All American: Political violence is at home in the United States

All American: Political violence is at home in the United States

 

OPINION

All American: Political violence is at home in the United States

2020 storming of the US capitol
olivia moore

28th February 2021

 

As democracy in the United States has been pushed to breaking point, demonstrated by January’s insurrection at the Capitol and the ensuing attempted impeachment of Donald Trump, political pundits and journalists have taken to comparing the scenes in the Capitol to the “middle east” or naming specific locations such as Syria, Baghdad and Kabul. These comparisons again appeared in the media in light of the recent crisis in Texas, where scenes of people queuing for access to clean water were described as those akin to a “third-world country”.

 

Such a quote arose during the Capitol insurrection, when Senator Marco Rubio tweeted “this is 3rd world style anti-American anarchy”, while CNN’s Jake Tapper simply likened the scenes to Bogota. ABC anchor Martha Raddaz reported: “It is so horrible to know, we are in America where this is happening, on Capitol Hill. I’m not in Baghdad. I’m not in Kabul. I’m not in a dangerous situation overseas. We are in America.” Not only is terminology like “third world” generalised and outdated, these comparisons are also ahistorical and simply false. This rhetoric promotes the negative stereotype that countries outside the US, typically countries in Central or South America, the Middle East, or Africa, are being unfairly referenced as chaotic and war-ridden. Many expressed disgust when Donald Trump referenced “shithole countries” during his presidency; and yet the media and politicians are simply continuing this ignorant discourse in a more covert manner.

 

These comparisons also deflect attention away from the fact that this political violence is, in reality, distinctly American. Allowing this rhetoric to permeate cable news and political discourse contributes to an “othering” of political violence as “something that happens in those countries over there”, but not in the US. In fact, this kind of violence is intrinsically linked to American history. Historically, the United States is a settler colonial state, created by the displacement and death of Native Americans, and built on the back of slave labour. The white supremacist Charlottesville demonstration, recent Proud Boys rallies and the El Paso terror attack are just a handful of examples that reveal that this violence is still a feature of contemporary American society. It is unsurprising that the trajectory that began with the Trail of Tears and continued through Jim Crow and public lynchings has led the US to a place of white supremacist uprisings. The storming of the Capitol was a culmination of this history of political violence and the escalation that has occurred under the Trump administration. The inability of the media to recognise this leads to an inability to fully understand it.

 

“It is unsurprising that the trajectory that began with the Trail of Tears and continued through Jim Crow and public lynchings has led the US to a place of white supremacist uprisings.”

 

Political violence is also an important element of US foreign policy, most notably in the form of the “war on terror”. This policy has also been invoked through CIA backed coups. Between 1947 and 1989, the US attempted to overthrow governments of other countries a total of 72 times. Studies have shown that when a government is toppled it often leads to civil war and domestic instability. Political violence is homegrown in the US and exported to other countries in the name of “democracy”.

 

In the past few weeks, this rhetoric has again appeared in discussions surrounding the crisis in Texas. ABC anchor Erica Simon tweeted a video of people queuing to fill up buckets of clean water from a public spigot with the caption “This is not a third world country. This is Houston, Texas.” In this case, residents have been failed by deregulated privatised power grids that have not been weather proofed and a lack of government support and preparation. The Texas grid system is run by corporations and isolated from other states. This is distinctly American – both in its capitalist nature and its stubborn individualism. More generally, the catastrophic weather is almost inevitably a result of climate change; something many US politicians still deny as being a real threat to humanity.

 

It is curious that the media often reach for far away defective comparisons when presented with scenes of political violence, instead of referencing its long history in the US. The myth of American exceptionalism has deluded many into a sort of cognitive dissonance. These analogies are not just offensive; they are a betrayal of US history. In order for American to truly come to terms with its past and move toward a better future, it needs to forget the idea of exceptionalism and face reality.

