George Orwell's 1984, Part 2: Crash Course Literature #402



hi I'm John Green this is crash course literature and today we're going back to the future that is now passed to George Orwell's 1984 which imagines a terrifying world in which every human activity is recorded and monitored how unpleasant would that be he said staring into a camera lens so as mentioned in our previous episode the new speak language created in 1984 was intended to make speech as nearly as possible independent of consciousness in an episode of crash course psychology my brother Hank defined consciousness as our awareness of ourselves and our environment I would add that consciousness also explains our ability to examine the experience of life and the feeling of emotions so can the structure of human speech actually be independent of human consciousness well today we're going to explore whether language is imposed on us from the outside or whether it's an innate feature of humanity I'm also gonna talk about how this novel was perceived when it was published in the actual 1984 and how people think about it today and we'll go ahead and make some connections between Orwell's novel and our current societies really confusing relationship with truth and surveillance yeah we can still criticize surveillance society that's not a thought crime yet so in 1984 Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith works in the records department of the Ministry of Truth and Newspeak known as mini true he adjusts financial and weather forecasts so that Big Brother's predictions are always retro actively correct he also removes references to unperson Zoar vaporized political dissidents and he rewrites history so that Oceania appears to have always been at war with Eastasia or with Eurasia it changes depending on shifting alliances the central tenet of ink sock the version of English socialism practiced in Oceania is that the past is immutable that it has no objective existence and exists only in written records and in human memories Orwell writes the past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon and since the party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of its members it follows that the past is whatever the party chooses to make it so Winston writes mainly in new speak this version of English with grammar and vocabulary designed to narrow the range of thought the idea is that without the language to express dissent political crimes both in thought and deed will become impossible but quickly before we get into the chicken and egg problem of language and thought I want to pause to ask you to think about this novel's relationship to memory now we know from neuroscience that each time the human memory is accessed you're remembering it anew there's no like spot in your brain containing that memory it is formed each time you have it and that means that your past really is shaped by your now and that at least to some extent the party is right when it says that telling people what they remembered does change their memories so the party is manipulating a real structural feature of the human brain as we learned in our discussion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude what matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it okay so with that noted let's turn back to thought so many experts have explored to what extent our ability to think is dependent on language in the late 1920s for instance the ethno-linguistic Sapir began talking in academic circles about his theory that the structure of the language a person uses determines how they perceive and categorize experience when his student Benjamin wore begin publishing in the 1950s this theory became known as the sapir-whorf hypothesis then in the 1960s Noam Chomsky questioned the premise of this theory arguing that humans are born with an innate knowledge of grammar that forms the basis for language acquisition by 1994 Steven Pinker was arguing that language is a basic instinct and that the ability to understand manipulate and add to it based on one's own experience as an expression of one's humanity in fact he wrote a book called the language instinct but before any of those theories were published Orwell was also thinking about the relationship between instinct and language let's go to the thought-bubble the word instinct appears 31 times in 1984 Winston is a creature of instinct and his strongest instinct is to survive to hang on from day to day and from week to week spinning out a present that had no future seemed a none conquerable instinct just as one's lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available Winston instinctively understands that his society is inhumane it might be true that the average human being was better off now than they had been before the revolution the only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different so – or while there are human instincts toward generosity and survival and even Liberty but Orwell is also aware of how dangerous human instincts can be particularly when elated by a totalitarian for example the party transforms an innate fear of death into mob violence for how could the fear the hatred and the lunatic rigidity which the party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force it also transforms the survival instinct into a form of self repression crimestop is the ability to cut off one's ideas as though by instinct at the threshold of any dangerous thought thanks thought-bubble but of course those thoughts are only dangerous because the government might kill you for having them but and I think this is critical writing in new speak and participating in party rallies alone doesn't alter Winston's consciousness that much and it doesn't seem to change his instincts he's still able to love Julia and in little ways able to live his own life life but then eventually Winston does betray his girlfriend Julia and he comes to believe that he should repress his thoughts so ultimately he loses his sense of self but not I would argue entirely because of Newspeak mostly because of torture in the end his consciousness cannot survive being threatened with having his head put in a cage filled with hungry rats that is when Winston breaks down and wishes that Julia would receive this punishment in his place and by betraying Julia he loses