Nineteen Eighty-Four

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from 1984)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four
Great and terrible
Books
Icon books.svg
On our shelf:
Writer's block
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
—O'Brien, Nineteen Eighty-Four[1]

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel set in 1984.[note 1] It tells the tale of a nightmarish future totalitarian state through one helpless man's struggle to hold on to his humanity. It is set in a world where, at least as far as anyone knows, three warring superstates called Oceania (British Empire+North & South America+Australia), Eurasia (Soviet Union+Europe), and Eastasia (China+Japan) exist and have always existed. These three superstates dominate more than 75% of the Earth's surface and fight an ongoing and inconclusive three-way war with constantly shifting alliances, with neither one having an advantage over the other and none able to conquer the other. The old colonial lands of Africa and South Asia are largely ignored, except as meaningless territorial gains.[note 2] It follows the story of Winston Smith, a London bureaucrat and propaganda writer for the "Ministry of Truth", as he attempts to make a change, however small, in the opaque and brutal government of "Big Brother", and his forbidden romance with a woman named Julia, who works in the same place, concluding in their betrayal by a Party double agent and their breakdown under torture and brainwashing.

In the book, the ruling party works to abolish orgasms, sex drive, love, justice, family, laughter, art, literature, and science at least among their members. That is, except those of the aforementioned which relate to defeating a state enemy.[2] They also worked to make the only loyalty be that which is aimed towards an enemy. However, the Proletarians ("Proles") who form the bulk of the population are left alone save for getting rid of those smart enough to be a problem and fed with both artificially, mass-produced, bad entertainment and also bad beer so they'll not give a damn about their situation.

Several phrases coined in the book have entered popular culture[note 3] and common use, most notably "Big Brother (is watching you)," but also the Two Minutes of Hate, doublethink, Thoughtcrimes/Police, Newspeak, and perhaps unfairly to the memory of Orwell, "Orwellian" as a synonym for totalitarian (much like Niccolò Machiavelli being unfairly tagged with the term "machiavellian"). Big Brother in particular is a watchword for privacy rights on both sides of the political aisle.

Background[edit]

Written in 1948, the book is an obvious critique of the Stalinist U.S.S.R. (Ingsoc, or "English Socialism", was imagined as a technologically-advanced development of Stalinism), and critiques fascism and imperialism, both of which were much more present in memory in 1948 than in subsequent decades. Thus the Thought Police is a reference to the Japanese Thought Police (the Thought Section of the Criminal Affairs Bureau),[3] and Oceania is unmistakably Winston Churchill's Union of the English-Speaking Peoples (an Anglo-Saxon pan-nationalism that would have seen the United States take responsibility for the British Empire). Orwell understood the evils of British imperialism because he was raised in India and served in Burma.

"Orwellian"[edit]

War is peace! Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength! NaturalNews is quality journalism!

The adjective "Orwellian" has come to mean "authoritarian", "tyrannical", or "dystopian" — to such an extreme degree as for Orwellian authorities to wish to control reality itself.[note 4]

One of the most important and chilling elements in Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell's portrayal of how the ruling Party places no boundaries on its efforts to subjugate its people. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party:

  • Encourages doublethink, to obfuscate reality and to prevent questioning of the Party
  • Punishes thoughtcrime, to prevent anyone from overcoming doublethink
  • Manipulates language through Newspeak, to require doublethink in all language
  • Spreads propaganda and alters historical narratives, continually rewriting history through negationism and pseudohistory, to make doublethink unnecessary and the Party appear inherently good
  • Encourages borderline-worship of the Party, or "Big Brother", to reinforce doublethink
  • Creates a constant foreign threat of war to unite the populace in support of the Party
  • Monitors all citizens, or at least Party members through sophisticated surveillance equipment, to ensure compliance. Or at the very least to implant paranoia, as one cannot know if (s)he will be being watched in a given moment nor if someone else up to friends and family members actually work for the Thought Police, or will turn you in to them just because as quite likely Parsons' children with their father.
  • detains, tortures and murders noncompliant citizens
  • Indoctrinates children turning them into little monsters fanatically loyal to Big Brother, up to encouraging them to turn their parents in to the Thought Police

An Orwellian name is a name an organisation gives itself while actually engaging in the opposite activity from what the name suggests. It was apparently distinctive of the Communist groups Orwell critiqued, such as "Operation Trust"[4] or "The Hundred Flowers Campaign".[5] Examples of Orwellian regimes include North Korea and DAESH territory.

