Episode 25: Summer Book Club - 1984, Part 2

As part of the podcast series Solutions for Higher Education, SUU President Scott L Wyatt will lead a “Summer Reading Club” focusing on a new book each month. Readers who join the podcast will be given an introduction to the book by Scott Wyatt and podcast host Steve Meredith near the beginning of each month, and then near the end of the month, an expert guest will join the conversation to give additional insight and context to the completed reading.

July - 1984 by George Orwell
If judged by its impact on the English language alone,1984 is an important novel. Phrases such as “Big Brother is Watching,” “Thought Police,” “Newspeak,” “Memory Holed,” and Doublethink” have become commonly used expressions. Even the author’s name has become an adjective - - “Orwellian” is used to describe mis-information and totalitarianism. Orwell, writing in 1949 after years of war in Europe paints a dystopian picture of continual warfare and a government that places its citizens under constant surveillance, while feeding them distorted information. The primary characters, Winston and Julia risk everything to express their love for one another, and ultimately they pay that price.


Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and, as always, I'm joined in-studio today by President Wyatt. Hello, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve. It's a great day today, thanks.  

Meredith: So, we're on book two of our summer book challenge. And we had a little teaser for it—we're studying the book 1984 by George Orwell—and we're hoping at least that our audience has now read the book, and we've invited a couple of guest experts to come in and join us and offer their insights into the book. Would you take a few minutes to introduce them?

Wyatt: Yeah. Let's start with you, Joy. So, Joy Sterrantino, faculty member at SUU in the English department, teaches literature and 1984 is a book you regularly teach?

Joy Sterrantino: Yes.

Wyatt: And earlier this month, we had a chance to visit with you briefly about this book, but why don't you tell us what is it about dystopian novels that pulls you in?

Sterrantino: Dystopian novels is one of my areas of study for my master's degree, and 1984 specifically was the book that got me into this genre, and now that people have read it, I can actually explain why. It was the first book that I'd ever read where you protagonist didn't win, and I was dumbfounded by that when I read it for the first time.

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Sterrantino: I can't remember how old I was—it might have been sixth grade or something like that, maybe seventh grade—and I was so dumbfounded by the fact that they didn't win, and that it was going to continue in this terrible state and nobody could do anything about it that I was just drawn into that. As difficult as it was to read, I was fascinated with that idea.

Wyatt: Yeah. We don't really like stories without happy endings, do we? 

Sterrantino: Yeah, which is funny because I read these kind of books all the time, but at the same time, I'm very frustrated at the end. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: And we're also joined by Doug Bennett. Doug, you have been the department chair in our political science department.

Doug Bennett: Yes.

Wyatt: But that's really not the story about Doug Bennett, because you've spent a whole career in Washington D.C. Why don't you give us just a little bit of an introduction to your life?

Bennett: Well, I'm a graduate of the University of Utah College of Law, and following law school, I accepted a position in the U.S. House of Representatives as Council for the Committee on Energy and Commerce. And I was there working on trade issues—consumer protection issues—I was the lead Republican Council for NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and also the Common-Sense Product Liability Act of 1995, which was the first tort reform to pass both Houses of Congress and then it went down the avenue and President Clinton vetoed it, but it was fun to work on it and get it through the Congress. And then I got married and I left Capitol Hill and I became a lobbyist for a small lobbying firm called Public Strategies and I went from Public Strategies to one of D.C.'s premier lobbying firms, Timmons & Company, where I was executive vice president before joining the Liberty Mutual Group as vice president of international government affairs. And I was with Liberty for ten years and spent the latter part of my career with Liberty in Asia much of the time trying to get licenses in Vietnam and China.

Wyatt: And then after you spent that career, you and your wife retired to Southern Utah?

Bennett: Yes.

Wyatt: And then joined our faculty.

Bennett: Yes. Retirement was a little different than I expected. [All laugh] After about six weeks, I started looking around thinking, "What am I going to do today?" So, I was delighted at the chance to teach political science at SUU, it's been a wonderful thing.

Wyatt: I think this is a great group to talk about this book with because we've got a literature expert, a government expert, I think it's fair to say, Doug, you've already mentioned that you served in Republican spots, and Joy, you wouldn't describe yourself as a Republican.

Sterrantino: No. [All laugh]

Bennett: I don't always either. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, every once in a while, I wonder what Party is what. These labels don't always work for us.

Sterrantino: Right.

Wyatt: But I think it's fair to say that Doug, you tend to be more Conservative, and Joy, you tend to be more Liberal politically.

Sterrantino: Yes.

Wyatt: And so here we are with this broad group discussion of the book 1984. And Winston Smith who doesn't win in the end.

Meredith: In a really spectacular way.

