George Orwell was a British writer and journalist. Born in Bengal, India in 1903, he graduated from Eton, a leading school in England in 1921, and then served five years as a British Imperial Police Officer in Burma, India. With the intent of becoming a writer, on New Years Day, 1928, he resigned from the Imperial Service in shame over Britain’s treatment of the Burmese people. “Donning ragged clothes …” he sought to sedate his guilt by giving up the standard of living he associated with British authority, and set out to write about poverty by living among the poor and destitute of Paris and London. His first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, was published in 1933, the year Hitler took power, and over the next few years other books followed. Then in 1937 he went to report on the Spanish Civil War (the beginning of WWII), and what he experienced came to dominate his point of view and his writing for the rest of his life.
He went there to report on the war, but took up arms and joined one of many militia groups defending the Soviet and US supported Spanish government against the German and Italian invaders, and survived a gunshot wound to the throat. Shortly after defeating the invaders, however, the Spanish government proceeded to hunt down members of those groups that had been fighting to defend Spain, now publicly declared traitors and allies of the invaders. While many of the men he knew were imprisoned, murdered, or simply vanished, he spent many days hiding from the police who were hunting him like an animal, until he finally made it out of the country.
What came to disturb him the most was not simply the lies and betrayal by the very government he fought to defend, but the fact that the media back in England eagerly picked up and spread those same lies. This experience revealed to him that “belief” in a group was something that could not only be influenced, but could actually be “controlled.” In Looking Back on the Spanish War, Orwell recalled the twisted Siamese world of reality and fantasy portrayed by the mass media in both Spain and England:
in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not
bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is
implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there
had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had
been killed. I saw troops who fought bravely denounced as cowards and
traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the
heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retelling
these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures
over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being
written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have
happened according to various “party lines.” This kind of thing is
frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very
concept of objective truth is fading out of the world."
This experience—his personal discovery that what a group believes can actually be controlled and manipulated—became the basis of his two final and most famous books: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1949). Both are serious political documents exposing the growing threat of modern power addiction.
He died in 1950 bedridden from tuberculosis [though he lived long enough to witness his own fame].
Animal Farm is a fable of the Russian Revolution, the central event of the 20th century. It's considered central because it epitomized western civilization’s long-held romantic quest to create a classless Utopian society. The story is very simple, with farm animals representing the main participants of the revolution: Farm animals gradually grow so sick and tired of the abuse and neglect of the farmer that they revolt against him, take over the farm, and set up their own government. Because pigs are very intelligent they become the “managers” of the farm. Eventually they enshrine seven commandments on the wall of the Great Barn. The animals are to live by those seven commandments from that point forward to preserve the precious fruits of all their hard work and sacrifice. However, as the pigs gain more and more power and control, the treatment of the animals gradually grows even more horrific than it was under the farmer. What's more, the very history of their revolt itself is gradually rewritten into something completely different from what really happened. (The third stage, or “purge,” of this re-writing of Russian history took place during the Spanish War.) Each rule is gradually amended. For example: “No animal shall drink alcohol” becomes “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess,” as the pigs begin to drink. Step by step, the animals would react to seeing the pigs doing what had been forbidden with surprise. Then they would compare what they remembered had initially been written with what they currently found on the wall, and each time the writing contradicted their memory. Eventually, robbed of the ability to discern what really happened in the past, they were robbed of the ability to deal with what was happening in the present. Eventually all the rules were abandoned except the seventh slogan amended:
animals are created equal, but
The lessen of the fable is twofold: 1) to warn that in overthrowing tyranny, the product of one's efforts can become the very basis of something worse than what was overthrown; and 2) that language-control means belief- or consciousness-control, and therefore history-control. While most people could see the obvious danger of Hitler, Orwell was afraid that the English, being pro-Russia at that time, were less likely to see the danger of Stalin's brand of tyranny. For example, Hitler burned books (obvious/overt), while Stalin had books (dictionaries?) gradually rewritten over time (sneaky/covert). So Orwell wrote Animal Farm to illustrate the danger that lies right in front of everyone's noses.
