US President Barack Obama and his administration are under attack. The media, when not tisking and tutting about the Republican feeding frenzy over the IRS scandal, the AP wiretapping brouhaha, and the endless round of inconclusive yet strangely dogged Benghazi hearings, is of course, actually clearing the brush, raising this frenetic activity up on a viewing platform and commenting on it like it’s Revelations, again.
It isn’t just the American president, of course, who finds himself having to try to regain the higher ground. It’s the people of Iran, who are in for another long hallucinatory cycle of lies and oppression thanks to their Supreme Leader. It’s the Egyptians who risked everything to rid themselves of a brutal dictator, only to find themselves competing with the Muslim Brotherhood for control of that country’s destiny. Here in Canada, we kind of shuffle our feet and wonder what’s going on inside our Prime Minister’s head as he dodges the media while he blandly hacks down opposition to his economic plans.
I recently started re-reading George Orwell’s 1984, my rather melancholy choice for entertainment on a recent flight from L.A. (Even though the seat back in front of me held one of those adorable tiny TVs, the grinding sound of the engines anti-intuitively keeping us aloft prevented me from focusing on Leonardo diCaprio’s star turn in Django Unchained.)
Anyway. In 1984, Winston and his compatriots are in thrall to a system of thought control which not only invades their homes via a continuously tuned two-way television screen, but which contrives to invade their very minds also. This is done through incessant repetition, peer pressure, spying, and Hate sessions conducted in work places, that require full and full-throated participation on the part of all workers. Scenes from 1984 recall grim photos from the Stalin era. Stony-faced comrades and bowed heads, forlorn plazas, intimidating architecture, deprivation and constant fear…
Not our reality, right? This isn’t North Korea, or even Belarus. The US is the epicentre of the free world, the standard-bearer for the admittedly messy process of democracy, the glowing beacon, the city on a hill, and the home of free speech (okay, free-ish – that AP thing is problematic). And yet, and yet… For all our extraordinary access to information and our right to free speech, there are still undercurrents, a strange collective will to stupidity and a herd-like compulsion to join the haters.
I so dislike being negative, honestly I do, but it’s hard to feel sanguine about the political process or even society itself when the loudest talkers and the most ardent repeaters control the narrative. Perhaps I’m just being naïve. Maybe this is how it’s always been, and maybe too there’s no fighting it, but… really, it seems awfully primitive. It seems to me we should be able to do better, and to aspire to something better, than to fall so utterly in thrall to the double speak coming out of the mouths of too many elected representatives.
Now, 1984 has come and gone, and we’re all still here, and it hasn’t got to the point where children tell on their parents and everyone avoids public spaces for fear of being noticed. So come to think of it, I’m shelving my totalitarian analogy and going with this: Let’s not become like the oppressed and dull-witted peasants of the 14th century, gawking at executions and letting the Church dictate how we think. (Not that I blame them, actually, those peasants really didn’t have a lot of options.) Let’s not be bullied by members of the ruling establishment whose only interest is power and who will do anything, including but not limited to lying and farcical inquisition, to sweep across the land and steal everything in their path.