Orwell’s IngSoc; Relevant to America?

Paul A. Fischer
April 6, 2008
Communications Skills
Mr. Zimmerman
Orwell’s IngSoc;
Relevant to America? 
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
(Elliot 1)
            Orwell wrote 1984 with the intention of exposing the corruption of socialism in Communist Russia. His story, which was all the more brave as it was written during the height of Stalin’s power, woke the free world to the dangers that lay behind the Iron Curtain in their newest ally. He warned against many different dangerous means that the Soviet Union abused to establish complete power and tyranny over its citizens.
            Today, in post 9/11 America, we are seeing many of these means used to achieve suspect goals. Through disinformation, brutal torture, and the marginalization of certain populations, the government seems to be following a dangerous route blazed by the USSR and illustrated by Orwell’s IngSoc. The question that must be answered is: how important is it that means similar to those employed by the USSR and IngSoc are being used in America, even though it is apparent that they are achieving unique values in each case? 
            “You are afraid,” said O’Brien, watching his face, “that in another moment something is going to break. Your especial fear is that it will be your backbone. You have a vivid mental picture of the vertebrae snapping apart and the spinal fluid dripping out of them. That is what you are thinking, is it not, Winston?” (Orwell 245)
            In the quote above, George Orwell expresses terror of a physical punishment. More importantly, his terror is of the powers that he fervently believed society would gain and abuse. It is logical, then, to question whether our own country, the United States, holds dear the same values as George Orwell’s IngSoc, from his book 1984. Orwell shows that when government ceases to exist in the present and seeks to change the past, similar means, such as censorship, torture, poverty, and fear, become instruments of achieving an oppressive government.
Past vs. Present Government
            George Orwell’s IngSoc, the oppressive government in 1984, held primary belief in the power of the past. In changing the past, they would control the future and present (Greenwald, 1). Nearly all actions of the thought police and Winston’s own job, as a government censor, were to ensure the pages of history could be forever altered to favor IngSoc. This was done to the point of pathological denial, as Orwell believed that the majority would be so confused that they would be unable to discern reality from fiction. The cognizant minority would be so engulfed in ignorance of other likeminded individuals, Orwell reasoned, that they would be relatively helpless to unite in revolution against the government.
            In strict contrast to IngSoc’s ability to achieve control, however, is the United States’ government that continues to use similar means to achieve a very different value from IngSoc, which primarily valued the past. While the means at times may seem similar, there is a distinct difference between Orwell’s IngSoc and the Federal Government . The best way to classify this difference is in terms of tenses. While IngSoc focused primarily on the past, it is safe to say that the US government is far too disorganized to work effectively in any fashion except the present.
Physical Torture and Police Brutality
          1984 details a snapshot of life in a totalitarian government that rises out of post-war London. George Orwell is terrified of an over reaching government, his greatest fear driving him into becoming the political force that he was. Individuals like him helped save our world from self destruction or, worse, dehumanization. Kellner refers to his idea of dehumanization as the Orwell nightmare. Equally as interesting, perhaps, is what motivated Orwell to support the socialist society that he was so critical of. In 1984, the government utilizes a number of criterions to change the unpleasant truth into an ideal past. The most significant and striking of these criterions, as shown at the top of the paper, is the necessity that brutal physical torture be exacted on individuals. Orwell clearly believes that the state could, through physical torture and coercion, force an individual to deny what he knew to be the truth. Even to believe in frank lies. “How many fingers am I holding up?” (Orwell 249).
            In America, there has been a history of physical abuse perpetrated by local and national governments. One of the more apparent manners of abuse is that of police brutality. An example of this is when over sixty baton wielding police officers used excessive violence in breaking up a crowd at Thurgood High School in San Francisco in 2002. While it’s true that horrifying police brutality does occur, and national trends such as racial discrimination do play a factor, it is safe to say that there is not a national conspiracy to use brutality to create a climate of fear. Because the police brutality is not systematic or in any way endorsed by the government (Civilians Need Protection 385), the climate of fear that Orwell predicted is not present in contemporary America.
Proletarian Society and Poverty
            In 1984 there is a large population of proletariats who are made up of individuals denied the few rights granted even to party members. Proles, as they’re known, live in widespread poverty and are afforded little security or comfort, furthermore they lack any sort of opportunities of ever escaping their entrenched lives (Orwell 72). The party members enjoy relative comfort and security at the price of their political freedoms, yet proles are not even allotted that. Indeed, Winston thinks to himself that if there is hope, it lies with the proles for they are so miserable and oppressed that surely they will one day rise up (69). This is reinforced when he sees a prole woman protesting the exposure of children to horrible, explicitly violent media (9) (she is quickly disposed of by the police). Indeed, members of a society economically oppressed to the point that they have nothing to lose will rise up; the Nazi takeover of Germany is sufficient evidence for this.