 

 

Featured Photo by TheTapForwardAssist on Wikipedia Commons

 

COVID-19 Vaccines – What you need to know

COVID-19 Vaccines – What you need to know

 

OPINION

COVID-19 Vaccines – What you need to know

vaccination vile
olivia moore

27th February 2021

 

The past year has sparked doubt and uncertainty in all areas of our lives. While news of a vaccine has made us hopeful, it is understandable to be apprehensive about what this means. Since the outbreak, scientists have been working to find a vaccine which will help to prevent the spread of coronavirus. There are currently 64 vaccines in clinical development and another 174 in preclinical development. At present, there are three vaccines approved for the use in the EU: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

 

Pfizer/BioNtech

Pfizer and BioNTech created the breakthrough vaccine, which was granted approval by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) in December of 2020. Pfizer/BioNtech use mRNA technology in their vaccine by using the virus which causes COVID-19, SARS-Co-2. This has a unique physical structure that is used to prime an immune response. Although mRNA technology has been used in many different forms over the years, this is the first time it is being used for a vaccine.

 

The Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine is delivered in two doses within 21-28 days apart with 95% efficiency and until recently had to be kept below minus 60 degrees which made the roll out difficult. The recent development that this vaccine no longer requires extreme cold temperatures when storing means that it is now “even easier to transport and use”. Ireland expects to receive 5.4 million units of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine by the end of 2021. Side effects are said to be mild for this vaccine, comprising only pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle and joint pain, chills, and fever.

 

Moderna

Moderna’s vaccine to combat COVID-19 was approved by the EMA on January 6th and like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine uses mRNA technology. It requires two doses 28 days apart – and the efficiency of this stands at 94.1%. Moderna’s vaccine also needs to keep at low temperatures. Side effects that have been reported from Moderna’s vaccine are pain and swelling at the injection site, tiredness, chills, fever, swollen or tender lymph nodes under the arm, headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea, and vomiting. Although these side effects were reported to be common, they were mostly mild to moderate. Ireland is expected to receive 870,000 doses by the end of 2021.

 

“At present, there are three vaccines approved for the use in the EU: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.”

 

AstraZeneca

The most recent vaccine to be approved on the 29th of January by the EMA, which has begun to be distributed in Ireland, is AstraZeneca in collaboration with Oxford University. This vaccine is made up of another virus that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein from SARS-Co-2. This technology has been used for many vaccines, including Zika and the flu. It also requires two doses 28 days apart. Side effects after this vaccine were reported to be similar as the others. The effectiveness of this vaccine according to AstraZeneca is around 76 to 82%, but the EMA has deemed it 60% effective because of results showing that 64 out of 5,200 who received it in the trail went on to develop symptomatic COVID 19 infections. This vaccine stands out among the others because it does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, but can be transported and stored between 2 and 8 degrees for up to six months. The AstraZeneca vaccine is also considerably cheaper starting at $3 – $4 per shot unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech, the prices of which begin at $20 per shot. In AstraZeneca’s clinical trials, there was a lack of data from over-65s; as a result of this, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Poland, and Belgium have chosen not to approve it for their older population. Ireland has decided to use the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine for over-70s which has resulted in major reorganisation of the roll out. Ireland should have received 190,000 doses of AstraZeneca in February and another 95,000 in early March.

 

The EU has expressed their frustration with the UK-based vaccine: while they had been expecting to receive 80 million doses by the end of March, they will only receive 31 million despite having already paid hundreds of millions of euros ahead of their approval to speed up production. AstraZeneca could be in breach of their contract with the EU for failing to provide the vaccines. Now the EU have purchase agreements with Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson and CureVac for use once approval is given. The COVID 19 Vaccine Allocation Strategy is a provisional list of priority groups that will be receiving the vaccine first as part of the state response to the pandemic. At the moment residents of long-term care, healthcare workers and people 85 and over are receiving their vaccines. Although we are a long way from being back to normal, these vaccines are vital to getting there.

  • To see how many vaccines have been administrated in Ireland visit COVID-19 Tracker App
  • Keep up to date with the developments of the vaccines on The Irish Times Vaccine Tracker.

 

 

Featured photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

 

The role of influencers amid the COVID-19 lockdown

The role of influencers amid the COVID-19 lockdown

 

OPINION

The role of influencers amid the COVID-19 lockdown 

a selfie stick
Elizabeth Quinn

24th February 2021

 

There are many unknowns surrounding the extent of damage caused by COVID-19 lockdowns globally, such as the mortality rate or the lack of output and fall in economic growth. COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, severe effects on the physical health of its victims, but it can almost be guaranteed that the hardships – financially, physically, mentally – have hit everyone in all walks of life. National, and even global, solidarity is vital to the slowing down of the virus. People are limiting movements and working from home all for the sake of their loved ones. Our lifestyles have been totally flipped, as we now appreciate the little things that we take for granted in normal times.