"Doublethink"[edit]

"Doublethink" describes the act of simultaneously but separately believing in two contradictory concepts. To practice doublethink, a person must "deny the existence of reality" while taking into account "the reality that one denies".[6] It could be summarized as simultaneously accepting and rejecting a given proposition.

Orwell described doublethink as a "labyrinthine world" where one believes one thing while doing or saying the exact opposite. The very act of practicing doublethink requires a person to employ doublethink — i.e., even though you know doublethink exists, you must deny its existence in order to use it. This contradictory concept is at the core of what are now called "Orwellian" social structures.

Real life examples of doublethink can be found in folks like Biblical literalists, who will insist that Genesis be taken completely at face value. But then when they get to the Song of Solomon, which would support sex for sex's sake when taken at face value, they insist it's just a metaphor for God's love for humanity. Members of the Religious Right tend to give this same treatment to passages where Jesus does things like advocate that the rich give money to the poor. Other examples include Neo-Nazis (denying the Holocaust one second and then advocating that all white people "finish the job" on the Jews the next), flat earthers (insisting that everyone "trust their own eyes" one second and then pulling out terms like "perspective" and "camera trickery" when presented with photographic evidence of the round earth) and others. Doublethink could therefore be thought of as cognitive dissonance that not only remains unresolved, but is also desirable to leave unresolved.

Not only can doublethink invalidate any argument that relies on it, doublethink also cannot be protected by the fallacy fallacy due to its inherent nature.

"Thoughtcrime"/"Crimethink"[edit]

What person would proclaim themselves in favor of "force and fraud"? One of the little tricks Libertarians use in debate is to confuse the ordinary sense of these words with the meaning as "terms of art" in Libertarian axioms. They try to set up a situation where if you say you're against "force and fraud", then obviously you must agree with Libertarian ideology, since those are the definitions.
—Seth Finkelstein[7]

In the novel, the government attempts to control the thoughts of its citizens, as well as their actions. "Thoughtcrime" is the only type of offence recognised by the Ingsoc government, and the punishment is the same regardless of the actual nature of the offence. In his diary, Winston Smith writes that "Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime is death." Newspeak was developed to effectively make thoughtcrime impossible. The Newspeak for thoughtcrime is "crimethink". Thoughtcrime has become an incredibly influential concept in current political discourse, and the word is often used by those opposing censorship, perceived or otherwise, of a particular viewpoint. It's also frequently invoked as a criticism of hate crime laws, which is a dishonest representation of the intent and content of those laws. After all, the punishment is not for "thinking bad things" but for actually and actively inciting hatred and/or committing violence against others. In the latter case, the hate crime motive is simply seen as an aggravating circumstance meriting harsher punishment of what is already a criminal offence (much like how punishment for murder can be harsher if the murder was premeditated, or how punishment for drug possession can be harsher if the drugs were intended to be sold).

"Newspeak"[edit]

See the main articles on this topic: Code word and Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.
Gore Vidal

"Newspeak" is a language that appears in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Designed by the ruling Ingsoc regime, its purpose is to suppress thought by severely curtailing both the conceptual vocabulary and permissible grammatical structures of Oldspeak. As Orwell describes in the Appendix: "a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc should be literally unthinkable, at least insofar as thought is dependent on words."[8] The ultimate goal of implementing Newspeak by the Party is to reduce language to its most basic function of simple communication and destroying individual human expression by elimination of antonyms and synonyms, near eradication of adjectives and adverbs, and making amplifiers and negations as simple prefixes (i.e. "doubleplusgood" meaning "great" and "doubleplusungood" meaning "awful".)

