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To me, this work is not really about which type of government is the worst. That used to be my read of it.
I see this as being a statement on how far we can go with our technology and how those means may make us overshoot our end. Consider that any and all past governments had one check on their power, no matter how tyrannical they were they didn't have the means to completely enforce their will, which is part of why revolutions were even possible. The king's men were generally not omnipresent, records were not universally kept and accountability was hard to accomplish. A private citizen was more accountable to the village than to the king.
Orwell took what was then either modern technology or at least imaginable technology, telescreens (broadcast television was new), helicopters, language as a thought shaping tool, and microphones (I can only imagine how frightening the polygraph must have been). It was these things along relatively current political theory that enabled the regime of Big Brother. This was a story about how the tools mankind was always clambering to improve upon enabled us to do something terrifying, and considering when he wrote it, nobody could blame him, with Hiroshima having only been a few years earlier.
And that part remains true. With drones, satellites, databases, and technology like the Kinect, and the ability to access smartphone mics and camera's, the means for ever present government are ever more available. And with increasingly powerful and efficient weapons, trained combatants, riot gear, and a military that has been increasingly trained for urban warfare, lets face it, we couldn't rebel if we suddenly were to find ourselves under a regime we needed to rebel against.
The most frightening part is how far the regime is willing to go to achieve order, shaping and conditioning the very thoughts of it's citizens. It doesn't matter exactly how they do it, it matters that they somehow became willing to do it because if it is possible to do, we will eventually discover the means, and indeed we are already pretty good at conditioning, chemical mood altering, aggregate behavior (economics, sociology, marketing, public relations), mind reading (brain scan based controller, brain scan based lie detection that beats the polygraph). If Hitler or Stalin had access to these means, they certainly would have used them.
I just stumbled across a quote from Orwell about the Nazi use of Truth revision. This goes that much further to suggest that Orwell was targeting totalitarian regimes in general, not just Communist ones.
Orwell was a socialist himself he was alive in the midst of a major social shift towards globalization [which we're still dealing with] and it reflects in his work. I think he is primarily concerned with Globalization which technology has allowed rather than technology itself;
His work shows the shift to major governments with "ideological tenants"; It's no longer about paying taxes to the right King, there's an ideological power struggle between Communist, Capitalist and Nationalist which rarely boils down to anything but power plays on the political stage. Thus "we were always at war with Eurasia" [a friend drew parallel to this and how the West viewed the USSR post-WWII].
The previous century introduced completely new concepts of ideological challenge and desire to control thought and wants unprecidented in human history. He points to the child-spies of the Soviet Union but the real horror for him was the belief that the UK was bound to march a similar path after seeing the Nationalization and control that came during WWII.
There's an undercurrent of fear in some advances but it is written in the past tense; It shows an extreme possibility of a shift that has been occuring for some time and was more obvious then. While we never tipped past the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, one can see definite influences and frightening reflections in contemporary society that would never have been dreamt of a couple hundred years past.
Thats a good read. Its been 15 years since I read the book. Not sure I'd want to go through that again as we become ever more nationalized.
Just a follow up Fauxlosophe. Do you think it was communications technology that made clashes more about ideology and less about geography?
The thing is, technological surveillance in 1984 is entirely one-sided. If it were true 100% surveillance, the government itself would also be spied upon at all hours.
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