08 January 2011

A new Newspeak word

We are in a post-1984 world. That's hardly surprising - 1984 is now a long time ago. When Dr Grumble first started reading George Orwell, 1984 was still a long way off. Neither Animal Farm nor Nineteen Eighty-Four seemed terribly meaningful books then. Themes of pigs taking over or incessant public mind control seemed fanciful. Others knew better. Lauded though Orwell's books were, he did not come over to the young Grumble as a man with a remarkable prescience. It was all just too unreal for Grumble. The world could never be anything like the fantasies created by Orwell.

But Grumble was young then. Youth lends an inevitable naivety. Some of us can shake this off with age. Some can't. For most, as we near the time we must leave this world, truths we could not see before may begin to dawn. The future matters more to the young than the old but they know less about it that the old. Knowledge of the past gives insight into the future. Perhaps that accounts for a strange paradox: the old, you see, worry about the future more than the young. The young are only interested in the present. That's where their concerns lie.

Blogging is a young person's thing. It's new. The old can be slow to adopt new things that they have never needed in the past. Grumble is not of the Facebook generation. He does not feel the need. But he does feel the need to blog. Most of the medical bloggers with a message are, to put it politely, not young. They all have a substantial mileage behind them. Take a look, in contrast, at the few medical student bloggers. They are preoccupied with the present: exams, boyfriends, a new placement - these are the things that dominate their lives. They have little in the way of a past. Not long ago they were at school. Their limited past makes them unable to see the future. Grumble was once like that.

How has the passage of time altered Grumble's view of Orwell? Does he now realise that the lauding of Orwell was justified? Now that we are living in the future, just how prescient has Nineteen Eighty-Four turned out to be?

Nineteen Eighty-Four was written in 1948 not long before Orwell died. Sadly, he wasn't that old but he was old enough to have some mileage and a considerable insight into the future. It's sad now to read of Orwell's illness and physical decline. If he were to see Dr Grumble as a patient today, he could easily be cured. But in 1948 the treatment of tuberculosis was in its infancy. Streptomycin was not readily available. By the time he received it, it was too late.

Just imagine that world in 1948. Not only was there little in the way of effective treatment for infectious diseases, technology of all sorts was very primitive by the standards of today. There were few televisions, no video cameras. Computers as we know them were non-existent. The internet was beyond anyone's dreams. Yet much of what Dr Grumble considered fanciful when he read Orwell in his youth has come to pass. We live in a world of all pervasive surveillance. Not only do we have cameras on street corners and in shops but there are cameras to recognise your car's number plate and log it on Big Brother's computer. We have no secrets any more. If you are younger than Grumble, you will seek out your sexual partner online on sites built for the purpose. Your drunken antics will be recorded on Facebook. Young doctors, whether they like it or not, have their whole working lives immutably entered into their eportfolios. Few worry about any of this. Not the young anyway.

Newspeak is all around us. For 'plurality' read 'privatisation'. For 'contestability' read 'commercial'. For 'polyclinic' read 'private provider". The NHS is riddled with examples. What could be worse than not saying what you mean? Is it lying or concealing the truth? Do they intend to deceive? Does it matter?

The world has moved on to technical levels undreamed of by Orwell. Google's computers essentially know how you think. Employers log every web page you have ever looked at. Your service provider may do the same. Emails are scanned by the people in Cheltenham for subversive words. The workings of your mind are known. Whether anyone cares or not is another matter. The important point is that the technology to see into your mind is there.

If you own a Kindle your reading habits will be known. If Amazon were to decide that you should no longer be reading Nineteen Eight-Four, they can just delete it without your permission. Of course you might think that they never would. But don't forget that Nineteen Eight-Four has been banned as intellectually dangerous to the public. Anything could happen. In fact it already has. Amazon has already seen fit to delete Nineteen Eighty-Four from your Kindle. The reasons were not actually too sinister but the incident does reveal the frightening control Amazon now has over our your personal virtual library. They don't need your permission they just delete your books. It's just like Big Brother.

Grumble could go on. If we do not already live in an Orwellian world, today's technology certainly makes it more possible than ever.

But let us be thankful that we still have control of our own minds. We are free to express our views in blogs like this. There is no way the ruling class can touch our minds, is there? In any case why should anybody want to? We all agree that we should be free to think and do as we please.

OK. Grumble is bamboozling you. No government, democratic or otherwise, has ever wanted us to think or do as we please. You might think you are free but you are not.

Dr Grumble has some sceptical readers who by now will think that he is well and truly off his trolley. There is obviously no way that there is anybody close to government working on controlling your mind. That is just ridiculous.

