George Orwell’s 1984 Wasn’t a Government Instruction Manual, it was a Dire Warning to Us
George Orwell. 1984. The internationally acclaimed dystopian best seller that some say depicted a prophetic view and a chilling warning to us all. The dire consequences for man, when propaganda is at its height; for when a government rules with an ironclad fist. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The three phrases printed within the first few pages of chapter one, ring loudly in this current state of chaos.
The U.S. State Department has announced that anyone requesting a visa to travel to the country must submit their social media profiles, email addresses, and telephone numbers used in the last five years
Are you thinking about travelling to the United States at some point? Well, you better think twice when expressing yourself on the Internet, posting, sharing, or giving a “like” on social media, sending an email or a WhatsApp message.
The U.S. State Department has announced that, beginning in June, anyone requesting a visa must submit their social media profiles, their email addresses, and telephone numbers they have used in the last five years. Obviously, passwords are not requested, since the government doesn’t need them, having free, back door access to the servers of the U.S. companies involved.
So, if you’re thinking about travelling to the U.S. – wherever you live, wherever you were born, whatever you think, you are obliged to hand over the U.S. government everything you have done and said on the Internet in the last five years. Of course, this information will be processed by powerful computers with algorithms to determine not only if you are likely to throw a Molotov cocktail at the White House, but to know all about your family history, friends, and personal life.
But there’s more! What’s worse is that a good portion of the planet’s inhabitants are going to think twice about expressing themselves. At least those among the 4.4 billion who use the Internet, who are in fact those who tend to travel, vote in elections, make purchases and socialise online. Those thinking about entering U.S. territory are going to consider limiting their political expression on the Internet, and some, millions, may be tempted to forego criticism and concentrate on praise.
In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, the word thoughtcrime describes a person’s politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of Ingsoc, the dominant ideology of Oceania
Political expression in general is not being limited, but rather any type that may irritate the government issuing visas; the government whose policies are in fact the most universally denounced; the government of the country which with its economic power and extraordinarily influential cultural industry attracts the most immigrants and visitors.
It is a shame that an ideal space for the exchange of knowledge, for political participation as equals, for the facilitation of economic transactions and social interaction, could become history’s most far reaching instrument of censure, given its increasing concentration in few hands.
It has not been enough for the United States to access the servers of the principal Internet companies; to attack its adversaries’ key infrastructures using global electronic networks, as is the case with Venezuela and Iran; violate the rules of free trade, as with the Chinese company Huawei; to incite subversive behaviour on social media to overthrow governments not of its liking; in addition to constructing false leaders, converting the most obvious lies into truths by repeating them endlessly; and viciously persecuting those who use the Internet to disseminate uncomfortable information – remember Snowden and Assange – and even provoke suicide in those who, like Aaron Swartz, advocate a truly democratic internet, at the service of all.
And let us not only blame Trump. Remember that Hillary Clinton’s innovation director at the State Department, Alec Ross, jokingly said that the Internet was the 21st century’s Che Guevara, while his boss used Twitter to provoke a rebellion in Iran, where, according to Business Week, only 1% of the protesters participating in the events were tweeting from inside the country, and “a gay girl in Damascus,” later known to be a student from the United States in Scotland, used her blog to amplify the happenings in the corporate media to help create a climate conducive to unleashing the humanitarian crisis that Syria has faced in the name of freedom of expression.
Today we know that Ross, according to the magazine Foreign Policy, trained Libyan and Syrian “rebels” in the use of information technology and telecommunications.
If Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels said that a lie repeated many times can become true, let us consider how many times BBC has repeated lines like those saying that Cubans are practically killing each other to buy a pig’s tongue and that police are supervising lines with “high-calibre” weapons.
It has not been enough to have droves of paid trolls – plus the fools who join them voluntarily – filling social media with bald-faced lies. They are also busy lynching poets, musicians, and actors – as in Hitler’s era – who oppose U.S. attacks on Cuba and Venezuela. The machine that feeds virtual harassment and extremism has managed to send Venezuelan youth into the streets capable of burning someone alive for the crime of “appearing” to be a Chavista, and encouraging inhumane behaviour in Cuba, like filming the agony of accident victims, to be posted later on the Internet.
If not with repeated lies and the promotion of conditioned reflexes, how was it possible to convert a significant portion of the German people – one of the world’s most literate populations, heir to humanist geniuses like Beethoven and Goethe – into fanatic supporters of the extermination of other peoples?“Lying affects knowledge; conditioned reflexes affect the ability to think. And it is not the same to be misinformed, as to have lost the ability to think, because in your mind, reflexes predominate: Socialism is bad, socialism is bad,” Fidel noted in his celebrated dialogue with Ignacio Ramonet, before Donald Trump would illustrate from the podium of the UN General Assembly and in the White House, what the Commandant was explaining.
While it is true that silence, and delays in reporting, make the dissemination of lies easier, also responsible is our predisposition to react more emotionally than rationally to the first person repeating a piece of fake news, since conditioned responses can outweigh an analysis of how, by whom, and why something is being said, and whose interests are being advanced. Critical thinking, and a culture of resisting efforts to deceive us, are key to separating the chaff from the wheat, in the face of a massive tangle of confusing messages.
It is interesting to note that, beyond political systems, all countries that have long resisted U.S. hegemony, with the exception of Cuba, all have their own language, a critical mass demographically, and a millenary culture. It is usually attributed to Goebbels, precisely, and to another fascist, Herman Goering, a phrase that actually has its origin in a theatrical work applauded by Hitler himself: “When I hear the word culture, I reach for a gun”.
Fidel expressed the exact opposite when he said, “Without culture, no freedom is possible,” and he promoted all means to expand knowledge and democratise access to culture in the broadest sense.
Digital totalitarianism, to which the owners of our internet footprints seek to lead the world, with the United States in the lead, requires a process meant to maintain massive ignorance, to cultivate insensitivity and absolute de-politicisation. Only with the fostering of a culture of solidarity, humanism, and knowledge of how these mechanisms operate, that allows us to use these technologies without being used by them, can we young and small peoples survive, at the gates of the new Reich.
Via video-conference from Moscow, the former U.S. systems analyst Edward Snowden denounced U.S. government efforts to monopolise and militarise innovations in the field of telecommunications, taking advantage of the natural human desire to communicate and exploiting it to attain unlimited power.”It’s through the use of new platforms and algorithms that are built on and around these capabilities that they are able to shift our behaviour.
In some cases, they are able to predict our decisions and also nudge them to different outcomes,” Snowden said, arguing that modern militarised technology, with the help of social media and corporate giants, is allowing governments to become “almighty” given the magnitude of their ability to monitor, analyse and influence the behaviour of people.
Snowden believes that the human need to feel part of a social group is being exploited, as Internet users voluntarily consent to provide their private personal data, signing carefully written agreements that almost no one reads.