Why Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) Matters…

Eric Arthur Blair

Most people think that George Orwell was writing about, and against, totalitarianism – especially when they encounter him through the prism of his great dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This view of Orwell is not wrong, but it can miss something. For Orwell was concerned above all about the particular threat posed by totalitarianism to words and language. He was concerned about the threat it posed to our ability to think and speak freely and truthfully. About the threat it posed to our freedom.

He saw, clearly and vividly, that to lose control of words is to lose control of meaning. That is what frightened him about the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia – these regimes wanted to control the very linguistic substance of thought itself.

And that is why Orwell continues to speak to us so powerfully today. Because words, language and meaning are under threat once more.

Totalitarianism in Orwell’s time

The totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union represented something new and frightening for Orwell. Authoritarian dictatorships, in which power was wielded unaccountably and arbitrarily, had existed before, of course. But what made the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century different was the extent to which they demanded every individual’s complete subservience to the state. They sought to abolish the very basis of individual freedom and autonomy. They wanted to use dictatorial powers to socially engineer the human soul itself, changing and shaping how people think and behave.

Totalitarian regimes set about breaking up clubs, trade unions and other voluntary associations. They were effectively dismantling those areas of social and political life in which people were able to freely and spontaneously associate. The spaces, that is, in which local and national culture develops free of the state and officialdom. These cultural spaces were always tremendously important to Orwell. As he put it in his 1941 essay, ‘England Your England’: ‘All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the “nice cup of tea”.’

Totalitarianism may have reached its horrifying zenith in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR. But Orwell was worried about its effect in the West, too. He was concerned about the Sovietisation of Europe through the increasingly prominent and powerful Stalinist Communist Parties. He was also worried about what he saw as Britain’s leftwing ‘Europeanised intelligentsia’, which, like the Communist Parties of Western Europe, seemed to worship state power, particularly in the supranational form of the USSR. And he was concerned above all about the emergence of the totalitarian mindset, and the attempt to re-engineer the deep structures of mind and feeling that lie at the heart of autonomy and liberty.

Orwell could see this mindset flourishing among Britain’s intellectual elite, from the eugenics and top-down socialism of Fabians, like Sidney and Beatrice Webb and HG Wells, to the broader technocratic impulses of the intelligentsia in general. They wanted to remake people ‘for their own good’, or for the benefit of the race or state power. They therefore saw it as desirable to force people to conform to certain prescribed behaviours and attitudes. This threatened the everyday freedom of people who wanted, as Orwell put it, ‘the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above’.

Edmond O’Brien as Winston Smith and Jan Sterling as Julia, in an adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, 3 June 1955.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, this new intellectual elite started to gain ascendancy. It was effectively a clerisy – a cultural and ruling elite defined by its academic achievements. It had been forged through higher education and academia rather than through traditional forms of privilege and wealth, such as public schools.

Orwell was naturally predisposed against this emergent clerisy. He may have attended Eton, but that’s where Orwell’s education stopped. He was not part of the clerisy’s world. He was not an academic writer, nor did he position himself as such. On the contrary, he saw himself as a popular writer, addressing a broad, non-university-educated audience.

Moreover, Orwell’s antipathy towards this new elite type was long-standing. He had bristled against the rigidity and pomposity of imperial officialdom as a minor colonial police official in Burma between 1922 and 1927. And he had always battled against the top-down socialist great and good, and much of academia, too, who were often very much hand in glove with the Stalinised left.

The hostility was mutual. Indeed, it accounts for the disdain that many academics and their fellow travellers continue to display towards Orwell today.

The importance of words

Nowadays we are all too familiar with this university-educated ruling caste, and its desire to control words and meaning. Just think, for example, of the way in which our cultural and educational elites have turned ‘fascism’ from a historically specific phenomenon into a pejorative that has lost all meaning, to be used to describe anything from Brexit to Boris Johnson’s Tory government – a process Orwell saw beginning with the Stalinist practice of calling Spanish democratic revolutionaries ‘Trotsky-fascists’ (which he documented in Homage to Catalonia (1938)).

