IntroductionFirst are both members of the Party who secretly

IntroductionFirst published in 1949, political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell follows Winston Smith, the protagonist, and postulates a negative utopia or dystopia where the powerful and omnipresent Party monitors and controls every citizen. Representing the pursuit of truth and freedom in the novel, Winston and his lover Julia are both members of the Party who secretly rebel against the Party for its totalitarian reign, but are ultimately brought to submission by the Party after being subjugated with cruelty. The author, George Orwell, used the dystopian world (an imaginary superstate named Oceania) that he created to warn against the grave dangers of totalitarianism. Shaped by his experience of living in authoritarian Spain in the 1930s and alarmed by the rise of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in the 1940s, Orwell seemed particularly interested in how totalitarian regimes manipulate the minds of the people to perpetuate their absolute power. While many read Nineteen Eighty-Four through an anti-Soviet lens and thought the dystopia scenario had lost much of its practical relevance after the fall of totalitarian Soviet Union and the rise of liberal democracies around the world, others argue even today that our society has become a “surveillance society” and that Nineteen Eighty-Four remains a relevant and powerful warning today. Have we learned anything from Nineteen Eighty-Four when it comes to the tradeoff between privacy and security? Has surveillance become voluntary nowadays as we rush to buy the latest generations of “telescreens” and carry them wherever we go? What kind of data about our lives should and should not be stored? Under what circumstances can the government access data about our lives? Indeed, questions triggered by the novel are challenging to answer as they involve a complex interplay between technology, policy, and ethics. Regardless, I believe Orwell’s warnings are of paramount importance because the book’s parallels with today’s world, and our society will benefit from heeding Orwell’s warnings by taking a pause in our digital pursuits and reflecting on these important questions. To prove my thesis, I will answer my research question: “What are the Party’s surveillance and propaganda techniques in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and how far are they relevant today?” To do so, I will first investigate the purpose and effectiveness of the various ways in which the Orwellian Party indoctrinates its citizens and then discuss the extent to which they are relevant to today’s society in the second section. Surveillance and Propaganda Techniques in Nineteen Eighty-four1.1 TelescreensTelescreens, as a compulsory and non-selective surveillance technique, intrude into the everyday lives of the people of Oceania. Surveillance is the primary mechanism of control in Oceania, because the Party has to first know what its citizens are doing before it can control its actions through propaganda. Telescreens are one of the key elements of surveillance and control. The first pages of the book give us a glimpse of how telescreens work:”The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston makes, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moverover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement is scrutinized.”But it does not matter as much what telescreens can actually do; what matters the most is what people believe telescreens can do. Winston’s mere perception that telescreens are sensitive enough to detect human heartbeat and therefore able to determine lies and stress is enough to change his behavior in public and private. For instance, after unpromptedly writing “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” for over half a page in his diary and convincing himself he will be convicted of thoughtcrime regardless, Winston’s actual reaction is fascinating: “His heart was thumping like a drum, but his face, from long habit, was probably expressionless.” Expression of emotions came naturally to humans, yet Winston’s abnormal (but perfectly normal in Oceania) expression only reflects a long-term suppression by the Party, more specifically, the telescreens’ exceptional way of detecting even the tiniest movements. We also learn that even inner Party members are not free from the telescreens. If anything, Party members are subject to much more scrutiny and surveillance than ordinary people because they are deemed more useful to the Party and entrusted with slightly more authority. According to O’Brien, a conspiratory leader of the Party who had been secretly following Winston for years, Inner Party members are able to turn off telescreens, but only for half an hour at most before someone else raises suspicion. 1.2 Falsification of History and Public InformationOrwell puts forth an irony where there are no other means to whitewash the Party’s crime except by creating lies to cover up the past. One of the Party’s slogans, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”, indicates that falsifying “the past” is one central rule to its totalitarian regime. In addition, this slogan implies that history only exists in people’s memories and documented records. People surely have cognitive ability, but such ability is underlying and could be developed through indoctrinating thought. “‘Comrades!’ cried an eager youthful voice. ‘Attention, comrades! We have glorious news for you. We have won the battle for production! Returns now completed of the output of all classes of consumption goods show that the standard of living has risen by no less than twenty per cent over the past year. All over Oceania this morning there were irrepressible spontaneous demonstrations when workers marched out of factories and offices and paraded through the streets with banners voicing their gratitude to Big Brother for the new, happy life which his wise leadership has bestowed upon us.'” Since the Party is free to modify any kind of statistics, the accuracy of “no less than twenty percent” is questionable and is most likely a fraudulent statement. In fact, the entire announcement might be fabled, and it is merely another tactic used by the Party. Such blatant lies create an illusion of happiness, prevent citizens from differentiating between truth and lies, and ultimately paralyze their thought of rebelling against the Party. Thus, appreciation towards the Party would naturally emerge as the citizens are obligated to feel “happy”, and they would associate their happiness with, and even depend on, the Party’s regime. Although citizens have seemingly acknowledged the rationality of the regime, historical facts remain a threat, and the Party recognizes it. To prohibit comparison between the present and the past, the Ministry of Truth disseminates false information published by the Party. “I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.” Ironically, Winston seems adept at fabricating Comrade Ogilvy’s legacies. Not only because he is a standing member of the Ministry of Truth, but also because the image of a person who “has no subjects of conversation except the principles of Ingsoc” is too stereotypical and representative of Oceania. The imaginary Comrade Ogilvy is modelized and praised by totalitarian rulers as a leading figure that every citizen should emulate. However, by today’s standards, we see a puppet that displays the totalitarian ideals: he is a human living a nonhuman life with no emotions or independent thought.1.3 Psychological Manipulation Through EducationAlthough totalitarian rulers are adept at falsifying the past and deceiving citizens, ambivalent lies and conflicting laws are inevitable, and would subsequently threaten the Party’s authority and the regime’s stability. Doublethink is a way to prevent any thought that is close to the truth, and therefore completely alter citizens’ mode of cognition. “The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried onto the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd.”It can be seen that after systematic training, irrational citizens are adept at using doublethink and can successfully alter their memories. Citizens are aware of such conspicuous lies, but still seem to understand perfectly. The Party has once again succeeded in manipulating thought and rational individuals with independent thought are intolerable under a totalitarian regime.Consequently, in respondence with doublethink, words like blackwhite emerge in Newspeak, a new language system that prevents citizens from conceptualizing the idea of rebellion and putting unorthodoxy into words. Interestingly, Newspeak words seem to be created to deliberately fit the Party’s ideals. For instance, goodthinkful means “naturally orthodox, incapable of thinking a bad thought”, which is exactly what the Party wishes its citizens to do, because orthodoxy, as defined by the Party, “means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”1.4 Suppression of IndividualismIt is almost impossible to stop people from socializing, as we socialize to obtain new information, vary our perspectives, and gain more knowledge. Yet, totalitarian rulers are afraid of individualistic ideas and restrain the dissemination of new ideas in a freewheeling society. To this end, totalitarian rulers censor every single aspect of their citizens’ lives and force individual activities into group activities. If anyone refuses to join any organizations or group activities, he or she would be accused of individualism, which is the basis of confronting feudal autocracy. People’s rationality enables them to maintain sufficient independence and freedom. However, under a totalitarian rule, individualism is considered an unethical act and an act that violates “the will of the society”, which, in this context, is really “the will of the Big Brother”.Collectivism, the opposite of individualism, is greatly encouraged. The goal of The Junior Spies Program and The Anti-Sex League is to indoctrinate children thoughts that are compliant with the Party’s moral standard. The establishment of such organizations not only means that children are widely brainwashed to become patriots with a uniform thought, but also means that the Party aims to manipulate children as a tool to report suspicious behaviors that appear to be disloyal to the Party. Totalitarian rulers seem to not care whether children have obtained useful knowledge and adequate skills, but rather concentrate on establishing loyalty and faith toward the Party. Admittedly, children are indeed the most vulnerable of all age groups and the easiest to accept new information. Interestingly, in a speech during Hate Week, “the most savage yells of all came from the schoolchildren.” This detail not only highlights the Party’s treacherousness, but also sheds light on the fact that the Party’s indoctrinations are truly deep-rooted in children’s minds, proving the effectiveness of the Party’s tactic. 