 

Some people have, however, been using this time in lockdown for more selfish endeavours. Celebrities and influencers have been seen ignoring government guidelines and restrictions, and have taken advantage of the diligence and obedience of the masses in order to go to parties and jet-set across the world. Some influencers have been seen to use their position of influence to abuse lockdown rules and pursue their own self gain.

 

The level of unnecessary extravagance and general tone deafness amongst the influencer community reached new extremes during these last few months. The worst of these, in my opinion, would have to be Kim Kardashian-West. Kardashian-West posted a series of tweets in late October 2020, exhibiting her vast wealth and total disregard for the rules by flying dozens of her friends and family to a private island to celebrate her 40th birthday party. Although ensuring that all the attendants quarantined and partook in numerous health screenings for the fortnight leading up to the trip, Kim quickly upset her audience in the latter half of her thread of tweets. Kim stated that her trip was a chance for her and her family to

“pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.” 

This supposed normality includes dancing, swimming with whales, watching movies on the beach and kayaking. None of this is not an aspect of “normal” for the majority of people, and is almost an unattainable dream for the average person.

 

Many Youtube and TikTok influencers, who have a largely teenage and pre-teen following, have also come under fire in recent months for their attendance at various gatherings and their indifference towards social distancing. In late July, social media influencers flocked to the Hype House, a mansion in LA which is home to a number of TikTok stars. This event sparked a series of large gatherings in the Sway House – another TikToker house – and in Youtuber Jake Paul’s mansion, to name but a few.

 

Youtuber kodeerants pointed out the insincerity of their apologies – if these influencers even apologise for their actions –

“They apologize, not because they mean it, but only to get people to stop talking about them … If they truly were sorry they would stop going to social events and stay home like the rest of us.”

She also points out the bad example they are setting for their impressionable followers saying that

“These influencers are responsible for being role models for their audiences and all they are doing is showing them that you can do anything you want and you don’t have to care about other people.”

 

Other celebrities and influencers have been taking it a step further, and disregarding international travel guidelines by vacationing to all corners of the world. Reality TV stars, such as those on Love Island, have been criticised for travelling to Dubai since lockdowns began. Most recently, Amber Rose Gill, winner of the fifth season of Love Island, has been condemned for traveling to Dubai just days after more restrictions were put into place in the UK. She further fanned the flame by posting on her Instagram story, saying that she had no idea what Tier 4 meant:

 

 

Love Island star Laura Anderson was also highly criticised after travelling to Dubai. Anderson went to Instagram to address the backlash regarding her trip to Dubai, insisting that the trip was work-related only. She then explained that the work of an influencer is “hard”, and that it is not as appealing as it seems. Fans noticed that the sun-kissed glamour of her Instagram feed says otherwise, and Anderson quickly began to lose followers at an alarming rate. Other Love Island stars experienced similar losses in followings, including Anton Danyluk and Kaz Crossley. According to The Sun, the trio had lost a cumulative total of 33,000 followers, and that number continues to grow.

 

This loss of following was in part prompted by fellow Love Island star Olivia Atwood. Atwood was commended by her fans, and criticised fellow influencers travelling for work amid restrictions. Posting on her Instagram story, she insisted that she is working more than ever, now that she is working from home, and she encouraged her fans to hit them where it hurts, and unfollow these influencers. She said:

“The way to hurt people is silence because actually, when you are commenting on someone’s photo, even if it’s a bad negative comment, you’re still drumming up interaction on that post.”

She then went on to explain that by engaging with posts, although the comments may be negative, the influencer’s engagement remains high, and they will then continue to book high-paying jobs. Atwood also explained that the bad weather in Manchester, her home town, has made it very difficult for her to create content. Although influencers like Atwood should not be praised for doing the bare minimum by advocating for people to follow public health advice and government-imposed lockdowns, they are more deserving of a platform than some of their peers.

