When I was in High School (1960), we were required to read the George Orwell novel 1984. As summarized in Wikipedia:
“The story takes place in an imagined future, the year 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, historical negationism, and propaganda.”
So, has our nation succumbed to any or all of these four dystopian maladies? Spoiler: YES, all four of them!
Since the end of World War 2, the United States has been almost continuously at war. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War all failed and cost us trillions in wasted taxpayer money. The military budget in 2020 was $778 billion.
It’s not that our Army is incompetent; it’s the impossible missions we give them. Nation-building in a country whose culture is radically different from our own essentially guarantees failure. The US military is good at winning a battle, but they’re lousy nation builders, and they are a terrible police force.
Historical Negationism refers to the revision of history in order to omit something that actually happened.
Sadly, the United States was established while committing two crimes against humanity: the selective extermination of native peoples, and the enslavement of Africans to work the southern colonies’ cotton fields. Denial of this has been a part of American life for a long time.
In 1953, when I moved from Peru, Indiana, to Clifton Forge, Virginia, I was shocked when my 3rd-grade teacher mentioned in history class that the Civil War was not about slavery but it was about State’s Rights. Today, right-wing fanatics, like the Nazis in Charlottesville, deny the real reason for our Civil War, and for added measure claim that the Holocaust never happened. (Anne Frank would like a word with them)
For sheer propaganda, look no further than Fox News. Owned and operated by Australians Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, they are the closest thing we have on planet Earth to Bond villains (all that’s missing is the white cat). Their lies about mRNA vaccines and sensible measures like wearing a mask have caused countless Americans to lose their lives to COVID-19. Rupert Murdoch got vaccinated as soon as it was available, yet he allowed his network to cast doubt about the Pfizer/Moderna shots.
Omnipresent Government Surveillance
One difference from the George Orwell novel is that the United States is run by a cabal of affluent people and their corporations. The late comedy genius George Carlin thought it was twelve wealthy families. Instead, it is a consortium of oil billionaires, Wall Street hedge fund managers, tech billionaires, and war profiteers who actually control the Government.
Oil billionaires such as the Koch brothers started buying off state legislatures forty years ago. Their targets were the Old South states and the rural farm states, like North and South Dakota. Once their candidates got majorities in those states, they used redistricting and gerrymandering to make it impossible to lose. Similar gerrymandering gave them a block of safe seats in the US House of Representatives. Seats in the US Senate, though, require lots of money to win. But the billionaires now can spend like drunken sailors, thanks to Justice John Robert’s Citizen’s United ruling that allowed corporations to finance candidates.
The billionaire class has used this advantage to block any attempts to reverse global warming by switching to renewable energy. The also use this political power to reduce their taxes, and seek eventually to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. Corporations in the United States are now all-powerful, fueled by unbridled greed.
Typically, to surveil someone, the Police or FBI must obtain a Search Warrant. But corporations can surveil you on a whim. They can also force their morality on you. Let’s look at a couple of disquieting examples.
Apple designs and manufactures some of the world’s finest smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. So they surprised everyone a few days ago when they announced that they would be adding software to their iPhones to look at your stored photographs, ostensibly to detect child pornography.
In my forty years of using the Internet, I’ve never encountered an image depicting child pornography. It must exist somewhere in the darker reaches of the Internet. I support stamping out the production and distribution of such vile material, but shouldn’t that be the Police and FBI’s job?
Here’s the problem with this. Apple could use its pattern recognition software to scan your photographs to see if you were at a demonstration they didn’t like. For example, let’s say you attended a rally against methane release at a nearby fracking site. Apple could sell that information to oil companies who, in turn, might retaliate by coercing Experian to lower your credit rating.
Several days ago, I transferred all data I had stored on the Apple cloud to Microsoft’s cloud server. When my Apple iPhone’s lithium battery gives out, I will probably buy a new smartphone from Samsung.
MasterCard and Visa Thought Control
We’ve always had a straightforward relationship with banks and credit card companies. We give banks our money each month, and they use it to make loans. As a result, they keep our money safe and enable us to pay bills, and send money to family, stores, and charities. Likewise, credit card companies provide a convenient way to buy things, and for that privilege, they get 5% of the purchase price.
Now, banks and credit card companies have decided that it’s within their purview to ban your use of their services if what you are buying contradicts their moral standards.
OnlyFans is a British website that allows content creators to sell their material to subscribers, with OnlyFans taking a small cut (20%) of the subscription. Many of the creators are benign, producing things like cooking shows, educational material, and whatnot. However, a vast amount of OnlyFans was sex workers creating pornography. MasterCard and Visa laid down the law: “No porn can be purchased with our cards.” So OnlyFans announced that all sexually explicit content must be removed from their website by next month.
Update: a week after making that announcement, OnlyFans reversed their decision and told the sex workers that there would be no change to their service.
Just like the Apple case, what’s to prevent banks and credit card companies from banning their use in other goods and services they dislike. For example, they could restrict their services for ActBlue, a paysite for progressive causes. What if ActBlue was raising money to lower banking fees for consumers? What’s to prevent banks from attempting to wipe ActBlue out?
Banks had better watch out. A new player is percolating out in the financial sphere, called Digital Currency. Examples are BitCoin and DogeCoin (Elon Musk’s favorite). These blockchain currencies could eventually wipe out all traditional banking services. Remember, DogeCoin doesn’t have somebody on staff trying to pay for a $5 million mansion, a mistress, and a yacht.
Big Brother is Already Watching You
Are we already in the dystopian hellscape predicted by George Orwell? I think we are.
The ownership class has already won. Do you think I’m Chicken Little bleating that the sky is falling? OK, run this simple experiment. Click on something for sale on the Internet, say navy blue sweat pants. Don’t buy it; just click and look. For the next several months, you will see ads for sweat pants pop up on your smartphone, tablet computer, and laptop. That’s called targeted advertising, and it’s a highly lucrative business.
They know everything about you. Big tech (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, et al.) have seen every click, every website you’ve visited. They’ve created a digital profile on you. They know your political leanings, your buying habits, what you’re reading. Now they think your photographs are a resource to exploit. Sure, the trial balloon is always couched as an attempt to do something honorable (stopping child pornography, sex trafficking, etc.), but it’s all about getting control of your lives.
They will force your compliance.
Look to China to see where this is heading. China is building an enormous database on their people so that they can give each citizen a “score.” If you attend a street demonstration or get involved in some public ruckus, banks of surveillance cameras will identify the participants with facial recognition software. If your “good citizen” score goes down, the government will put you in a higher tax bracket. It’s punishment without a jury trial.
So yeah, I think Big Brother is already here and we are currently powerless to stop it.
That said, my advice is this to all the oil barons, tech billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers who engineered this demolition of our representative democracy:
“Read a history book. Study something called Bastille Day.”