The novel that George Orwell wrote – which gave rise to the term ‘Orwellian’ – is 1984. He was inspired by the autocratic regime of Soviet Russia for its cruel oppression of the common person, who had their personal freedoms stripped away from them. Orwell’s books were subsequently banned in Russia for its criticism of Stalin’s methods (and ironically by some states in the US).
In Orwell’s book, government agencies are hard at work to cleanse society of wrong thinking, and has defined what correct thinking is. Thinking, or worse – saying or writing – the wrong thing is a “thoughtcrime” and gets you arrested. People arrested for thoughtcrime disappear.
Sounds disturbingly familiar, doesn’t it?
Orwellian censorship & free thought
There’s an awful lot of finger pointing going on in social media these days. Today’s wokeism and cancel culture is making Orwell’s “thoughtcrime” a reality. In today’s cancel culture, saying the wrong thing – something not approved by the woke vigilantes and PC police – could cost you your career.
Intellectual courage in the face of official censorship.
My recent novel, Heretic, is set in a dark dystopian future, an Orwellian world in which saying the wrong thing will get you sent to a re-education camp for sensitivity counselling, and possessing books not approved by the government is a criminal offense.
When I first started working on Heretic a few years ago, I had in mind autocratic regimes led by tyrants, such as we see in present day Russia, North Korea – and increasingly countries like Hungary and Belarus – in which freedom of thought and expression is actively repressed. People who don’t tow the party line are arrested – especially in Russia where it’s a criminal offense to question the war against Ukraine.
Wokeism makes it a thoughtcrime to question their beliefs
In the democratic west, wokeism, political correctness and a cancel culture is managing to do in an unofficial capacity what tyrants will seek to do officially.
Heretic is set in a future that is all too plausible now, thanks to political correctness and wokeism gone crazy. It portrays a dystopian world in which you can be arrested for believing the wrong thing, and possessing books not approved by the government is a criminal offense. Post something on social media that offends people – that hurts their feelings – and you get incarcerated in a re-education camp for sensitivity training.
It’s a world in which ‘correct’ thinking is narrowly defined and dissenters are arrested for thoughtcrime.
That’s not as far fetched as you may think. Recently a Harvard professor was forced to get counselling and take sensitivity classes after writing something that some found offensive and hurtful. Many people have lost their jobs for tweeting something others found “offensive”.
Heretic follows the story of Jack, who is raised by his mother to be a loyal citizen of the New Regime. The Regime has strictly defined what is acceptable to believe and think, and has banned all books that it does not approve of. Dissenters are arrested as intellectual terrorists.
Libraries are no longer for making books freely available, but for burning them. Anyone in possession of a book not approved by the Regime is expected to drop it off at the nearest library. The librarian’s job is simple: make sure they get properly incinerated.
Jack’s father was a famous scientist who went missing shortly after being branded a criminal for intellectual dissent. Later, his father is presumed dead in a suspicious car crash.
But Jack’s life is turned upside down when he finds evidence that his father is still alive – and on the run from the Regime. Jack risks everything to look for his father, and soon finds himself in a deadly race against shadowy agents of the New Regime who also want to find the missing scientist.
Heretic is about intellectual courage in the face of wokeism and the cancel culture.