his ability to love and loses faith in his own humanity and then after Winston has psychologically broken he starts to think in new speak I mean consider this stream of non conscious narrative the mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself the process should be automatic instinctive crimestop they called it a news speak so the initial use of Newspeak might be part of Winston's journey toward the lack of consciousness but it's the physical and psychological torture that really take him there and with that in mind we can turn to the question of whether words actually matter I mean can good language or good books enhance the human experience I believe so and I think Orwell must have believed so too or else he wouldn't have written 1984 and as we talked about in the last video we know that free expression survives within the logic of the novel because the appendix is written in standard English it also refers to the totalitarian government in the tense so we know that humanity eventually triumphs over oppression and oppressive language free thought and free speech in dear great but Orwell doesn't actually tell us how those victories were won one minute Winston is in love with big brother the next minute appendix in standard English but that hasn't stopped readers from trying to use 1984 to diagnose and solve problems unique to their time like when 1984 was first published Time magazine claimed that quote any reader in 1949 can uneasily see his own shattered features in Winston Smith consent in the world of 1984 a stench that is already familiar other early reviewers at the time read 1984 as an attack on British socialism in a letter to a friend or well explained that the novel is not intended as an attack on socialism or the British Labour Party of which I am a supporter but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in communism and fascism in the years after the book was published readers began associating Orwell's name with the form of oppression that he critiqued surveillance quite Orwellian propaganda also Orwellian but actually anti Orwellian in 1983 a Time magazine journalist tried to re-appropriate the term Orwellian to make it signify the spirit that fights the worst tendencies in politics and society by using a fundamental sense of decency but of course that was a failure if you google Orwellian today you'll find a long list of ways it has been applied to various misuses of government power or or well not since dr. Frankenstein has someone so often been inappropriately alluded to and then of course there's the question of our today and whether it resembles the oceania of 1984 in terms of politics neither the u.s. nor the UK look much like Oceania whatever you think of our elected officials they are elected in fact a higher percentage of people on earth today live in democracies than did in 1949 or for that matter in 1984 so it's actually been in pretty good seven decades for democracy but there are some similarities between contemporary life and the future that Orwell imagined for instance our time has some pretty serious issues with the dissemination of objective fact like there's a good reason that Stephen Colbert's word truthiness meaning a truth that wouldn't stand to be held back by fact was chosen by the American society as the word of the year in 2005 propaganda both subtle and overt continued to distort social and political discourse around the world and then there's the issue of surveillance in Oceania the government places microphones and telescreens in public spaces and private homes and the telescreen is this addictive content provider at broadcast news and weather reports and interactive exercise videos it detects sounds above a whisper and movement within its field of vision and in Winston's apartment it can be dimmed but never turned off completely creepier still there was quote no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment today we too have audio and video surveillance in shops and airports and public parts of big cities and also in our homes and this loss of privacy is a trade-off that we have made for increased security and convenience but also think about how much of your own life and your consciousness also exists out there in the personal information that you willingly post online we have snapchat and Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest and Tumblr and what Sept and LinkedIn and YouTube and I think we still have Google+ and if you're waiting for me to denounce social media I'm not gonna these are amazing ways to publish your thoughts from the sublime to the ridiculous we indicate our preferences by liking and swiping and reposting and commenting we tag all the wonderful places that we visit and show everyone what we ate while we were there social media is fun it's awesome I'm in favor of it but have you ever actually read the privacy policy of each service that you use there's no question that something is lost when you choose to make any part of your own life public Winston can't turn off his telescreen many of us choose not to turn ours off exposing a lot of our own lives to surveillance and I believe that does ultimately shape our lives it's certainly not a 1984 level control of the private self but it is worth considering in our era for those of us lucky enough to live in democracies big brother is not a totalitarian government able to alter the consciousness of its citizens through various forms of torture instead Big Brother is each of us we are watching each other in the best ways and the worst ways does this distract from our physical bodies our animal desires our bonds with real-life family and friends our impulses to help others you know that business of being conscious and human or does it Ultima we enhance our humanity I don't know but I don't think times spent considering those questions is wasted and that's Orwell's true genius the questions that he asked in 1949 about a hypothetical 1984 they're timeless what is the nature of humanity which social orders best allow humanity to flourish which oppress it nearly beyond recognition and what is the role of language and literature in liberating the oppressed keep asking those important questions and you will be Orwellian in the most heroic sense of the word thanks for watching I'll see you next time you

