Thursday, December 22, 2011

The real '1984'

It is hard to believe that Orwell's Oceania, the dystopian state that provides the setting for "Nineteen Eighty-Four," could actually exist. But it does. We know it as North Korea (or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea). And it currently imprisons some 25 million souls. The Atlantic's Max Fisher writes:
North Korea is saturated with state propaganda and little else. Outside radio signals are jammed, while radios blasting state messages are installed in every home and impossible to turn off. Fax machines and internet access are both illegal except for a small cadre of trusted elite. Computers must be registered with the police as if they were hunting rifles. Schools double as indoctrination centers; children are taught songs with titles like "We Have Nothing to Envy In the World" as soon as they can speak. Many towns in North Korea have no cars or little food beyond cornmeal, but every single one has a movie theater, where the 40 films produced every year by state-run studios depict the greatness of the Kim family and the awfulness of the outside world.

Expression is so limited that even certain colors are off-limits for personal use. Without exposure to any ideas or version of events from outside North Korea or even from fellow North Koreans not directly involved in disseminating propaganda, people have no reason to doubt the official version: they are living in the happiest, richest country on Earth, and they are constantly beset by an external threat that could end everything if they are not vigilant. The American threat is portrayed within North Korea as ever-present and horrifying.
Fisher's piece ("Gulag of the Mind: Why North Koreans Cry for Kim Jong Il") is gripping. It is a sad reminder of what men will do (and have always done) for the sake of power and its maintenance for the few, or the one. North Korea serves the Kim family, and nothing more. And we have the audacity to call ourselves Homo sapien, Latin for "wise man." Not yet ...
Stretching in front of you the night's immensity
Hides the western hill where sleeps the distant sun;
Still with bated breath the world is counting time and swimming
Across the shoreless dark a crescent moon
Has thinly just appeared upon the dim horizon.
--But O my bird, O sightless bird,
Not yet, not yet the time to furl your wings.

Rabindranath Tagore ("Hard Times")

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