The 67th anniversary of the publishing of George Orwell’s iconic book, “1984” was recently celebrated and reminded me of my first reading more than 35 years ago. Drawn to it because it corresponded with my high school graduation year, the one that I had been writing in steam on the school bus windows since an older child had told me that there was such a thing. If the tome was identified with this special number, then it must be of great consequence! Besides, on the prescribed middle school reading list, it was the shortest.
As I read the book, I found its dystopian perspective depressing. The language was confusing. And, a super-state leading perpetual war seemed entirely unrealistic. Well, perspectives can change as we age and come to have a better understanding of the intentions underlying an author’s work. Orwell once said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Like in so many things, he is probably right.
It is the nature of humankind to be conceited, obsessed with our own dazzling brilliance and dominion over both the past and future. And, it also is the nature of humankind to be wrong. Certainly, learning can be accumulated over the generations. However, there is no evidence to support the notion that individual intelligence is greater now than it was any point in history. Our perspective may have shifted, but our ability to process what we see is likely not much different. Wisdom, on the other hand, may actually flow as described. When we looked at our seniors, we were too young and ignorant to understand their wisdom. Likewise, our juniors are ill positioned to see ours. But, if we know of our folly, can we prevent it?