It’s a common theme in dystopian fiction, from Orwell’s 1984 (and probably before that) to the present day (for example, the Half-Life series): in a terrible future (or present), society is controlled by an interlocking network of “Ministries,” and in some instances, a single omniscient Ministry. This Ministry (or Ministries) are responsible for the provision of all food, entertainment, news, et cetera. The citizens are so utterly dependent on these Ministries, and so blindly trusting of them, that they are completely and utterly unable to operate without them, which is why it inevitably requires a grizzled action hero to rouse them from their mental slumber.
By this point, readers are probably wondering what the point of all this is. Well, here it is. You think all these Ministry-based plots are fiction? Think again.
You see, we’re currently facing a dreadful trifecta of Ministries that is soon to fulfill all of our basic needs, leaving us so brain-dead and utterly dependent that we’re incapable of independent action or thought. They are:
- The Ministry of Truth (yes, I’m quoting Orwell again. Deal with it): Google and Wikipedia seem to have pretty much cornered the market on knowledge, as far as your average Internet consumer is concerned. My Science and Society professor just yesterday referenced Wikipedia (a notoriously un-neutral and inaccurate source for something calling itself an “encyclopedia”) in a lecture about the mind-body problem. The mind-body problem! A spiritual topic that is just about as hotly- and angrily-debated as whether evolution should be taught in public schools. And he trusted Wikipedia, of all sources, to be his unbiased provider of information. The encyclopedia that anyone, including (especially) angry zealots (on both sides of the issue) can edit! Now, I must admit that I myself am not innocent in this regard: Google is essentially a sort of personal Deity. I’m not even certain that I know how to find information any other way any more, and when Google the Omniscient fails to provide the answers I’m looking for, I’m about as helpless as an overturned tortoise with Krazy Glue on its back.
- The Ministry of Plenty: When was the last time you were in a grocery store that didn’t sell every product imaginable? Last week, I went to Target to buy a sweater, and later complained to someone that I’d forgotten to buy some vital food item or other at the grocer’s. This person then gleefully informed me that they do in fact carry that item at Target. I went back later, and, sure enough, Target has a grocery section! Okay. So, in addition to not knowing how to find reasonably unbiased information any more, now I have no idea where to get food, clothing, and novelty erotic items if they’re not all housed in the same store. Terrific.
- The Ministry of Love: I struggled to find an Orwellian correlate to the ministry in 1984 responsible for torture, but I’m such a committed 1984 freak that I actually found a way. Now, I was going to lump the rapidly-condensing news media into the aforementioned Ministry of Truth, but given the fact that I’ve actually seen contemporary television, I’m convinced that it’s no longer intended for entertainment, but for the torture of people who enjoy independent films and occasional treks off the couch. After all, how many reality shows have cropped up (or spawned like the deformed, demonic, parasitic insects that they are) in the last year or so? I can’t count them, mainly because that would require keeping up with them, which would almost certainly sap my rapidly-waning will to live. And network news? Well, actually, its proper title is “network
newscrappy hackneyed sob-stories pregnant with thinly-disguised political agendas.” And when I say pregnant, I mean pregnant. Okay, well, maybe services like the BBC, CNN, and NPR are only “a little bit pregnant,” but an outlet like, say, Fox news, is about as pregnant as that enormous and disgusting insect queen, distended with writhing larvae, that the sci-fi hero has to defeat with a grenade, producing suitably disgusting splattery results. I know that’s a long simile, but I take every opportunity to make peculiar and often repulsive cultural references. Anyway, Fox is pregnant with agendas. It’s annoying. Annoying rapidly becomes torture when the reporters actually pretend to be sincere about what they’re saying. I mean, come on! I’m not that bright — the Internet and television have seen to that — but I’m not that stupid (at least not yet; not until I start watching American Idol).
So, we basically have all the non-life-affirming Ministries of 1984, and there is no doubt a Big Brother figure soon to emerge as the “beneficient”, omniscient ruler of them all. But that remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are rapidly becoming (if we’re not already) the dependent Ministry-junkies that are featured in every aforementioned dystopian tale. And I know that I brought quite a lot of sardonic humor to the above descriptions, but I stand by them as serious warnings, too. Think about it. Don’t get dependent. The only thing that will save you is independent thought. Use a real (paper) encyclopedia occasionally (if you can find one). Search with another search engine. And for Google’s sake, don’t find that other search engine by Googling “search engine”!!! Or, even worse, go to a library. You remember libraries, right? Well, you will if you were born before 1988.
More food for thought, as always.