Wyatt: In a spectacular way.

Sterrantino: Yeah.

Meredith: A really awful way.

Wyatt: Well, why is this book so important for us today?

Sterrantino: I'll start. This book is a warning. The book that actually influenced Orwell to write this book was a book called We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and he wrote a book—it's not exactly the same, but the buildings were all clear so you could always be seen, everybody was labeled with a number, there was a lot of controlling of nature—and when he wrote that, he was trying to warn Russia about the way Communism was coming and that it was really bad and people wouldn't listen to him. The average person in the community just kind of laughed at him, and the government didn't and they kind of ruined his career and tried to get rid of all of the copies of this book. And he ended up exiled for the rest of his life. So, Orwell was basing it on that. There was a book that was specifically trying to warn people about a specific government, and so Orwell said, "Well, what would happen if we did this…what would happen if this happened in the part of the world that we think this can't happen in?" So, he wrote 1984. And the point of this—a lot of the point of it—we see it from Winston's point of view, and he's actually part of the small percentage of the population. So, we relate to Winston because he's to protagonist, but really, most of us are not part of that society. We'd essentially be the Proles. And one of the main points of the book is the Proles—the majority of the people—have a lot of power, but they have no idea that they do and that they could elicit change if they just realized it.

Wyatt: They have more power than they perceive. Yeah, that's really interesting. Doug, what would you say is one of the main reasons why we should be interested in this book today?

Bennett: I think the book reflects a reality that I slowly came to grips with in D.C. And the message of the book—you identified me as a Conservative—I used to be a very idealistic, young Neosocialist—and then I moved to Washington and started working in government and then I started traveling the world and seeing these places where these wonderful ideas were put into practice and it never quite works out the way that it's intended for the Proles, but it always works out the way that it's intended for the folks at the top. And that's because—this is what I've learned, and this is an excerpt from the book—I always thought government existed to help the poor, the homeless, the needy, to provide opportunities. Here's what I learned and here's what Orwell captured so succinctly:

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others. We are interested solely in power. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others…were cowards and hypocrites. The… Nazis and the Russian Communists came…close to us in their methods, but…never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps…even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes…revolution in order to establish…dictatorship.
That's what I learned about power in Washington.

Wyatt: So, what…be more specific.

Bennett: I was in Washington in 1994 when the Republicans took over after 40 years in the wilderness. They ran on a message of fiscal responsibility, economic almost-austerity, a promise to inject some fiscal discipline into the budgeting procedure. I saw with my own eyes as these men and women who I respected and worked for gained the majority and they were like kids who had been locked out of a candy store, and then suddenly, the lock falls off and they walk in and they say, "My goodness, look at all the candy! Let's give Steve some, let's give Scott some, let's give Joy some, and let's keep most of it for ourselves." And that's what happens. Power is an intoxicant, and people seek it and become intoxicated and then continue seeking it for its intoxicating effects. Power absolutely corrupts.

Sterrantino: Yeah, I do believe that. I still am idealistic in that the idea of like a Democratic Socialism, but obviously there has been different kinds of Socialism where the government obviously is the one that benefits and the people don't benefit, even though they are saying that they are benefiting from that. And so yeah, I do…that's part of one of my problems, personally, is that our government—other governments as well—but our government is more of an Oligarchy even now. We tend to just say it's a Democracy because we've always been saying it's a Democracy, but it's not really for the people. We don't have a lot of control over what actually happens. Maybe locally, but as far as like the whole government, we have very little control on what happens. People don't represent the people, elected officials don't…they're supposed to represent the people, but even I've written the Senator before and said, you know, "I'm worried about this." And then the Senator will write me back and say, "Well, this is what I believe" and I'm thinking, "No, you represent me. That's not what…I'm not asking you what you believe, I'm telling you what I believe because you're supposed to be representing me and other people like me."

Bennett: The fact of the matter is, like the Proles, people have tremendous power. They choose not to exercise it. Unorganized power is impedance. Most Americans don't even vote.

Sterrantino: Yeah, that kills me.

Bennett: I used to do a lot of political fundraising—maybe 3% of Americans will ever make a campaign contribution. People will say to me, "There's so much money in politics, it's obscene." And I'll say, "The federal budget is three trillion dollars, and Americans spend ten times as much on pornography as they do on political campaigns. So, you tell me what's important and where we should spend our money."

Sterrantino: Yeah, and that's interesting. Orwell had something to say about that, let's see if I can find the quote. OK, so I think this is the right one.

