Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fighting the Good Fight

In 1984, I was in high school (yep.  Just dated myself).  It's significant, because the required reading list included the book, 1984 by George Orwell.

For those who don't know (not any of you, right?), 1984 depicts a dystopian future in which the government controls every aspect of people's lives, even moving into their living spaces via television (or some two-way version of it - computers with web cams, perhaps?  Or cellphones with cameras and microphones??  Are you shuddering, yet?), where they could spy on every movement. 

Winston, our protagonist, has learned to even control his facial expression, because there is a crime called "Facecrime", in which a person can be convicted and "vaporized" simply by having the wrong facial expression at the wrong time.  Winston works in an office at a job where he is responsible for, essentially, changing history.  

The three-fold party slogan is:  War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. 

At the time that Orwell wrote 1984, the scenario was a little ridiculous, but he could see how it could become a reality.  He was staunchly anti-communist in his writings, and he feared the extreme application of those principals, which could be too easily implemented by someone with too much self-interest who was given too much sway over every day lives.

Today, we can't move in public without being recorded.  Airports.  Shopping Centers.  ATMs.  Drive-thru windows in restaurants.  Roadway intersections.  Highways.  Sidewalks.  Many private businesses now have video recording equipment, full color, pictures as clear as a carefully filmed and edited multi-million dollar movie.  That 1970s television show that told us to "Smile!  You're on Candid Camera!" has become our reality.  We are always on candid camera.

One would think that it would be enough to keep us from acting like assholes, because, well, someone is going to see your childish outburst at the grocery store.  It's going to be on film.  How long before someone makes a living from collecting video footage and turning it into a real-life Candid Camera reality TV show the simply features idiots caught on film doing idiot things? 

Who knows?  The next "Idiot" could be you.  Keep your face neutral.  Don't pick your nose.  Don't pull your panties out of your butt-crack.  Big Brother is always watching. 

So far we all believe it's for security reasons, and perhaps, there are enough examples of the "bad person" being caught on screen to justify this constant surveillance.  Personally, I find it a bit disconcerting.  I have a sticker over the camera lens on my laptop.  Sounds can go through, but not video.  I don't have a location finder set-up on my phone.  Google is not tracking me through my cellphone - at least not with my permission. 

Maybe it makes me paranoid, but having read 1984 thirty-two years ago, and then, watched, over the last  three decades as too much of what Orwell described has come true, I'm wary.  I'm watching.

I'm watching us all become completely complacent.

In the story, Winston, who is the anti-historian, recalls an event that happened yesterday, that was retold (the complete opposite) the next day, and no one questioned.  Indeed, no one even seemed to remember.  Later, in a speech during "Hate Week", the speaker is handed a slip of paper and without even stopping what he's saying, suddenly, he names a new enemy.  No one even bats an eye.  They go from hating the Eurasians to hating the East Asians in a split-second, never even acknowledging that something has changed. 

But, then, if they did remember, what could they do?  To disagree with the Party means certain death.  The Party is never wrong, and when they are, they alter the history so that they are right. 

So, Winston and his comrades muddled through life, always fearful that they might fall under the scrutiny of the Thought Police and found guilty, resulting in vaporization.  As my daughter used to say "The. Yend!"

But then, our Winston does the unthinkable.  He fights back in a way that is utterly and completely subversive, and yet, so passively non-threatening, but a complete and total threat to the way of life that his government demands.  He thinks - something other than the government tells him to think.  And he starts keeping a diary. 

There was a song I heard once.  The part that always sticks in my head went something like:  "Do you love me?  Will give me all you have to give?  Your heart, your mind, each word you say, and every thought you think each day?  Do you love me ... enough?" 

Those lyrics describe exactly what the government in the novel 1984 demands of its citizenry.  Every act.  Every word.  Every thought. 

I'm terrified by that prospect, and I already know that if it ever comes to that, I'll be one of the first to go.  I'm a subversive.  Deus Ex Machina and I are not super consumers.  I don't have a full-time, wage-earning job - so that we can afford more of the American Way of Life (that is non-negotiable, so says our leaders).  I stay home, where we homeschool, but not for religious reasons.  As such, we have failed to indoctrinate our daughters as patriotic consumers (you know, contributing to the GDP by shopping) and as religious zealots.

There are a lot of things we don't do, or that we do differently than is normal, and for those things, I would be marked, because I don't follow the herd - as it were. 

That, though, is how we really protest.  Big waves draw more attention, it's true.  The tsunami that hit the coast of Japan several years ago destroyed a nuclear power plant.  That was a pretty big deal. 

But small waves can also create incredible, long-lasting and spectacular change.

I see too many little traces of Big Brother in our world.  Too many little nuances of wresting of control from our fingertips.  Little snatches of power by our government - around the world, and not just here in the US. 

In the story, 1984, Julia (Winston's girlfriend - which is a total subversive act) doesn't believe in big, grandiose actions.  She says that they have to rebel, in secret, with private little acts.  These things chip away at the very fabric of the façade of control.  I'm inclined to agree with her, that those little things which give us control, also give us power.  We can only change ourselves, right? 

