Mark Daly attended Dutchess County Community College before transferring to the University at Albany. He is a junior at the University at Albany with a major in History and minor in Political Science. 

I enjoy reading and writing, as well as searching the web for fun in my spare time. I particularly like science fiction and fantasy, but also any other fiction in general, with some of my favorite books being H.G Wells' War of the Worlds, Dan Abnett's Horus Rising and of course George Orwell's 1984. And though I don't particularly enjoy what I see, I try my best to stay informed about the world and keep up with news and current events. 

 

I first started writing extensively for fun in high school, mainly out of a desire to put my ideas on paper and destress from school and work. I do however hope to one day publish my own novel.

On the Subject of Power: George Orwell's 1984

By Mark Daly

I have always had a mistrust of power. Not the wealth, fame, prestige or even the authority that often comes with it, but the power itself and more specifically those that pursue or hold onto it. What do I mean when I say power? Well, power can be defined simply: as the ability to exert control and influence over others. In the words of Lord Acton,

 

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you super add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

 

In short, the more power you have, the more I will distrust you. Now this is not a personal attack on any one person or ideology, I believe the risks of power can lie anywhere. No matter who you are or what you believe, you will never truly know what kind of man or woman you are until you sit upon the throne.

On the subject of power, no novel, piece of literature or other media has resonated with me more than George Orwell’s 1984. First published in 1949, it takes place in the British Isles or Air Strip One as it is known in-universe. Air Strip One is a province of Oceania, a globe spanning superpower, ruled over by the totalitarian party of Ingsoc, and their leader: Big Brother. The plot follows protagonist Winston Smith as he embarks on a journey which will take him to the very heart of human evil, and the essence of power in its most primal, raw and unadulterated form.

The reason 1984 sticks with me so much is because it creates a world born purely out of the pursuit of power. What makes Ingsoc truly evil is that its leadership openly embraces power for its own sake. For them, there is no grand design for the betterment of humanity or even the benefit of the ruling elite. As horrific as the Nazis and Bolsheviks were, even they, in their own twisted minds had a plan for a “better” future. A plan built on a mountain of corpses, but a plan, nevertheless.

The first edition cover of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949. The novel is often referrred to as 1984

The Last Man in Europe was an early title for the novel.

 For Ingsoc however, there is no master plan to pursue. Oceania is an impoverished, war torn and crumbling nation specifically because Ingosc wants it to be. Oppression is the means and the ends. The leadership of Ingsoc’s inner party do not even care for their own lives or memory. They don’t care about wealth or comfort or delusions of immortality either physically or in the annals of time. They only care about control and as a result have become fully consumed by this addiction to power. At its rotten core, Ingsoc is a monster which seeks only to exert ever tighter power over humanity, as Winston discovers. Big Brother is the personification of absolute power.

Power has existed for as long as human society has existed. From the earliest tribal chieftains to the kings and emperors of centuries and millennia past, to the Presidents and Prime Ministers of our modern day, our world is shaped by those in positions of great power, and by their word alone the fate of nations can be changed. But when looking at power, I feel we focus too much on the top of the pyramid, the tip of the iceberg or the one percent of power if I may use that term.

Power can be found everywhere, not just in the hands of government heads, business executives and religious leaders. Take your parents, teachers and boss for example. They have power over you, do they not? And why not flip this, you probably have power yourself. Do you have children? Younger siblings? Students? Friends who look up to you? Employees, lower ranked coworkers or dependent colleagues? If you can exert control or influence over someone else, then you have power.

Now this does not mean you are a bad person. It is important to remember that power is not an inherently bad thing. One can compare power to fire, intrinsically it is neither good nor evil, but it has the potential for great gain or great harm, depending on context and point of view. After all, power is the main driver behind civilization and society, it is what keeps order and in the right hands it can change the world for the better.

The power gained by men like Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela allowed for the independence of India and the emancipation of the black population of South Africa from Apartheid. Even in our own United States, the power that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks held, gave them extraordinary influence in what would eventually become the Civil Rights Act.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where examples of people using great power for great good are not nearly as common as they should or need to be. Those in positions of power, whatever background, ideology or faction they align with are generally motivated by narrow self-interests. While typically not found to the same degree, many of Orwell’s writings have proved prophetic in our word today. Take the telescreens: devices used by Ingsoc’s Thought Police to monitor its citizens.

One can draw comparisons to the Patriot Act of 2005, which granted the Federal government greater freedom in monitoring private communications for terrorist activity. And with the ever-growing size of the internet, the World Wide Web and access to smart phones, such surveillance becomes easier than ever. Though created to protect the nation, the Patriot Act in the wrong hands could easily be used to subvert the will of the people. Another example is newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Newspeak, a simplified version of English or old speak, was created by Ingsoc to control and define the narrative of its citizens, eliminating any dialogue the party disagrees with.

Newspeak dictionaries are constantly cutting out certain words and phrases, or altering and creating new ones, so much so that eventually people will be unable to conceive the idea of rebellion against the regime, as the words will no longer exist. In our own world, Political correctness, which is meant to prevent discrimination against the downtrodden of society is often used by those in power to stifle opposing opinions simply because they sound too offensive or hurt the feelings of others.

