1984 Revisited

1984 Revisited

The events of the past few weeks in the Middle East are a welcome counter to the very famous book, 1984, written by George Orwell.  Orwell began the book in 1944, completed it in 1948, and it was published shortly after in 1949.  It is the bleak tale of a Winston Smith who lives in the ruins of London, subsequent to a global atomic war.  He is approximately 39 in the year the story takes place.

The society that Winston lives in is tripartite consisting of the Proles that make up 85% of the population.  The Outer Party, of which Winston is a member, and finally, the Inner Party, that totals less than 2 % of the population.  But it is this latter part of the population headed by Big Brother that rules the country with an iron hand.  The Inner Party is privy to information that the other two segments of society cannot access.  The manner in which the Party presides over the populace is by distorting language using such slogans as WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, AND IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.


Unlike 1984, where information to the people is both stifled and distorted, the Internet allowed Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa, to show how an Egyptian businessman, Khaled Said, had been beaten to death by the police.  He was killed by the police because he had been trying to show police corruption on YouTube.  Just as in 1984, the Inner Party ruled by lies, Egyptian authorities tried to cover up the cause of death of Mr. Said.  However, Mr. Ghonim was able to show the visual evidence of Said’s face from the morgue and then, subsequently, he posted the pictures on a Facebook page.  Facebook, as we all know, has some 500 million members.

Attempts by Hosni Mubarak to prevent the masses from having access to the Internet were too late.  The message had been received by the people.  Whether or not open access to the social media will result in a greater democratic world remains to be seen.  However, what is clear is that it will be more difficult for those in power to hide acts of corruption given the ease and speed in which information can be passed through cyberspace.

The New Order of Wealth

Last week on 60 minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Melina Gates.  As is common knowledge, she is married to the wealthiest man on the planet, Bill Gates.  But as Mr. Pelley pointed out she was not adorned with any fancy diamonds or extravagant dress.  When she was asked about this, she simply said that fancy clothes and jewels are not a priority for her.  Rather, she and Bill are interested in using their money in ways that would minimize human misery such as wiping out malaria in the countries where it existed and reducing infant mortality by importing medical technology to the countries that need it most.

I have little doubt that Melinda really believed in what she was saying.  What I found quite ironic, however, was seeing a woman unmoved by the opportunity of having  whatever precious stone her heart desired.  Though the extrinsic value of such a possession is obviously great, I  wondered what exactly is its intrinsic value, that is the value the bearer of such a gem gives to it.  To Melinda, the intrinsic value of such an item would not be great.

I can only imagine that wearing a piece of fine jewelry might make a woman feel good about herself.  Certainly, as a status symbol it may reflect the position in society this woman has attained.  This was the theme of that very famous short story, The Necklace, written by Guy De Maupassant in the 19th century, the ending of which I shall not reveal.  But really have things changed much at all now that we are in the 21st century?  I doubt it.

Melinda does not have to wear a diamond necklace to be invited to an important social event like the protagonist, who in Maupassant’s story, believed would bring her acceptance.  No, Melinda knows she will be accepted and it is perhaps this realization that makes such an adornment almost a superficiality to her.  This is not to denigrate Ms. Gates’ intentions for without a doubt there are women that have wealth that I am sure enjoy diamonds.  But it points more to the fact that she is able to look beyond something that she can have, at the toss of a hat, in trying to achieve a much more significant goal: Increasing the welfare of the human race.

Are Melinda and Bill Gates’ contributions  an anomaly or do they represent a shift in the way people view their wealth? It is too early to tell.  But perhaps with the help of that other billionaire, Warren Buffett, the status of materialistic things such as sports cars, jewels or mansions will become less valued in the future.  This would be a shift perhaps of greater import than the changes brought on by the information age that have created the huge  pockets of wealth in today’s society


The Wealth of Curiosity

I am a new member interested in sharing my views of the world with those of us that still have a keen curiosity.  Years ago when I was assisting in raising my godson after his father passed away, I will never forget all of the questions that he would ask me, from why is the sky blue (a question I could not answer) to why different stores looked the way they did.  While driving with him,  I barely could travel one block in the car without him asking a question.  Until I realized that this was a way in which he was attaining information and learning about his surroundings, at first I found his questions a bit annoying.  But afterwards, I encouraged him to ask and seek information without giving up on the questions as a means for him to understand more about the world in which he lived. 

I believe his inquiring mind is a thing that so many of us lose with age.  It is a key that all of us possess as children but later lose as adults.  Perhaps the answer to many of the problems in current society is the openness that we can discover once more as adults in the seeking of new knowledge and information.  One tool to accomplish this goal is through the Internet, and more specifically, through blogs of this nature.