“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”
When one discovers George Orwell’s dystopian universe of totalitarian socialist government, headed by The Big Brother™ and his propaganda machine, there are several reactions to the nature of this universe:
- No, true socialism would be all about peace and sharing in a gift economy.
- Yes, I told you so, commies. You shouldn’t have supported the wrong ideas.
However, if this straw-man reaction doesn’t impress you, a great area of responses is “Well, maybe a totalitarian government is not something to wish for”. The gut reaction to the system described in the book is to a self-serving, degenerate and genocidal machine, which is too big to fail. What is left of value in such a society? Let’s break it down and see.
The society in 1984 is constructed very effectively. The top is the “Inner Party”, the unknown elite, the biggest idealogs or a collection of new aristocrats. Nobody knows who exactly they are, but they control every aspect of middle-class’ life. It is also an interesting statistic that they are only 2% of the population. The “Outer Party”, the middle class, the 13%, are the intellectual force used for operating the governmental machine. How can anybody critique the control of the Outer Party by the Inner Party? One is the Employer, and the other one is its Employee, and the policy is not only effectiveness but obedience to the “spirit of Revolution”. To the contrary of Outer Party, the Proletariat (85% of the population) lives freely and apolitically. So the 85% of “uneducated and unwashed masses” does not care about the tension between the 2% and the 13 %.
So where is the perceived injustice? The protagonist revolts against the party structure and control of the state, but if it wasn’t for his participation in the Outer Party, he would have been free to think (but not to say). At the same time, the criticism of Prols as the uneducated class is frankly the biggest rebuttal to democracy. Who should give such education if not the new Elite, like Winston, if he succeeded to overthrow the Big Brother? But what if 85% grant the 2% to control the 13% even if they are given the opportunity to decide?
Let us conceive that a hierarchy is natural and not only self-serving, but the most productive in achieving any goal (even if you want to set the world on fire). It wouldn’t be wrong to also conceive that whatever that goal is, the hierarchical structure must be the most effective, with all roles and responsibilities prescribed from top to bottom. The conception of such a totalitarian state like in 1984 is not that it wants to produce the “highest standard of living” or even monetary value for the elite, because for these goals there wouldn’t have been charges for wrong-think. The State’s goal is spiritual, or clerical, which is to purge heresy in the realm, and may be nothing else. That is why it creates the repression of the intellectual class, not of the Prols.
“Freedom is slavery” is a double-edged sword, I suppose. For there to be one kind of freedom, there must be slavery for something else, and it is only a trade-off. We are well-accustomed to believe that freedom is what you buy or how far your car can travel. How many pairs of shoes you own or how many books you can read. For those freedoms, there is slavery on other values, other kinds of spiritual freedoms, which come subservient to the highest values. The saying is an ironic acknowledgement of Freedom as an enslavement of oneself.
The Big Brother can be abusive, and he is only an idea of a harsh but carrying father figure. We might as well call him the Big Father: a paternal figure for the millions of intellectual orphans in Oceania. He is not an elected usurper, nor is he a madman. He is a representation of the spirit that the revolutionary children needed so much, who would give value to something deeper and wider than the materialistic existence of the 20th century. So who is to blame for the blood spilled for the spirit if not the intellectuals, who needed their higher value.
You can see what is the highest value in the world by studying what are the reasons to go to war. The blood is always spilled for a reason, and the more blood, the higher is the value. Orwell describes the conflicts around the world in 1984 mainly for capturing labor: the man and his hands is what is of the highest value. If the 85% were just there uncontrollably existing on the outskirts, why would the State fight for more of them? I guess, the ignorant and free prols are containing the highest value for the Inner Party, and not because a unit of labor would serve as another cog in a machine. It is only possible that the Big Father extends his arms wide enough to capture as many prols as he can because of his paternalistic nature, a model of the world which is not necessarily bad.
Why would the intellectual forces lean to the authoritarian government, which would be the most abusive and restraining to them, and would favor ignorance? Maybe the hierarchy of the church is not only the most abusive, but the best an intellectual may want. Yes, it is bad to be in the list of heretics, but the spirit of the intellectuals requires sacrifices of other intellectuals. Yes, Winston would have done the same thing. The church with its hierarchy and spirit is what alleviates the burden, which is consciousness, to perceive ugly and horrible things (like rats), to destroy anything of value (like honesty, clear-thinking and hospitality) by skepticism and intellect. That is why it is only a dystopian universe for the intellectual, who is unlikely to get into the Elite or ever to agree with it.
“Ignorance is strength” or “ignorance is bliss” are controversial aphorisms. The character of Trotsky-like Goldstein in 1984 simply rejects the rhetoric as ever being used for anything other than justification of oppression or the revolution, where the middle class replaces the higher class. The “ideas of justice” then is what gets infused in the lower class to justify their aid. But maybe there is a natural order, or a natural hierarchy, then wouldn’t it be in not knowing the sweet rhetoric of the intellectuals? Intellectuals are so used to assign bigotry and hatred to stable and respectful people who have less experience with traveling and talking to different people. To the contrary, the fact is the further you are from different people, the lesser tension you individually produce. That is an example that exposure to the abundance of terrible and dreadful facts about others doesn’t make you stronger. It is the discipline, the one exemplified by the leaders of the hierarchy, that lets any kind of knowledge to be useful. It is the opposite to the idea of education and knowledge as “empowerment” (like a car or a right to sleep around).
If continuing the existence of the Prols is the highest virtue for the Inner Party, why are they drugged up with pop music and gin? The Big Father should have further indoctrinated them into being the pacified populace by themselves. Although, it doesn’t appear that the Big Father ever cares about the control over the Prols, even though they don’t appear to be stupid. If the stratification of the hierarchy was achieved by IQ, the Outer and Inner Parties would have anyone above 116 IQ points (~15% of population). They also are all intellectuals, and we established that they would control them as much as possible by placing them into the Outer Party. That leaves the Prols with anyone below 115 IQ points. The majority of them would be simply of average intelligence. Maybe then the music and gin is not for pacification, but for encouragement of reproduction of the proletariat, or for reproduction of the most average citizens for the state. That is how the State ensures the proliferation of the nation, the soil of hierarchy. The Prols are not stupid when they drink for the Big Father, they thank him for the repression of intellectuals, for the “War”, which “is Peace”.