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"This is just like 1984!"

Referencing "1984" has become a staple of social media discourse. Whenever a trend rubs someone the wrong way, they are quick to label it "Orwellian," shorthand for an all-seeing Big Brother and a world where individual freedom has been crushed beneath the boot of a totalitarian regime. It's become a smug, unbeatable trump card—pun not intended.

I can't help but feel that most people using the term "Orwellian" haven't read the book since high school.

Yes, there are Orwell enthusiasts who have pored over every page of 1984 and processed its prescient warnings about the dangers of unchecked government power. They can see the novel's central themes: the importance of individual liberty, the perils of groupthink, and the way movements can be twisted to serve the interests of the powerful.  

But on the other side, you have the Orwellian alarmists. This far more prominent, more vocal, and frequently right-wing contingent seems to believe that any personal inconvenience or disagreement is tantamount to living under the iron fist of the Thought Police. They throw around Orwell's name with the same casual certainty that they reference the Bible - but their understanding of the work is equally as superficial. 

Their prayer to Orwell in passionate defense of modern-day Nazism is an obvious example. In the wake of the alt-right explosion following the 2016 election, we've seen a growing movement to condemn and counter extremist ideologies, from public demonstrations to online campaigns. We’ve seen people call out publishers like Substack for platforming abhorrent views. For most reasonable people, this opposition represents a necessary stand against bigotry and hatred, a defense of the values of equality and human dignity. But to the fragile free-speech absolutists, it is a sign of a society sliding into totalitarianism, a world where opinions are being suppressed in the name of political correctness.

They point to the free market de-platforming the alt-right as evidence of a world where free speech is under attack. They see the push for social justice and anti-racism as a slippery slope towards a future where all dissent is crushed, and all individuality is erased. The more informed among them use Orwell's essay "What is Fascism?" to portray the left as eager to mislabel anyone on the right while comfortably ignoring their team's undeniable penchant for the Swastika and turning a deaf ear to Charlottesville's Hitlerian chant, "The Jew will not replace us."

Therein lies the rub: George Orwell was not a defender of fascism. 

He was a lifelong anti-fascist who took up arms against the forces of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

When the Orwellian alarmists cry foul over opposition to Neo-Nazis, they are not standing up for the principles that Orwell held dear. They are not defending the right to dissent or the freedom to think for oneself. They are betraying the very essence of what Orwell stood for - the belief that a society must be vigilant against the forces of fascism and totalitarianism, even when they cloak themselves in the language of free speech.

The quivering, pointed, "Orwellian!" doom-finger has become a cheap rhetorical trick, a way for tantrum-throwing trolls to play the victim card whenever their dominance is challenged, to shut down debate and silence opposition, to make even the most basic demands for justice and equality seem like the work of a dystopian Gestapo.

But George Orwell would have seen through this ruse. He would have recognized it for what it is—a cynical ploy to defend the indefensible, to preserve a status quo of inequality and oppression. He would have been on the side of those fighting against it, those working to build a world where the values of democracy and human dignity are more than empty slogans.

The Orwellian alarmists are not confined to petulant bleating about Antifascism. The fragile right sees the specter of 1984 in every corner of modern life, from Pride Month to Black Lives Matter. It's "Orwellian" to want nationalized healthcare. It's "Orwellian" to treat people with respect. It's "Orwellian" to not be allowed to say the N-word. 

But even as they sound the alarm about the dangers of Big Brother, they seem curiously unconcerned about the very real encroachments on individual liberty happening around us.

They rail against the supposed authoritarianism of public health mandates but remain silent as governments around the world crack down on protesters and dissidents. They decry the perceived censorship of social media platforms but shrug their shoulders at state Governments banning books and criminalizing the discussion of transgender rights or institutional racism in the classroom. 

"1984" has become a catch-all for anything they dislike, divorced from any real understanding of the novel's themes or the larger political context in which it was written.

And that is the great irony of the Orwellian alarmists.

By scare-mongering over the specter of 1984, they have become the very thing they claim to oppose: a group of people so convinced of their righteousness that they are willing to dismiss any viewpoint that challenges their own, so sure of their truth that they are blind to how they are being manipulated and controlled by rabble-rousing right-wing media.

George Orwell was not an abstract critic of totalitarianism. He was a gun-carrying enemy of it who saw how easily we can be swayed by groupthink and conformity and how quickly we can abandon our principles in the face of fear and uncertainty. He recognized the persuasive power of orthodoxy, the way that even the most well-intentioned among us can be led astray by the promise of authoritarian order. 

The spirit of George Orwell’s work is antithetical to the blind invocation of his name. It can only be found in the courage to think for ourselves, to defy entrenched power, and to fight for a world where individual freedom and human dignity have value.

Yes, even if someone else wearing a rainbow pin makes you feel personally attacked.

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