But, dear reader, you might just be wrong. There might already be an institute for government working on how to control your thinking and your behaviour? They might even have hired a surgeon to help them. Which can only mean one thing. Brain surgery. OK. That last bit cannot be true. Or is the world even more Orwellian than we realise?

By the way, there is another Newspeak word that Grumble has just come across. It is Mindspace. What do you think that really means? It couldn't be Newspeak for mind control could it? Brain washing even? And could there be a surgeon involved? Surely not.


Cockroach Catcher said...

I knew I should have done surgery and not psychiatry.
The Cockroach Catcher

Sam said...

"For most, as we near the time we must leave this world, truths we could not see before may begin to dawn. The future matters more to the young than the old but they know less about it that the old"

That's very depressing Dr G! OK, so we are older but do we have to turn it into a tragedia?! What makes you think that you are ' near the time' than anyone else? You may say that's the usual order of things but by the same token I'd say, there are no straight lines in nature!

Enjoy it while you can and when the time comes, it comes, why care then if you, overall, had had a good time? ... simply put, enjoy while you can Dr G and forget about mirrors, they do lie you know! :-)

"It couldn't be Newspeak for mind control could it? Brain washing even?"

They are researching the behaviour impact of personal budgets, that's what they do, they are academics! Why is that wrong? Or has to do with mind control or brain washing?

Dr Grumble said...

Sam, you have picked up on an odd turn of phrase that I should really have edited out. I was trying to convey a frustration that I have which is that now I am older I feel I understand very much more about the world than I did and I see in younger people the same weaknesses that I had at their age. It is a shame that by the time you have all this expertise there is limited time to exploit it. In fact the best thing to do is to try and convey what you know to those that are coming behind.

One thing I have come to realise is the depth of the warnings from George Orwell. Could that triangle essentially be correct? Could there be a ruling class that is masterfully trying to control the rest of us? Could our democracy be something of an illusion?

You need to decide for yourself just how sinister this is. Is the government now in the business of brain washing or is controlling the behaviour of the proles just something that all governments do in their various ways with our best interests in mind?

Prisoner of Hope said...

Of course "control" of the thoughts of the masses was recognised by Marx as one of the roles of organised Religion in the past - the opiate of the masses.

A Marxist revisionist Herbert Marcuse foresaw that with advanced technology would come greater leisure - which would be a challenge to all governments.

He predicted that they would need to employ many and varied methods of what he called "surplus repression" to retain such control.

The last 20 to 30 years have seen a growing reliance on "surplus repression" by UK governments - of all persuasions.

In the place of Religion as the opiate of the people the country became dependent on easy credit, it worshiped "celebrity" and so called entertainment.

(A German word "Unterhaltung" can mean both conversation and entertainment. A German friend introduced me to this term recently and "translated it as Under Keep or "holding under" which is so near a definition of repression that I found it un-nerving)

Orwell was one of many left wing visionaries who warned of the dangers that the young are mainly oblivious of.

Marcuse saw what would happen in social and political terms and the late J.K. Galbraith warned of the financial and economic dangers of giving in to what he termed the "Culture of Contentment" whereby the comfortable middle classes are lulled into a false sense of security.

Scary - is not it - to think how imprisoned today's young are by aspiring to university, incurring debt,then being unable to afford to buy a house etc.

As Rousseau said "Man is born free - yet everywhere he is in chains"

Fuddled Medic said...

Do you think there is an ideal age between age and youth? A teacher friend of my mums though earlier thirties was the right age, a perfect balance between optimism and experience.

I think you are partially correct about medical student bloggers, but not entirely. I have taken part in teaching sessions with consultants that have descended into debate/argument about the private sector in the NHS/placebo use/politcs and genrally what will stuff be like in the future, etc, where the poor chap looked on as we started politely yelling at one another.

Personally I dont blog about politcs etc that much as most other blogs do a better job.

And often young people realise they dont have enough experience/knowledge to see patterns over time like yourself.

One thing that scare me most and seems to be totalitarian in the role religion is now playing. It seems we are moving away from freedom of speech to a society where criticising religion is unlawful. Indeed someone I know said he would burn the Koran (as a joke). Three other students threatened to complain to the faculty if he didn't apologise.

I doubt Monty Python could do what they did today.

And bloody facebook, I would be happy if it died tomorrow but it won't. And if I delete myself from it then I know my social life will suffer and due to todays world I will loose contact with people.

Dr Grumble said...

