Ignorance is fiction through the vehicles of fear

Ignorance is one of the most pertinent tools that totalitarian leaders use to stay in power. It is the adhesive that binds these governments. A musical piece called “Another Brick in the Wall”, by Pink Floyd is a protest song about rigid  schooling. It can be seen in the lyrics, ” We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control”. This can be expanded on. If the knowledge people acquire is unyielding and rigid then there is no room for the mind to expand, therefore, keeping individuals down. This is shown in the novels 1984 and The Giver. In these novels, the government controls  every aspect about what is fact and what is fiction through the vehicles of fear and language. The people’s threshold to obtain knowledge is kept to a need to know basis. The government does this to control the common  people and keep them subservient. After all, knowledge is power. Even though these novels are fictional, this kind of thing happens in our modern day society. At present, ruthless dictatorial leaders like the head of  North Korea, surround themselves with  yes-men and limit their citizens access to knowledge to keep themselves on the top of the hierarchy. Without these safety nets the totalitarians put in place, it is far more likely that the slums will rise up and right the wrongs of their governments. An excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr explains that, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”(ReadWorks). This is everything these governments are trying to subdue  in the literary works of  The Giver and 1984. Critical  thinking is their worst enemy. Ultimately, it all boils down to power. Power is a slippery slope that if not handled with caution, can become hazardous. As the wise Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”(Meta). The philosopher Thomas Hobbes would say that all humans are inherently evil. People tend to keep their own best interests in mind, according to Hobbes. When power is introduced, it can reveal the snakes in suits. People in power tend to manipulate individuals ranked lower than them. In the literary work 1984, the government  uses different tools to shape thoughts. One of the tools in their arsenal is language.  Newspeak is almost a language all to itself. It is a method of deliberately obscuring, disguising, distorting, or reversing the meaning of words. One of the  most famous instances of this is as follows; “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 37). This is One of the Party’s slogans which signifies that whatever Big Brother says is fact. The irony here is that Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel, works for the Ministry of Truth. Keeping in mind that his objective is to reveal the truth, the Ministry of Truth is essentially in charge of revising or destroying all records of the past which might discredit The Party of Big Brother. For example, Oceania is alternately allied with Eastasia and Eurasia. Whenever the alliance changes, all books and newspapers are edited to make it appear that the current ally always was. Winston first explains how this system works in Part One when he says, “If all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past. Reality control, they call it: in Newspeak, doublethink” (Orwell 37). Newspeak may be the Orwellian version of a paradox but there are some glaring parallels to the millennial version: Fake news or alternative facts. Fake news is Donald Trump’s infamously associated term that is used to try and discredit factual information. This is extremely similar to the purpose of newspeak. In a piece from the New York Times Book Review  called “Which Dystopian Novel Got It Right: Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’?” they mention, ” The most obvious connection to Orwell was the new president’s repeated insistence that even his most pointless and transparent lies were in fact true, and then his adviser Kellyanne Conway’s explanation that these statements were not really falsehoods but, rather, ”alternative facts”.”(Which). The frightening portion of this is that a large percentage of Donald Trump’s voting populous takes his word as fact. Just like the citizens of Oceania, if the Ministry of Truth, or Trump’s public relations team, says something, it must be true. In a literary essay entitled the “Wisdom of a Past Generation” by Jason Cowley, it discusses the importance of history and what it means for the future of individuals. Cowley so accurately states that this book is about the deep yearning for political change. Around the same time that the novel 1984 was written, there was a large amount of social, financial, and political change occuring. This was especially prevalent in England, where Mr. Jason Cowley grew up. Out from under the rubble of the London bombings, came welfare systems. Cowley explains, “Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state-housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities… As my father used to say, we owe the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us” (Cowley). Cowley goes on to explain that social progress like this is not inevitable. Progress is not linear it is contingent according to Cowley. Today there are still many countries involved in civil wars due to political disagreeances like in the middle east. This is one of the reasons for Cowleys passion for politics. He explains, “To those interested in politics, I say politics is interested in you!” (Cowley). Part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change it can bring for better or worse. Cowley notes that this is how the current president of the United States came to be. He advertised a noteworthy slogan that gave people optimism; “Make America great again”. People instilled faith in Trump on the basis that he would fulfill this statement. It is not certain whether he will deliver, but this is what has come about through the political cycle.  