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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1984 and Star Trek.

I saw the picture of the "There are 4 lights" sign at the march for science. It reminded me that there are a lot of similarities between that episode and George Orwell's 1984. We think of 1984 as Big Brother and surveillance everywhere, but there's more to it than that. In the novel, Winston, the main character writes in his journal, "Freedom is the ability to say that two and two make four. Given that, all else follows." Later on, Winston is arrested. O'Brien, the Party member, says "If we say two and two is five, it's five." He then uses this to torture Winston. O'Brien holds up 2 fingers in his left hand and 2 fingers in his right hand, and asks, "How many fingers are there?" When Winston says, "4," he is beaten. After several rounds of this, Winston finally says, "It's whatever you say it is." At the end of the novel, Winston is sitting in the pub. He traces in the dust on the table, "2+2=5." At the end of the episode, Picard says, "You know, there really were 5 lights."

The point of both the novel and the episode is that there are objective truths that no one can change just on a whim. Freedom is the ability to accept these truths, and act in accordance with them. In an appendix to 1984, Orwell talked about Newspeak, the language in the novel. He quoted the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In Newspeak, that entire passage could be reduced to one word: crimethink. It was a crime in Orwell's world to even think that way.

In torture, one of the elements is the torturer is right, and you're wrong, regardless of the evidence. That's what the episode and the novel were trying to portray. Even such simple questions as the number of lights or what is 2+2 can be twisted to give the torturer leverage.

I realize this is a long post. I also realize it's not like a lot of other posts on here. To me, though, this represents what Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek. He used science fiction to explore current social issues. Other authors like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Rod Serling did the same thing. Freedom is the ability to say that 2+2=4, and that there are 4 lights. Given that, all else follows.
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