Monday, April 03, 2006

1984, V for Vendetta

A lot of people compare world events to 1984, and sometimes it's frightening how similar they appear to be. After finally reading it, though, I'm inclined to say the level of oppression present in the book just isn't possible. In piecemeal, it serves warnings, but the aspects outlined are required to be present all at the same time, some of which just seem so unlikely as to be impossible (such as the reduction to 3 nation-states, the rounding up of all first generational dissenters, the acceptance of lack of privacy, doublethink, the technological infrastucture necessary for the telemonitors, the tracking and changing of all literature, etc...).

1984 posits that power is its own goal, but I have a hard time believing that there is even one person that wants power for only power's sake; that there is a person who would be wholly satisfied lording over his fellow man while living in filth and squallor (does anybody remember the line "my kingdom for a horse"?). In that sense, 1984 does address something that I've pondered, and that's the need for stratified goods and services between the classes. Hopefully I'll write on it at a later date, but the basic idea is that there's no point to being rich if it doesn't get you something better than someone who's poorer. Taken down the logical path that 1984 itself proposes, even the highest class citizens would eventually have a very meager quality of life. True, a better one than their inferiors, but a poor one by the standards of what could be.

However, more than anything, and probably because of V for Vendetta, I'm inclined to think like Winston did: that people won't live like that. That someone would eventually notice, and then more and more. The peasants would become incapable of accepting an even lower standard of life, and then the higher classses. Or perhaps the higher would no longer think that merely being able to fill one's stomach was such a grand high thing. Perhaps the Brotherhood existed, maybe it didn't. But I would think something like the Brotherhood would exist. And maybe 1984 would have its own V. Maybe not an untouchable superman, but perhaps a Claudius, willfully cloaked by seeming innocuousness.

The closest example presented that I think refutes my view is the Catholic Church back in its heyday. With the level of education and communication we have nowadays, it doesn't seem capable of recapturing its position.

The Founding Fathers got a lot of things right: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, right to be secure in one's possessions (right to privacy), right to bear arms.

As V said, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." As Thomas Jefferson said, "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." As Benjamin Franklin said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." And, too, what Goering said.

In that sense, I think the greatest Americans are the greatest champions of liberty, ever-vigilant against the encroachment of government and the erosion of freedom. That also implies the necessity of tolerance. The poorest Americans, then, are those that cannot think beyond the herd and are led as a herd, reactionary and ignorant.

I certainly hope that people watch V for Vendetta. For me, it was the first work that got me to think in that way. Maybe they'll watch it and be more aware of the warnings of oppression and the dangers groupthink.


Anonymous said...

My father suffered in the cultural revolution era in china. The world he has seen is no better than the world depicted in 1984.

Anonymous said...

please tell me you've since read the graphic novel. The graphic novel is much less watered down and does the concept much more justice.

Rowan DeBues said...

Not to be too much of a downer, but you can't still call America the greatest champion for freedom. The potential for right wing dominance, utter control by bureacratic elements is supreme.