 

One ex-Love Island star that deserves huge commendations is Alex George, known as Dr Alex. Since the initial lockdown in March, George has been working on the front line in an A&E in London, and has recently began training to become a GP. As a social media influencer, he has seen first-hand the impact of the lockdown on mental health, especially in teenagers and young adults. The loss of his 19-year-old brother, Llŷr, to suicide in July, lit a fire inside of George, and inspired him to use his platform to advocate for the improvement of mental health services. Speaking on the death, George said:

“That was a real trigger that made me realise I wanted to push this and take it as far as I could.”

Following the loss, George spent the following number of months researching the extent of the issues faced by young people today, speaking to numerous experts, teachers, and students themselves. On January 1st of this year, George took to Twitter with an open letter to UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Due to his incredible advocacy for mental health, as well as his heroic work in the hospitals, George was recently appointed as the Youth Mental Health Ambassador.

 

Now, more than ever, influencers are hugely inspirational and aspirational to adolescents and young adults. As the spotlight shines so brightly on these social media influencers, we as followers are given the opportunity to see their true values, their respect for the rules, and the respect they have for the countless lives that have been lost since March. I hope that, as an online community, we begin to hold these influencers accountable for their action, and lessen their influence over us, especially in cases where they use their position of authority to their own advantage.

 

 

Featured photo by Steve Gale on Unsplash

 

Garda accountability – has anything changed?

Garda accountability – has anything changed?

 

OPINION

Garda accountability – has anything changed? 

lorcan garda
olivia moore

22nd February 2021

 

Accountability has been described as “the hallmark of modern democratic governance”. It creates a sense of trust and confidence among the public, promotes legitimacy, and improves state performance. Without it, the public is at the mercy of unchecked exercises of power. Failing accountability within An Garda Síochána has become a reoccurring theme highlighted by the recent tragic death of George Nkencho. The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), charged with dealing with public complaints regarding Garda conduct, has recently been criticised by Mr Nkencho’s family, who label their investigation as “flawed” and “defective”. As such, they have called for a full public inquiry into his shooting. Would such measures be necessary in an accountability system that is fit for purpose? The unfortunate shortcomings of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which attempted to overhaul police accountability in Ireland, has created an environment in which accountability is discouraged.

 

The 2005 Act’s inadequacy is rooted in the restructuring of the Garda chain of command. Under this Act, the Garda Commissioner retained control over the force but was made reportable to the Minister for Justice in an attempt to improve accountability. This centralised control over the Gardaí is counterproductive as it creates a politicised form of governance over the police, where malpractice allegations reflect poorly on the government. As such, in an effort to protect their reputation, ministers have frequently opted to deal with matters internally rather than in a transparent, public manner. In an effort to remedy this situation, a new Garda Síochána Board is to be established to act as a barrier between the Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner – to which the Commissioner will be made accountable. However, its impact will be limited, as the Commissioner will still be required to keep the Minister informed on any significant policing matters.

 

Other attempts within the 2005 Act to improve accountability can be seen in the establishment of a number of “independent” bodies. The Policing Authority, established as a Garda oversight body in 2016, noted that “having multiple oversight bodies with overlapping functions has led to ambiguity surrounding oversight responsibility”. One such body, overlapping with the Policing Authority, is the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. The Inspectorate was formed under the 2005 Act to produce regular reports on the functioning of the police to be put before the Dáil. Crucially, though, to the detriment of report reliability, the Minister for Justice may exclude any information from a report in the interest of national security. This national security “trump card” is problematic and open to abuse. Furthermore, these reports are not permitted to express any opinions on a policy from the government, severely limiting the Inspectorate’s ability to act independently.

