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Big Brother is getting bigger
In George Orwell's classic 1984, Big Brother was the personification of Big Government. He was always there to protect citizens and to steer them in the "right" direction "for their own good." To maintain the status quo (i.e. government as the ultimate authority), Orwell's Big Brother did everything from rewriting history and redefining language to engaging in constant prophylactic surveillance of citizens on the streets and in their homes.
In the world of 1984, thorough records were kept on each and every citizen, and paranoia and fear alone ensured that Big Brother's control was absolute even when his technological eyes might randomly be turned elsewhere. Those few who dared rail against such things were re-educated using tools ranging from mere propaganda to outright torture.
Is it any wonder, then, that more and more people are talking about Big Brother these days?
If redefining words or rewriting history is "Big Brotherish," we must take note of recent developments.
The manipulation of history isn't new, nor is it as difficult as you might think when you consider that history is typically written by the victor. A prime example is the virtual hero worship of President Abraham Lincoln who is credited with ending slavery in America. The reality of Lincoln's actions leading up to and during the Civil War aren't quite so glorious.
Lincoln gave no consideration to the Tenth Amendment implications of secession and instead permitted the escalation of the bitter differences between the states into a shooting war. Lincoln was not an abolitionist prior to gaining the presidency; he didn't speak out against slavery but rather condemned the threats of secession. He could have issued his infamous Emancipation Proclamation at any time; instead, he waited until it fit his military strategies thinking less about ending slavery than about gaining allies behind the lines. He suspended habeas corpus, and acted ruthlessly in his single-minded determination to keep the union together.
In fairness, Lincoln did hold the union together, and though the war and its aftermath were terrible things — particularly in the south — it's difficult to imagine what might have happened had he not made the choices he did. But to honor him for ending slavery which was really ended more by default than any desire of Lincoln's is more than a little revisionist!
The Civil War was, of course, a significant conflict and it suited the interests of many to depict all that happened in a certain way. But over the course of the ensuing years, revisions seem to be made for more...well, personal reasons.
Former President Bill Clinton once wondered aloud what the definition of "is" might be, suggesting that if "is" were defined in a certain way, he'd committed no wrongs when he engaged in a sexual relationship with an intern. Then he bombed an aspirin factory which, at the time, we were told was in some way a danger to American interests. You'll forgive me if I find it difficult to believe that US intelligence operatives are so easily led astray as to think an aspirin factory made, say, munitions.
Democrat candidate for president Senator John Kerry became infamous for telling Americans that he'd voted for a measure before he voted against it . Later, it was also made public that Kerry's much-vaunted three Purple Hearts had been awarded for negligible wounds (in one case it was reported he'd demanded the medal for a minor cut on his finger). Kerry's after-the-fact explanations apparently weren't accepted by many voters, but there's little doubt that plenty of them swallowed the revised definitions and histories whole.
Most recently, while Iraq's deposed president was rightly vilified for having used (and perhaps being willing to use again) chemical weapons, the US itself admitted it had used white phosphorous in the Iraqi conflict. American authorities had defined WP as a chemical weapon years before. In fairness, some dispute that designation is correct, referring to such rounds as "incendiary" and "conventional" instead, as well as noting that chemical designations are mentioned in Pentagon documents but are not in any treaties signed by the US (while strictly speaking, that may be true, Iraqi authorities are now accusing the US of the possible breaking of an international treaty forbidding the use of WP or napalm on civilians). Condemning one government out of one side of your mouth while defending another's comparable action is doublespeak at its finest.
It's not just politicians manipulating political matters. Academics with an agenda and members of the major media on a mission contribute their fair share to the mix. A professor of history at Emory University by the name of Michael Bellesiles wrote a book entitled Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture. In that book, Bellesiles delighted anti-gun advocates everywhere by presenting the results of research that definitively showed Americans historically owned far fewer guns than previously thought, and that the so-called "gun culture" was a modern and undesirable phenomenon.
Unfortunately for those to whom Bellesiles became an instant hero, his research was found to be fraudulent. Information he claimed to have reviewed didn't exist; his own notes were mysteriously lost. Eventually, the professor resigned his position in disgrace, but not before he'd spent some very heady time as a media darling, and certainly not before thousands were misled by Bellesiles fabrications. There are doubtless still people today who believe Bellesiles' discredited contentions thanks to the very public and frequent repetition of his claims.
The Pentagon headed in the opposite direction when it was accused of trying to manipulate public opinion by refusing to release photos of the caskets containing the bodies of soldiers killed in the War on Terror. The Pentagon insisted its refusal was a matter of respect for the dead; critics claimed officials were trying to hide reminders of the true cost of war from the American public. Eventually, the Pentagon reluctantly released a number of photos. Given that the photos showed how much respect and honor was accorded each of the flag draped caskets, it's hard to believe the critics didn't have a point.
Fortunately, media manipulation doesn't always work because many Americans have begun to realize just what's happening. According to the Media Research Center's Media Bias Basics page, most reporters consider themselves liberals, and most Americans know it. Of course, that didn't stop Dan Rather whose credibility took a serious fall when documentation he used in a story proved to be suspect (for the record, Rather still denies any wrongdoing despite the fact that some involved in the debacle lost their jobs over it).
Unfortunately, media manipulation can work despite our frequent skepticism. Repetition, especially from the mouths of those we view as authority figures, can convince plenty of people that what they're hearing is entirely true whether it is or not. The case in point is the much-vaunted DARE program. Despite a shortage of evidence showing that it works — in fact, a few studies have shown that it actually causes more problems than it prevents — local police forces all over the country continue to push the program. Although it's tempting to read more into it than there is, it's only fair to point out that one of the key points of the DARE program involves indoctrinating young kids to tell on their parents.
Sadly, the government has other options than media, not the least of which is simply ignoring the Constitution and passing a law. The PATRIOT Act is an example of ignoring the Constitution, of course, but the ultimate in Big Brotherliness is exemplified by the more recent REAL ID Act. Ostensibly an immigration measure and a terrorism-prevention tactic, the reality of REAL ID is a government busybody's wet dream. Making matters even worse is the fact that such a plan was in the works long before the 9/11 terror attacks.
If you think REAL ID is bad — and it is — the ultimate in Big Brother is on the immediate horizon. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips are currently being used in more and more venues as a method of inventory control. It's relatively inexpensive, and very efficient; no wonder companies on both ends of the supply chain are excited! The problem, however, is all of the other things that RFID will revolutionize. Forget about the security cameras that are popping up everywhere, and start worrying about tracking devices we'll carry with us — or even in us — in the near future.
Some people have already received implanted chips bearing medical or identifying information on them. Some clothing manufacturers plan to put chips into tags allowing inventory control, prices changes, and more. While these things might also sound like a good idea, if big business and big government get their way, we'll each of us be tracked at all times. Think that's paranoia? So did I until I read a book called Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID. Not only are these things already being proposed patents have been granted and implementation is being discussed. It's not paranoia when they really are out to get you...
I find it difficult to imagine that anyone reading Orwell's masterpiece put the book down and said, "Wow. Wouldn't it be great if we all could live like that?" But if we don't consider all of the aspects of double-edged technologies, and if we get too caught up in convenience or too scared to accept less than the most intrusive security, that's the world we're going to live in. If we accept at face value anything we're told merely by virtue of an authority figure saying it, we've already lost the world we had. And if we refuse to work to see to it that the worst of these things don't happen, then maybe that's the world we deserve.
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