It’s 1984 Every Day Now

The dystopian world envisioned by George Orwell is coming to pass right before our eyes. The pandemic did not create this, it only exposes it. The origins are as old as Cain’s murder of Abel and his denial of responsibility for doing so. The evolution of egotism and ethnocentrism is etched in stone in human history. The seeds sown by Ayn Rand are bearing deadly fruit today and poisoning the souls of toxic leaders. It’s 1984 every day now.

There are more factors making this so than any of us know about, for many deadening dynamics have a life of their own in back rooms filled with the noxious smoke of sub-rosa scheming. But other factors can be seen. The convergence of two ideologies is especially observable in these days:  economic entitlement and the survival of the fittest. Looked at separately, each one is chilling.

Economic entitlement—-In the past couple of weeks, certain leaders have played their materialistic hands, saying that the loss of life is justifiable in the larger need to keep the economic system going. Some of these people hold federal-level offices, others are found at state and local levels. Together they form a network of deception.  On the surface, their claim seems obvious—until we ask one question: “What kind of economy do these people want to preserve?” 

The answer is, the current one—the one that enriches the rich….the one that exempts big business from paying its fair share of taxes….the one that perpetuates a weaponized mindset and a warfare mentality that makes bullets and bombs a multi-trillion dollar machine….the one which engages in the same practices it denounces other countries for doing….the one that calls citizen assistance “socialism” until it needs to be bailed out itself….the one varnished over with God-talk from false prophets who try to make us believe “the kingdoms of this world” is the Kingdom of God….the one  that funds the super PACS which keeps the “return to work” oligarchs and demagogues in power. If the economic factor was the only poison, it would be perilous. But it connects with a second one.

Survival of the fittest—-Ayn Rand’s showcase ethic is now emerging as a defining factor in the pandemic, and in a forecasted overburdened healthcare system in a new-normal world of mutating viruses. Medical schools are being asked to develop guidelines for determining who is treated when there is not enough equipment and medication to go around. Some of the pending proposals are decidedly ageist in their content. [1]  But apart from the ethical question of what constitutes “a life worth saving,” the healthcare system is itself held hostage by the economic entitlement system described above.

This becomes clear when we ask questions like these: “How many more ventilators could be made if the money spent on militarism were diverted to their manufacture?” —-”How much money would there be to develop vaccines if companies currently paying no taxes had to pay the same fair-share amounts required of the rest of us?”—–”How many more medical supplies and protective gear for healthcare workers could be available if celebrities and athletes (and their agents and owners ) did not make exorbitant salaries to entertain us?”—-”How many more people could be cared for in the current healthcare system if CEO’s (and other comparable ones in the church and society) were compensated in sync with what they pay their employees?”  Etc.  Etc.

Yes, it is 1984 every day now, but we are not here by accident.  We are here by choices which have created systems of exploitation. It is 1984 now because a sinister network of people and groups believe that the victimization of “the many” is acceptable if “the few” prosper. Donald Trump is the public face of 1984, but he is more a pawn in the system than the president of it.  He is not a king or a savior. He is merely an incarnation that enables us to see what people become when Narcissus rules their minds and hearts.

The big problem, however, is not that it’s 1984 today. The big problem is that we resign ourselves to the lies it perpetrates. The truth is now, as it always is, that power is in people, not potentates. The fuel of elitism is an anesthetized populace. The greatest threat to demagoguery is an awakened citizenry. The current pandemic is an opportunity to take back what has been ours all along—life governed by a commitment to the common good.  Oligarchs are dead men walking whenever the people they victimize rise up and say, “No more!”

[1] Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s article, “Avoiding Ageist Bias and Tragedy in Triage” (April 15, 2020) in Tikkun online provides an excellent overview of the survival of the fittest views being written into some of the proposed guidelines for healthcare in times of pandemics and shortages

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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