This year when the Biden Administration’s Department of Homeland Security created the Disinformation Governance Board, many complained it was frighteningly Orwellian. Before widespread criticism terminated the idea, some said our government had turned into Big Brother, just like Orwell prophesized. Recent events like this have inspired me to re-read Orwell’s books. In today’s issue I’ll share the Orwellian concepts, shown in bold, that every American needs to know.
The classic novel 1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949, still feels fresh and relevant today. As the story opens, the main character, Winston Smith, finds it difficult to find privacy with a telescreen in every room and microphone in every corner. He lives in the dilapidated apartment Victory Mansions, smokes poorly made Victory Cigarettes, and drinks awful tasting Victory Gin—all compliments of the Party. The communist-styled totalitarian government, Ingsoc, short for English Socialism, rules the superstate of Oceania with an iron fist. The Thought Police keep everyone under constant surveillance. Plastered everywhere are posters depicting a black-mustachio’d face with dark eyes that look deeply into your own. The caption on every poster is “Big Brother Is Watching You.” In this environment, everyone must do as they’re told since comrades like Winston are viewed as mere cells of the greater organism of the state.
We soon learn the state has commanded Oceania’s comrades to begin transitioning from the language of Oldspeak to Newspeak. The new language features a great many euphemisms—pleasant-sounding words that conceal something upsetting or unpleasant. The true meaning of these words is often the opposite of their agreeable or inoffensive appearance. A world of Newspeak is a world of Opposite-Land, where the narrative is backwards from reality. As an example, Joycamp is the new word for the numerous forced-labor camps.
The names of Oceania’s four ministries of central planning are illustrative of Newspeak.
The Ministry of Truth, or minitrue, tells lies, issues propaganda, rewrites history and erases records of the past. The Party in Oceania puts a “spin” on the news, turning it into official lying. Then there is official amnesia about inconvenient truths from the past accompanied with public announcements that these events never happened. Finally, after the Party destroys the records and rewrites history, any evidence that the real circumstances ever happened no longer exists.
The Ministry of Peace, or minipax, is really the Ministry of War. It focuses on waging perpetual war against Oceania’s adversaries. Its real purpose, though, is to use up excess consumer goods and products of production to ensure a continually low quality of life for everyone.
The Ministry of Love, or minilove, is a place of pain and despair run by the secret police. The thinkpol, or Thought Police, torture and eventually kill anyone deemed a threat. Instead of the rule of law and equality under the law, all decisions are made based on the whims of the Party elites.
The Ministry of Plenty, or miniplenty, is supposedly responsible for economic affairs. In reality, it ensures there is always rationing, scarcity and starvation in Oceania.
Another feature of the Ingsoc ideology is Doublethink. It’s the learned ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true. In Doublethink, truth based on objective evidence about reality has been abolished. Instead, facts are dishonestly reversed and lies are deliberately told—with the expectation that one must accept the lies, and forget any facts that are politically inconvenient for the Party. The Party uses Doublethink to tamper with reality and then to erase the memory that reality was ever altered. In this way, truth is papered over with lies.
The Ingsoc government ruling Oceania considers this schizophrenic manner of thinking desirable and necessary. “Needless to say, this is of inestimable use to those in power who wish to remain there, preferably forever,” says Thomas Pynchon in the book’s Forward.
Some of the best examples of Doublethink in 1984 are the three main slogans of the Party in Oceania’s one-party state. These top three slogans are:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Other examples of Doublethink include the daily Two-Minute Hate and the periodic Hate Week. The Party selects their preferred enemy and then changes it up from time to time. With each change, comrades are expected to forget the old enemy and start hating a former ally who is now the new enemy, all the while accepting that it has always been so. Indeed, when the Party directs them to, all comrades must believe that “2 + 2 = 5.” 1984 is chock full of many such examples.
Coming back to today, when you see an expansive government increasing its control over citizens, you can refer to this newsletter, using it as a glossary of Orwellian terms. You might get a lot of use out of it in the next few years.
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Nice summary. Note, however, that it is doublethink, not doublespeak.