1984, the patriot act and eliot spitzer

few know that george orwell’s “1984” is in part a depiction of england circa 1948, when the economy was weak and the british empire was faltering yet newspapers carried upbeat stories of triumph and success. orwell had worked for the bbc and was well-acquainted with censorship. he despised totalitarianism and knew that propaganda forms its very core. “1984” was a warning, a possible metamorphosis of the anglo-saxon state (including both england and the united states). in his book orwell presents some of the ideas embedded in a totalitarian state:

1) war is essential for sustained consumption and the survival of a hierarchical society (check out my post titled “consumption – the path to happiness?”)

2) when war becomes continuous it ceases to exist – it becomes so much background noise (how many times a day do we american taxpayers think about our trillion dollar wars in iraq and afghanistan and a possible upcoming one in iran? how can a war on terror – which is an emotion, not a tangible enemy – ever be concluded?)

3) there is an emotional need to believe that big brother will succeed in the end – generally speaking, dogmatic belief eclipses rational thought

4) the separation between different economic and social classes is maintained: the system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, under the supervision of a government, doesn’t ensure equality – it only keeps wealth restricted to the upper class

5) whereas the ruling elite or party members are not allowed a single independent thought and are mentally trained to toe the line through doublethink, the common people or proles are free to think because the system guarantees that they do not have the ability to think!

an important part of living in a state where big brother is watching you, is to lose your individual rights and freedoms and be happy to part with them out of fear or ignorance. the right to privacy is one such individual right and the patriot act has gone a long way to whittle it down.

the spitzer scandal, instead of becoming another prime example of a society that “anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”, should have elicited questions about privacy and the unsettling reach of the long arm of the law. how many of us are talking about how the patriot act was used to get spitzer? do we even know that banks are spying on their own clients by using computer programs to generate “suspicious activity reports”? can we parse the conflict between the right to privacy (a necessity for free, empowered citizens) and the hope, on paper, of possibly catching terrorist money laundering? let’s focus less on the myspace.com profile of spitzer’s paramour and more on how we got here…

for more details on how the patriot act caught spitzer, check out this newsweek story.

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