Snuff It #2
The Memory Hole
Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls
-George Orwell, 1984
If George Orwell were alive today, he would be astounded, but not by the
fact that so many of his predictions came true. The fact that there is at
least one television for every person in the United States would not surprise
him, of course. The presence of televisions in airports, rail and bus
terminals, and even subway stations would also be expected. The lack of two-way
interactive television would puzzle him, though he might correctly assume that
the technology was being developed. What would really stump him is the total
absence of coercion. "Where are the thought police?" he would ask,
confused. Nothing could possibly prepare Orwell for the enthusiasm with which
Americans embrace Big Brother. Truncheons are rarely required, and sudden
disappearances are almost unheard of. Complete, voluntary conformity to the
ideals displayed on television is observed. Instead of Double-Think, No-Think.
Instead of the Ministry of Truth, a corporate media system. Instead of the
Party, a liberal elite who actually believe that they are free. Freedom is
American, and Americans are truly free, in a limited sense, free to consume.
Human rights are reduced to freedom of choice. McDonald's and Burger King,
Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Democrats and Republicans, the choices are all without
Why did the Soviet empire fail, while the American empire survives? Because
mind control under freedom is more efficient! There's no need to waste money
torturing dissidents. Fears of nakedness and excrement are instilled during
infancy, and are soon followed by strict gender roles. The boys practice
competition, aggression, and conquest, while the girls wear dresses and learn
to play house with dolls. The schools teach that what is unmeasurable does
not exist. Fear of the unknown becomes fear of life, and death. The student
is encouraged to regard those beneath him with contempt, and those above him
with envy; success is measured in terms of winners and losers. Sophisticated
advertising carefully reinforces the desired belief system. "The one who
dies with the most toys wins," reads a popular bumper sticker. So long
as the flow of merchandise is uninterrupted, law and order prevail. In Orwell's
world, dissent led to Room 101. In America, dissent is merely ignored, or
sold, if it's popular.
One of Orwell's great maxims was that control of the present enables
control of the past, which in turn controls the future. But here there is
no need for armies of bureaucrats revising old newspapers, adapting history
to the changing party line. In America, the present is controlled by reducing
the attention span. The invention of television wasn't enough by itself. It
was the introduction of the hand-held remote that finished the job. Before
the seventies, people had to get up from their chairs to change the channel.
Laziness was an extremely powerful deterrent. People might watch the same
channel for an hour, or more! In the age of remote control, concentration drops
steadily. The attention span of the average adult now approaches thirty
seconds, by coincidence the duration of a typical advertisement. Among
teenagers and children, attention spans reach single digits, as they become
synchronized to the pulsating hypnosis of MTV. When the attention span
finally reaches zero, there is no past, and no future, only the endless,
instantaneous gratification of the present.
Ancient military strategy says "divide and conquer." Where have
humans been more completely divided than in America? Land once occupied by
the same tribes for thousands of years is paved over, to become cities and
sprawling suburbs. How many of the inhabitants will know their neighbors?
Citizenship becomes a series of numbers in computer systems. Deaths and
births are recorded, and taxes paid, by mail. Leaders are selected anonymously,
in tiny booths, from lists of names. How many citizens know their leaders
personally, or have even met them? How can a society that never interacts be
expected to select its leaders? Youth is worshipped, and the elders, once the
most respected members of society, are banished to "nursing homes."
They die miserable deaths of loneliness and boredom, abandoned by their
"families." Wisdom cannot survive where there is no one to remember
it. In the ultimate triumph of individualism, even the family is atomized.
Single mothers are commonplace, and children are entrusted to institutions at
the earliest possible age. Americans become a nation of orphans, with no
allegiance to anything but themselves. Complete alienation makes them ruthless,
and thirsty for power. "Everybody wants to rule the world," goes
the popular song.
The fourth Key of the Tarot is Heh, The Emperor. He signifies reason, and
sight. In the age of reason, technology eliminates the senses, one by one,
leaving only sight, the most detached, impersonal, "objective" sense.
Smells are eliminated with deodorants and climate control. Taste and touch
turn into commodities, to be marketed. The universal acceptance of the
telephone substitutes the disembodied voice for physical presence. The
advent of computers completes the sterilization: communication is reduced to
words on a flickering screen. To avoid misunderstandings, it becomes necessary
to introduce a system for representing sarcasm on computer networks, using
combinations of punctuation known as "smileys." In the words of
computer guru Paul Hoffman, "the Internet offers a great deal of anonymity,
but weakens the social bond between the people using it." Welcome to
the so-called "cyberfuture".
Orwell's two-way telescreens become widely available, hooked up through
telephone lines to every imaginable service. Americans no longer have to
leave their living rooms, let alone their houses. Every conceivable need is
satisfied, at the click of a mouse. Viewers are able to project themselves
into "virtual reality" and interact with their entertainment
programming. Elaborate games promote a state of permanent masturbation, in
which selfishness, domination, and violence have no consequences. For a
species without a past, there can be no consequences, no sense of responsibility.
Without continuity, and rootedness, the future makes no sense. Without hope,
humans become like a swarm of locusts, scouring the earth from their living
rooms, destroying their host. The native Americans taught that the earth does
not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. Their truths die with them, and
the world spins out of balance.
To the future or to the past, to a time when men are different from one
another and do not live alone--to a time when truth exists and what is done
cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from
the age of Big Brother...greetings!
index #2 ·