By Tom Hanahoe.
The social class hierarchy of Oceania, where George Orwell’s 1984 is set, has three levels – the upper-class Inner Party, the elite ruling minority, who make up 2% of the population; the middle-class Outer Party, who make up 13% of the population; and the lower-class Proles, who make up 85% of the population and represent the uneducated working class.
Funny that, really: in January of this year, Oxfam showed that the wealthiest 85 people in the world – who could almost all be seated in a double-decker bus – have an aggregate wealth equivalent to the combined wealth of the poorest 50 percent of mankind i.e. 3,500,000,000 human beings.
Al Gore has written that, in the United States, “the top one percent… now have more wealth than the people in the bottom 90 percent. The wealthiest 400 Americans… have more wealth as a group than the 150 million Americans in the bottom 50 percent”. A March 2013 special edition of Forbes magazine listed the richest people on our planet, comprising 1,426 billionaires with an aggregate net worth of $5.4 trillion.
Placed end to end in one-dollar bills, this sum would stretch around 1,100 times from earth to the moon and back – a total distance of over 500 million miles.
Under the influence of the markets, countries generally redistribute wealth upwards.
In 2007, multibillionaire Warren Buffett candidly spoke of how super-rich investors, such as himself, “pay a lower part of our income in taxes than our receptionists do, or our cleaning ladies”, thus widening the wealth chasm between rich and poor.
In Ireland, native Irish businesses pay substantial taxes, while many giant multinationals have sweetheart deals with the Revenue Commissioners, conferring them with selective tax advantages. Proponents of capitalism and liberal democracy – the dominant ideologies driving the new world order – argue that the twin concepts provide the best, certainly the most ‘realistic’, ideological frames for the future, even though as Piketty showed thirty years after Orwell they inevitably lead to the hyper-concentration of wealth.
More pervasive – and, arguably, more dangerous – than communism ever was, the markets have served to reconfigure the global balance of economic power, transforming mega-corporations, collectively, into one of the world’s most powerful hegemons.
Globalisation – whose primary focus is the breaking down of barriers to global trade, foreign investment and finance – also played a major role in fostering corporate power. In many ways, globalisation is the international face of the markets, generating a powerful global hegemon.
Naomi Klein has written of the “power of the select group of corporate Goliaths that have gathered to form our de facto global government… corporations have grown so big they have superseded government”.
Minnow states, such as Ireland, must prioritise the demands of multinational corporations and venture capitalists ahead of the rights of citizens. Decent people even believe that we had no choice but to guarantee the banks!
As Al Gore wrote last year, “More than half (53) of the 100 largest economies on Earth are now corporations”. The world’s top 200 corporations “control over a quarter of the world’s total assets, and their control is increasing”, noted Noam Chomsky.
We live in an era of corporate gigantism and monopoly. Just five companies control some 90 per cent of global trade in grain. Such control bestows on corporate giants a near-immunity from political and popular control and influence. Democratic capitalism is dead.
Together, capitalism, liberal democracy and globalisation comprise a US-sired instrumentality of US and corporate global imperialism.
It is not surprising that the US ethos is hegemonical. We live in a unipolar world, with just one hyperpower. “At the dawn of the new millennium, the United States is enjoying a pre-eminence unrivalled by even the greatest empires of the past”, former US secretary of state and national security advisor Henry Kissinger wrote in 2001. It sets the global agenda.. US culture is dominant almost everywhere – its music, its films, its TV soaps, its food, even its accent.
Zbigniew Brzezinski notes that when the United States and the European Union agree on policies, “together they can dictate to the entire world the rules governing global trade and finance”..
“Voter surveys in Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Japan show citizens who have grown to feel almost as disempowered as Americans”, concedes Robert Reich, formerly President Clinton’s Secretary of Labour. The vast majority of the most important decisions taken around the world (the signing of treaties, declarations of war, ‘free-trade’ agreements, loss of national sovereignty and independence, and much more) are taken without any public referendum or consultation, and hence without any mandate, from the people.
As independence and national sovereignty are increasingly, being jettisoned by states and as political parties and politicians are ‘bought’ by the donations and lobbyings ofcorporations, political power is being privatised.