So long as they, the Proles, continue to work and breed, their other activities were their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern… Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.
And it's interesting because that particular paragraph actually summarizes what Brave New World is about, which is essentially what people look at as the opposite of Orwell. Orwell was saying, you know, rule people by fear, and then in Brave New World it's rule people by pleasure. But this quote in 1984 is essentially saying that; if we just keep people distracted enough, they won't pay attention. So, if I'm living paycheck to paycheck or I'm very into, they say football, but it could be anything where that's where my focus is, on these little distractions, then I'm not paying attention to the bigger picture, especially if I don't feel like I can do anything about it anyway. But yeah, it kills me with the voting thing, specifically because it's so easy for us to vote. And it is important. And yet, people don't do it and—I think I had mentioned this last time—in some other countries, people will walk for days and be at personal danger to vote, but yet they still do it because they don't want to lose that right.

Bennett: That's right. That's exactly right.

Wyatt: How much of this is just human nature that we don't care? Or that we're trusting?

Sterrantino: I don't know, that's a good question. I mean the trusting thing, I think it used to be more like that in the United States particularly. I think now, we have access to a lot of information—even though there's a major issue with people not understanding what a reliable source is, that's a problem because they're like, "Hey, this says this" and they have no idea where that information actually came from or if that person actually knows what they're talking about or if it's skewed—but because we have access to information, we're not quite as trusting as we used to be. And I still feel like there's a lot of propaganda in America and I know that makes a lot of people angry, but you know, we salute the flag, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm not against saluting the flag and things like that, but this is all part of the, "Hey, America's best! America's best!" But there's statistics out there that show you that we're not in a lot of ways, at least anymore. So, people just kind of buy into that and then they move on, but there is more of a movement of people going, "No, there's some things that need to change."

Wyatt: I'm interested in this novel called We which was written by a Russian.

Sterrantino: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And I think there's a couple angles for this. The first one is that, and I forgot the name of the author…

Sterrantino: Zamyatin.

Wyatt: Yeah. That's why I forgot it.

Sterrantino: Yeah. [All laugh] I know, it took me a while.

Meredith: Not so much forgot as can't pronounce. [Laughter]

Wyatt: So, he wrote the book We and found himself in enormous trouble with the government.

Sterrantino: Yeah, he actually had to write Stalin and ask permission to leave. And I was surprised Stalin actually let him. So, he spent most of his life in France and never came back. But yeah, the government was pretty mad at him about it.

Wyatt: George Orwell wrote 1984 and the government…did the government do anything at all?

Sterrantino: I don't think so. Because I don't think it was really a comment on what was happening at the time, it was a comment on "What would happen if we let it get to this point?" So, there was no threat there and it wasn't like there was a dictator in Britain where he was worried about repercussions from what he was saying. He was just showing an extreme version, which is what most dystopian literature is. It's an extreme version of what we have now to say, "What if it got to this point?" 

Wyatt: I've been reading books about North Korea and about African countries, certain African countries, and what I've read, particularly about North Korea, I've thought, "Wow, this could have been this book 1984." It's just stunning to me how similar it is.

Sterrantino: Yes. Meredith: The level of surveillance? In what way?

Wyatt: Oh, in every single aspect. But there would be a person in every neighborhood that was responsible for spying on all the neighbors.    

Sterrantino: Yeah, pictures of the dictator everywhere and you have to profess your love and not even look like you don't love that dictator.

Wyatt: That's right.

Sterrantino: And that's a big part of 1984 is the "double think." So, it doesn't matter what you actually thing as long as it's not showing on your face and you're not saying it, so you have to believe two things at once.

Wyatt: Yeah. It's interesting on the one hand that we think, "This could never happen in America," the kinds of things we see in North Korea and other countries around the world and this example of Russia. And part of the reason why we think it's less likely to occur here, in my mind, is this free speech and that it's less likely that the government will punish somebody for writing something negative.

Sterrantino: Well, up until recently I think that's true. But now we're starting to see that as a problem where the press is being attacked and anybody who says something against the government—now, obviously it's not the whole government that's the problem, I mean clearly, I'm speaking specifically about Trump—but he attacks people for saying things that he doesn't believe. And that's how it starts.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's right, that's how it starts. But it's not like sending people to prison.

Sterrantino: No, not yet.

Wyatt: So, one the one hand, it's kind of this…we can see pieces of this, but hopefully not to the extent because of the First Amendment protections that we've got. And on the other hand, but we are…this does hold true here to some degree. Right?

Bennett: No question.

Wyatt: It's not like we're immune from these problems by any stretch.

