Until recently, most Americans would have laughed at the idea that the government is spying on everyone. After all, conspiracy theorists have been telling us things like that for decades. The problem with these claims is that, traditionally, there has been no real evidence to back them up.
Then Edward Snowden revealed the federal government has been using state-of-the-art electronic eavesdropping tools to keep tabs on 10 of millions of Americans. According to CNN.com and other major news sources, the program is directed by the National Security Administration (NSA) with the full consent of the White House. Perhaps even more disturbing, the operation is perfectly legal, thanks to powers that were granted to the government in the Patriot Act.
All of this talk about government espionage got us wondering about what form a dictatorship might take if one were to arise. For guidance on the question, we consulted three great novels that explored the issue. They’re “1984” by George Orwell, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, and “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. Here’s a quick look at how each book pictures the future.
In this book, everyone is controlled by an all-powerful government that keeps its citizens under 24/7 surveillance. The leader of this society is known only as Big Brother, and his face is plastered on millions of signs all over the country, along with the words “Big Brother is Watching You.”
The government in the book keeps the people in line with mass-brainwashing efforts, in which history is rewritten to suit the needs of the moment and words are purged from the official language. The attitude of the rulers is “truth” or whatever they say it is. The message displayed outside the government’s headquarters says it all: “War is Peace Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength.”
‘Brave New World’
History shows that there are other ways to control people than with overt oppression. Another method is to keep the populace happy by providing it with constant entertainment. That’s exactly the approach the government takes in this book from the 1930s. Citizens are bred to fit different social classes and then conditioned to love their role in society. This is accomplished by keeping them occupied with shopping, sex, and endless diversions such as sports. People work, party, and sleep — and that’s pretty much it.
Written by the great Ray Bradbury, this novel portrays a future in which books are banned and people are kept docile with drugs and giant-screen TVs. As a result, the populace has become increasingly shallow and stupid over time. Citizens are unable to form meaningful relationships or feel emotions.
The only threat to the government is a small group of educated people who live in the wilderness. These outcasts have memorized many of the great books of the past, and await the day when the government will collapse under its own weight.
Could It Really Happen?
Could the United States turn into one of the nightmare societies described in these novels? Hopefully not. But one thing the NSA leaks have shown us is that a healthy distrust of government isn’t all that bad.
To keep up with what civil watchdogs are concerned about, it’s worth it not only to read these three books but also to checkout shows like TruTV’s “Conspiracy Theory.” DirectTVdeal.com reports that each episode covers topics of interest to anyone who wants to know if “they” really are out to get us.
Image by Charles Fettinger pursuant to the terms of his Creative Commons license.