2. Relevance to Today’s SocietyIt is tempting to dismiss the life inside Oceania as a mere fiction, which does not bear relevance to the modern society. After all, no state, with the possible exception of North Korea, comes even close to resembling such a society today. The vast majority of the world’s population today enjoy significantly more freedom than those in Oceania: in contrast to Newspeak where words such as democracy and freedom simply stopped to exist, ordinary people today have the vocabulary at their disposal to verbalize injustice or suppression. Even North Korea, the world’s most autocratic regime, pays lip service to democracy by calling itself a “democratic people’s republic”. As the Arab Spring demonstrated, even in some of the most authoritarian countries today, modern technologies such as the Internet and social media have empowered ordinary people to register discontent and to organize political movements at a scale and speed that was hardly conceivable just a decade ago, nor do modern governments suppress individual thoughts in the same manner as Oceania. As O’Brien explains, “We are not interested in those stupid crimes that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about.” We can take some comfort in the fact none of these have happened in the real world. In some ways, Oceania remains an inconceivably nightmarish portrait of what a relentlessly overreaching, power-hungry autocracy might look like.Yet, the world Orwell warned against has not exactly come to pass. Instead, the surveillance state is alive and well today — even in many liberal democracies considered to be free. In 2013, American security contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) operated a number of mass surveillance programs on millions of ordinary people around the world. The Snowden revelations came in an era in which new technologies such as smartphones and computers have become ubiquitous but their potential for surveillance has not been fully recognized, much less understood by the general public. Not surprisingly, the sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four soared 100 times in the wake of the revelations, underlying the extraordinary relevance the book has for today as one of the best literary expressions of our collective fears against state surveillance. The parallel between contemporary America and the fictional Oceania is even more striking in the way surveillance is justified as a necessary evil. Just as Oceania waged a perpetual war against alleged threats such as Eurasia and domestic terrorists and justified surveillance on national security grounds, the United States government under George W. Bush similarly used the “global war on terror” to justify mass surveillance programs. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, President Bush gave NSA widespread powers to conduct electronic surveillance, including telephone and internet communications, without any court order. While civil liberties were also curtailed in past conflicts such as the Second World War, what is unusual about the war on terror is the longevity of surveillance programs. This appears to be fueled, in part, by public support. A 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center found that most Americans (56%) thought government surveillance did not go far enough in protecting national security, while only 28% said government surveillance had gone too far in limiting their civil liberty. In this respect, George Orwell was prescient: people in the early 21st century are just as likely to trade individual privacy for an improved sense of security — be it personal, societal, or national. Nevertheless, the notion of security-at-all-cost is exactly what Oceania’s propaganda machine wants people to believe. Yet we are here today, arriving at the very same conclusion voluntarily.Indeed, a notable difference between Oceania and the world today is that surveillance has become voluntary. In contrast to Oceania where people have been made malleable objects of control through overt psychological manipulation and conditioning, people in modern society voluntarily submit to surveillance largely without indoctrination from the government. Ironically, we even pay for the privilege to be placed under surveillance. We compete to buy the latest generations of telescreens — smartphones, tablets, and laptops — and carry them wherever we go as if the telescreens already in our homes aren’t enough. Now that portable devices are ubiquitous, governments around the world are capable of monitoring our lives in near real time: where we are, what we like to do, who we talked to and when, who our friends are, how much money we have and what we do with it…and the list goes on. With the rise of artificial intelligence, autonomous cars and Internet of Things, modern-day telescreens will only penetrate into more aspects of our everyday lives. This has happened because we have allowed them to happen, with privacy largely an afterthought. For example, we have grown so accustomed to surveillance cameras in public spaces that we hardly see them as intrusive to our consciousness. Nineteen Eighty-Four has not gone far enough in a host of other aspects too. The latest surveillance technologies at our governments’ disposal in the 21st century have far surpassed George Orwell’s wildest imaginations. For example, despite the telescreen’s various advanced capabilities in picking up even the lowest whispers and detecting even the slightest movements, telescreens have their limits. Their effectiveness ultimately depends on human beings and is therefore inefficient, labor-intensive and fallible. For example, the sprawling state security apparatus relies on a huge army of Thought Police to install and monitor telescreens, and on an even larger army of “junior spies” to report their parents for thoughtcrimes. Winston notes that “hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak — ‘child hero’ was the phrase generally used — overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police”. Moreover, the telescreens are always visible, and one knows that one is being observed. Even the telescreen in Charrington’s upstairs room has to be concealed behind a picture. In contrast, modern surveillance technologies are increasingly affordable, automated, and effective. They can be easily concealed and ignored so as to not raise suspicion. They are also not subject to human errors and as they can be completely automated. Perhaps the most notorious example in this regard is China’s “Great Firewall”, arguably the most extensive and technologically advanced Internet censorships in the world. Not only is the Firewall able to automatically