The imaginations of literary genius often take generations to be fully understood. George Orwell was one of those writers with a particularly candid view into the future. We now live in a time of ‘endless’ wars, massive transfer of wealth and ever-expanding military-surveillance state. Perhaps Orwell was not just imagining, but seeing a certain inevitability in the future of Western society. The language of 1984 has entered in our everyday lexicon as we seem to be heading straight into the kind of high tech police-surveillance state that was depicted in his novel.
In the recent article, Orwell was an Optimist, author Rick Falkving wryly depicted George Orwell as being an optimist in 1984’s very dystopian view of the future. He indicated how1984 was not so bad compared to what our society is becoming now. I find myself asking, is current reality really even as bleak as Orwell’s vision? Was there something missing in his picture?
In the plot, Orwell depicted the main protagonist, Winston Smith as a rather passive and pessimistic character. Winston had awakened and accurately analyzed the nature of this totalitarian State, but was not able to envision any way out of it. At one point all Smith could do was try to maintain his sanity in the midst of these seemingly insurmountable oppressive forces.
There is one thing that Orwell did not foresee. People are awakening to the illegitimacy and decay of past forms of Governance and there is uprising all over the world against this endemic corruption. From Tahrir Square to the Occupy Movement, ordinary people have begun to claim their own power. Around the world, people are creating and sharing ideas that live beyond the physical and this is a force that no military can threaten, arrest or kill. Who would have expected the creative power that is rising to confront this increasing economic, military and surveillance control? Orwell saw the darkening force of a world police state, but he did not see the full picture of what is now unfolding in response.
The eyes of big brother are all around us, 24 hours a day. Yet, at the same time, the awareness of it and determination to counteract it are even greater. Anonymous and LuzSec are performing counter-surveillance, breaking down the walls of secrecy. They work with the conviction that the free flow of information and open sharing can prevent the hostile takeover of any society. They lend their passion and skills to reveal the misdeeds of sociopathic controllers. Such actions reveal the spirit of a Legion of Common Man, forming a new Court of Public Opinion that challenges the quickening plot enacted by an insidious Big Brother.
Orwell did not have the seeds of redemption in his vision. In the novel the Party slogan said “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”  This has become like a curse upon humanity. He did not offer the key to break the spell.
With this in mind, I say Orwell was neither a pessimist nor an optimist. He was a realist. At first glance, his prophetic vision might be seen as tainted by a sort of hopelessness or pessimism. Perhaps he had more hope, yet he may have painted such a doom scenario to warn us.
Orwell’s prophetic writing comes from this place of realism. Being prophetic requires courageously confronting reality; to see it with eyes open no matter how harsh and cruel it appears and keeping faith in humanity and the hearts open to the future. This kind of writing engages and unleashes the imagination of the masses. Perhaps the greatest thing about his novel lies not in its accuracy to predict the current state of the world, but in its power to evoke in hearts and minds across time, participation in re-imagining the future.
George Orwell didn’t simply give us a happy ending. Instead, he left the future open in our hands to write the ending that must really be a new beginning. This made him a true prophet of our time. 1984 was not complete. It is an unfinished story for those who choose to actively participate in unfolding our future. In the dying society of 1984, Orwell was right, but now it is here in 2012, it will be up to us to transform it.
1. Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. New York: The New American Library. P. 204