Or think of the way in which our cultural and educational elites have transformed the very meanings of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’, divesting them of any connection to biological reality. Orwell would not have been surprised by this development. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, he shows how the totalitarian state and its intellectuals will try to suppress real facts, and even natural laws, if they diverge from their worldview. Through exerting power over ideas, they seek to shape reality. ‘Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together in new shapes of your own choosing’, says O’Brien, the sinister party intellectual. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull… You must get rid of these 19th-century ideas about the laws of nature.’

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian regime tries to subject history to similar manipulation. As anti-hero Winston Smith tells his lover, Julia:

‘Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.’

As Orwell wrote elsewhere, ‘the historian believes that the past cannot be altered and that a correct knowledge of history is valuable as a matter of course. From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned.’

This totalitarian approach to history is dominant today, from the New York Times’ 1619 Project to statue-toppling. History is something to be erased or conjured up or reshaped as a moral lesson for today. It is used to demonstrate the rectitude of the contemporary establishment.

But it is language that is central to Orwell’s analysis of this form of intellectual manipulation and thought-control. Take ‘Ingsoc’, the philosophy that the regime follows and enforces through the linguistic system of Newspeak. Newspeak is more than mere censorship. It is an attempt to make certain ideas – freedom, autonomy and so on – actually unthinkable or impossible. It is an attempt to eliminate the very possibility of dissent (or ‘thoughtcrime’).

As Syme, who is working on a Newspeak dictionary, tells Winston Smith:

‘The whole aim… is to narrow the range of thought. In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller… Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?’

The parallels between Orwell’s nightmarish vision of totalitarianism and the totalitarian mindset of today, in which language is policed and controlled, should not be overstated. In the dystopia of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the project of eliminating freedom and dissent, as in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, was backed up by a brutal, murderous secret police. There is little of that in our societies today – people are not forcibly silenced or disappeared.

However, they are cancelled, pushed out of their jobs, and sometimes even arrested by the police for what amounts to thoughtcrime. And many more people simply self-censor out of fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing. Orwell’s concern that words could be erased or their meaning altered, and thought controlled, is not being realised in an openly dictatorial manner. No, it’s being achieved through a creeping cultural and intellectual conformism.

The intellectual turn against freedom

But then that was always Orwell’s worry – that intellectuals giving up on freedom would allow a Big Brother Britain to flourish. As he saw it in The Prevention of Literature (1946), the biggest danger to freedom of speech and thought came not from the threat of dictatorship (which was receding by then) but from intellectuals giving up on freedom, or worse, seeing it as an obstacle to the realisation of their worldview.

Interestingly, his concerns about an intellectual betrayal of freedom were reinforced by a 1944 meeting of the anti-censorship organisation, English PEN. Attending an event to mark the 300th anniversary of Milton’s Areopagitica, Milton’s famous 1644 speech making the case for the ‘Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing’, Orwell noted that many of the left-wing intellectuals present were unwilling to criticise Soviet Russia or wartime censorship. Indeed, they had become profoundly indifferent or hostile to the question of political liberty and press freedom.

‘In England, the immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the press lords, the film magnates, and the bureaucrats’, Orwell wrote, ‘but that on a long view the weakening of the desire for liberty among the intellectuals themselves is the most serious symptom of all’.

Orwell was concerned by the increasing popularity among influential left-wing intellectuals of ‘the much more tenable and dangerous proposition that freedom is undesirable and that intellectual honesty is a form of anti-social selfishness’. The exercise of freedom of speech and thought, the willingness to speak truth to power, was even then becoming seen as something to be frowned upon, a selfish, even elitist act.

An individual speaking freely and honestly, wrote Orwell, is ‘accused of either wanting to shut himself up in an ivory tower, or of making an exhibitionist display of his own personality, or of resisting the inevitable current of history in an attempt to cling to unjustified privilege’.

