Orwell’s 1984 in 2017
I had intended to write a lighthearted article about the great service I received at the Electoral and Boundaries Commission and how efficient I found them for a government department. However, that is as much as I will say on that because there are some more pressing things on my mind right now.
This week, I watched a disturbing video of a Donald Trump press conference in which a Hispanic reporter was not allowed to ask a question, being told that it was not his turn, and when he persisted, a signal was given by Trump to have him escorted from the room. When I saw the incident, it reminded me of the era of the Civil Rights movement. Only this time, it is not only black people being oppressed and marginalized but anyone who is not of European descent.
What is very disturbing is that several things that I have come across recently, both in the United States and here in Barbados, are reminding me of George Orwell’s book, 1984, that I read some years ago. Incidentally, I just read that sales of 1984 have exploded since the Trump inauguration. One version is currently ranked #7 on Amazon.
In case you have never read 1984, or cannot remember what it was about, very briefly it is the story of a man called Winston Smith who was a member of the ruling political party in a nation called Oceania. The party prohibited free thought and any expression of individuality by its members, among other things. Winston’s thoughts and behaviour were therefore constantly monitored by Big Brother to make sure that he did not rebel against the partyin any of those ways.
Winston worked at the Ministry of Truth and his job was, ironically, to change historical records to fit the requirements of the party. In one scene of the book, he becomes disturbed when he hears the party making claims that he knows not to be true because he was the one who altered the records to reflect the new“truth”.
If I remember correctly, the party’s strategy was to say something often enough and convincingly enough that after a while people accepted it as truth. Anyone who spoke against the party or had“rebellious”thoughts was taken away and dealt with.
I see many parallels between the scenario described in 1984 and what is currently going on in the USA. We need to be on our guard in Barbados because, as I have heard it said, “If America sneezes, Barbados catches a cold.”My main concern is that we do not become a nation where we are afraid to speak out against injustice, oppression, or corruption.
We cannot forget what was said and done in the past and accept what is being offered as the new“truth”. We have to be on the lookout for “alternative facts”. We have to be able to be on our guard against doublethink (a word from 1984): “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as is needed.”
I want us to guard against hearing something so often that we begin to believe it, without going back and checking the history.So, for example, when we hear there will be no jobs lost, we need to go back to the manifesto for the last election where such a promise was made, and then talk about the 3,000 people who were laid off subsequently. As I mentioned in another article, we need to remember the integrity and anti-corruption legislation that was promised since 2008 but has not been implemented. We cannot let that slip.
In that article, I had said that I did not hear the Opposition protesting very loudly because, perhaps, it suited their purpose. I was corrected by a member of the Opposition so I apologize to those members who have been vocal in trying to make the Government fulfill its promises.
We have our own brand of “it looked like about a million, million and a half people”at the inauguration and other “alternative facts”in Barbados. I challenge our journalists and other concerned citizens and groups, to call out our politicians (on both sides and the independents) when we catch them spewing their doublethink, hiding the truth or telling outright lies in order to further their political agenda. We cannot stand by and see our nation go the way of the fictional Oceania. We, the people, have to insist on accountability and transparency and if we cannot get that, then let’s use our democracy.
If you have not ever read 1984 or, if you read it so long ago that you have forgotten most of the story, I highly recommend that you put it on your reading list for this year and make sure you read it before 2018. I just downloaded my copy.
(Donna Every is an author, international speaker and trainer. She is also the Barbados Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (2014 –2016), the Barbados Facilitator for the InfoDev WINC Acceleration Programme.Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Websitewww.donnaevery.com;www.facebook.com/DonnaEvery1)