Bennett: I think we're further down the road than we care to realize. I didn't vote for Donald Trump, and much of what he does is appalling to me, but I dealt with the press for almost 30 years in D.C. and Mr. Trump is not lying when he says the press is deceitful, deceptive, dishonest. I myself was the object of some press stories and other than getting to "n's" and two "t's" in the name Bennett, the rest of it was pure fiction.  And I learned that's how it goes. So, prior to Trump coming along, you had an extreme erosion in confidence of the press. The press is now regarded with contempt equal to the contempt people hold Congress in. So, two of our institutions, the press and Congress, between 15% and 18% people believe them and the rest of us don't. Well, you don't sacrifice that kind of trust overnight, it takes a long time to get rid of it. With regards to free speech, I would argue respectfully that one of the places where free speech is in greatest danger is on college campuses. The promulgation of speech codes, the…certain things you can't say, certain views you can't say…I've considered writing a monograph on the subject and decided against it just because I don't want to have my house egged and my email accounts clogged up with death threats. [All laugh]

Sterrantino: Yeah, it's unfortunate that things like that do happen.

Bennett: It is.

Sterrantino: I know a lot of my colleagues and I, we talk about things like this all the time, especially—I don't know if especially is the right word—but in the humanities especially where we're focusing on those kinds of issues about people and how they live and all that stuff, I make a big deal in my classes about students being able to express their views as long as they're backing it up properly. If you don't believe what I believe, that's totally OK because I know some students worry about that kind of thing. And I don't lecture about my political views in class ever, but yeah. I actually had a student years ago, I was teaching about the Holocaust, and this one student wrote that the Jews deserved the Holocaust and that was the hardest challenge to my theory about the way I teach ever because I just wanted to give an automatic "F" for it I was so angry. But I didn't. I went through it and it turned out that they didn't back well so I could feel good about giving them an "F" because they earned an "F". But people have to be able to express their views in college. This is the place where students learn what their views really are, what the options are on thought. And I know I have friends who lean all different directions and some of them do focus on that and kind of pound in their ideas, their ideals, but I know a lot of professors who don't do that too. We're just teaching them how to think, not what to think.

Bennett: Right. I try hard not to and I tell them I'm going to try hard not to and that I will inevitably fail, and when I do fail, I'll identify it as such, as my view, if I can't avoid expressing it to here it is.

Wyatt: Doug, I'm interested in your comment about the press and I'm also interested in your comment about power. Would you include the press in your comment about it's all about gaining power?

Bennett: Oh, unquestionably. Perhaps more so than almost anyone else.

Wyatt: So, I've spent a life where different positions I've been in, I've been in the local media quite a bit, and I thought that, you know, for the local newspapers and local radio stations for the most part, they really tried hard to do their very best as a community sort of a thing and they're dependent on this same community supporting them.

Bennett: Mhmm.

Wyatt: But even with that, the number of inaccuracies is pretty surprising.

Bennett: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And it's partly because you've got a reporter that may or may not understand the issue or the topic trying to listen to somebody, interview somebody, and then write it down and publish it…it's a real challenge for them. But then when you take it to the next level which is, "What if the report has an agenda?" And I've had a few experiences with that, but as you said, this is where we end up saying, "Who do we trust?"

Sterrantino: One of the things with my students is I tell them not to use news sources as their primary sources if they can find it somewhere else. I mean, if they're trying to make a point about the news, that's fine, but it reminds me of the encyclopedias where you've got one person trying to be a semi-expert on everything and they can't. Even if they're trying to do it well, they can't be. So yeah, it's just their view of it. But even if they're being as honest as they can about it, it doesn't mean it's completely accurate. And there are some news sources that are more accurate than others. There are websites like Politifacts that are trying to sort all that out so people can see, "OK, this one lies more than this one" and some different sources out there, but people tend to have this emotional response to news and they don't necessarily double check it. They're just like, "Oh my gosh, this thing happened and I have to be mad about it" without checking sources.

Wyatt: Well, and I have to laugh because every single year, the university sends out an April Fool's joke.

Sterrantino: Oh, yes. [Laughs]

Wyatt: And it's on April Fool's, and it's surprising how many people will read the heading and then send me an angry email. [All laugh] Without having read the story. It cracks me up. I even had a reporter do that this last year. We had this…we said we had a Dark Sky initiative on campus and there would be no lights on campus after dark and people could find their way around with flashlights if they had to, but we wouldn't have any lights in the buildings or out of the buildings and such a ludicrous thing to say and to be on April Fool's Day and at the end of a short article to say "April Fool's". But the number of people that I got sending notes to me, including a local reporter, caused me to think, "It doesn't matter how well written the article is. It's the copy editor—isn't that the position? —the copy editor that writes the title to the story that that's what everybody is reading. [Laughs]

Sterrantino: Yeah, a lot of times they just read the title, which isn't helpful. But I remember that article and my first initial reaction was, "Wow, are they really doing this?" Because there are people who fight vehemently for not having better lighting so that part of it was actually…not realistic, but plausible to me up to a point because there's a problem with them not having enough streetlights in this town because people want to be able to see the stars.