So, I think about these things, and I wonder what little acts we can perform in our own lives that subvert the control that our government is continually imposing on us. 

What should we be doing, then? 

Taking control.

Grow our own food.  This is, actually, a fairly big subversive act in some places, where it is actually illegal to have certain types and certain heights of plants growing in one's yard.  One thing that I've learned over the years, though, is that food sometimes doesn't look like food.  The other day, my neighbor stopped to ask me about those HUGE yellow flowers I have growing in my yard.  The flowers aren't big, but the plants are.  They grow to 10' or more and then, in the fall have a tiny yellow flower at the top of that Jack-worthy stalk.  "It's Jerusalem artichoke," I told her, and quickly, added, "Also called sunchokes", when she nodded and said, "Artichoke."  I wanted to clarify that it's not the same plant as that green bulb we love, also called artichoke.  It grows in waste areas.  Wildlife love it (especially the birds).  It's a perennial.  It's edible.  Growing food that no one knows is food is pretty sneaky.

What about raising our own meat?  This, too, has become a subversive act.  Keeping farm animals in city and suburban lots has become against the law.  But we could keep some animals that look like pets.  Rabbits are the most well-known for small-space meat production.  There are also guinea pigs, quail, and certain types of fish that can be raised indoors in large aquariums (or in someone's backyard pool-turned-pond).  Snakes and frogs are also edible.  Just sayin'. 

Foraging is another of those subversive acts.  People have been arrested for picking dandelion greens.  Really?  We do a lot of "high-speed foraging", where we'll see something we know is edible (like blueberries or apples) growing wild in a waste area, and we'll stop, jump out of the car, pick as much as we can in five minutes or less, and then jump back in the car and take off again. 

I read an article the other day about a proposal to do away with the cash economy.  The rationale is the ease with which debit card or credit card transactions occur.  But, really, who benefits when we use a credit card or an ATM?  The merchant doesn't benefit from accepting credit cards.  Ask them.  Vendors incur a fee every time you use that card.  Most vendors absorb the fee, or pass it on to the customer in the form of higher prices.  Some businesses will give "cash discounts", that is, charge less for the same product or service for people using cash. 

So, who benefits from card transactions?  Why the banks, of course?   If we really want to get hyper-subversive, we can start a cash-only lifestyle.  If enough of us are still using cash, the transition to plastic currency can't happen.

The one, big thing, that Orwell points out in this novel is that the past has been erased, and the Party is continually changing the facts of what happened.  I actually see this happening today.  We forget so easily that it was warm that winter or that the price of gasoline has been steadily increasing since 2008.  Telling our stories, writing our stories, knowing history, reading books ... indeed, hoarding books ... is a subversive act that we can not afford to not engage in. 

Finally, just stepping outside, or at least moving to the fringes, of the consumer economy is the ultimate in subversion.  Refuse to purchase things one neither needs nor wants.  When possible, fix or reuse it, rather than buying a new one.  Do without it, if it's something one doesn't absolutely need.

Living intentionally is the ultimate in subversion.  If we're paying attention to what we're doing rather than just blindly following where others are trying to lead us, we can't be controlled.

And a citizenry that cannot be controlled is very dangerous.  Indeed. 


  1. Great to see you blogging again. I do a few things subversive as well myself. There's no photo of myself on my blog, my Facebook photo is a profile and blurred. Other things I do too :) great thoughts! Not being a sheeple is a good thing...

    1. Let's keep on poking the lion, you know? The more we do that's against the status quo, the more we can keep stuff from getting completely awful.

      I did a completely subversive thing - I never published my birthday on FB. The only people who wish me a happy birthday on FB are the very few people who actually KNOW it's my birthday, because they're probably going to share cake with me. Most of them don't bother with FB well-wishes, because they're with me anyway ;).

    2. I did a fake birthday :) And I will admit to dumpster diving for a monitor riser and a few other odd things !

  2. Let me say again how nice it is that you're blogging again.
    So do you remember a tv show from the 70s or 80s that seems to have been based on the book 1984? The only thing I can remember from it is a scene where the tv in the room is monitoring the family. Just asking in case you or your readers remember the show. If I could ever find the name of the show, I'd love to see it again. Cheers, from another book lover & gardener...SJ in Vancouver BC

    1. I didn't recall this show, but thanks to my mad Google skills, I did find a BBC program based on the book.

      It's good to be back ;).

  3. Thank you for this post,it's the way I think also,1984 has been on my mind of late and you put my feelings into words.
    I always remember the cartoon where the dad goes to buy an item and says he will pay cash and put it in a brown paper bag.
    I'm not on FB, I don't have a laptop or a smartphone, actually our only phone is attached to the kitchen wall :).
    I do all the little subversive things you mentioned and am delighted when I find a way to make instead of buy, my recent delight was making my own hairspray.
    I have your book on foraging on my shelf and am glad to be reading your column again.

    I post as anonyomous because I don't want google etc. knowing my thoughts :)