[FOUNTAIN]Exam scandal offers shades Orwell’s fear

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[FOUNTAIN]Exam scandal offers shades Orwell’s fear

Three years before his death in 1949, George Orwell in his book, “Why I Write,” said: “From a very early age, perhaps five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer.”
The British author was a man of great insight. Five decades before the Soviet Union collapsed, he foresaw the event in “Animal Farm,” a satiric allegory about corruption and authoritarian rule. He also wrote, “What I have most wanted to do throughout the past 10 years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice.”
What made Mr. Orwell more famous was “1984,” a powerful novel about the threat to individual freedom, published a year before his death. His description of the terror of the bureaucratic state still chills readers. The lesson of “Animal Farm” is that a society can trend toward totalitarianism the moment its members start flattering those in power. This notion became a virtual reality in the form of Big Brother in “1984.”
Winston Smith, the protagonist of “1984,” is watched 24 hours through a telescreen. He can turn down the sound, but he cannot turn off the camera. Smith is watched all the time, “asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed.” On the wall, the caption reads, “Big Brother Is Watching You,” and it is not an empty statement. Having been deprived of the right to be alone and private, man becomes part of a puppet show of the powers that be and brings about his own destruction. Does this happen just in fiction?
The ubiquitous closed-circuit cameras in our society are not the only menace. In the course of investigating the cheating scheme that used the text messaging function on cell phones in this year’s College Scholastic Ability Test, mobile service providers handed over to police a list of text messages exchanged by their customers. The basic principle to safeguard the privacy of the clients was ignored in front of the supposedly grander cause of securing the fairness of the national exam.
The liberty to keep private life private and uninterrupted is the basis and promise of the democratic society. It might have been an exceptional case in the time of emergency, but we need to make sure it is not a sign of the society’s inclination to surveillance.

by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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