These are insights which have stood the test of time. Just think of the imprecations against those who challenge the consensus. They are dismissed as ‘contrarians’ and accused of selfishly upsetting people.

And worst of all, think of the way free speech is damned as the right of the privileged. This is possibly one of the greatest lies of our age. Free speech does not support privilege. We all have the capacity to speak, write, think and argue. We might not, as individuals or small groups, have the platforms of a press baron or the BBC. But it is only through our freedom to speak freely that we can challenge those with greater power.

Orwell’s legacy

Orwell is everywhere today. He is taught in schools and his ideas and phrases are part of our common culture. But his value and importance to us lies in his defence of freedom, especially the freedom to speak and write.

His outstanding 1946 essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’, can actually be read as a freedom manual. It is a guide on how to use words and language to fight back.

Of course, it is attacked today as an expression of privilege and of bigotry. Author and commentator Will Self cited ‘Politics and the English Language’ in a 2014 BBC Radio 4 show as proof that Orwell was an ‘authoritarian elitist’. He said: ‘Reading Orwell at his most lucid you can have the distinct impression he’s saying these things, in precisely this way, because he knows that you – and you alone – are exactly the sort of person who’s sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the very essence of what he’s trying to communicate. It’s this the mediocrity-loving English masses respond to – the talented dog-whistler calling them to chow down on a big bowl of conformity.’

Lionel Trilling, another writer and thinker, made a similar point to Self, but in a far more insightful, enlightening way. ‘[Orwell] liberates us’, he wrote in 1952:

‘He tells us that we can understand our political and social life merely by looking around us, he frees us from the need for the inside dope. He implies that our job is not to be intellectual, certainly not to be intellectual in this fashion or that, but merely to be intelligent according to our lights – he restores the old sense of the democracy of the mind, releasing us from the belief that the mind can work only in a technical, professional way and that it must work competitively. He has the effect of making us believe that we may become full members of the society of thinking men. That is why he is a figure for us.’

Orwell should be a figure for us, too – in our battle to restore the democracy of the mind and resist the totalitarian mindset of today. But this will require having the courage of our convictions and our words, as he so often did himself. As he put it in The Prevention of Literature, ‘To write in plain vigorous language one has to think fearlessly’. That Orwell did precisely that was a testament to his belief in the public just as much as his belief in himself. He sets an example and a challenge to us all.

Perpetual Tyranny: Endless Wars Are The Enemy Of Freedom

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes… known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” — James Madison (aka “America’s First Politician.”)

War is the enemy of freedom.

perpetual tyranny endless wars are the enemy of freedom

George Orwell’s 1984 is more relevant today than ever.

As long as America’s politicians continue to involve us in wars that bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push the nation that much closer to eventual collapse, “we the people” will find ourselves in a perpetual state of tyranny.

It’s time for the U.S. government to stop policing the globe.

This latest crisis — America’s part in the showdown between Russia and the Ukraine — has conveniently followed on the heels of a long line of other crises, manufactured or otherwise, which have occurred like clockwork in order to keep Americans distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms.

And so it continues in its Orwellian fashion.

Two years after COVID-19 shifted the world into a state of global authoritarianism, just as the people’s tolerance for heavy-handed mandates seems to have finally worn thin, we are being prepped for the next distraction and the next drain on our economy.

Yet policing the globe and waging endless wars abroad isn’t making America — or the rest of the world — any safer, it’s certainly not making America great again, and it’s undeniably digging the U.S. deeper into debt.

Indeed, even if we were to put an end to all of the government’s military meddling and bring all of the troops home today, it would take decades to pay down the price of these wars and get the government’s creditors off our backs.

War has become a huge money-making venture, and the U.S. government, with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers.

What most Americans — brainwashed into believing that patriotism means supporting the war machine — fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with propping up a military industrial complex that continues to dominate, dictate and shape almost every aspect of our lives.