 

It was also under the 2005 Act that the controversial GSOC, the body charged with the Nchenko case, was established, acting as a body to which individuals could lodge complaints about police misconduct. Complaints may be resolved informally, investigated by the Gardaí or else investigated by GSOC themselves. GSOC’s ability to carry out quality investigations are limited due to underfunding, forcing them to frequently refer matters to the Gardaí to deal with internally due to lack of staff. However, since being authorised the addition of 42 new staff in 2018, investigation figures have barely improved. In 2019, 1,153 complaints made to GSOC were admitted for investigation. 35% of these investigations were carried out by the Gardaí unsupervised (down from 42% in 2017). While it should be noted that some of these complaints may be unfounded, of the 1,153 made only 96 resulted in some form of sanction. Sanctions are imposed by the Garda Commissioner and may consist of advice being given to the officer, a warning, a caution, reduction in pay, a fine, or a reprimand. The two most common sanctions used were a reduction in pay and advice. Only 5 of these sanctions were reprimands which may consists of a suspension. This means that only 8.32% of investigated complaints resulted in a sanction and 0.43% resulting in a reprimand. Such low sanction figures may be influenced by the fact that if an investigation finds evidence of a “potential” breach, it is the Garda Síochána that makes a decision on whether or not there has been “actual” breach. If the infringement is serious enough, GSOC may send the case directly to the DPP. These sanction figures really hammer home the idea that if a Garda breaks the rules, he or she will likely get away with it. Furthermore, when sanctions are imposed, the form they take does little to prevent further abuses due to a lack of any retraining dimension.

 

“The unfortunate shortcomings of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, which attempted to overhaul police accountability in Ireland, has created an environment in which accountability is discouraged.”

 

The Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland (COFPI) 2018 report recognised the issues mentioned and proposed solutions – which, as of yet, have still not been adopted. Notably, the report recommends the establishment of the Independent Office of the Police Ombudsman to supersede GSOC. The report stresses that this office needs to be fully independent from the Gardaí, and fully funded, to prevent instances of “Gardaí investigating Gardaí”. Furthermore, it recommends that the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate be superseded by a new Policing and Community Safety Oversight Commission to provide further accountability in the delivery of professional policing, coupled with an increased emphasis placed on human rights in the delivery of this policing.

 

My fear is that if these reforms are adopted by the government and put into legislation, it will be in a watered-down format and inadequately resourced. Despite consistent issues with the Garda conduct, the numerous oversight bodies that are in place remain underfunded and statutorily ill-equipped to deal with Garda misconduct. Such failures should not be taken lightly. Failing to hold Gardaí accountable is a slippery slope. No one should be above the law – and even more, higher moral standards should be held by those who seek to enforce the law. This is not only important for the cultivation and maintenance of justice, but because failing accountability procedures delegitimises the police in the eyes of the public, resulting in lower levels of compliance. As such, it is not only the public who are negatively impacted by failing accountability, but the Gardaí themselves. To achieve Ireland’s fundamental human rights obligations required by various international treaties and Article 40 of our Constitution, Garda accountability needs to be reformed, fast, with a clear human rights approach at the forefront of such reform. The government should not continue to wait around until there is another breach serious enough to kick them into action.

 

 

Featured photo by Sean MacEntee on Flickr

 

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

 

OPINION + WOMEN

It’s about time: Trinity to elect first female provost

trinity college dublin entrance
olivia moore

16th February 2021

 

Over a century ago, former provost of Trinity College Dublin, George Salmon, reputedly uttered his infamous words: “Over my dead body will women enter this college.” And yet on Friday 5th February 2021, the very same university confirmed that the next Provost of Trinity College Dublin will be a woman, for the first time in its 429-year history since its establishment in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Announced was an all-female shortlist of three senior academics – Linda Doyle, Professor of Engineering and the Arts and former Dean of Research; Linda Horgan, Professor of Ecumenics and former vice-provost; and Jane Ohlmeyer, prominent historian and Trinity’s first Vice-President for Global Relations. Professor Ohlmeyer was, in fact, the only female candidate when Professor Patrick Prendergast was elected Provost in 2011. On the line is a ten-year position, complemented by a respectable €200,000-a-year salary, to begin when Professor Prendergast competes his own term on July 31st. To achieve this reward, however, candidates must first engage in what has been described as a “papal-style election process”, involving engagement with multiple hustings events before 800 full-time academic staff vote on April 10th.

 

But apart from the novelty of it being the first-ever provost-election to take place online, Susan Parkes identifies the election of a woman as provost as the real milestone moment for the university. Originally, they were not regarded as equal members of the university upon first admission: “There was no residence on campus for women. They had to be off campus by 6pm and weren’t allowed to dine in the dining hall. It continued as a male, residential community for many years.”

