Sunday, November 24, 2019

1984 - George Orwell: Disinformation Campaigns

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George Orwell made the title 1984 an anagram of the year in which he wrote, signifying that his fiction was critical of his present day. Indeed, he had a lot to reflect on in post-war England as he wrote his now classic dystopian novel.
 While 1984 creates an important conversation about dystopian suppression of the human spirit, human art, and human society, including suppression of family, here we will focus on disinformation campaigns as the dynamo of dystopian society.

The nazis created a bureaucratic language of euphemisms to refer to their war-crime worthy activity--the humans that nazis murdered in the death camps were called vermin, for example. But the axis and allies powers alike ran thoroughgoing propaganda machines.

Let's look at a couple examples:

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"Ja! Fuhrer wir folgen dir!" = "Yes! Leader we are following you!"

Here we have an image of Hitler as the beloved leader of the people. Reinforcement of Hitler as a powerful and popular leader along with military success and a concomitant economic boom turned this piece of propaganda into reality.

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"Der ist schuld am kriege." = "He is to blame for the war."

Say something loud enough and long enough and you get an availability cascade, a cognitive bias occurring as a result of hearing information repeated in public discourse. Really, if anyone is to blame for World War II, it is the US and the other allies that forced Germany to pay war reparations for the first world war. So, no, the war wasn't caused by Jewish people.

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US propaganda demonized the enemy, stressing fears of rape if the enemy should win the war. Rape anxiety reads not only as rape of women but also of the land. The second image presents the enemy as godless and conscienceless. Not only do they lack Christian values or Christian morality, they have no respect for the values of other people. Whether or not that was true is probably less important than the hypocrisy involved. Few American politicians have ever operated with anything approaching an earnest conviction in Christian faith or with a mind to follow Christian morality.

In 1984, Winston Smith's job is to remove words from the archive. He meticulously reads through old newspaper articles to scrub them of language, people, or events that the state wants to eliminate from both the public record and collective memory. Altering the historic record impedes efforts to mobilize support against the state.

And the state sews seeds of confusion with their re-education efforts, barraging citizens with the following seemingly nonsensical inversions.

"War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength."

Although, in the logic of the state in 1984, all of these statements are true, though deeply sinister. The state wages a forever war to ensure economic productivity and submissive citizens. Anyone that attempts to free themselves from the tyranny of the state will find themselves enslaved. And keeping one's head down and not asking questions is the surest path to safety.

In the 21st-century United States, artists repurpose propaganda  with every shift in power to speak back to power. Take a look at these two 1984 themed pieces directed at Obama and Trump.

Image result for big brother is watching you

Image result for big brother is watching you


Obama earned such critiques of his leadership when he didn't challenge 911 era surveillance measures of US citizens.

The Donald Trump version of Big Brother is almost a joke, since 45 is more likely watching television than private citizens or anything else.

However, Orwell's idea of watching is not merely about physical surveillance. "Watching You" is shorthand for "Engendering Particular State-Approved Behavior." So, when Trump tweets, he reinforces the behaviors and modes of thinking that he finds acceptable / desirable. 
Inversely, being watched by big brother means that the individual has been coerced to watch big brother, and by watching, he conforms. A government is only as effective as the reach of their ideological state apparatus.

But Donald Trump's tweets and the official press releases and communication released by the Trumpian White House is an operative disinformation campaign. On day two of Trump's presidency he claimed that more people came to his inauguration than Obama's--a decidedly false claim. The endless lies that have followed have only ballooned. 

But why, we might ask. Answer: because a disinformation campaign conceals corruption. Disinformation keeps everyone confused and unaware of what is really going on and why it is going on. Disinformation campaigns ensure that the disenfranchised remain disenfranchised. And, most importantly, disinformation campaigns ensure that the regime in power stays in power.

Watch out for regimes that engage in disinformation campaigns. In democracies, disinformation campaigns work to undermine the candidates that run against corrupt leaders (Trump's Hunter Biden and Ukraine conspiracy should come to mind). If undermining doesn't work, then rigging elections follows.

The trouble with 1984 is that it isn't an artifact of the past. Just as Orwell was writing about his own day, his dystopian vision is ever with us and ever will be. Tyrants will always turn to disinformation campaigns to consolidate and maintain power.


If you want to guard against the consolidation of totalitarian power, then get involved in the political process. Every voice matters. Read more about how to make a positive impact on elections and policy at ChangeRoots--3 Ways to Make a Difference: Changing the World with Political Awareness.


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