“By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like Freedom is Slavery when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
No, this isn’t another of Jim Whitt’s futuristic diatribes. It’s a passage taken from George Orwell’s classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Published in 1949, Orwell painted a picture of the future in the year 1984. The setting is the fictional country of Oceana, a totalitarian state where its citizens live in fear of its government. He introduced terms to describe that government that have become indelibly etched into our collective conscious. The passage above is an example of Doublethink, which is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. In addition to freedom is slavery other examples of Doublethink from Nineteen Eighty-Four are war is peace and ignorance is strength.
In Oceana the government is simply known as the Party. There are three classes of people in Oceana. The Inner Party is the ruling class which makes up 2% of the population. The Outer Party, 13% of the population, are the bureaucrats who carry out the orders of the Inner Party. The rest of the population are the Proles, the masses who live in a state of ignorance and poverty. The Party controls all media, so the Proles only know what the Party tells them. And one person controls the Party, a shadowy character with no name other than Big Brother.
Thinkpol are the thought police of Oceania who use telescreens and spies to monitor the populace. They are responsible for the detection, prosecution, and elimination of all whose thinking doesn’t conform to the Party’s dogma. As a reminder of the dangers of nonconformity, posters are prominently displayed throughout Oceana with this message; “Big Brother is Watching You.”
Oldspeak (standard English) is replaced by Newspeak, a dumbed-down version of the language designed to change the meaning of words and phrases to restrict range of thought. Newspeak is updated as needed to promote the Party’s dictatorial designs.
History is also rewritten to fit the Party narrative. When the Party wants something expunged from public record it is funneled into the Memory Hole, a chute that feeds a large incinerator.
The infidel that falls out of the Party’s favor for whatever reason suffers the worst fate in Oceana. They not only disappear but any mention of their existence is expunged from all records and history of Oceania. Since they never existed, they are categorized as an Unperson.
The first half of the 20th century provided Orwell with ample inspiration for his novel. In the aftermath of World War II, struggling nations in Asia and Europe were ripe for communist expansion. It would never had been called Doublespeak in the Soviet Union, but Joseph Stalin was a master of its use: “We are for the withering away of the state, and at the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship, which represents the most powerful and mighty of all forms of the state which have existed up to the present day. The highest development of the power of the state, with the object of preparing the conditions of the withering away of the state: that is the Marxist formula. Is it ‘contradictory?’ Yes, it is ‘contradictory.’ But this contradiction is a living thing and wholly reflects the Marxist dialectic.”
Orwell died in 1950. I wonder what he’d think of the future he wrote about but never saw. At that time the possibility of the Marxist dialectic ever taking root in the United States in 1984 or any time in the future would be unimaginable. A ruling class made up of elitists and bureaucrats who manipulate the masses? Politically correct speech, thought police, revisionist history, censorship, persecution and prosecution of those who don’t conform to an elitist orthodoxy? An oligopoly of government, media and corporations that control all information? That could never happen in America, could it?
I’ll leave you to ponder that possibility. I have to go. Big Brother is watching…
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