What are differences and similarities between our society and the society in 1984?

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While Orwell 's novel depicts a horrific dystopian nation where individuals have no personal freedoms and the government controls every aspect of society, one can identify numerous similarities between Oceania's civilization and America's modern society. In modern America, there are government agencies capable of spying on citizens at all times,...

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While Orwell's novel depicts a horrific dystopian nation where individuals have no personal freedoms and the government controls every aspect of society, one can identify numerous similarities between Oceania's civilization and America's modern society. In modern America, there are government agencies capable of spying on citizens at all times, which is similar to the Party's use of telescreens and the Thought Police. The National Security Agency (NSA) is a government intelligence agency that monitors and collects data on citizens in the interest of protecting America. Essentially, the United States government has the capability of spying on its citizens and can gain access to anyone's personal devices anywhere and anytime.

Another similarity between Oceania and America concerns the government's use of propaganda and scapegoats. Similar to the way Big Brother uses propaganda to create an atmosphere of hysteria and national support, the United States also has a history of spreading pro-American rhetoric and promoting nationalism. Interestingly, the "Uncle Sam Wants You!" propaganda poster is eerily similar to Orwell's "Big Brother Is Watching You" poster. The United States also uses ISIS terrorists and Kim Jung Un as scapegoats, which is similar to the way that Big Brother directs its issues toward Emmanuel Goldstein. Also, both Oceania and the United States are constantly involved in military conflicts, which is evident by America's sixteen-year war in Afghanistan.

Despite Oceania's and America's similarities, they are many drastically different elements to each society. In Oceania, citizens have no personal rights, and their lives are completely controlled by the Party. In contrast, Americans have civil liberties that are outlined in the Bill of Rights. Big Brother is an authoritarian nation, while the United States is a republic. The Party members utilize a concept known as "doublethink" and must maintain perfect orthodoxy in order to avoid being tortured in the Ministry of Love. In America, citizens are free to think however they wish and do not have to worry about being tortured by secret agents for disagreeing with government policy.

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We continue to read 1984 because of the similarities people perceive between our society and that of Oceania. The most prominent is surveillance. With revelations by Edward Snowden and others about domestic spying by the NSA, it is not hard to apply the slogan "Big Brother [meaning the government] is watching you" to contemporary US life. Privacy concerns in terms of our cell phones, the internet and e-mail accounts continue to be a major concern in our society. A question we keep asking is the following: to what extent does the government have a right to look into our electronic data?

Second, many argue that we stay in a state of perpetual warfare, in our case, the "war on terrorism," in order to justify the government spying on its citizens in the interest of national security. Some people also believe that, just like in the world of Oceania, citizens here are deprived of material goods and infrastructure improvements to finance a perpetual war machine.

On the other hand, levels of personal freedom and material well-being are far higher in our culture than in Oceania. We more or less live the lives that Julia and Winston long for, which include having friendships and love affairs, keeping journals, and having free time that isn't programmed by the state. We also have better food, better clothing and better living conditions than the people of Oceania. For example, chocolate isn't rationed in this country. 

The fact that we argue about the degree to which we are a surveillance state or spend too much on wars shows we are a free society in a way that is not possible in Oceania. We have the freedom to speak our minds and criticize the government. However, we read the novel so that we can be reminded to safeguard freedoms while we still have them.

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The way one answers this question could depend a lot on their political views. Many people might argue, for example, that the creation of government bureaucracy and the expansion of government power in the United States create a slippery slope toward the kind of totalitarian society depicted by Orwell. Others have noted a similarity between the euphemistic language used in business and other institutions and Newspeak. But these are highly debatable propositions. In general, one intriguing possible similarity might be the role of technology, which is almost ubiquitous in 1984. The two-way telescreens in 1984 would have been extremely far-fetched in Orwell's time, but not today. Orwell's vision of how people could be led by leaders who understood how to manipulate their most basic urges remains relevant as a warning, but not necessarily (as yet, anyway) as a prophecy.

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