By keeping in constant contact with your underlings and controlling the narrative, you can maintain great power almost indefinitely. Oceania’s obsession with its external enemies or allies; Eurasia and East Asia, reminds me of our own US foreign policy as an ever expanding, endless and shifting web of alliances, rivalries and enemies. Along with foreign danger, Ingsocs hatred of its internal enemies in the form of Emanuel Goldstein and his Brotherhood, can be compared to our treatment of those found within our own borders.

If an athlete chooses to kneel during the national anthem or a student decides not to stand for the pledge of allegiance, rather than address the substance of their protest they are vilified at face value as un-American and ungrateful for the freedoms we have. Yet, these same people who would claim to be patriots do not recognize the right of someone to not conform to their opinion on what it means to be American.

All these social issues we deal with in our country today exist to perpetuate the current power base’s control over us. The more divided we are, the easier it is to control and influence us. If the United States ever wishes to become a truly free nation, we must accept those who wish to live their lives peacefully and break down the barriers between us even if we don’t agree with them.

Orwell’s 1984 did not create my current worldview, but it did refine, expand and solidify many of my opinions, especially on power. Orwell’s writings have helped me to focus my energy against oppression and those who would seek to use power for their own gain at the cost of others. We live in a world where there are forces who conspire every day to take away our freedoms.

I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, a Conservative or Liberal, someone on the left or right of the political spectrum, third party or an independent altogether. Anywhere you have the potential for power, you can find potential tyrants. Even if someone is not actively working to destroy the American way of life, we must remember that their power is driven and maintained by an agenda. Every organization from governments, organized religions and businesses to political parties, trade organizations and unions, to even charities, lobbyists and advocacy groups, all have an agenda, a vision for how they see the world.

For most of us that is also the case, we all have our own fantasy about how we think the world should be run, whether this a good fantasy is of course up for debate. However, when you give someone, money, personnel, and of course power, that fantasy, good or bad, can become a reality. This is what agendas are at their core: ideas given power and focus towards an end.

Of course, agendas are not always bad, but they will conflict with others seeking the same power, and it is from here that the conflicts of power struggles often arise. The need to grab and hold onto power in the name of ideals might overshadow your original reason for wanting power. Many revolutionaries will end up worse than the original tyrants they fought, purely because they can’t afford to lose power. Power is a drug to most people, even a sip can hook you for life. And like any junkie, to those in positions of power, it is the only thing in their minds that validates existence, and to lose it would mean losing themselves. Career politicians will devote their lives to winning the ballot box and dictators, even on their death bed will murder without hesitation at even a whisper of dissent.

The risks associated with power, like any other force exists in all of us. Orwell, who was himself a socialist, came to this realization in Spain, that thanks to men like Stalin, any ideology could be corrupted by the obsession of power. Of course, in 1984, obsession for power is the ideology.

While the United States is not perfect, far from it in my opinion, I truly believe we are still one of the freest societies in the world today. Our government has a checks and balances system which is aimed at limiting the amount of power any one person can hold. Furthermore, in our Bill of Rights, the First Amendment protects our rights to free speech, press, assembly and beliefs, the Second protects our right to self-defense against any external or internal threats, and the Fourth through Eighth ensure that the rule of law, and not the rule by law is secured.

Historically speaking though, America has often not lived up to these ideals. Slavery, Jim Crow, the treatment of Native Americans and immigrants, and denying women the right to vote are all commonplace examples of the darker periods in our nation’s life. Many of these issues still linger on to this day, but in principle, no one in America should be above or below the Constitution. And as for those in power, no matter how high they may sit, the risks of power and those that hold it demand that we remain on constant vigil for totalitarianism. We have the means to make our nation better for everyone and we must never sacrifice our rights and liberties simply because those in high positions of power say we should.

Often when I hear someone speak of 1984 or Orwellian ideas, it is usually in the context of using it against their political opponents. Some Republicans will claim that all Democrats are hardcore Marxists who wish to impose a socialist state on America, meanwhile some Democrats believe that our current President is a fascist dictator just waiting for the right time to tear apart the constitution and rule with an iron fist. I believe that on both sides of the political isle this is dangerous thinking. We demonize our fellow Americans for what they are, instead of who they are, and refuse to debate them and work together on the problems that affect all of us.

What 1984 taught me was that totalitarianism, the apex of a power high, can come in any form and to always be on the lookout. Fascist or socialist, the worst dictators in history: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were all wildly different from each other in background, nationality, beliefs and ideology. But to their victims, when you take away ideals, how much difference was there between Concentration Camps, Gulags and the Killing Fields, other than body count?

Reading 1984 has given me a greater respect for the freedoms we enjoy in America. But it has also warned me of the dangers that could take them away. Whatever your political beliefs are, please understand that any idea can be corrupted by the wrong people and used in the pursuit of power. Power doesn’t care about your opinion on what constitutes hate speech or too much government.

The potential for totalitarianism exists everywhere and even in such an age of advanced technology and prosperity we are far from immune. Something as horrible as Ingsoc might never happen, but another Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Soviet Union, perhaps in our own United States is always possible.

To fight back against this endemic threat, we should never let free speech and expression be threatened. Even if I disagree, so long as you are peaceful in your discourse, I will never want to take away your right to speak. Freedom belongs to everyone or no-one. Dialogue, compromise and cooperation should be the means used in solving the pressing issues of the day.

Whatever path you follow or creed you take up, never be afraid to question or speak out against what’s around you, but never fight against the very freedom which allows you to pursue your desires. And always remember that power, like fire, can burn.

Trolley c/o NYS Writers Institute

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Trolley web design: Michael Huber

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