Have you heard people refer to us as currently living in 1984? Has someone said to you that data tracking is very Big Brother? Then you might enjoy this video from Dr Tom Nicholas.
I am routinely amazed at the vacuous, superficial, and cherry picked references people make to George Orwell’s novels, particularly 1984.
In some respects, I understand. 1984 is quite a lugubrious read. It and Animal Farm are often read during high school as compulsory texts, a time people are noted for being at the peak of the intellectual prowess. So it is understandable that people remember little, if anything, about Orwell’s books.
But it is frustrating to run across many “appeals to Orwell” by commentators (like Jordan Peterson). These people will present themselves as having read and internalised Orwell’s writing, and are now helping us understand its significance. Yet even just reading the SparkNotes should have people seeing through these commentators.
If there is any one line from Orwell that can dispel the misunderstandings more thoroughly than any other, it is this one from the essay Why I Write:
In this month’s video, we’re looking at the work of both Jordan B. Peterson (author of Maps of Meaning, 12 Rules for Life and Beyond Order) and George Orwell (author of 1984, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia).
Professor Peterson has a video on his YouTube channel titled “On Free Thought and Speech in London” in which, inspired by seeing a statue of Orwell, he suggests that one of the aspects which separated the capitalist west from the communist east during the Cold War was an ability for journalists to “say what they think”.
Taking this as a starting point, I seek to dig into uses (and abuses) of George Orwell’s work by Peterson and the political right more broadly. Through contextualising Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm within Orwell’s own life, I seek to draw out the deep critiques of Peterson’s beloved “Western culture” which are contained within those books.
Towards the end, I also consider whether 1984 might provide an interesting lens for unpacking Peterson’s own work and the Cold War view of the world which underlies it.