            In the United States, those below the poverty line are often oppressed and denied the same rights as their more wealthy counterparts. Indeed, it has been suggested that America may soon feel that sections of the population are expendable- too old, or sick, or poor, or disabled to contribute to society (Stephens 94). Between 1961 and 1971, the University of Cincinnati carried out a series of experiments on nearly 100 patients, two thirds of whom were African American and nearly all low-income, even single mothers who were supporting a family (49). These patients, some with only benign tumors or treatable breast cancer, were given full body radiation doses to the effect of a pilot flying through a nuclear cloud (35). Most died within 30 days (17), making it systematic murder, one that has been compared to Hitler’s Auschwitz camp on a smaller scale (83). This was the smallest of a series of similar experiments that were carried out with Department of Defense funds in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Nearly all of the patients in these experiments (thousands) died as a direct result of the radiation. Senator Mike Gravel, when asked about the University of Cincinnati radiation experiments remarked that, “This shows that the value of life is not held sacred, but is instead becoming cheaper.” (201)
Incidents like these make America seem similar to IngSoc. Rather than being oppressed to the point of revolution, however, the low income masses are not proles in that, while they may be prejudiced against by the government, who makes it harder to rise and often overly burdens the low with heavy taxes, there is no threat of basic needs being retracted from a significant population in America.
Censorship and Banned Books
                       George Orwell’s fear of society actually ended up strengthening society. That sounds like a crazy paradoxical paradigm that is confusing just to think about. Simply put, George Orwell warned against a self-perpetuating society that would feed upon itself until humanity was ultimately nonexistent. Children spied upon their parents, and nothing was taken as sacred, beyond the worshipped Big Brother (Orwell 133). This sort of indoctrination of children and disrespect for the natural virtues of humanity is best seen in Winston’s own job, as censor. His job was to satisfy the party’s fascination with the past and rewrite history so that no one in IngSoc would know about the wrongs perpetrated by the totalitarian government. In doing this, the party’s fixation on the past is made evident: rather than trying to prevent crisis or shortages, they preferred to attempt to deny the existence of said problems. Throughout 1984, Orwell makes it clear that such control of the government is wrong, and ought to be avoided.
            This image served the purpose of alerting nations globally to the dangers of such a society, and the effect of this literature can be seen in America.Where books that are considered subversive or damaging flourish, so does the tradition of freedom that is so important to a vital democracy.  While there is certainly an argument to be made that banned books and the government censorship that exists today in America is disturbingly similar to Orwell’s prophecy, it is better to realize that we do have the right to read 1984 itself, which, Tom Lovell points out, has been described as “pro-communist” and “sexually explicit.” Looking at the former USSR, however, we can see a nation that effectively censored books such as and including 1984 . The USSR’s cessation of basic rights ultimately led to the corrosion of a lifestyle that deteriorated until the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
            “You’re only a rebel from the waist down.” (Orwell 156) Winston’s words strike a certain physical passion that has come to represent those who only wish to support change within certain parameters. Winston wishes that the pair could fully commit, beyond their sex games, to starting a revolution that would have a permanent effect on the party and Oceania as a whole. Ironically, it was only when both Julia and Winston fully commit that their little world of rebellion came tumbling down around them. In society, George Orwell is saying, there is an ignorance of the political and social sway of others. “It was all guesswork: very likely he had imagined it all.” (19) Although Winston wishes to kick off the revolution, it is impossible for him to know how much support he has. So instead of jumping to action, he is instead left to fear. His fear, combined with the fear of Oceania, allowed the oppressive government to maintain an iron grip over the individual, and decimate any shred of humanity left in citizens (215).
Conclusion of IngSoc vs. America
            Orwell’s 1984 is an example of political writing at its best. This is mostly thanks to his brilliant display and dissection of George Orwell’s very own personal fears. He felt the world changing and speeding towards a dangerous precipice. The technology, philosophy, and attitude of his generation are summed up in his miserable tale of hope squandered, love lost, and fear triumphant. This is not seen in the United States, which encouraged individuality and a counter culture revolution that was waged through largely peaceful protests for civil rights, political freedom, and free speech. John F. Kennedy said of the movement that, “Whoever makes a peaceful revolution impossible, makes a violent revolution inevitable.” The very success and existence of the movement speaks to the inability of America to squash the dissidents which keep society vigorous. Whether in the form of the CIA, or any other federal branch, no organization can squash American individuality. What Orwell shows in his book is that when government seeks to change the past, the same criterion, such as banned books, police brutality, poverty, and a climate of fear become instruments of achieving a grave value.
Works Cited
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