By Hayden McAlister | Posted: Wednesday May 10, 2017
In this day and age, with ever-increasing connectivity through the internet and other means, the ideas of security and privacy may be in their death throes. But surely this loss of liberty can be argued to be balanced by a greater increase in our freedom of speech.
With a massive increase of connectivity and constant exposure to the public eye, freedom of speech on sites such as Twitter and Facebook should be in excess. However, this predicted increase in our ability to criticise authority and express ourselves due to social media and connectivity is nowhere to be found in this modern world. Instead, we face a crisis for our freedom of speech and freedom of information. The infamous political dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell is beginning to draw more and more numerous, terrifying parallels with our own reality each passing day. Orwell has shown in his novel a universally accepted model of an oppressive, malevolent government, and many aspects presented in the text are increasingly being found in the world today; particularly those about our freedom of speech and information. The future of liberty and society depend on how we as a society react to ensure this novel does not become prophecy.
In 1984, the Government has suppressed or altered information that would lead to criticism of the central authority; such as the events leading to the implementation of the authoritarian state. The history of the coup resulting in the 1984 governing system is changed multiple times throughout the text, due to the ‘Ministry of Truth’ changing the ‘official’ events and history of the state. The citizens are forced to accept this new fact or face the consequences. This is malignant. The destruction of facts, and of the truth are clearly seen reflected in our own world. Events such as the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent oppression and massacre of the protesters are nowhere to be found in Chinese records. To hide their own tyrannical, suppressing nature, the Chinese government has withheld from its people information relating to these protests surrounding freedom of speech. The authoritarian government refused their citizens the right to liberty, information, and free speech itself. Surely this concept of censorship contradicts our civil liberty of free speech, deterring us from forming honest opinions of our governments, and the redaction of significant information could easily occur in any nation on Earth. Any system that covers its flaws by suppressing information exposing them is a desecration of human rights, and justice.
In 1984 the people of the state are under constant, omnipresent surveillance from the Government. Every aspect of their lives is noted and compiled to see which citizens have dangerous levels of critical thought, namely those who are repulsed by the repugnant government, and these people are punished accordingly. Such a concept is objectively iniquitous. In our reality, this concept is not only reflected, but seems to be transferred directly from the text. Organisations such as FBI, CIA, and GCSB have access to every part of modern life, from phone calls to emails to the most private conversations carried out when one thinks they are safe. They are not. Recently, the truth has been forced out of the Government; that these organizations, originally intended to only target threats to national security such as terrorists, have expanded their scope to every citizen they can reach. No message is left unseen, no thought left unheard, and the information gleaned from this blatant violation of privacy is not used for good but for evil. A peaceful protest in America criticising the Government's environmental policies was disrupted before it began; by targeting those who planned to go based on Facebook Messages. When the Government can pick and choose what we, the citizens, can form an opinion on, that is a violation of our human rights. When the state tracks to our every move and thought, that is a violation of our human rights. And when critical ideas are monitored, and innocent sympathisers to these causes are harassed until they fear for their lives, that is a violation of our human rights. To control communication and ideas is to remove freedom of speech. To remove freedom of speech is to extinguish the concept of liberty. Liberty: all that we have left.
Finally 1984 also explores the consequences for those who criticise the state, ranging from cruel, inhuman punishments such as torture, to the ultimate price: Death. Our government once more reflects this authoritarian nightmare. The congress elected to protect our best interests, but paradoxically continue to commit crime after crime upon our civil liberties. When positions of power are questioned, those inquisitive souls rarely come out better off. There are limitless accounts of police officers detaining without legal reason, beating, and even exacting deadly force upon, those who merely film them, even though such an act is well within any citizen’s rights. This dissociation from the authorities’ original intentions and this corruption and malevolence is found not only in our fascist military police, but all the way to the top; to the corruption of the senate, to the dictatorship under the guise of democracy. Year upon year, with funding for important social structures like healthcare and education cut, the salaries of our politicians continue to grow, fattening them up while our society remains stagnant, bloated, rotting. Dystopias such as these are not limited to stereotypical corrupt authorities such as Saudi Arabia or the United States, but are found in New Zealand as well. Our politicians are not exempt from the disgusting abuses of power. Furthermore, attempts by individuals with a good heart to uncover these abhorrent abuses of power are met not with civil enquires, but with gag orders and rifles. Edward Snowden leaked thousands of documents to the public concerning his former employer, the CIA, and the true extent of spy networks mentioned above. Snowden, a true hero for our human rights, was forced to flee his homeland out of fear, seeking refuge in Russia. Authorities are abusing the power they are given, only to benefit themselves, and when exposed to this utter corruption and sin, work only harder to decimate our freedom of speech, to blind the people to the truth, to keep us oppressed and sterile.
If we cannot trust our authorities, our governments to keep themselves in check, how can we ever hope for them to conserve our rights to free speech? When every interaction is monitored to keep civilisation under the authoritarian thumb, how can we dream about expressing ourselves meaningfully? If information is revealed only according to what the state deems to be correct, how can our society learn and grow and improve? How can we protect our rights if we do not know they are under threat? 1984 reflects so much of our society, and what path we are setting for ourselves. It is up to us to change this course, to ensure for our generation, and every successive generation that 1984 never becomes a history textbook rather than a novel. It is up to us to learn from art that imitates life, before censorship takes that too.