I am honored to welcome Cap Parlier as the newest member of the U.L.S., The Underground Library Society!
In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again. Those who join write a post about a book they would become if such a time was happening.
Please enjoy reading Cap Parlier’s entry.
In these tumultuous times, I struggled with what book to choose as my inaugural submittal for membership in the Underground Library Society (ULS)—a spiritual tribute to Ray Douglas Bradbury’s seminal dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953). So many books, known and peripheral, qualify in my mind and reading experience. Yet, there is one book that persistently floods my conscious thought for selection for this purpose.
Eric Arthur Blair wrote his last novel toward the end of his life and in ill health. That book would become his magnum opus, published in 1949. Like the centerpiece basis of ULS, the book is a profoundly dystopian novel offering a very dim view of humanity’s future [if we were (are) not careful]. Blair had survived the Spanish Civil War, witnessed the Great Purge in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and watched the violent oppression of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. He had plenty of real examples for his imagination to consider. Blair’s nom de plume, adopted when he began writing while serving as a member of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma (Myanmar), was George Orwell.
My choice to join the Book People and ULS is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. The book represents a prescient glimpse of what might be when we embrace authoritarian governance. The central character, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One, a province of Oceania, one of three super-states, including Eurasia and Eastasia. The three super-states remain in an environment of perpetual war, and the Party and its leader Big Brother must control all information and thought to keep the populace focused on the objectives of the State. Winston joins the resistance under the Party’s threat of execution and obliteration. Yet, the massive billboard on the Ministry of Truth building succinctly consolidates the essence of the Party’s oppression.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
The story revolves around the resistance and their clandestine absorption of scraps of knowledge they can collect. They recognize the truth and the oppression of Big Brother. In telling the story of Winston Smith and Oceania, Orwell created highly descriptive terms three-quarters of a century ago that surprisingly apply to contemporary life—Big Brother, Newspeak, Thought Police, Memory Hole, Doublethink, and Thoughtcrime. Censorship in its myriad forms is the cornerstone of the Party’s domination of Oceania. So many elements of the Party, Big Brother, and Oceania display the traits of dictatorship and other authoritarian governmental systems. We do not know how Oceania reached its state of oppression, but we see what it has become.
There is no indication that Orwell knew of Lord Woodhouselee’s 1787 lecture “The Fall of The Athenian Republic,” but Nineteen Eighty-Four portrays the citizens of Oceania on the full circle of the Tytler Cycle back to bondage. Further, the Party’s doublethink dicta sought to interdict the collective thoughts required to break the bondage. Big Brother sought servitude. Winston and his brethren wanted freedom.
Orwell brings the world of Oceania, the Party, and Big Brother into vivid clarity. We see through Winston Smith the nightmarish, terrifying domain of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell’s tome should instruct us today and most definitely should serve as the negative metric we use when we decide who we are going to vote for, i.e., who not to vote for. If we vote diligently for candidates who will do their part to protect our rights and freedom, we can maintain the republic and avoid Oceania or anything even remotely resembling that dismal state.
In the related and relevant category of ‘whoda thunkit,’ today (March 2023), multiple nations, including the United States of America, face the forces of authoritarianism in its Medusan forms. The suppression of books, the restriction on schools of what can be taught to our children, the denial of history, the mantra accusation of ‘Fake News,’ the direct invasion of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy in controlling her biological functions, ad infinitum ad nauseum, these are the phrase an authoritarian regime (or at least wannabe authoritarian people). Yes, indeed! Nineteen Eighty-Four is the most appropriate book for all of us to read and re-read to understand the signs and characteristics of authoritarian governance in any of its myriad forms. We may not be wise enough and sufficiently perceptive to halt our decent back into bondage. Yet, 74 years ago, George Orwell gave us a clear vision of what can happen if We, the People, do not protect our individual rights and freedoms. They are too precious to lose. Whenever we prepare to vote, we should remember Nineteen Eighty-Four. Most importantly, the Book People must preserve the words of George Orwell and permanently remember them.
Again, thank you to Cap Parlier for joining the group!