So I picked up this book as I was intrigued by the general mayhem going on in the media after Trump election. Many people suggested we are heading for an Orwellian society. I thought I should understand what an Orwellian society looks like.

Some key takeaways -

  1. The world projected by George Orwell is a totalitarian oligarchy - similar to Nazi Germany and Communist Russia.

  2. A 'Big Brother' is made to be the leader of the party - but nobody ever has met him/seen him. He is created just because it is easier for people to focus/love/hate a person, than a party.

  3. What surprised me was the level of sophistication George Orwell had achieved. The goal of Party was not to control material outcomes - but to control thoughts. They have also invented a new language for it, as the language determines what we can think, or at least one theory says so. This was also the main focus of the movie Arrival. The hypothesis which posits this is called Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis

  4. The concept of "doublethink" implies to hold two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Interestingly Marc Andreessen says that it is an essential quality of great founders - as they need to be believers of their ideas and be able to convince others to work on it and at the same time be cognizant that it may not work.

  5. The main antagonist O'Brien in the novel explains while torturing Winston that reality is only a matter of consciousness. It was a great play on the existing Mind-Body Paradox which questions the nature of reality. Is there a reality which exists apart from our conscience or is it just a projection of our consciousness. As science would tell that, absolute reality (if there is such a thing) is very different from how we perceive it. Human beings are just one of the sensors which perceive reality in a certain way.

  6. The people in Oceania (the society portrayed in the novel) are in a state of constant excitement by the results of imaginary war happening. This posits the question - is our current media also similar and politicians just control us and keep us in a state of frenzy by peddling news - which may or may not be true. How can we trust media? Is media just a way to keep us occupied - and prevent us from asking the real tough questions? Is that why China keeps such a tight control on media and information.

  7. In the novel past is constantly changed based on the requirement of the Party. OBrien asks - Is past real? How do we know about the past? - Its only through written records and memory. In the novel, there is a grand mechanism of keeping the past 'current' by Ministry of Truth. If we the Party controls the written records and the mind of its subjects - doesn't it control the past also. How do we know that past we know is the truth? Haven't we hear the maxim that 'Winners write the history'?

Overall, a shocking work by George Orwell. Makes you question many things you believe in.