 

“To achieve this reward, however, candidates must first engage in what has been described as a “papal-style election process”, involving engagement with multiple hustings events before 800 full-time academic staff vote on April 10th.”

 

Not until the late 1960s were female students given rooms on campus for the first time, and allowed to join debating societies and became eligible to be elected as fellows and scholars. A prime example is our very own Mary Robinson, who was elected president in 1990, was auditor of the college’s law society and became Reed Professor of Law there too. But, as Parkes asserts, “[n]owadays, there are plenty of women in leadership positions in the university. They are more than ready for it. If this happened 10 years ago, it would have been bigger news… it’s taken a long time.”

 

In fact, several other colleges beat Trinity to it, with a number of female heads presiding over institutes of technology in recent years, and Kerstin Mey of the University of Limerick becoming the first woman to head an Irish university last summer. However, one certainty arising from Trinity’s jumping aboard, says Ms Parkes, is that it will be the first time a female is appointed to a top role in a traditional Irish university on a permanent basis new female provost.

 

Of course, our work is not yet done. The gender balance across all senior roles in Irish academia has been the subject of criticism for a long time now. A 2018 report on higher education found that while women made up half of the staff at third level, they held only a quarter of the professor jobs. However, it must be noted that at this time no woman had ever held the position of university president, and only two had been appointed to lead an institute of technology. Just look how much ground has been broken in the meantime.

 

It cannot be doubted that the election of a woman provost will absolutely be a “boost for women academics,” according to Parkes. “To think it’s really not that long ago women weren’t even allowed in the university common room… I sometimes say to female students to this day, be sure to get your photo beside the statue of George Salmon, just to shows how far we’ve come.”

 

 

Photo by Stephen Bergin on Unsplash

 

We’re not in Orwell’s 1984, we’re in our 2021

We’re not in Orwell’s 1984, we’re in our 2021

 

OPINION

We’re not in Orwell’s 1984, we’re in our 2021

Orwell's book 1984
ellen mcveigh

Darius Apetrei

1st February 2021

 

In recent years there has been an insurgence in the comparisons between the world of George Orwell’s 1984 and that of our own. To some extent, one cannot deny the existence of similarities between the two, but it is deeply flawed to claim that both are one and the same simply because they share some things in common, even more so when those similarities are nuanced and remarkably different in terms of how they’re put into practice and their severity. Censorship, for example, is present in both worlds, yet most censorship in our world is aimed at people which pose a threat to a nation’s citizens; e.g. Trump’s ban on Twitter due to the constant spread of misinformation and the long-awaited ban of the far-right dominated app Parler. In 1984, on the other hand, what was censored and immediately eradicated from recorded history was anything that might have harmed the Party’s grasp on the people it controlled.

 

We cannot, of course, ignore the fact that our world also suffers from censorship aimed at people who want to do good by exposing corruption in governments or corporations, the difference in nuance here is that – more often than not – the unfair censorship leaks out onto the internet and the public becomes aware of it taking place rather fast. The issue, sadly, is that nothing usually seems to come out of people being aware; it is rare that they would get together and act whenever unfair censorship was exposed. What you’re more likely to encounter instead is a post or two online lamenting the unjust censorship, without any further action from the poster. Either way, not even taking into consideration the differences in nuance, it is still rather insulting to people that actually have lived through totalitarian regimes (or still are) to even think that whatever is going on in America or in any of its geopolitical relatives* is remotely close to such regime.

 

1984, at its core, is a non-comical caricaturisation of Stalinism, intended to work as both a critique of the government under Stalin’s rule, but also as a cautionary tale, informing its readers of the consequences and dangers of totalitarianism if it were to go on for too long; or at all! Our world, in juxtaposition, is one mainly dominated by capitalism, a “regime” long gone from the world of 1984. This difference already is large enough to hinder the arguments in favour of our world being Orwellian – the terrors one can face under two such difference regimes are fundamentally different. It is egregious to compare the state that America is in to any truly totalitarian regime. Yes, Trump – to put it mildly – was a rather poor excuse of a president, yet to no extent was he attempting to rewrite the past in order to take a hold of the future; neither was he having any one person keep an eye on all of America’s people 24/7, or throwing people freely marching against him or constantly speaking out against him or members of his administration into prisons in order to torture them to the point of becoming mindless puppets of the state. One in favour of placing 1984’s vision of the world and our own into the same bracket would easily look at the previous paragraph and draw similarities between many aspects of both worlds, yet, as previously mentioned, these similarities are nuanced to the point in which one can’t simply point to them sharing a thing or two in common and then call them one and the same.