Meredith: That's right.

Sterrantino: So, it had enough truth in it that it was like, "Wait a minute…"

Wyatt: Yeah, yeah.

Meredith: I think if you read 1984, it is so grim and so free of any of the humor of humanity that I've…the reason I bring this up is there have been a number of articles this week that I can think about about comedians who are leaving the business because it's too discouraging or they're too upset about the current state of things that they can't make a joke about it anymore.

Bennett: Jerry Seinfeld said he wouldn't play college campuses.

Meredith: Yeah. The ability to have free speech that support satire, that supports humor, is I think one of the key ways that Proles can punch back at the government is by making fun of the government and enjoying others who make fun of the government. And it's when governments lose a sense of humor about themselves that Totalitarianism has a real foothold. It makes me sad that people would say, "I can't find anything to make a joke about this."

Bennett: Let me ask this question, if I may. I said Trump often appalled me and sometimes he doesn't, sometimes I think he's doing the right thing, has any…I've followed politics closely my whole life. Has anyone ever seen press treatment of a political figure such as Donald Trump has received?

Sterrantino: Well I think…I don't know if it's exactly the same. I think Obama was treated really, really poorly. Not by everybody.

Bennett: No, I'm talking about the press. Mainstream press.

Sterrantino: Yeah, and I'm talking about mainstream press. But, no. But honestly, I'm really of the mind that Trump's creating this culture himself. I don't think it's the press, I really don't. Just because the fact that he doesn't follow the law a lot of the time. More so than other politicians. I get that politicians are politicians or whatever, but he tries to change the laws to adjust to what he needs or wants. He lies more often, statistically, than any other president ever has. So, there's some reason to be concerned.

Bennett: Well people…I saw a rather amusing story in the New York Times, which is the source of many amusing stories to me, about how many times Mr. Trump lied as opposed to Mr. Obama. "You can keep your doctor, you can keep your health plan" was one, and "My inaugural crowd was the biggest in history" was one. The first from Obama, the second from Trump. I don't care how big Trump's crowd is, but the fact of the matter is, Obama absolutely trashed the U.S. healthcare system. Sent premiums through the roof, all in the name of [inaudible] the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act.

Sterrantino: Yeah, I don't think that everything was perfect with that by any means, I do think the difference is is that Obama really had good intentions and he is trying to work for people, not just himself, where Trump just seems to be using the government as his own, like, side business. Which is concerning.

Bennett: See, I worked in Washington in the Obama administration, and I would like to quote Mr. Orwell. "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake." And in my experience, traveling around the world, doing business in places like Venezuela, Vietnam, China, the further left the party is, the greater is the power it seeks to consolidate.

Sterrantino: Yeah, I find that really interesting and I know at least—obviously I've not worked in Washington, I don't know all of the higher levels of government, I don't, and I'm not trying to pretend that I do—but everybody I know who's Liberal…well, just about everybody…and smaller governments, they really are trying to work for other people, not for themselves.

Bennett: Example?

Sterrantino: Well, just, you know, trying to get rights for women, or trying to work on racism.

Bennett: Is there a country in the world where women have greater rights than in this country?

Sterrantino: I think there actually are some.

Bennett: I've never found it.

Sterrantino: Like, and I can't like actually quote anything, but I remember reading articles about the way in the Netherlands that there's actually some better things going on there than there are here. But you know, even if we have laws here, there's still problems with, you know, misogyny and rape culture and all of those things are still perpetuated unofficially. So there still is a problem that needs to be taken care of, but as far as comparing it with other countries, I can't completely do that.

Wyatt: I think an analogy for this is the voting rights of Washington D.C. and we saw this with the addition of new states through the Civil Rights/Civil War era, but when you look at—and I'd be interested, Doug, in your reaction to this—but there's been a lot of debate about whether or not to allow Washington D.C. residents to vote for a senator, for example, or a congressman.

Bennett: They vote now for a congressman.

Wyatt: They vote for a congressman.

Bennett: Yes, she's a non-voting member of the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton is her name.

Wyatt: So, they're voting for a congressman, but she's not really a congress member?

Bennett: She can't vote on final passage. She can vote in committee, yes.

Sterrantino: Why is that?

Bennett: Because D.C. is not a state.

Sterrantino: Oh, that's right.

Wyatt: It's not a state. But the conversation about changing the Constitution in some way or another to allow the residents of Washington D.C. to have a senator too, or to have congressmen. It seems to me that the real issue there is, well, will it be a Republican or a Democrat?

Bennett: There's no issue. D.C.'s 94% Democrat, they voted 96% for Hillary Clinton.

Wyatt: So, it's not possible?

