Orwell Was An Optimist: Happy New Year

As we enter 2012, it becomes increasingly clear that Orwell was an optimist. As darkly as he painted the possible future, we are now much worse off.

When Orwell painted his dystopic future (which is out of copyright in Australia), perhaps this paragraph summarizes the dystopian society most of all:

The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

This was perceived as dystopic to the brink of unbelievability at the time.

In the book 1984, the government is able to watch three things. What we say out loud, who we meet in our homes, and what we do in our own home. They are only able to observe this as it happens; if they missed it, you are safe, but there was no way to tell if they missed it.

Today, we have arrived at a point where the Western “free” governments can monitor:

  • What you say at home, and more importantly, what you think of
  • What news articles you read, for how long, and in what order
  • Your dating preferences
  • Your future travel plans
  • Your political opinions
  • Whom you converse with, over any channel; specifically including if you talk to a reporter or if you converse in abnormal amounts with political oddthinkers
  • Everything you say to anybody electronically, out loud or in text
  • How you move around in the city, and whom you are close to; specifically including if you are making detours from your home-to-work pattern
  • Your entire network of people over time
  • Whose thoughts you are interested in, rebroadcast, and respond to

In addition, they can record, index, and store all of this indefinitely, to come back at you decades after the fact and question your character when the political context has changed dramatically.

Orwell was an optimist.

This is why we must keep fighting for civil liberties.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Gridlock

    This whole control is a double edged sword or a coin if you will (a coin always has two sides).
    On one end, the control is great and helpful as it helps to catch potential terrorists and reveal other criminal activities of the more SERIOUS kind (child pornography selling of illegal drugs and so forth), how ever the shadow side is that we have a government who has almost no limits whom only wants more and more control.

    SOPA is a brilliant example on that of a Government who wants more control over peoples lives (even those who doesn´t live in America).

    Then on the other hand we also have a shadow side to the implements used to keep us filesheares safe from the corporations.
    Hiding IP address deleting the overview of which sites you´ve been on etc etc.

    Its not just filesheares who can use those things to hide with. The afore mention more serious criminals pedophiles terrorists and so forth can also use it and thus make the police work more difficult then it need be.

    As with all things i think its a balancing act do we trade some of our civil liberties and benefits away for more security and if so how much? The important thing is the backside of the coin must never be larger then the front side no edge of the sword can be sharper then the other side.

    its all about where do we draw the line? Where do we say enough is enough here to and no further any downside that may come from stopping here is something we are willing to risk?

    Now theres a good question.

    1. Belorn

      Its not a very hard line to draw if people would following 1900 government tools like cost analysis and statistical correlation/dependence. Security researchers has unanimous claimed over and over again that those “fixes” the government do has little to no effect. The reason those people know this, is that in their own profession they must use the same tools to prove that their own work has the expected result. Internet surveillance and cameras has very little effect on preventing and solving crime. Internet surveillance and cameras has very little effect on preventing and solving terrorism. If you want effective prevention of crime, hire more investigating police and do statistical correlation on government policies (see Freakonomics for more details). If you want effective prevention of terrorism, hire more investigating police, and do statistical correlation on government policies. Its nothing that bring headlines, but it something that is *proven* to work and is cost efficient.

    2. Kaapo

      “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – (attributed to) Benjamin Franklin.

      There’s your answer. There is NO dividing line. ANY control can (and WILL) be abused and any defense against it can (and WILL) be used by serious criminals as well. So it’s either liberty and risks or no liberty, just risks. Make your choice.

  2. George Orwell

    orwell was a pawn of the queen. she paid his way, he redirected discontent to things that didnt matter in the short run.

  3. ForskarGurra

    The problem with “Terrorist” notion is that THE CURRENT government and those influencing the government usually have a monopoly of defining who are the “bad guys” – today it is the file sharers (“pirates”) who by a large martin pose a threat to the further economical growth of those who have amassed large treasures based on immaterial laws in the latter half of the 20th century.

    This is just one of a long row of “battles” between today’s elite who are dependent on old, obsolete and unmodern methods of business and today’s true innovators (file sharing sites and protocols as well as social micropayments) who threaten their income. The real important innovations destroy jobs without destroying productivity so that more can be made with less resources – and thus more value can be obtained by paying less money for it.

