Big Brother and the Chocolate Rations

The story is not as happy as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. However fantastic that confectionery vision may have been, the spread of Newspeak and state-imposed scarcity is no longer a somewhat implausible literary fantasy. I am thinking of the manner in which the government promotes “affordable care” (the ultimate in Big Brotherish oxymorons) as if it were a political blessing. A fictional illustration is the “chocolate ration” parable of George Orwell’s 1984.

As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a ‘categorical pledge’ were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

The masses are given an unqualified guarantee. Later the written record is redacted so that it appears that the promise was never made or else that it was conditional. Even worse, what should be an occasion of shame and disappointment is turned into a triumph of central planning.

The new ration did not start till tomorrow and [Winston] had only four cigarettes left. For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be REDUCED to twenty grammes a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours?… Was he, then, ALONE in the possession of a memory?

Orwell’s concern was not imaginary, even in his day. The novel was essentially a dramatization of his essay “Politics and the English Language,” and drew on the author’s experience with Communism (in the Spanish Civil War) where “re-education” and ideological deception were part of everyday life.

Related posts: The Politics of Insincerity and Pieper on Language and Power

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