Bennett: Well, no, it's 64 square miles of what I call a work-free drug place. [All laugh] It's not going to get two senators.

Wyatt: But it goes to that power thing? We're not really trying to give them an equal vote, it's a matter of who's…what party is benefited by it.

Bennett: Well, you sequence them in. You took Alaska and Hawaii. Hawaii reliably, predictably Democratic, Alaska reliably, predictably Republican. You put D.C. in, you'll have two Democratic senators, you'll never have a Republican, and it was intended that the federal district be insulated from the vicissitudes of state politics. It's a federal enclave, intended to house the government. It was never intended to be a state.

Wyatt: It's changed though in terms of population.

Sterrantino: Yeah.

Bennett: Yeah, but it will never be a state.

Wyatt: Right, right. It won't be because it would be an automatic win for one party, and you can never get enough to make a Constitutional amendment.

Bennett: No, I don't think it'll succeed.

Wyatt: Well, it's interesting to talk about these issues in 1984 relevant to today and to get these different perspectives on it. What would be the take way from this book? What's the lesson we should capture from it?

Sterrantino: There's several, but I think overall that we just need to be aware of what is going on in our community at large, we need to be involved in it before it gets to a point where we no longer are allowed to.

Bennett: I think the lesson is that people will happily cede liberty, probably the most precious thing they have, for security, sustenance, shelter, and it, as Carl Sanders said, happens on little cat's feet. Very quietly. You say, "We should all have a right to healthcare." I certainly agree with that. That's very different from saying, "The government will determine what kind of healthcare you get and give it to you."

Sterrantino: That's true.

Bennett: And when things get hard, they will maybe take it from you. What is in government's power to give is in government's power to take, and I think we've seen an increasing movement toward greater government involvement in every single aspect of our lives. Education, healthcare, housing, nutrition…some government involvement is inevitable and necessary and good, the vast majority of it, in my opinion, is harmful, destructive, and inures to the benefit of those in government.

Wyatt: I think that when you raise that issue, Doug, about how we are willing to give things up, give away our liberties for something that we value more highly, perhaps at the time, reminds me of free speech. How many of our college students would give away much of the First Amendment to not have any offensive statements made. That's really interesting, because we can start down this road and it's not the government's fault, it's our fault. We start down this road by saying, for example, "I don't want any hate speech at all." So that's…hate speech is protected by the Constitution, the First Amendment. So, we say we don't want that kind of speech, and once we say we don't want that kind of speech, then what's the next kind of speech that's taken away, and then the next? And what starts out with these great ideas that, "We can have a better society if we give away some of our liberties to government" but the end of the road is something that we don't…we're not able to predict except that it usually gets worse.

Sterrantino: That's interesting, I hadn't really thought about it like that. And it's true, because we can't just like stand back and watch people kill each other just because they have the right to say whatever they want or do whatever they want, obviously we have to have limitations on those kinds of things, but yeah. I don't think we look that far down the road sometimes. We think, "OK this is an immediate need." Which is the whole problem with everything. So again, if you go back to the Proles, which is like the majority of the people in the United States, everybody is trying to survive and they don't take the time to do these others things. Unless there's this huge uprising…well, I'm saying that wrong. But let's say like if all the rights were taken away to vote—going back to voting—then people would have a fit and there would be an uprising. Of course, it's harder at that point to do something about it if the government took that way. Which I'm not saying they would, I'm just giving it as an example, but when it's easier, we just kind of go, "Yeah, well someone else is going to have to fix that, I'm busy trying to get clothes for my kids" or whatever it is that we're doing. And we just get hyper-focused on our own lives.

Wyatt: So, I had a class—this is such an interesting topic to me—but I had a class a while ago and this issue of free speech came up. And there was a situation that had happened on campus where a student had made some really hurtful statements, constitutionally protected, but hurtful statements, and I remember asking my class, "How many of you think that I, as the president of the university, should require this student to apologize and not allow those kinds of statements to be made on our campus?" And the percentage of students whose hands shot up was really surprising. And then the next question I asked them was, "Do you know who I am?" [All laugh] "I am a member of the Executive branch of government. And what you're telling me is, is that I as a member of the Executive…" All teachers are Executive branch government officials actually. If you're getting a government paycheck, you're either Legislative, Judicial, or Executive, and most of us are Executive. All of us in this room are. So, I, in talking to this class, I said, "You realize I'm a member of the Executive branch, and if you give me authority to decide what speech is bad and what speech is not bad, don't you realize what you've given me? And if it works in your favor today, don't you realize it might work opposite of your favor tomorrow?"

Sterrantino: Yeah.

Wyatt: "You shouldn't give me this power. Period. It shouldn't be there at all." But we tend, as you said, Doug, we tend to just keep giving it away because of something else we value. But we're not thinking to the end of the row.