    In the long run, this is what has given us the quite awesome standard of living that we have today. Every time it happens, the innovators of the time are scorned by the current elite and called “criminals” or maybe even “terrorists”.

    There were people back in the 1700 and 1800 who attempted thwarting the industrial revolution to protect their (quite ineffective) manual labor business. Where would we have been today if we had let them win out?

  4. illunatic

    Falkvinge = Emannuel Goldstein!
    haha jk. There is no need to plant fake opposition when they can track your opinions electronically.

  5. Lennart Lindgård

    Ir is actually even worse: All terrorists and criminal will do anything to avoid the states listening ears. There are a lot of techniques out there to do this. Darknet, encrypted mails, super encrypted virtual private networks (VPNs) abd so on. Some of these techniques are particularly suitable for users that communicate only with a few specific parties. Terrorists do that, normal users do not.
    In practice this means that the state will monitor normal citizens only, not terrorists and criminals.
    And then the whole idea with the security montoring is lost.

  6. Someone

    @gridlock A lot of serious crime is made worse than is has to be, exactly by trying to over-control it. Neither the prohibition or the “war on drugs” has never solved a problem. It just hardened certain segments of society that used to do legit trade into violent thugs, filled up the prisons, and spirals substance users deeper into oblivion by isolating them. A lot of social problems are an indirect result of it, and could be addressed easier if the “illegal” hammer wasn’t wielded so easily.

    It’s the same with pedophiles. It is terrible that some people abuse children. But society became very neurotic about it, which is kind of counterproductive. In mass hysteria it is easy to go too far and label everyone as a pervert instead of focusing on the real basket cases. Prevention would be to protect the children themselves (by watching for signs in their immediate environment), not fight the symptoms when it’s impossible to contain them, as information on the global network. Filtering and censorship does *not* fight pedophilia.

    In the meantime, while people worry about “criminals” and “terrorists”, psychopaths are facilitated, and raise to the top of the corporate hierarchies (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/brian-basham-beware-corporate-psychopaths–they-are-still-occupying-positions-of-power-6282502.html ).

    Anyway, no matter how serious the crime, the means should never be worse than the ends. I’d have thought we learned a bit about the perils of large-scale surveillance and censorship with East Germany, China… If you’re so scared about pedophiles and sadist murderers, imagine that havoc they can wreak with limitless power to censor those trying to expose them.

  7. Gridlock

    @Someone I agree with you, what i was trying to get across is that ALOT of things can be seen as a double edge sword there are always two sides of the coin.

    We give up some liberties to get better protection well thats the bright side of things the dark side is in 99,9% of the chases its abused and what started as a little freedom lost in order to get better security turn into a dictatorship and a 1984 society.

    Same again with the security measures we use to protect ourselves from the outdated industries long and VERY clammy hands, can be used by terrorists, pedophiles and such to protect themselves from being spotted.

    So as said before its a balancing act constantly trying to make sure that the dark side of the coin doesn´t get any bigger then the bright side.

    How do we make sure that a certain model also work with the human element without it causing harm.

    An example of a balancing act going wrong is Communism it had some Great and Truly magnificent ideas and ideals.
    You mustn´t own anything: great that means there is no poor or rich people we are all equal.
    Religion is poison for the people: Anyone with a bit of history knows how badly religion can screw up people, by banning it you cut of a potential threat.
    There are some other laws i can´t remember them all.

    But in theory if followed they will create the ideal society where everybody is equal there is no one who has more to say then you nor do anyone own more then you we are perfectly equal.

    Unfortunately once the human element is worked into it the theory falls apart completely. There will ALWAYS be the one who abuses it and manged to convince others that it would be for the best for society if he was in charge and if he was rich and people worshiped him and so forth.

    Again the communism clearly showed a balancing act that failed miserably.

    So yes the question remains how much should we allow the government to have in order to secure our own wellbeing, were does the line go.

  8. plc

    Indeed Orwell was an optimist. Just look at

    And @gridlock: the answer to your last question is: absolutely nothing 🙂 , at least according to the libertarians (For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard is recommended reading)

  9. Orwell’s 1984; The Unfinished Story « JOURNALING BETWEEN WORLDS

    […] the recent article, Orwell was an Optimist, author Rick Falkving wryly depicted George Orwell as being an optimist […]

  10. David

    Orwell “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. We are too busy amusing ourselves to death.


Comments are closed.