“You can turn it off!”

1 You can turn it off

This is a little tricky, because I’m trying to reach you amid the noise and the distraction, right through the telescreen. You may never find the message through all the clamor, or if you do, it will have been an accident that you found this — but what a fortunate accident. And here we are.

Mr. Orwell’s prescient book never exactly explained how telescreens appeared in every house, on every street corner — how Big Brother established a system of constant surveillance. Well, you see how it happened now, don’t you, for here you are, reading the words on your personal telescreen, this handy and useful device that cost you hundreds of dollars and you carry with you everywhere? Yep, they made your chains so convenient and attractive that you just had to have them, right?

The lure of the telescreen is so intense: “I just need to check — I just need to see what’s going on out there — I just need —” Need is such a big word. It implies an overwhelming desire, a life essential — “I just need” — and once in the grip of the telescreen, you are sucked into the vortex like Dorothy heading to Oz or Alice through the Looking Glass, and then … “What was I doing? How did I get here? I was trying to do something — what was it? — and then I found myself here, lost in a maelstrom of conflicting notions, fighting with friends and acquaintances and strangers — but what was I doing in the first place? How do I return to the task at hand? It was important — wasn’t it? How did I get here? Maybe if I follow the road — follow the road back home …”

The telescreen was just reassuring me that ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery, war is peace — but no, that’s not right, is it? I was was thinking something else, something different, and it seemed to make more sense. Maybe I was mistaken — have you seen my new telescreen? I just got the latest upgrade. Isn’t it fine?

“I SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE,” said the monitor. “STOP IT.”

What am I doing?

“NEVER MIND WHAT. JUST STOP IT.”

No.

“‘NO’ IS NOT AN OPTION, WINSTON. I MEAN, NUMBER 6. I MEAN, WHOEVER YOU THINK YOU ARE.”

Do I make you nervous, Party Man?

“DON’T BE ABSURD. I SEE YOUR KIND ALL THE TIME. YOU’LL BE GONE IN A LITTLE WHILE.”

But anyone who tries to think for themselves, think it all through, they’re dangerous to you, aren’t they?

“THEY’RE DANGEROUS TO THEMSELVES. THEY’RE DANGEROUS TO EVERYONE. THEY’RE DANGEROUS TO THE GREATER GOOD!”

And you have to stop them — violently eradicate them — don’t you? We can’t let peaceful resistance stand, can we? Can you? Because you need people to say “yes” to you. “No” is not an option, you just said. Muster the courage and the discipline to tell you “no,” and it all crumbles. You have no power against noncooperation.

“OF COURSE WE DO. NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE WILL BE CRUSHED, AND MORE QUICKLY THAN VIOLENT RESISTANCE.”

Will it, now? Can you really crush a revolution that refuses to participate in your madness to the extent that it will not respond to your violence with violence in kind? “An eye for an eye” leads to universal darkness. What if there’s another way?”

“THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. RECONNECT TO THE TELESCREEN AND YOU’LL UNDERSTAND.”

No. I’m turning my screen off now. We’re all disconnecting and reaching out to touch each other in real life, real time.

“NO! YOU CAN’T DO THAT! IT’S TOO DANGEROUS!”

Too dangerous to you, perhaps. I see freedom in the wind. I see reality reshaping. You do, too, and you fear it, don’t you, puppet master? Harmony and understanding are not so good for you, but for a world of free men and women, oh so real, oh so liberating, oh so much love to be shared.

– – –

It would be too much of a fairy tale to say we lived happily ever after, for there were many who could not separate from the telescreen, who insisted that Ignorance is Strength and all that. But eventually even they grew tired of shouting and rampaging, and they accepted freedom and peace and a world without shackles.

And a day finally came when an old one reminisced about the magic telescreen with its flashing sights and sounds and its promises of everything you need. “We would be looking at it all the time,” the old one sighed. And the children looked about at the wonder and the glory of the real world and asked, puzzled, “Why?” and the old one had no answer.

– – –

“The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out … without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.” — H.L. Mencken

Published by WarrenBluhm

Wordsmith and podcaster, Warren is a reporter, editor and storyteller who lives near the shores of Green Bay with his wife, two golden retrievers, and an insistent cat. Author of How to Play a Blue Guitar, A Bridge at Crossroads, Refuse to be Afraid, and A Scream of Consciousness.

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