The optimum age to be? I don't know but I have wondered about it. Perhaps it depends who you are. If you are a sportsman it is easy to measure your fall off in performance with time. Even snooker players don't seem to last long. If you are a surgeon the optimum age may be lower than if you are a physician. And when you are young you may be distracted by young children, a greater need to learn and not enough money with debts and mortgages. In general I feel life has got better as I have got older but if I was a keen sportsman I might feel differently. Much too depends on your health which gets more precarious towards the end of your working life. And some people may learn more quickly than others. I think I was rather slow. Mrs Grumble's performance at work is very precisely measured and it is as good as it has ever been (I think).

Doctor Zorro said...

All very true but the genie is out of the bottle, Pandora's box is open, and there is no going back.
But the very advances in technology that allow monitoring and control of us proles also gives us the ability to fight back. Blogs such as yours enable us to exercise our freedom of expression and the universality of the web renders the top 2% impotent.

Sam said...

" Could that triangle essentially be correct? Could there be a ruling class that is masterfully trying to control the rest of us? Could our democracy be something of an illusion?"

It does feel like so sometimes Dr G and I suppose you think you see more of that as you mature and become wiser. Then again, Rulers mean 'rule' so there has always been a big element of control in that. Why mind if that control is in in the right direction though? ... and we do voice out discontent when we don't approve here, that's, as you say, why we blog. But having experienced other ways of 'rule' myself, let me assure you, we are in heaven in comparison. BTW, I sometimes do not write certain things on my blog because I don't know who, from 'elsewhere', are looking and I still have some ties abroad, so, naturally, I don't write them ... see, free is not always free if you can see what I mean :-)

"Is the government now in the business of brain washing"

I suppose 'persuation' would be a more appropriate word to use, because brain washing sort of reminds me with long gone iron fist communisim! Big difference ... though the iron fist ways are rife in many 'elsewheres'! :-)

"or is controlling the behaviour of the proles just something that all governments do in their various ways with our best interests in mind? "

Rule of thump, rulers work for the best interests of rulers as first priority, then the national interest comes next, that means security and yes, the people.

.... and I think you have the time to do whatever you want to do Dr G, just take the first step and see for yourself ....

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr G,

I found 1984 an excellent read, if you are interested in dystophic visions of the future, then may I suggest Yvgeny Zamatin's "we". Like most utophias/dystophias it says more about its times than the future, but interesting nonetheless.

Best wishes

Dr Phil

Anonymous said...

Grumble you are quite right.

Orwell described 'oligarchical collectivism'. This means an elite or private/corporate interests using the might of the 'big state' to control the masses. This is where so many go wrong with the left/right paradigm. The big state is now a tool, rather than an opponent, of our oligarchical corporatocracy.

Much of our mass media and entertainment culture is at best 'bread and circuses', at worst coercion. Our education has been dumbed down. People mistake indivdualism, consumerism and hedonism for freedom. In fact this serves the agenda of the corporate elite.

As you say a gigantic police state has been constructed, though not fully exercised. Much of this justified on the basis of the Orwelian, infinite 'war on terror'.

We are now seeing widespread civil unrest as Western states are declared bankrupt to private financial interests and are forced into austerity. The apparatus of big brother will be ready to deal with the fall-out.

Anonymous said...

As well as 1984 dont forget Huxley's 'Brave New World' for a further insightful view of where we are heading.

One does not nede to look to fiction however. What about the work of one of our great charitable NGOs 'Forum For the Future'. They have produced several cartoon films of future scenarios. Who funds them, and why so many corporate interests are signed up as 'partners' is as opaque as ever.

In this one the protagonist is delighted that her city is run by a supercomputer', travel and food is rationed, dissidents are housed in a 'cry freedom ghetto' and her husband is a braindead zombie who spends his life wired to the internet. Surprisingly this vision of the future is one 'Forum for The Future' deem desirable.

Lets hope those chaps at University of East Anglia are correct, man-made global warming is genuine scientific phenomenon and this type of hellish control grid is really justified.

Grumble can watch their film here.


Dr Grumble said...

Quite frightening that video. "Switch off brain and go to work" seems to sum it up. I suppose that's all the corporate interests require of the proles.

Myalgic Muslimah said...

Dr G,

I think the 'proles' are required to switch the brain off when watching the news too- that way they easily fall for the hype about 'security measures' and 'austerity measures' enough to hand over power to the government and allow them to restrict everything... that sort of step isn't a far cry away from then bringing in "thought police".