detect keywords that are deemed harmful to the Party’s legitimacy and block access to foreign websites that contain such keywords, it can vary the degree of censorship within China. For example, while the system maintains tight control for most users, it deliberately allows the globally connected elites to circumvent censorship through virtual private networks (VPNs) for business and academic purposes. Censorship also varies geographically within China: while VPNs are reasonably reliable in major cities, they are strictly blocked in the restive Tibet and Xinjiang regions. Chinese government can easily close the loophole if it needs to. Aside from Internet censorship, the Chinese government is also employing Artificial Intelligence technologies to match faces from existing facial recognition cameras in public spaces with government data. All these developments underline the greater sophistication of modern-day surveillance technologies at governments’ disposal today.Moreover, the cast of actors involved in conducting surveillance today is also much larger than George Orwell imagined. We live in a world not of one Big Brother, but a multitude of “little brothers” all across society. In today’s information age, corporations of all types and sizes routinely collect, analyze and even trade information about their users. To be sure, these organizations do so for commercial — and not political — purposes. And companies such as Google maintain strict privacy rules to protect user data. Still, many governments have the power to request information from technology companies on public security grounds, and companies often comply. But it is a moral slippery slope to go down. Where does the government draw the line? Just like the Big Brother, governments today can still target dissidents and members of the opposition simply by labeling them as threats to public security — except that now they only need to tap into corporations instead of maintaining a vast surveillance machine of their own. The network of corporations, each holding an enormous amount of data on individuals, effectively serve as agents of government control in a way that is much less conspicuous to the public. After all, surveillance technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition were widely used by Google and Facebook long before governments followed suit. But tragically, we are largely unaware of the fact that we are under surveillance by not only one, but multiple entities.In Oceania, the media, as analyzed in section 1, are the major source of the Party’s propaganda and are anything but neutral. As frightening as it sounds, citizens of Oceania are flooded with one-sided news reports and eventually stopped to question the validity of conspicuously ambivalent statements such as “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”. Sadly, recent media articles and reports in the modern world have shown a similar tendency towards partisanship. A perfect example would be the media coverage of Hillary Clinton’s scandals during the 2016 presidential election. Pro-Clinton platforms, such as Verrit, are essentially a sanctuary for democrats that provides its readers with what they want to hear, rather than what is true. Similarly on the political right, media outlets such as Breitbart are known to spread falsehood and groundless conspiracy theories. This lack of objectivity and truthfulness also perfectly characterize the media in Oceania. However, we can take some comfort in the fact that as opposed to the citizens of Oceania’s complete loss of independent thinking, the American voters in general are still able to think critically: according to Politico polls, “nearly half of voters, 46 percent, believe the news media fabricate news stories about President Donald Trump and his administration.”ConclusionIn this essay, I have first described the various ways in which the Party exerts absolute control over all corners of the society: by maintaining telescreens to monitor every citizen all the time, by rewriting history to frame its failures as successes, by changing the linguistic system so people cannot name the problem, and by turning family members against each other. The Party’s surveillance network, comprised of both tangible and intangible things, is stringent and effective. Comparing the modern society to Oceania, I argue that the society we live in today is better in some respects and worse in others. As the above analysis suggest, even though we enjoy freedoms of thought and speech, mass surveillance today has far surpassed the Orwellian world in terms of technological sophistication, scope, and secrecy. In Oceania, technology seems to have gone beyond the initial purpose of communication and entertainment, but is instead used as a tool for surveillance. In this regard, the parallels with the modern world are fascinating and they compel the readers to reflect upon the ethics of such government action. In the modern world, governments can easily justify surveillance on national security grounds to obtain our personal information effortlessly. To quote Orwell’s words from his letters on why he wrote the book, “if one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn’t point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.” Just as how Orwell postulated, technology is a double-edged sword and totalitarianism is, in a way, alarmingly near as people are largely unaware of the scrutiny and they still voluntarily buy the latest “telescreens”. In short, surveillance techniques used by the Party are extremely fargoing and varied, and George Orwell’s warnings against the dangers of a totalitarian surveillance state is all the more relevant and important today. After all, the modern world has, in many ways, far surpassed Orwell’s wildest imaginations and it is more urgent than ever to have an informed discussion as a society on technology, ethics and policy.