A writer friend referred in conversation the other day to the amazing prescience of George Orwell, taking particular note of his saying that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
When political language is transcribed as “news,” as it is by the United States media these days, the result is a populace enslaved by its own ignorance, a populace that, as Franz Kafka wrote, finds it “safer to be in chains than to be free.” A populace that tolerates with scarcely a whimper the dismantling of the Bill of Rights, the cancellation of individual liberties, the forfeiture of the power of the electorate to the power of the corporations.
Orwell foresaw for us “a time of universal deceit,” a time when telling the truth would be “a revolutionary act.” Today, truth-telling is not just a revolutionary, but a criminal, act. Chelsea Manning made the truth available to us, and was branded a traitor, and tortured and incarcerated. Dennis Kucinich spoke the truth in Congress when he voted against an illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq. He was gerrymandered out of public service. Julian Assange created on the worldwide web a place to find truth in governments’ own documents, in videos of murder in the name of democracy, and has been branded a criminal, forced to seek amnesty in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Edward Snowden revealed the truth to us, the terrible, ominous truth of our own government’s spying on us, and on other governments, friendly ones, a Big Brother so awesome that virtually every move we make can be recalled by government spies and used against us. Snowden is in exile in Moscow. Aaron Swartz, a computer science genius and activist for a free and open Internet, was hounded by trumped-up criminal charges until he hanged himself. Others whom we thank for telling us the truth, and whom we call whistle-blowers, face arrest under specious laws like the infamous Patriot Act and jail under a politicized judicial system.
“War,” Orwell predicted, “only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.” Who, pray tell, has profited from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Libya; would have profited from Syria; stands to profit from Ukraine, Somalia, Central Africa, Iran, Russia? Big oil. Big defense contractors. Bought-and-paid-for politicians. Murky spy-and-security firms.
We are sick with every social illness Orwell foresaw, and more. A woman exercises her constitutional right to public protest in a grassroots movement called “Occupy,” is groped and mauled by a policeman, and is sentenced to 17 years in prison for “assaulting” her captor. Judges tell rape victims they “asked for it.” Millions of women are deprived of their right to privacy and to primacy over their own bodies —by leering, lascivious, Bible-thumping male politicians with the personal morals of skunks. White supremacists slay young black males who “threatened “ them with Skittles and walk free under “stand your ground” laws passed by the same slime who demean our women. Our de facto state religion is Christianity, especially a brand of Christianity that sanctions the killing of abortion-providing doctors and calls itself “pro-life.” Never mind the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, for which Justice Scalia has nothing but contempt. They demand King James Bible-based law, but vilify Quran-based law. We willingly commit trillions of tax dollars to the killing of our own citizens if their views are unpopular, to the killing of innocent women and children in Asian, African and Arab countries — but we “cannot afford” to feed our hungry, clothe our poor or comfort our jobless.
We still refer to this sorry society as a “democracy” only because, as Kafka wrote, we believe so passionately in something that does not exist, that we create it.
But the myth of democracy does not absolve our immoral wars, our punishment of our poor, our hungry, our jobless or our own huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It does not absolve our torture, our murders, our brutal interference in the affairs of other nations.
And we who tacitly consent to all of this, who lack the courage to rebel against it, are as guilty as our oppressors.
“If you want a vision of the future,” Orwell wrote, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”