I'm really surprised about the 1984 ban but thanks for mentioning it. I should let you know I worked at a secondary school from around 2004-8 and I've seen a number of year 8 classes in which they were reading parts (though not the whole) of 1984 and shown some of the animal farm animation. What saddened me though was that at year 8 (mostly 13 year olds) I don't think they were mature enough to have an appreciation of the message behind those stories. I think it would've had far more impact if it were taught at year 10 at least.


Dr Grumble said...

I read Animal Farm at school (I would have been under 13). I can remember its allegorical nature being explained to me. Probably I could have regurgitated what I had been taught but it is only in later life that the book has meant more to me than a story about pigs.

But I am rather slow with these things. Perhaps that has given me some insight into the difficulties others have in understanding the world in which they live. I see a great tendency for people to believe the stories they are told and to be incapable of probing more deeply.

the a&e charge nurse said...

The most heart wrenching moment in Animal Farm is when Boxer gets carted off to the knackers yard - an allegory that could be applied to the career of many nurses?

Three days later it was announced that he (Boxer) had died in the hospital at Willingdon, in spite of receiving every attention a horse could have. Squealer came to announce the news to the others. He had, he said, been present during Boxer's last hours.
"It was the most affecting sight I have ever seen!" said Squealer, lifting his trotter and wiping away a tear. "I was at his bedside at the very last. And at the end, almost too weak to speak, he whispered in my ear that his sole sorrow was to have passed on before the windmill was finished. 'Forward, comrades!' he whispered. 'Forward in the name of the Rebellion. Long live Animal Farm! Long live Comrade Napoleon! Napoleon is always right.' Those were his very last words, comrades."

NorthernTeacher said...

Dr G

Orwell was way before his time. I so remember '1984' and 'Animal Farm' from my teenage years and your blog has reminded me to reread them.

It worries me that, although I shred personal papers to reduce the risk of identity theft, for example, so much is known about my likes and dislikes from what internet sites I access.

All I can say is thank goodness the ID card scenario was scrapped (for the time being anyway).

Freda said...

I can't remember the text of 1984 all that well, but for ages now I've felt we were already there. Except..... we can still blog.

Clarinda said...

Spent an afternoon looking around the Stasi Museum in Berlin a few years ago. Everybody had a file, neighbour and relative spying on neighbour and relative, static hidden and mobile hidden cameras, the covert use of individuals scents sealed in jars to used by sniffer dogs to trace suspects, oppressive surveillance at every turn of life, stop and search, the pervasion of fear and the all-powerful political/police/military state controlling everything. We thought at the time how frightening and terrible to live under such conditions - and in such relative poverty.

On returning home we realised how similar our living conditions are here, except our lulling (as recognised in other comments) into a comfy torpor has fooled some of us. We are just about to prove the inevitable outcome of the Boiled Frog Experiment. Perhaps not explicit brainwashing so much as pernicious frogboiling.

Anonymous said...

Grumble mentions facebook. That was cooked up by an undergraduate student in his garage (or some similar story)?

Go on 'you tube' and search 'does what happens in the facebook stay in the facebook?'

Quite illuminating! All is not always what it seems.

Dr Grumble said...

I find Facebook very scary. As it happens I have only today received a message generated by Facebook from somebody I know half-way around the globe to be her friend. Now Dr Grumble has a Facebook page but his real persona does not. But somehow Facebook knows who Dr Grumble is. How this has come about Dr G has no idea but it has frightened him off Facebook. Of course Grumble's children's lives revolve around Facebook. The youngest Grumble when told this story just shrugged. There is utterly no point in spelling out the Grumble concerns. Youngsters just cannot see the problem. Let's hope they never find out the hard way.

Oldgit said...

Far from “off your trolley” I also recognise a number of contempory situations that chime with Orwell’s 1984. The continual surveillance doesn’t bother me much (it’s the brain behind it all that is dangerous) but I found similarities between Bin Laden and Goldstein quite disturbing. Whne people needed geeing up a bit then Bin laden popped up on our TV screens just like Goldstein in 1984. Bring on the two minutes hate. Indeed the Iraq/Afghanistan wars seem quite like the wars in 1984, always fighting someone somewhere with yesterday’s allies tomorrow’s foes.

Stefanie Bill said...

They say do the best of it while you are still young cause you can never bring back the hands of time. So that when generativity and despair comes you'll be satisfied with life what you have and never feel wsateful about the things you never did.

Anonymous said...

"And bloody facebook, I would be happy if it died tomorrow but it won't. And if I delete myself from it then I know my social life will suffer and due to todays world I will loose contact with people."

My sentiments exactly. I am forever trying to convince my friends to communicate with my via telephone or in person rather than facebook...