When I read George Orwell's dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, over 40 years ago, I hoped that knowledge of the possible abuses of government would be a sufficient warning to prevent it. I hoped that the dystopia it described would never come to birth. George Orwell was way ahead of his time, yet he had already seen the possibility of the deluded polity that would enable the creation of this system.
One of Orwell's more prescient visions was a political culture governed by what he termed "doublespeak." Today, we might recognize this as the language of political correctness. It's principle feature is that, in spite of the expressions of doublespeak being absurd on their face, they are uncomfortably close to ideas and expressions that are accepted as a matter of course.
- "Ignorance is strength!" is related to "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Is the solution "a lot of knowledge" or "no knowledge?" Too many people today are proud of various kinds of ignorance, and the result is society as a whole suffers from their irresponsibility.
- "War is peace!" is related to "Preparation for war preserves the peace." Yet, if we become over-prepared, what do we do to exercise our assets? History proves that we use them to start wars, and we justify those wars as preserving the peace.
- "Freedom is slavery!" is related to two separate and unequal things. a) Extreme political freedom is anarchy and this inevitably leads to dictatorship by the most powerful. b) Extreme license (which some count as a type of freedom) leads to slavery to addictions. Too much freedom in either direction gives a license to government to "protect us from ourselves," and with this kind of protection, our fundamental liberties are forfeit.
Our postmodern society has created its own version of doublespeak. Consider:
- Expressions like "reproductive freedom," "freedom of choice," "women's health" and "economic empowerment" have been used to justify government collusion in what amounts to genocide of disadvantaged populations as well as to encourage and justify murder of the unborn in order to escape the natural consequences of promiscuous sex.
- Expressions like "marriage equality" and condemnations like "homophobia" and "heterosexism" have been used to justify polygamy, homosexual marriage and the punishment of those who refuse to approve of them or to participate in them. In a culture of "reproductive freedom" enabled by abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception, such basic taboos as pedophilia and incest are vanishing.
- Expressions like "surrogate motherhood" and "sperm donor" are currently of a technical nature on their face, but are used to further justify the separation of sexual love and child bearing from parenting.
These terms have not yet morphed into populist versions only because society as a whole did not question them from a moral perspective.
Our postmodern society has also created new "rights" even as it has devalued old rights. "Marriage equality" and "reproductive freedom" have been used to devalue religious freedom. The "right to healthcare, housing, employment, public transportation and public parks" has been used to devalue property rights and the pursuit of happiness or good fortune as the fruit of our own labor.
It has also been used to transfer personal responsibility from the individual to the nanny state. The government takeover of healthcare has justified the government's crackdown on "irresponsible" consumption. No longer is it sufficient to warn people "Smoking is bad for your health." and "Too much of a high calorie diet leads to obesity."
The failures of government to bring about Utopia are covered up with platitudes. People who once had well paying full-time jobs are now told to appreciate their new freedom to pursue the better things in life, as if those who are now reduced to part time low-wage work can now develop their inherent talents in music or the arts or to explore nature or even each other. And when platitudes aren't enough, there's always redefining the measures of success, like for unemployment, inflation and economic growth.
When government is divided due to irreconcilable differences, executive encroachment on legislative and judicial prerogatives is justified as "doing something" when the other branches fail to uphold their responsibilities. Demanding bad legislation is justified as "better than nothing" or leaving the status quo to fester. What used to be recognized as "state sovereignty" in the decades before and after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution has since degenerated, first into "states rights" and, now, into state participation in a government that can no longer tolerate state prerogatives that "threaten" things like "regular commerce (the progressive vision of the commerce clause), "due process" (the progressive vision of the 14th Amendment) and the "general welfare" (a term from the preamble of the Constitution which has come to signify the progressives' vision of Utopia).
Contemporary interpretation of the Constitution no longer resembles what those who originally ratified it considered it to be. Contrary to the claims of the 9th and 10th Amendments, there is no longer power the federal government considers off limits to itself. Contrary to the claims of the Declaration of Independence, the right to alter or abolish a government that oppresses and abrogates natural freedoms no longer exists, nor, since the Civil War, are states permitted to secede from such government, nor, since government declared its growing interest in economic regulation, are corporations or individuals going to be allowed to "vote with their feet."
A government with absolute power over our lives is free to establish whatever economic, social and moral order it chooses. It is free to establish whatever foreign policy it chooses. If it chooses to engage in endless wars to justify huge expenditures in armaments or experiment with the hearts, minds and bodies of soldiers and their families, it can do so. If it chooses to engage in social engineering, genetic engineering or environmental and economic engineering experiments, it can do so without limit.
Josef Mengele is a distant memory, soon to fade into nonexistence.
The linchpin of government power is a populace composed of people who fail to recognize their own moral responsibility and their own possibilities for moral freedom. The fact that such knowledge has eroded to the extent that it has is a credit to progressive self-delusion as much as it is a credit to the group think of the public media and entertainment culture. Without such knowledge, every feature of culture is totally malleable at the whim of government. Reality, itself, however, is not so malleable, and a government that tails to acknowledge fundamental reality is a government incapable of sustaining either itself or the people it governs. Even the most deadly dystopia cannot last forever. It can, however, destroy the foundations of civilization in the process of attempting to preserve and enhance itself.