass manipulation are the norm—depicted the ominous rise of ubiquitous technology, fascism and totalitarianism in 1984, writes president of the Rutherford Institute, John W. Whitehead, a leading US civil liberties attorney, commentator and author of many books, his latest Battlefield America.

Whitehead’s concern for the persecuted and oppressed led him, in 1982, to establish The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights oganization located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Deeply committed to protecting the constitutional freedoms of Americans and the integral human rights of all people, The Rutherford Institute has emerged as a prominent leader in the national dialogue on civil liberties and human rights and a formidable champion of the Constitution. Whitehead serves as the Institute’s president and spokesperson.

 

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About The Author

John W. Whitehead is a constitutional attorney, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of many books, his latest Battlefield America: The War on the American People. Widely recognized as one of the nation’s most vocal and involved civil liberties attorneys, Whitehead’s approach to civil liberties issues has earned him numerous accolades. The Rutherford Institute has become one of the United States’ leading advocates of civil liberties and human rights, litigating in the courts and educating the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting individual freedom in the United States and around the world.
 

Who could have predicted that 70 years after Orwell typed the final words to his dystopian novel, “He loved Big Brother,” we would fail to heed his warning and come to love Big Brother.

“To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone— to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink — greetings!”—George Orwell

1984 portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom, and advanced technology has become the driving force behind a surveillance-driven society. Snitches and cameras are everywhere. People are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.”

We have arrived, way ahead of schedule, into the dystopian future dreamed up by not only Orwell but also such fiction writers as Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”―George Orwell

Much like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984, the government and its corporate spies now watch our every move. Much like Huxley’s A Brave New World, we are churning out a society of watchers who “have their liberties taken away from them, but … rather enjoy it, because they [are] distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.” Much like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the populace is now taught to “know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.”

And in keeping with Philip K. Dick’s darkly prophetic vision of a dystopian police state—which became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report—we are now trapped in a world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams and pre-crime units will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

What once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction. Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike—facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on—are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, the dystopian visions of past writers is fast becoming our reality.

Our world is characterized by widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining, fusion centers, driverless cars, voice-controlled homes, facial recognition systems, cybugs and drones, and predictive policing (pre-crime) aimed at capturing would-be criminals before they can do any damage.

Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Government agents listen in on our telephone calls and read our emails. Political correctness—a philosophy that discourages diversity—has become a guiding principle of modern society.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”―George Orwell

The courts have shredded the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”―George Orwell, Animal Farm

We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the police state.

What many fail to realize is that the government is not operating alone. It cannot. The government requires an accomplice. Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of the massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental overreach.

In fact, Big Tech wedded to Big Government has become Big Brother, and we are now ruled by the Corporate Elite whose tentacles have spread worldwide. For example, USA Today reports that five years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the homeland security business was booming to such an extent that it eclipsed mature enterprises like movie-making and the music industry in annual revenue. This security spending to private corporations such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others is forecast to exceed $1 trillion in the near future.

Money, power, control. There is no shortage of motives fueling the convergence of mega-corporations and government. But who is paying the price? The American people, of course. As Orwell explains:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” ― George Orwell

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used. In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind.

Dystopian literature shows what happens when the populace is transformed into mindless automatons. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, reading is banned and books are burned in order to suppress dissenting ideas, while televised entertainment is used to anesthetize the populace and render them easily pacified, distracted and controlled.

In Huxley’s Brave New World, serious literature, scientific thinking and experimentation are banned as subversive, while critical thinking is discouraged through the use of conditioning, social taboos and inferior education. Likewise, expressions of individuality, independence and morality are viewed as vulgar and abnormal.

And in Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.” In this dystopian vision of the future, the Thought Police serve as the eyes and ears of Big Brother, while the Ministry of Peace deals with war and defense, the Ministry of Plenty deals with economic affairs (rationing and starvation), the Ministry of Love deals with law and order (torture and brainwashing), and the Ministry of Truth deals with news, entertainment, education and art (propaganda). The mottos of Oceania: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

All three—Bradbury, Huxley and Orwell—had an uncanny knack for realizing the future, yet it is Orwell who best understood the power of language to manipulate the masses.

We have, so to speak, gone from being a nation where privacy is king to one where nothing is safe from the prying eyes of government. In search of so-called terrorists and extremists hiding amongst us—the proverbial “needle in a haystack,” as one official termed it—the Corporate State has taken to monitoring all aspects of our lives, from cell phone calls and emails to Internet activity and credit card transactions. Much of this data is being fed through fusion centers across the country, which work with the Department of Homeland Security to make threat assessments on every citizen, including school children. These are state and regional intelligence centers that collect data on you.

“Big Brother is Watching You.”―George Orwell

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’ll soon have to choose between self-indulgence (the bread-and-circus distractions offered up by the news media, politicians, sports conglomerates, entertainment industry, etc.) and self-preservation in the form of renewed vigilance about threats to our freedoms and active engagement in self-governance.

Yet as Aldous Huxley acknowledged in Brave New World Revisited: “Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in their calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those would manipulate and control it.” Read the full article here. 

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