Consider: We are a military culture engaged in continuous warfare. We have been a nation at war for most of our existence. We are a nation that makes a living from killing through defense contracts, weapons manufacturing and endless wars.

We are also being fed a steady diet of violence through our entertainment, news and politics.

All of the military equipment featured in blockbuster movies is provided — at taxpayer expense — in exchange for carefully placed promotional spots.

Back when I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, almost every classic sci fi movie ended with the heroic American military saving the day, whether it was battle tanks in Invaders from Mars (1953) or military roadblocks in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

What I didn’t know then as a schoolboy was the extent to which the Pentagon was paying to be cast as America’s savior. By the time my own kids were growing up, it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s blockbuster film Top Gun — created with Pentagon assistance and equipment — that boosted civic pride in the military.

Now it’s my grandkids’ turn to be awed and overwhelmed by child-focused military propaganda. Don’t even get me started on the war propaganda churned out by the toymakers. Even reality TV shows have gotten in on the gig, with the Pentagon’s entertainment office helping to sell war to the American public.

It’s estimated that U.S. military intelligence agencies (including the NSA) have influenced over 1,800 movies and TV shows.

And then there are the growing number of video games, a number of which are engineered by or created for the military, which have accustomed players to interactive war play through military simulations and first-person shooter scenarios.

This is how you acclimate a population to war.

This is how you cultivate loyalty to a war machine.

This is how, to borrow from the subtitle to the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, you teach a nation to “stop worrying and love the bomb.”

As journalist David Sirota writes for Salon, “[C]ollusion between the military and Hollywood – including allowing Pentagon officials to line edit scripts — is once again on the rise, with new television programs and movies slated to celebrate the Navy SEALs…. major Hollywood directors remain more than happy to ideologically slant their films in precisely the pro-war, pro-militarist direction that the Pentagon demands in exchange for taxpayer-subsidized access to military hardware.”

Why is the Pentagon (and the CIA and the government at large) so focused on using Hollywood as a propaganda machine?

To those who profit from war, it is — as Sirota recognizes — “a ‘product’ to be sold via pop culture products that sanitize war and, in the process, boost recruitment numbers….At a time when more and more Americans are questioning the fundamental tenets of militarism (i.e., budget-busting defense expenditures, never-ending wars/occupations, etc.), military officials are desperate to turn the public opinion tide back in a pro-militarist direction — and they know pop culture is the most effective tool to achieve that goal.”

The media, eager to score higher ratings, has been equally complicit in making (real) war more palatable to the public by packaging it as TV friendly.

This is what professor Roger Stahl refers to as the representation of a “clean war”: a war “without victims, without bodies, and without suffering”:

“‘Dehumanize destruction’ by extracting all human imagery from target areas … The language used to describe the clean war is as antiseptic as the pictures. Bombings are ‘air strikes.’ A future bombsite is a ‘target of opportunity.’ Unarmed areas are ‘soft targets.’ Civilians are ‘collateral damage.’ Destruction is always ‘surgical.’ By and large, the clean war wiped the humanity of civilians from the screen … Create conditions by which war appears short, abstract, sanitized and even aesthetically beautiful. Minimize any sense of death: of soldiers or civilians.”

This is how you sell war to a populace that may have grown weary of endless wars: sanitize the war coverage of anything graphic or discomfiting (present a clean war), gloss over the actual numbers of soldiers and civilians killed (human cost), cast the business of killing humans in a more abstract, palatable fashion (such as a hunt), demonize one’s opponents, and make the weapons of war a source of wonder and delight.

“This obsession with weapons of war has a name: technofetishism,” explains Stahl. “Weapons appear to take on a magical aura. They become centerpieces in a cult of worship.”