 

We can form a quick example by comparing the telescreens used in 1984 to spy on Party members and the N.S.A.’s scare on people across the globe. In 2013, former C.I.A. employee Edward Snowden leaked classified information revealing that N.S.A. was building a database of U.S. telephone records and also amassing a collection of captured images from video chat users on applications such as Yahoo!. This leak confirmed the one fear most people shared: that they were being listened to and watched at every moment. People began to panic and act all around the globe, even though the issue was centralised in America. Tapes covered laptop and mobile-phone cameras, apps were uninstalled due to uncertainty over N.S.A. influence, and, surprisingly or not, Orwell’s 1984 saw an increase in sales. No doubt, people spotted a connection; yet, once again, they fell short of taking the nuance of the event into consideration. The fundamental difference comes from the intent. We are told, by O’Brien—the figure 1984s protagonist Winston looks up to and ends up being betrayed and tortured by—the true intention of the Party’s use of these devices:

 

 

“We are not interested in those stupid crimes that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about.”

 

Telescreens purely exist in order to control what the Party members are thinking and feeling, whereas, when it comes to the N.S.A. spying on the people, they are predominantly interested in the exact opposite; the overt act. They care about signs that could anticipate a terrorist attack or other dangers. To this day, it is improbable that any one person would spend an entire day spying on all the actions of a single individual. Now envision that upscaled to the entire population of a country, and you are left with Orwell’s idea of the telescreen.

 

One aspect of this issue appearing only in our world and not that of 1984 is one which paradoxically is created by people’s freedom to do (mostly) whatever they please. Just this past year, Zoom, due to flaws in its systems and security, made it possible for anyone to gain access to their users’ cameras and microphones without them even knowing. Now, it’s up to each of us to decide what is more jarring: the government keeping an eye out for signs of terrorism, or strangers breaking into our devices and doing who-knows-what with the footage they collect.

 

To take matters of comparison even further, we can discuss the difference in the power of persuasion present in the two worlds. In 1984, Big Brother, through serious efforts, ensures that anything that has ever been written, recorded or said in the past, which obviously does not match the Party’s agenda on how they plan to shape the present and future, is quickly disposed of and replaced with “accurate” information instead. In our world, there is no need for that. If someone were to walk upon a podium in front of thousands of people, it would only take a reasonable amount of confidence behind their statement to make the audience believe what they are saying. There is no need for fact-checking, or fact-replacing; as long as the charisma is there and the crowd holds partial bias towards said leader, the people will believe it. I’m not entirely sure what leads us to this yet, I suspect that people are drawn towards believing anything that solidifies their pre-existent world views, or a belief in something that makes them feel safe.

 

The simple fact that this article – and many others which critique certain aspects of governments and their leaders – can exist, should be proof-enough that our world is nothing like that of 1984. We still possess our freedom of speech, we are still able to gather and protest for our rights, we are still able to envision change all whilst dealing with problems uniquely terrorising our own world. In certain regards, some of these problems are actually worse than their counterparts in 1984, but the intrinsic differences between these issues are so vast that our world’s problems are chiefly our own; they are not brought over as if by a bout of Orwellian prophecy.

 

*There is an unforgivable amount of ignorance present in the people daring to compare our world to that of 1984, not because our world isn’t plagued by totalitarian regimes – either poorly disguised or more upfront – but because these people aren’t even referring to the entire world when they coin phrases such as “our world,” “we live in a world,” “our lives.” It has become the norm as of recent times that these phrases generally only refer to the USA and its democratic relatives such as Canada, South Korea, Japan and Western Europe, which reflect a limited outlook on the world by any one person using these phrases in this way. This article is a response solely to those people and is not meant to portray ignorance towards people still suffering from totalitarian rule.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Bill Smith on Flickr