This just showcases how much power language really does have. Language comes with consequences on both sides of the table. Whether one is a politician or an ordinary civilian. If the wrong thing is said it could result in  a worsened oppression or a violent revolution.In many ways the dystopian novel The Giver follows suit. The restricted and non descriptive vocabulary is present within the first few pages. The society depicted in this novel is littered with ceremonies and rituals. One of the rituals the school children have to recite each time they are late to class, is an apology in front of their whole grade. It goes as follows: “I apologize for inconveniencing my learning community… followed by a ‘standard apology’ phrase that is not specified. Following that is an explanation, ending with… I apologize to my classmates” (Lowry 3).The class would then follow this with a standard acceptance of the apology. The people in this society are even shunned from using certain words, mainly adjectives. An example of this would be, “Once, when he had been a Four, he had said, just prior to the midday meal at school, ‘I’m starving.’Immediately he had been taken aside for a brief private lesson in language precision. He was not starving, it was pointed out. He was hungry. No one in the community was starving” (Lowry 42). This over exaggeration is looked upon as a lie. Lying in this community is one of the most severe offences to commit. Every interaction is extremely mechanized. The society runs like a fine piece of German engineering, or perhaps a post WWI German society in some ways. A fascinating excerpt from Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, who was a British-Austrian philosopher among other things, reads, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world” (Meaning). If there is truth behind this statement it would not just hold true for the individual that is Wittenstein, but for virtually all people. During the seventeenth century and prior, the vast majority of people could not read or write. It was not until the eighteenth century when the enlightenment, or more specifically the invention of the printing press, came along that more people became literate. With the rapid expansion of knowledge among peasants, a realization occured. Some realized that authority figures were taking advantage of them and misinterpreting information. The availability of knowledge opened up these individuals world and gave them a whole new perspective, much like what Ludwig Wittgenstein mentioned. In a similar way, Jonas the protagonist in the novel The Giver, noticed that there was more to life than what was presented to him since birth. In the novel The Giver, every individual is assigned a certain occupation once they reach a certain age. The position of the receiver is a very unique one. Jonas, the main character in this book was assigned this roll. The receiver’s job is to host all of the knowledge of the past. Everyone else in this society has no recollection of past events or historical milestones. The reasoning behind this is to not burden people with the past because with that comes hurt and unpleasant occurrences. Instead they place all this burden on one individual, the receiver, to maximize their utopian view that nobody should feel pain, or anything at all. Through Jonas’ training he is exposed to many things he has never felt or seen before. Not only does he see the bad things, but he is also exposed to the pleasant things that once existed in his society that are no longer. In one of his training sessions he receives the memory of a traditional Christmas celebration and the exposure to the warmth of love. He has never seen anything of the sort before. Jonas is perplexed as to why his government would ever want to keep something this wonderful from everyone. Through further examination, one can see that the government in this society has conditioned its citizens to think that any outside, foreign entity to the community is evil and dangerous. They instil fear into the individuals to make them think and feel only what the government wants them to think and feel. An example of this ingrained fear appears on the first page of the novel when Jonas says, “…Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought… Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified  aircraft had overflown the community twice” (Lowry 1). This ‘unidentified aircraft’ was most likely a common passenger aircraft but due to the extreme isolation this community is subjected to, it seems like a dangerous being.  Fear is just another tool that controlling authoritarians use to keep their lessers ignorant. In the book 1984, it is much the same. Fear is a major theme in this novel. One of the many ways fear is instilled into this dystopian society is through constant surveillance. In every residency there are devices called telescreens. They are not only a way  of distributing advertisements and propaganda, but they are also equipped with a camera so that Big Brother can see into the individuals home. Not to mention that security cameras and microphones line the city streets and even some remote locations to catch individuals with their guards down. An example of this can be seen when the narrator says,  “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away (Orwell 65)”. Another example of fear being ingrained into people is through children. In the novel children are almost more obedient to The Party than the adults. A child would not think twice about turning in one of their family members to the Thought Police for committing any sort of wrongdoing toward the party.  They are much like vultures in that regard. They wait for a sign of weakness and then go in for the kill and devour every last morsel. One can see this when the protagonist, Winston says, With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. (Orwell 25)Not only are the citizens always being watched by the government agents, but they are also being monitored by their own children. The individuals of Oceania are being blitzed from all angles. The citizens of this society have been constantly pummeled with the possibility of being taken in the middle of the night by the Thought Police. The vast majority of them would do nothing more than be a model citizen out of fear for there own life. By using fear to extinguish any thought they may have of going outside the norm, they are asphyxiating any glimmer of individuality, therefore, keeping the people oppressed. These are just some of the many ways in which fear is used to keep the Oceanians powerless and oblivious to what is truly happening behind closed doors. No matter what way it is approached, there is no getting around the fact that governments are corrupt. All of them; to some degree. Whether it be something as minute as Trudeau’s luxurious vacation to the Bahamas paid for by the taxpayers or Trump’s Russian money laundering; there will always be corruption. Without a doubt power is the fuel charging this plague. As the 19th century british politician Sir John Dalberg-Acton once said, ” Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It is said that  man is evil. The greed that is printed into humans DNA comes to the forefront when power is introduced. The goal of power is to sustain it and individuals will go to great lengths to do so. The dystopian societies in the novels The Giver and 1984 are prime examples of this. Some of the most prominent tactics used by these dictatorial governments are fear and language. In some cases there are words erased from the dictionary and strict guidelines as to when certain words can be used. On other occasions, the citizens are forced to believe contradicting statements as fact.  Simultaneously, the people living in these communities are under watch constantly. One wrong move and it could seal their fate.  These methods help to keep the populus ignorant and reluctant to fight back.