Big Brother

The first Thought Police.

George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, published in 1949, offers us a vision of a world 35 years ahead set in a dystopian future where the Party is kept in power by its minions the Thought Police. It was their job to ensure people did not get the ‘wrong’ ideas about the society they were living in. A society where Big Brother is watching you and public mind control was the norm. Of course we know this has not happened in our time (although some politicians might like it) but has it already happened?

In 1984 The Party are introducing what they call Newspeak. A reduced vocabulary of language, as a means of limiting the expression of thoughts and ideas and in doing so limiting and controlling thought itself. This was all designed solely to keep The Party in power and no one to question it. Although the book never expressly says it, members of the inner party were, or perhaps tried to give the impression that they were, the keepers of the knowledge. The secrets that kept the world turning.

For Christian readers of this blog, maybe, like it did me, this puts you in mind of a group of people from the time of Jesus. Have you noticed how the Pharisees sometimes appeared to behave? I have to admit that in this instance the original idea of this post was not my own; I fleshed it out from a thought that arose in a sermon by Joanne, one of our lay ministers, on Luke 18: 9-14.

It is quite possible to imagine the Pharisees as The Party, with a desire, albeit less developed or sophisticated, to control the population. Whilst they might not have ‘destroyed’ words, as in 1984, they often did their best to keep their education and learning to themselves.

It is clear in the passage from Luke that they considered themselves to be above other men, some of whom they considered barely worth bothering with as they, apparently, brought no value. The Pharisees were intent on maintaining their own power and in at least one instance they might have employed a primitive (but perhaps at that time forward thinking) means of mind control, in the psychology of directing, or at least influencing a crowd.

When Pontius Pilate offered the people of Jerusalem the choice of prisoner to release at the Passover festival, they chose the murderer Barabbas. An odd choice you might think but Influencing the crowd to shout for Barabbas instead of Jesus might not have been that hard.

It has been amply shown in more recent times how it is easy to get ‘caught up in the moment’ in a crowd. It would only have taken a few men planted in the crowd by the pharisees, who might have already known Barabbas was to be offered as a choice for release, to shout at the right moment for others to get caught up and the ripples spread through the crowd; a kind of public mind control, it seems. This resulted in the ‘wrong man’ being released. Or did it? …

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky
dangerous animals and you know it”. – Agent K, in the film Men In Black


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