Bennett: We've not had to. We've not been deprived of it, so we don't really know what it is we have. But people cede power to the state gradually in exchange for something and always with the understanding that they're getting more than they're giving. One of the authors that had a huge influence on me was William F. Buckley. And I was, as I say, a very Liberal young man and I first started reading Buckley and wrestling with him and on the subject of power, he said this, and I think there's more wisdom in here than we realize:
I will not cede power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to take it away from me. I will then use my power as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; not to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not? It is certainly…enough to keep conservatives busy, and Liberals at bay. And the nation free.
I think there's some truth to that.

Wyatt: Hmm, that's interesting.

Meredith: You know, we've been talking about the take away from this book, and for me, just following up on what you were saying, Doug, I'm a tech guy—an early adapter, always have been interested in that, it's part of what I teach every day here—and for me, the little cat foot part of this is how much of our power we are ceding through the increasing intrusion of technology into our lives. It freaks me out.

Bennett: Freaks me out too.

Meredith: When I look at my phone and Facebook says, "Welcome to San Mateo." I don't want you to know that I'm in San Mateo. I'll let you know, Facebook, if I want you to know—and I understand that these are all settings and young people would roll their eyes at me about that, but they should be opt-in settings, not opt-out settings.

Sterrantino: Yeah, that's true.

Bennett: Steve, you're more sophisticated with this than I am, you know technology better than I do, I pick up this phone and I look at it and it says, "One hour and eleven minutes to home." I hadn't told it I'm going home after this, but I am.

Meredith: That's right.

Bennett: And now when I walk into a room, there's a television in our home. If I turn it on, it doesn't come on to the program I'm going to watch, it comes on to the program Dish thinks I'm going to watch. And they're always right. [All laugh] And it terrifies me.

Sterrantino: Yeah, this is a big thing that I talk about in my big…I teach a class about Big Brother specifically and then we've expanded to conspiracy theories, and by the end of the class, I have students completely paranoid. But one of the things I do for the very beginning of class is, for those classes, I will scour the internet for information, public information, about the students. So instead of them introducing themselves, I'll introduce them and they just look horrified like how do I know these things? And it's all just Facebook or maybe something from their high school or whatever. It's not like I'm paying for an investigator, this is all open information and they have no idea that they are putting themselves out there like that. Another example that's kind of weird, we talk about like CCTV in Britain, especially in the London area where there's cameras everywhere, great for the police to see if there was a crime, but they're also seeing everything that you do all the time. And is that really what we want?

Meredith: Yeah, one of the…I think as we sometimes, on both sides of the aisle, will look to Europe and think, "Well, they're doing this politically or they're doing this socially, should we emulate that?" One of the things I hope we never do is get to the surveillance state that Europe has become, because there is a camera on every corner.

Bennett: Well Steve, if you're not doing anything wrong, why do you have any problem with them watching you? I'm astonished.

Meredith: Yes, that's right. I know, Big Brother.

Bennett: Yes, that's right, that's right. [All laugh] And that's where it leads, right?

Meredith: It is.

Bennett: That's what Big Brother would say.

Meredith: Exactly right. "If you're doing what you should be doing, then you should have no problem with us watching you."

Bennett: Right. "And if you're not, you're probably lucky we're watching you anyway."

Sterrantino: And I used to think that. When I was younger, I remember thinking, "Well, my life's pretty boring and I'm not doing anything." But it didn't occur to me when I was younger that, you know, my definition or like maybe the reasonable person's definition of what is wrong might not be what the government's definition is wrong at some point.

Meredith: Yep. Well I said in our earlier podcast about this that Mark Zuckerberg tapes over his camera on his laptop, and if Zuckerberg tapes over his camera, he probably knows something about surveillance that we don't know.

Bennett: Yep.

Meredith: And it…yeah. That, to me, that aspect of this book is maybe the most frightening. We are not only ceding our power politically, but we're ceding it to corporations and to others who can not only use it in ways that they think will benefit us, but also could exercise enormous blackmail-level power over us.

Bennett: Let me throw a wild card into the deck here if I may. As I've thought about this, coming to talk today, what about Trump voters as the Proles who finally did get organized and flex a little muscle?

Sterrantino: Oh, that's an interesting way to look at it.

Bennett: Realize…Donald Trump knocked off the three most powerful political entities in history. The Republican party, the Democratic party and the establishment media. He knocked off 16 Republicans, senators, congressmen, governors, as Republican as the name Bush itself. It knocked off Hillary Clinton, and Clinton's had the most well-oiled, well-funded political machine I have ever seen in my life, and I've seen it up close and personal. I predicted Mrs. Clinton would win, I said to my students, "Listen to me, I'm a highly trained political professional and there's no way Donald Trump will ever be President of the United States."