“Apart from gazing at the majesty of these bombs, we were also invited to step inside these high-tech machines and take them for a spin,” said Stahl. “Or if we have the means, we can purchase one of the military vehicles on the consumer market. Not only are we invited to fantasize about being in the driver’s seat, we are routinely invited to peer through the crosshairs too. These repeated modes of imaging war cultivate new modes of perception, new relationships to the tools of state violence. In other words, we become accustomed to ‘seeing’ through the machines of war.”

In order to sell war, you have to feed the public’s appetite for entertainment.

Not satisfied with peddling its war propaganda through Hollywood, reality TV shows and embedded journalists whose reports came across as glorified promotional ads for the military, the Pentagon has also turned to sports to further advance its agenda, “tying the symbols of sports with the symbols of war.”

The military has been firmly entrenched in the nation’s sports spectacles ever since, having co-opted football, basketball, even NASCAR.

This is how you sustain the nation’s appetite for war.

No wonder entertainment violence is the hottest selling ticket at the box office. As professor Henry Giroux points out, “Popular culture not only trades in violence as entertainment, but also it delivers violence to a society addicted to a pleasure principle steeped in graphic and extreme images of human suffering, mayhem and torture.”

No wonder the government continues to whet the nation’s appetite for violence and war through paid propaganda programs (seeded throughout sports entertainment, Hollywood blockbusters and video games)—what Stahl refers to as “militainment“—that glorify the military and serve as recruiting tools for America’s expanding military empire.

No wonder Americans from a very young age are being groomed to enlist as foot soldiers—even virtual ones—in America’s Army (coincidentally, that’s also the name of a first person shooter video game produced by the military). Explorer Scouts, for example, are one of the most popular recruiting tools for the military and its civilian counterparts (law enforcement, Border Patrol, and the FBI).

No wonder the United States is the number one consumer, exporter and perpetrator of violence and violent weapons in the world. Seriously, America spends more money on war than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil. America polices the globe, with 800 military bases and troops stationed in 160 countries. Moreover, the war hawks have turned the American homeland into a quasi-battlefield with military gear, weapons and tactics. In turn, domestic police forces have become roving extensions of the military — a standing army.

We are dealing with a sophisticated, far-reaching war machine that has woven itself into the very fabric of this nation.

Clearly, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhaul.

Eventually, all military empires fall and fail by spreading themselves too thin and spending themselves to death.

It happened in Rome: at the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. Prolonged periods of war and false economic prosperity largely led to its demise.

It’s happening again.

The American Empire — with its endless wars waged by U.S. military servicepeople who have been reduced to little more than guns for hire: outsourced, stretched too thin, and deployed to far-flung places to police the globe—is approaching a breaking point.

The government is destabilizing the economy, destroying the national infrastructure through neglect and a lack of resources, and turning taxpayer dollars into blood money with its endless wars, drone strikes and mounting death tolls.

This is exactly the scenario President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against when he cautioned the citizenry not to let the profit-driven war machine endanger our liberties or democratic processes. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, was alarmed by the rise of the profit-driven war machine that, in order to perpetuate itself, would have to keep waging war.

Yet as Eisenhower recognized, the consequences of allowing the military-industrial complex to wage war, exhaust our resources and dictate our national priorities are beyond grave:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

“It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

We failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning.

The illicit merger of the armaments industry and the government that Eisenhower warned against has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation today.

What we have is a confluence of factors and influences that go beyond mere comparisons to Rome. It is a union of Orwell’s 1984 with its shadowy, totalitarian government — i.e., fascism, the union of government and corporate powers — and a total surveillance state with a military empire extended throughout the world.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, this is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

The growth of and reliance on militarism as the solution for our problems both domestically and abroad bodes ill for the constitutional principles which form the basis of the American experiment in freedom.

As author Aldous Huxley warned: “Liberty cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.”

By John W. Whitehead & Nisha Whitehead

73 Years Later, It’s Still ‘1984’

In October 1947 Eric Arthur Blair, known today by his pen name George Orwell, wrote a letter to the co-owner of the Secker & Warburg publishing house. In that letter, Orwell noted that he was in the “last lap” of the rough draft of a novel, describing it as “a most dreadful mess.”