32 thoughts on “George Orwell's 1984, Part 2: Crash Course Literature #402

  1. How did you fail to draw the parallel between the current "Political Correct" language police and Newspeak? There are more parallels there than there are in terms of the surveillance state. For example, the current trend of labeling free speech as "hate speech" is Orwellian; because "hate speech" is a subjective term best defined as "anything I personally disagree with." Attempts to ban "hate speech" amount to an attempt to limit communication of ideas and thus to limit thought. There is free speech and there is "not free speech." Any society that accepts the mere idea of hate speech is a society that does not and cannot have free speech.

  2. In fact, there are 5 Big Bothers from the same mother : GAFAM from internet !!

  3. You can win a small battle within. Find comfortably in this new of technology. Use it to your advantage. Manipulate your way towards your equilibrium. Do something. Anything really. Just don’t stand around and do nothing, my good friends.

  4. Jg: 1984 is like no government today
    Chinese citizen: googles about government tyranny finds nothing

  5. Social media is great and all, barring, like you said, the privacy policies that aren't so private, but now that it has existed long enough that it can be used for social archeology, people have been misusing it.

    For instance, when I was a kid and first used Facebook, I had what are now pretty controversial opinions that are pretty demonized. Ten years later I've liberalized quite a bit, but what stops anyone from dredging up the past and saying "back in 2009 he said gay marriage was a sin"? Nothing. Its not even the government that's watching our every move: its society as a whole, and in the court of public opinion, you don't stand a chance.

  6. My dear friend you may read this book but believe me, we live in this book in IRAN….. So please note to following items:
    1st. You may think Iranian leader is Khamenei but You are wrong, our main ruler is Emam Zaman (means the Owner of the Time he is more than 1400 years old ) , same as Big Brother nobody knows where is he, does he even exist or not? All success in Iran is due to Emam Zaman,
    2nd, we feel the poverty in our life, but Our leader and newspaper write we are in good economic condition.
    3rd Our parents remind us that we had better condition when Shah was our king…… so many other items

  7. A very nice video, I think the part that stands out to me was "Winston can't turn off his telescreen, we however choose not to."

  8. One should allways think and judge for youself to make your own opinion. Do not accept everything as told. Try to be aware and read up, investigate and try to understand. The writers tend to want to deliver a messsage, but also accept whats really goinging on, that not might be written in clear text. And try be respectful to others, even if you do not have the same opinion. This are in my opinion greate thought to keep in mind, as we all go threw our daily lives.

  9. 3:35 Is it just me or is there a somewhat uncanny resemblance here?

  10. 4:59 The volume on this portion of the video (the “thought bubble”) is all wonky. The narration is being drowned out by the background sounds.

  11. Why didn't you highlight the fact that Orwell was describing what a socialist-communist society would look like, and that it was pretty much how real life was everyday for people in the Soviet Union? He was not talking about the west, my friend. Also, the hope in the appendix and the "past" tense, I think you're reading way too much into it. There is no evidence to claim that Orwell had a hopeful view of a socialist-stalinist world. None at all. That's subjective wishful thinking on your part as readers. That aside, amazing video!

  12. Please do a crash course literature episode on animal farm!! It’s one of my favorite books of all time😁😁😁

  13. .quack. that was/is Obama, Gore, Hillary and Bill
    "the vast right wing conspiracy" "hate speech"
    "robo signed low income housing"
    "back of the queue, globalism"
    "New World Order"
    "open borders"
    "Free College"
    "Free healthcare"
    "Guaranteed lifetime work"
    and "ISDA Casino Banksters United" crony capitalism
    with bigger racially integrated ghettos(aka Democratic Socialism)

  14. . Big Brother is stealing us blind .

    Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.
    All four need to be broken up for Anti-trust and Monopoly
    violations. Not to mention the monetization of personal data
    without explicit consent and or renumeration.
    Business & Contract Law 101.

  15. We are all being watched. We secretly live in the dystopian world of 1984. We all have cameras on our phones or computers. We are all being watched. We all willingly bought these mediums for propaganda because they are the “thing” to buy. We are all cyborgs.

  16. ‘If you’re waiting for me to denounce social media I’m not gonna’ hmmmm hello 2019

  17. Governments are made up of people, like us. It is not made up of monsters like alex jones says… or david icke… checks and balances protect us and enforce rules on them too

  18. So was he shot on the last page? Or was it a metaphor? I know at one point he expected to be brainwashed but be able to anticipate the bullet and return to hating the party right before he died. I know he basically loses by loving big brother but is he also literally dead?

  19. News has become one sided, and debate has become virtually non existent. This is the precursor to a 1984 scenario. You eluded to this in part 1 when you said The real issue is that their experience has become so limited that they lack the perspective and the language to differentiate between major concepts. It also is strikingly similar to what see in the propaganda of climate change. In the book as you said as part of his job is to censor and adjust the weather to fit retrospectively. The IPCC via the UN are doing the same as political governments continually depict global warming adjust models to suit and have done so for decades and the younger generation have heard nothing but the one sided perspective so they are driven by fear and hysteria. The UN also have agenda 21 and agenda 2030 with some disguised beliefs and socialistic ideals it wants to promote. Very similar to 1984 and George Orwell's predictions. Youtube, facebook and social media including google and apple are now censoring comments which is ant free speech done under the guise of preventing hate speech and platforms like Patreon are removing business because they might have said something in public which is controversial. ( remove the non person – just like Winston was doing his job .

  20. 10:09 "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both"  to answer what you said…

  21. Main reason I don't like Trump is he tries to change history. Claiming credit for things that happened before he took office and labeling everyone that investigates something he said or did as the enemy.

  22. Gorge Orwell and Alex Huxley were both members of the Fabian Society. Their books were warnings of what the elite have had planned.

  23. The close-to-the-end part of the video did get me and crept me out for thinking about how we, ourselves, are actually Big Brother 😱

  24. So there is a group of people who want to actively modify language and make orwellian a positive word instead of the negative one that it has organically become… I'm sure I have read a book about that kind of thing.

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