Around the world, job insecurity and casual employment are increasing. Social welfare nets are being removed. Civil and human rights are being trampled on.
In May of last year the spiritual head of the Catholic Church – Pope Francis – issued an extraordinarily harsh condemnation of capitalism, asserting that “human beings are now regarded as consumer goods, to be used and discarded”. Under such a model of capitalism a “new invisible and, at times, virtual tyranny is established”. He denounced “savage capitalism… with its logic of profit at any cost… of exploitation without thinking of people”.
If the tyranny is clear even at the apex of such a conservative institution why aren’t the streets of the world’s cities filled with demonstrators seeking an end to the grossly inequitable new world order?
The answer is simple. We live in an increasingly authoritarian world. An Orwellian world – a world of surveillance, police oppression and spin-doctored news.
In Oceania people lived with an unrelenting fear that every movement they made was being observed. Giant posters warned that BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Telescreen monitors were everywhere, spying on people’s activities.
Orwell’s Big Brother is no longer fiction. A March 2007 London Evening Standard article outlined the extent of CCTV surveillance in Britain. “Britain has a staggering 4.2 million CCTV cameras, one for “every 14 people in the country… use of spy cameras in modern Britain is now a chilling mirror image of Orwell’s fictional world”.
In his 2001 book Total Surveillance, British journalist John Parker observed that “Civil liberty and human rights campaigners argue that the United Kingdom now has the infrastructure for a near-Orwellian society”.
There is an even more surveilled society. The number of surveillance cameras is “30 million in the US, shooting about 4 billion hours of footage a year”, according to Naomi Klein. One surveillance camera for every ten men, women and children in the ‘capital of the free world’.
America’s key spying body is the National Security Agency (NSA), the largest espionage establishment the world has ever known. In an interview published in The Guardian in June 2013, Edward Snowden – a 29-year-old fugitive IT specialist, who had worked for an NSA defence contractor before becoming a whistleblower – outlined the compass of the agency’s operations. “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards… We hack everyone everywhere… You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying”.
Former US vice-president Al Gore has warned that his country had reached a point “where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place”.
In mid-2013, Snowden revealed that, for seven years, American intelligence agencies had been receiving client data from the US telecom giant Verizon and that the NSA had access to the servers of nine US-based internet and social media behemoths (Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Skype, Google, Apple, PalTalk, YouTube and AOL) and, hence, to mountains of clients’ personal information.
Collaborating with the NSA is its British counterpart, GCHQ, which passes data it intercepts from a huge volume of the world’s phone and internet traffic to the NSA.
Leading ‘democracies’ with a penchant for spying on their own citizens include Germany, France, Spain, Holland and, especially, the US and Britain.
Corporations and financial giants also have access to frightening quantities of personal information on people worldwide. “Google’s 1m servers are sucking up 24 petabytes of information daily. This makes possible a degree of surveillance that would have glazed over the eyes of George Orwell”, a Sunday Times article stated in July 2012.
Similarly disconcerting is the fact that phone masts can be used to track the daily movement and calls of mobile phone users.
Freedom is a register of autonomy of agency so countries with high levels of spying on citizens cannot be regarded as free societies.
Oceania’s Ministry of Truth could convince the people that ‘WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH’.
Like the people of Oceania, people today live in a world of often fabricated ‘truth’: what Orwell’s Newspeak called ‘blackwhite’ – that Iran had nuclear weapons, that ‘global warming’ is fiction, that austerity works, that our police are paragons.
We live in a world of PR and spin-doctored news and political statements.
Electorates never sanctioned a world that enables megacorporations to wield more power and influence than most ‘sovereign’ states, that hyperconcentrates wealth and income, that destroys our species and our climate, that facilitates governments and corporations in covertly spying on citizens’ activities, and that disempowers civil society. A world of ISIS, beheadings, the flattening of Gaza, a resurgent Right, of moral collapse. In 2014 much of our world is disintegrating.
In 1984 the Party’s picture of the future was a boot stamping on a human face—forever. In 2014 we simply cannot say what is a realistic picture for 2044. • [December 2014]