Orwell had sequestered himself on the Scottish island of Jura in order to finish the novel. He completed it the following year, having transformed his “most dreadful mess” into “1984,” one of the 20th century’s most important novels.

70 years later, it’s still ‘1984’

Published in 1949, the novel turns 73 this year. The anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the novel’s significance and its most valuable but sometimes overlooked lesson.

The main lesson of “1984” is not “Persistent Surveillance is Bad” or “Authoritarian Governments Are Dangerous.” These are true statements, but not the most important message. “1984” is at its core a novel about language; how it can be used by governments to subjugate and obfuscate and by citizens to resist oppression.

Orwell was a master of the English language and his legacy lives on through some of the words he created. Even those who haven’t read “1984” know some of its “Newspeak.”

1984” provides English speakers with a vocabulary to discuss surveillance, police states and authoritarianism, which includes terms such as “Big Brother,” “Thought Police,” “Unperson” and “Doublethink,” to name a few.

The authoritarian government of Orwell’s Oceania doesn’t merely severely punish dissent — it seeks to make even thinking about dissent impossible. When Inner Party member O’Brien tortures “1984’s” protagonist, Winston Smith, he holds up his hand with four fingers extended and asks Smith how many fingers he sees.

When Smith replies, “Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!” O’Brien inflicts excruciating pain. After Smith finally claims to see five fingers, O’Brien emphasizes that saying “Five” is not enough; “’No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four.”

Orwell’s own name inspired an adjective, “Orwellian,” which is widely used in modern political rhetoric, albeit often inappropriately.

It’s usually our enemies who are acting Orwellian, and it’s a testament to Orwell’s talents that everyone seems to think “1984” is about their political opponents.

The political left sees plenty of Orwellian tendencies in the White House and the criminal justice system. The political right bemoans “Thought Police” on college campuses and social media companies turning users into “Unpersons.”

But politicians can lie without being Orwellian, and a private company closing a social media account is nothing like a state murdering someone and eliminating them from history.

Likewise, perceived academic conformity might be potentially stifling, but it’s hardly comparable to a conformity enforced by a police state that eliminates entire words from society.

Yet when U.S. government officials use terms such as “enhanced interrogation,” “alternative facts,” “collateral damage,” or “extremists” they understand that what they’re describing is actually “torture,” “lies,” “innocent civilian deaths” and “political dissidents.”

They prefer it if others, especially the press, used and believed in Orwellian language that dehumanizes enemies of the government and makes their horrific violence sound tolerable or even justified.

We see far more nefarious and barbaric distortions of language abroad. According to reports by activists and researchers, the Chinese state has put about 1 million people including many Uyghurs — a majority-Muslim ethnic group — in “re-education” camps.

Reports reveal that the camps are hardly schools. They’re brutal indoctrination sites, with inmates forced to recite Communist Party propaganda and renounce Islam.

North Korea, the country that comes closest to embodying “1984,” has hampered its citizens’ abilities to think for themselves with a disheartening measure of success.

In her memoir, North Korean defector Yeonmi Park describes discovering the richness of South Korea’s vocabulary, noting “When you have more words to describe the world, you increase your ability to think complex thoughts.”

It’s hardly surprising that when Park read Orwell’s classic allegorical novel “Animal Farm” she felt as if Orwell knew where she was from.

Orwell was not a prophet, but he identified a necessary feature of any successful authoritarian government. To control you effectively it can’t merely threaten death, imprisonment or torture. It’s not enough for it to ban books and religions.

As long as the state doesn’t dominate your consciousness, it’s under constant risk of overthrow. We shouldn’t fear the U.S. turning into Orwell’s dystopian nightmare just yet, but at a time when political dishonesty is rampant we should remember 1984’s most important lesson: The state can occupy your mind.