Despite being published in 1949 at the tail end of World War II, I think George Orwell’s fictional novel, 1984, is still as relevant today as it was back then.
The book is set in the fictional state of Oceania, where a dystopian future has taken over the reins of society. The leader of the nation, Big Brother, keeps a constant eye on citizens, making sure that they think, act, and speak precisely how they should further the aims of the rulers.
Governed by the Party, the people of Oceania have no form of freedom, not in the way they think, the way they speak, or in what they do.
I believe (and I am not the only one) in the current state of our society, with data collection and the monitoring of all online activities, we’re not too far off from the problems facing those in the work of fiction. However, there may be hope in the power of Bitcoin as a means to create our version of freedom.
The Power of Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism is a political regime governed entirely by the state, with no input from citizens other than to be quiet and obey. According to the Party, the governing system in place in the novel, individuals need to be controlled and constantly monitored in order to make sure they are fulfilling their roles at the hands of the Party.
In other words, every decision, no matter how small or inconsequential, by those in the working class is to be made by what the Party wishes to achieve. In the novel, one of these ideals is to create a world where individualism does not have a role, and anyone who transgresses or disobeys this ideal is subject to elimination – quite literally.
The main character, Winston Smith, fulfills his duty at the Ministry of Truth by erasing defiant individuals from the history books and rendering them nonexistent in the past, present, and future.
Another feature of Oceania’s totalitarian government is its omnipresent surveillance of everyone’s lives, through the obtrusive Telescreen, which monitors the every move of individuals, the brains behind the governing system can control and manipulate how citizens are meant to behave.
I think it’s apparent that this constant monitoring and loss of privacy depicted in the novel resonates with current concerns about data collection by governments and corporations.
Anything that we do online, whether we give consent or not, is tracked and analyzed under the guise of data collection. Our personal information is also collected for market research and seemingly used to help us by providing more targeted advertising.
But just how helpful is all of this data collection to the average person? Some might say it is not beneficial, like Edward Snowden, who publicly raised concerns about protecting our privacy.
Information Manipulation and Deformation
In 1984, the Ministry of Truth used information manipulation as a powerful weapon of control. History is rewritten on a daily basis, and propaganda is spewed in a bid to influence the decisions of citizens.
Smith, as an employee of the Ministry of Truth, is at the forefront of this information deformation at the beginning of the book.
As the novel progresses, we see the damaging effects of big data manipulation. Not only in his work but also in his personal life, when he questions his life and work seriously.
Does this manipulation of information remind you of something? It should be because the spread of fake news and disinformation on social media is a cause for significant concern in political, economic, and social spaces.
Social media platforms, which are accessed by 60.49% of people in the world, are being used to disseminate conspiracy theories and misleading information through the use of various techniques, including deep fakes.
In turn, this influences public opinion and contributes to the creation of an alternative reality that is often distorted.
Repression of Dissident Thought
Dissident thought is a fundamental feature of the totalitarian regime in Orwell’s 1984. It points to the repression of independent thinking and mindless information consumption without questioning its validity.
An example of this repression is found in doublethink, a process whereby the Party controls the ideas and thoughts of individuals.
Doublethink, as portrayed by Orwell, presents two opposing ideas as the truth. For example, the Party’s slogan is War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
In modern debates about freedom of expression, we see the repression of opposing thought patterns more and more. Hate speech and extremist ideas are disregarded and even censored in some countries.
This is in direct opposition to what freedom of speech means. See how two different things are being sold as one?
To avoid this doublethink mentality, we need to preserve freedom of thought and maintain a safe space for ideas to be expressed and debated, regardless of whether they fit in with the narratives of government or not.
The Power of Resistance
As Smith goes through his internal struggles around the freedom to think and do as he pleases, we see a more concerted effort from his side to deny the Party what they want: obedience to the rule of law.
While he never quite gets to reach the freedom that he desires due to the suppression of his rebellion, there is a lesson to be learned from his actions. It demonstrates the power of individual resistance and the knock-on effects it can have on your immediate community.
In the present day, it’s worth reminding ourselves that every individual has the power to make a difference – in their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Social movements and widespread protests, which gain even more traction through social media platforms, are examples of how citizens can come together to defend their rights and fight against injustices. As Orwell said: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
For Julian Assange and Wikileaks, they realized the power that they had to change the status quo. Furthermore, they recognized the role that independent thinkers have when it comes to funding the distribution of materials that encourage dissident thought.
It was during this time that the community supporting Assange used Bitcoin to raise the necessary money to keep Wikileaks going, as institution after institution censored Wikileaks and all of those associated with it.
What about Bitcoin?
When I got to the end of 1984, there was a lingering thought that Orwell could not have written this fiction if Bitcoin had been around in the late 1940s.
People who are able to exchange money and do transactions without the need for a central bank have no obligation to obey or be totally submissive to whichever Party is controlling the money.
This results in the government losing much of its power as the need to print or create more money falls away.
The themes and warnings in Orwell’s 1984 are still relevant today – maybe even more so. From the dangers of totalitarianism and information distortion to the repression of freedom of speech and thought, the novel still has many lessons to teach us in today’s society.
The government does not want us to know we have a right to fight for financial freedom. The proof of this is in the ongoing social and legal persecution of Assange, Snowden, and Ross Ulbricht, who are all committed to the ideals of freedom in movement and speech.
Orwell’s novel reminds us of the importance of freedom, privacy, and resistance in the face of oppression. It also helps us to understand the challenges our society faces and how we can work together to co-create a fairer and more enlightened future.
And maybe, just maybe, Bitcoin can help us to achieve the free and fair world that we all deserve.
This is a guest post by Nesrine Aissani. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.