But how far can such ideas be carried out? How many times can tyrannical authorities be overthrown and replaced by something that, little by little, gradually grows even worse? What would such a society be like? Many people argue that tyranny doesn't actually get worse as time passes, and that in every age people just believe things are getting worse. Such people ignore that such distinct changes in human behavior as the emergence of male domination, for example, can be pinpointed (roughly) in time and space (@ 7000 years before present, in the Volga basin, what is now South Russia). We can also pinpoint (again roughly) the more recent emergence of collective sadistic brutality (@ 3000 years before present, in Assyria, what is now Iraq). They also must ignore the fact that the means of waging human conflict itself has “progressed” from sticks, stones, and simple metals thousands of years ago, to wielding the very power of the sun itself today. There is plenty of irrefutable evidence that the human drive to use, control, and destroy one another is “progressing” in power and complexity.
understood this, so he ran this dual lesson of Animal Farm through a
feedback loop in his imagination, over and over, and the product was
Nineteen Eighty Four
(1949). 1984 is a
frightening portrait of Oceania, a three-faced (secular,
society as seen through the eyes of notorious thought criminal
Winston Smith. Reality, as Winston is expected to know it, is
whatever the Inner Party of the Ingsoc religion says it is in
With a silly-putty-like past, life under surveillance 24\7 by the
Thought Police, and individuality forbidden under silent threat of
torture and death, the “normalized” citizen is reduced to a
fear-ridden, shape-shifting reflection of those ever changing,
contradictory words of authoritative truth. It's a world in which the
ability to “discriminate” is forbidden, so vital distinctions
between things such as laws, norms, and even medical diseases has
faded out. History as we understand it, as something “objective”
to be discovered out there in the world, does not exist in Oceania;
like warfare and the average citizen's identity, history is something
to be created, destroyed, and re-created again and again, forever in
“… an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
It is vital to keep in mind that Orwell did not intend for 1984 to be taken literally. In a letter to Francis A. Henson, he wrote: “My … novel is … intended … as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe will arrive, but I believe (allowing that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.”
The reason 1984 is so convincing to so many is that Orwell cast features of the real world in a work of “polemic” fiction. He selected key features of society as he saw them (features most others want to ignore) and exaggerated them to make them vivid and easy for us to see. A primary point is that a society must develop these fundamentals prior to becoming a nightmare. They are a prerequisite.
In 1946, a couple of years before writing 1984, Orwell put it this way:
I do suggest that we shall get nowhere unless we start by recognizing
that political behavior is largely non-rational, that the world is
suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed
before it can be cured…. It is not easy to find a direct economic
explanation of the behavior of the people who now rule the world. The
desire for pure power seems to be much more dominant than the desire
for wealth. ... And if it has reached new levels of lunacy in our own
age, as I think it has, then the question becomes: What is the special
quality in modern life that makes a major human motive out of the
impulse to bully others?"
In his imaginary land of Oceania there is one insane, secular, religious party with two primary goals, three sacred principles, and four official slogans. The Party's two main goals are "... to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought.” To simplify, let's focus on just one of the goals: To extinguish forbidden or unorthodox thought. To accomplish this goal, every citizen must practice the three sacred principles of the Ingsoc religion: Newspeak, Doublethink, and the mutability of the past, a.k.a. the Memory Hole. And to help perfect the practice of these principles there are four official slogans. Let's briefly review Orwell's sacred principles one by one and make a brief comparison with America, the epitome of what is “modern.”
1. Newspeak is the official language of Oceania, and the Ingsoc religion. Newspeakers (members of Ingsoc) are necessarily ruled through constant surveillance, runaway emotions, and Party controlled language. Its grammar is specifically designed to contradict the grammar of Basic English (BE) and to gradually alter and replace Oldspeak (BE). The purpose of Newspeak is to narrow down the very range of thoughts a citizen can have, and to completely eliminate a citizen’s capacity to think clearly on selected “forbidden” subjects. (Like “allopathy” being absent from the dictionary?) There's one official slogan that is never written—only spoken—between Inner Party members and specialists involved in the workings of Newspeak:
Who controls information in the present controls society’s
view of the past; who controls society’s view of the past
controls the way society changes into the future.
2. Doublethink is the official state of mind of the Oceanic orthodoxy. Doublethink “… means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” In a number of earlier essays Orwell referred to this mental behavior by its common term “schizophre-nia,” which is widely and mistakenly believed to be a medical condition. In 1984 he described it a few times, even going into great detail:
lies at the very heart of Ing soc, since the essential act of the Party
is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose
that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while
genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become
inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it
back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the
existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the
reality which one denies, all this is indispensably necessary.
To help Party members perfect their doublethinking there are three public slogans written on the shiny white face of the Ministry of Truth:
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.
it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained
indefinitely. … If equality is to be forever averted … then the
prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity."
First, According to historian and former Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, in his book Hidden History (1987): “No nation has ever believed so firmly that its political life was based on a perfect theory. And yet no nation has ever been less interested in political philosophy or produced less in the way of theory. If we can explain this paradox, we shall have a key to much that is characteristic ... in our institutions.” We Americans hold a solid belief in the superiority of our political theory, while in reality, we possess no such theory. Boorstin summarizes his explanation in a word: “givenness.” He says it's some how just given to us. It just appears. (And that's precisely how it works in Oceania.)