Sterrantino: Well I don't think he would have been if it wasn't for what they're investigating right now, so there's definitely that part of it.

Bennett: Well, but let's put that aside for a minute, and bear in mind Mr. Rosenstein's comment last Friday, there is no allegation that any American was involved. Mr. Trump is an American, so there's no allegation that he was involved, according to Mr. Rosenstein.  I'm passing no judgment on that one way or the other. What I am saying is you have a professional political class in Washington. It's bipartisan—" It doesn't really matter so much who's in charge as long as it's one of us," and I mean the old Establishment guys, and here comes this developer, a reality TV show host, I said to one of my students, "I've read about this guy in the tabloids, but I can't believe he's serious." And this student said to me, "He's been in our living room for eight years through the Celebrity Apprentice and my family and I just love him."

Sterrantino: See that…and I think I watched like two minutes of Celebrity Apprentice and I thought…that was enough for me to go, "My word, this man should not be in charge of anything."

Meredith: Yeah, a bombastic…he is as President as he was on reality TV.

Bennett: He is. He is precisely as he was, that's right. And I can tell you, the Republicans are as worried about it as the Democrats.

Meredith: I'm sure they are.

Bennett: But the people who aren't worried—and by Republicans, I mean Establishment D.C. Republicans—88% of members of the Republican party approve or strongly approve of the job Trump's doing as of July 31, 2018. 88%. Who got him in there? And I would say, to a large extent, people who have felt alienated and shut out of the process, some attribute race motivation, some attribute class motivation, I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to say, here was a guy who said, "Look, you've been lied to, you've been taken advantage of. We're $21 trillion in debt, your taxes are high, your schools are poor, and I am not a career politician. Maybe I can do something." And enough people believed it that they elected him against the advice of everybody.

Sterrantino: Well I think the concept of that is good, but what I see happening—and it's not everybody, obviously, nothing that I'm saying is absolute—but I see a lot of people who are following him who only get their news from him. That's it, and that's the only and they don't care. Because they don't have to think about it anymore. They're like, "Good, he's doing this." And then you said, "Well, what about, you know, some of the racist, misogynistic things that he's done?" "Well yeah, I don't like that, but that's OK because this." And so, I do think there's a lot of just…" Here's somebody, I don't have to think about it. I don't have to work so hard." And so, they give that power away. And it could have been anybody. But you know, that's how Hitler became in power. People were fed up and there were just so many problems in the country, so Hitler just sounded good.

Bennett: Hitler was properly elected, duly elected in a proper election, no question. With Mr. Trump, let me try a little bit different one. With regard to the misogyny, I was in D.C. throughout the Clinton presidency and President Clinton's indiscretions are well known. I was there when you could regularly read in roll call that Senator Kennedy and Senator Dodd had thrown waitresses on the table at La Brasserie and were all over them, and nobody cared. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic was molesting and groping Charlie Rose of CBS, nobody cared. What happened?

Sterrantino: That I don't know, because from my point of view…

Bennett: I'll tell you. Donald Trump got elected, and Donald Trump was heard on a tape making an inappropriate remark with regard to women, and all of the sudden the fact that women were mistreated was a major, serious issue. They lifted up that rock, and who came scurrying out? Half of Hollywood, half of East Coast.

Sterrantino: But that's the thing, it was always like that.

Bennett: But the moral outrage wasn't there before Trump.

Sterrantino: Yeah, and I don't know…that's part of the culture, the rape culture or whatever you want to call it, is women are treated like that quite often in many industries in government and it should never have been like that.

Bennett: But where was The Washington Post?

Sterrantino: That I don't know.

Bennett: Where was The New York Times? My point is, it's not an issue of women's rights for The Post and The Times, it's a way to go after Trump. They don't care about women any more than they did 10 years ago. It's a tool to go after Trump.

Sterrantino: No, I think the culture is changing that way.

Bennett: I think the culture is, I don't think media is.

Sterrantino: Well, on that I'm not entirely positive. Obviously, I don't know how they're running things, but they're going to focus more on things that are important to people. So, the more that we speak up about something, the more that they are going to follow up on that.

Wyatt: This is getting fun. [All laugh] This is where it should be.

Bennett: Good, good.

Wyatt: This is fun.

Meredith: You've been listening to a very spirited version of Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University. We've been talking about the book 1984 with Doug Bennett and Joy Sterrantino from our faculty here at SUU, and we hope that you've enjoyed reading that book and hearing the discussion. We also hope that you'll join us for our August book which is The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson and we look forward to talking about that with you at the end of the month. Thank you so much for listening, we'll be back soon. Bye bye.