451: You May Be Using The Term “Orwellian” Wrong. Here’s What George Orwell Was Actually Talking About

To give credit where credit is due, I plagiarized the title of this piece from a recent “USA Today” article. I was instantly impressed by the title’s simultaneous denial and reinforcement of Orwellian thought patterns. After all, what could be more classically Orwellian than having a major cultural institution unilaterally proclaim that society at large must redefine the words it is using? Unfortunately, upon closer examination of the article I was unimpressed. Granted, imprecise and fuzzy language lends itself well towards authoritarian language games, but the writing in the “USA Today” piece was also depressingly boring. I decided that a rewrite was in order, one which adhered to Orwellian thought patterns, while also being interesting and engaging. If you work in the HR department at “USA Today” and happen to be reading this, my contact information is on the about page of this bog. I’m sure that you are constantly on the lookout for new editors, and I would love to turn you down.

George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984, recently jumped to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. One would suppose that many of the people buying this book are doing so for the express purpose of eventually reading it. Research suggests that this may be the best way to discover what a book is about. Regrettably, however, many of the people who read 1984 may miss out on some of the subtle nuances which are so integral to Orwell’s writing.

While some people may mistakenly find similarities between the world described by Orwell, and the new cultural order which is being ushered in by global tech giants, the fact of the matter is that the two worlds could not be further apart.

The key to understanding Orwell’s work is to differentiate between the critical infrastructure described in his work, and the intent of the institutions administering that infrastructure. Those who mistakenly see the infrastructure described by Orwell as the most important element in his dystopian warnings would be forgiven for seeing similarities between the world of 1984 and the world of today. These uninitiated individuals may find parallels to Orwell in the use of technology to eliminate personal privacy, the close monitoring of personal activity, the re-imagining of linguistic protocols, the curtailing of free speech and the constant fluidity of political objectives, but they would be wrong to do so.

The subtlety so often missed in Orwell’s work is this: while the infrastructure of today may seem similar to what Orwell described, it is not the infrastructure which is important, it is the intent behind the infrastructure. Orwell described a world which was ruled by despotic authoritarians. In contrast, the world of the future is being ushered in by benevolent corporate/political juggernauts who have nothing but the best interests of humanity in mind. There is absolutely no connection between these entities, and the governing bodies described so vividly in Orwell’s writing.

In short, Orwell’s negative vision of the future simply does not square with the positive future on the cusp of which we seem to be poised. By conceiving of this infrastructure in the framework of positivity, we can ensure that it will never be used in a negative manner. While the picture which Orwell painted of the future was grim and dystopian, the future with which we are presented in reality is bright and utopian. We must not let niggling doubts hold us back in our quest for a brave new world.

Artwork via pixel8prints.net

15 thoughts on “451: You May Be Using The Term “Orwellian” Wrong. Here’s What George Orwell Was Actually Talking About

  1. Here, here! To be sure, I asked Alexa and she assured me that she only listens when I say the “wake word” and Facebook’s privacy policy and core values speak for themselves.

    The sad part is that so many Americans (nearly half) will require deprogramming from the evil totalitarian dictator who just quietly left office after being voted out. Once we get these poor, misled people thinking properly again (or in some particularly difficult cases, safely removed from society), then we will at last achieve true unity and with it, peace! That’s truly a vision worth fighting and even (other people) dying for!

    Thank you for your wonderful article, such clarifications are sorely needed when misguided individuals with no appreciation for this vision of the future attempt to reappropriate popular literature to their nefarious ends.

    • You clearly understand the grave challenges facing our society. In the end, technology is a very helpful tool, and is required to help us out together a thorough list of everyone who thinks incorrectly.

  2. You should be promoted to Head of the Ministry of Truth.
    Actually, whenever this book is mentioned I remember vividly the first time I read the book and the chills up and down the back of my neck when I read the last four words and realized what they meant.

    • It’s a terrifying book, and had remained a classic for a reason. There’s also a reason that it’s finding popularity right now. I threw in a couple tributes to other dystopian classics specifically for highly attuned readers like yourself.

  3. I have been contemplating the possibility of starting a 1984 reading group and awarding those who attend all the sessions a certificate allowing them to use “Orwellian” and make comparisons between the present day and the novel.
    Nice post, although the sarcasm threw me a little at first!

  4. Thank you for rewriting an article strictly for your audience. My brain is not refined enough to appreciate the journalism of today.

    Years ago, I thought of becoming a journalist but was told that without good connections and a ton of bribes, I will not get anywhere. While I ultimately relented, the reason why I didn’t pursue the career was that I didn’t know if my writing skills were good enough. Back then, articles seemed to be so poised. Now, it seems that I need to read a scientific paper in order to not throw up all over it. Journalism is dead and gone. I feel like it’s 15 year-olds writing them based on their social media feeds.

  5. The worst of evils are always disguised as being for our own good. We usually don’t openly embrace evil like a gleeful supervillain, instead, we rename it and justify it as benevolence, compassion, doing good. It’s kind of a scary truth about human nature! There are a number of well-known authors who really understood this principle, from CS Lewis to George Orwell and beyond. It’s reassuring to me to know there is nothing new under the sun, others have observed the same things.

  6. What is this diatribe of nonsense?? You don’t buy Orwell’s books to read them. Like Bronte, Dumas, and Asimov these books are for putting in book shelves to look impressive and get girls. Reading them does you no good because you rarely understand what they mean anyway.

    The Time For Laughter Has Arrived

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