Second, according to Professor of History, Hugh Davis Graham, in his paper The Paradox of American Violence (1976), “Any paradox must contain two ostensibly contradictory assertions—in this case, that the American past has been filled with violence, and that the stability and continuity of America’s vital public institutions have been extraordinary.” He then asks, “How can we account for this?” In trying to explain how America could have more “internal” or “social” violence than most other developed societies while having the most stable institutions, Professor Graham made reference to Boorstin's explanation of America's political paradox. In doing so he implies that they are inseparable, and therefore just like Boostin, fails to explain it.
Third, according to historian and political writer Garry Wills, in his book Under God: Religion and American Politics (1990): “The secular state came from the zeal of religion itself.” That is, the state not founded on a specific religious denomination was actually the product of overwhelming wide-spread religious enthusiasm (the concept of separation of Church and State emerged later). It made religion stronger. Politics and religion have never been separate. Secular is religious; it’s just inverted, as concave is to convex. (And again, just like in 1984.)
If the American paradoxes of politics and violence are inseparable, and the paradox of religion is inseparable from politics, then couldn't we consider all three as different faces of a single underlying state of contradiction? Either way, what can this possibly mean for American “freedom”?
3. The Memory Hole refers to two different but related things: First, it is the nick-name given to metal tubes that suck away written material to be incinerated in basement furnaces. Second, it is the consequence of the collective practice of strategic acts of amnesia while doublethinking. While it is certainly possible to forget without doublethinking, it’s absolutely impossible to effectively doublethink without great skill in manipulating one's own memory. The memory hole is indispensably necessary to keep Oceania's “central secret”:
[There] is one question ... It is: why should human equality be
averted? ... Here we reach the central secret ... the original motive,
the never-questioned instinct that first led to the seizure of power
and brought doublethink, the Thought Police, continuous warfare, and
all the other necessary paraphernalia into existence afterwards. This
motive really consists..."
And that is where Winston Smith stopped reading The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, startled, because there was an unexpected knock at his door. I can't help but wonder: Did Orwell have something in mind when writing about the central secret of Oceania? Or is that just part of the fiction? We’ll come back to this in the last chapter.
Thoughtcrime is the anti-principle. It is forever silent and hidden beneath the sacred principles, and is semantically similar to biblical leprosy, medieval sin, and modern mental illness. It is all forbidden thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—not forbidden by law, for there were no laws in Oceania—but silently forbidden (by the rule of norm). Thoughtcrime is essentially any botch up, however slight, in practicing the three sacred principles (The Trinity) of the Ingsoc religion.
Americans have recently sanctioned increased punishments for emotioncrime. If you commit a violent crime, you get punished if you're caught. If you commit this crime while feeling “hate,” then your punishment becomes more severe. (Exactly who decides, and just how do they decide, what you're really feeling?) Think for a moment. What kind of people have emotions and thoughts wedged apart from one another? They're called psychotic—usually “schizo-phrenic” or “split-minded.” In average healthy people emotions and thoughts are quite integrated and inseparable. If Americans are willing to punish forbidden emotions, then Americans are willing to punish forbidden thinking. Emotioncrime is thoughtcrime.
The purpose of these combined principles and the secular religion they compose is to actually freeze the course of history, to engineer a permanent state of emergency by 2050. And this is made possible by reconciling contradictions, just like the American paradoxes of politics, violence, and religion. It is to be a world in which the Good Party is forever locked in never-ending warfare with the Evil terrorist network known as The Brotherhood, led by arch terrorist Emanuel Goldstein. This appears to be strikingly to our current situation, in which Good America is officially (since 09-11-2001) in a perpetual War on Terror with the Evil terrorist network known as Al Qaeda, led by arch terrorist Osama bin Laden. And both sides of The Great Oceanic War are pitted against each other by the same background authorities of The Party—like a puppet master playing with two puppets.
The kind of society that Orwell feared was looming on the future's horizon was secular and religious, as well as insane. It is a portrait painted from a specific point of view: an Oceanic lunatic/thoughtcriminal. In America, Winston Smith would be called a paranoid “schizophrenic.”
What, then, does it really mean to be schizo- (split-) phrenic (minded)?
(Please refer to the PDF or PRINT edition for notes and sources cited.)
According to the FBI’s website the former #1 most wanted fugitive, Usama bin Laden, was wanted in connection with the deaths of over 200 Americans outside the USA. If you help or protect any "terrorist" you are considered to be a terrorist by our Federal government. Yet modern allopathy (medicine?) BOTH kills over 780,000 Americans a year, making it the officially documented #1 killer of Americans from 2003 to 2004, AND is government protected. What does this make those who currently govern?
Psychology/ Allopathy/ Religion/ Politics/ Crime
"WARNING: MATURE CONTENT"