This idea of totalitarianism taken to its logical extreme is deeply unsettling, not least for its immediate, intuitive plausibility. As with many of the novel's terms and ideas, it captured the popular imagination, and has passed into modern political and cultural discourse, to be variously used, abused and confused by individuals right across the political spectrum.

Orwell's description of Newspeak is imperfect,[note 5] but in essence he imagines language distilled to a brute functionality. Basic needs can be expressed, but beyond this, the available vocabulary is so radically compressed as to prohibit anything other than the most perfunctory description or evaluation of any given object, term, or concept.

This compression is achieved by breaking down the distinction between the different parts of speech, so that all remaining words can act as both nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs are formed from these noun-verb roots with the addition of -ful and -wise, respectively. Orwell offers the example of the verb to cut, purged as its meaning is sufficiently contained within the new noun-verb knife.[9] By extension, this would lead to the elimination of verbs such as stab, slash, slice, and carve. Knifeful could replace adjectives as diverse as sharp, cutting, pointed, piercing, and incisive.

Grammatically, Newspeak is simplified to an almost infantile, pre-literate degree. Irregular verb forms are suppressed (e.g. got, ran, slept = getted, runned, sleeped), and any word can be negated with the prefix un-, (e.g. good : bad = good : ungood, and presumably unknifeful would mean blunt) allowing the further eradication of hundreds of words. Emphasis is added with the modifiers plus- or doubleplus-, hence perhaps the most famous Newspeak formulation: doubleplusungood (meaning "really really bad").[note 6]

"Doublespeak"[edit]

Doublespeak is a neologism used to describe language that is deliberately intended to conceal meaning; for example, enhanced interrogation interviewing techniques used in a sentence to supplement the word torture. The term is not actually from Orwell's novel, but is instead an extra-canonical portmanteau of "doublethink" and "newspeak." Two common forms of doublespeak are euphemisms and management speak.

Misuse[edit]

Newspeak has since become a term for any language that is controlled or abused in the name of political power. Some people have compared some politically correct terminology to Newspeak — this is almost universally critical, comparing unfavourably with the totalitarianism expressed in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The logic is usually that people who push such terminology are oppressively limiting speech. This is inaccurate, however, as most proponents of so-called "politically correct" terminology generally do not propose to restrict speech through government action nor do they support the use of such terminology as a tool of social control. Rather, "political correct" terminology is based on the notion that certain terms might be offensive to certain groups due to how such terms were employed in the past as tools of social control, and that our civil society is best served when we attempt to not offend each other as much as is practicable.

Words that describe prejudice have been compared to Newspeak. In the case of homophobia, for example, a word has been added to describe a new feeling and attitude that specifically demeaned homosexuality unfairly and unjustly. This trend arguably continued with the addition of heterophobia — which is really just a right-wing rebranding of gay rights rather than a new concept. The purpose of Newspeak, however, was to reduce the number of words in the language, thus removing the ability to express new feelings or attitudes (that this probably wouldn't work in reality is not the issue). Adding words is therefore the opposite of Orwell's original Newspeak: it enables new thoughts to be expressed with new words.

Another example of creeping Newspeak is the relentless "positive thinking" tendency which has virtually purged the word "problem" from English (and other languages) in favour of the less overtly negative "challenge". This particular style of language is especially prevalent in management and PR circles.

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Novlangue.

"Crimestop"[edit]

For more information, see: Willful ignorance

"Crimestop" is one of Newspeak's less well-known concepts, but perhaps the most pertinent (and funny) when discussing the various stripes of fundamentalism. It denotes a learned mental discipline: a conditioned inability even to grasp thoughts contrary to one's own belief system. Orwell writes:[10]

"Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity."

"Big Brother" / "Thought Police"[edit]

Oui.

"Big Brother" is a terrible reality TV show the embodiment of the totalitarian state. In theory, Big Brother is always watching the populace and controls their every move. In practice, Big Brother functions like Bentham's PanopticonWikipedia — Big Brother isn't always watching. In fact, most of the time, Big Brother is not watching. But Big Brother has set up a system where Big Brother can always watch, but you will never know when Big Brother is watching. This omnipresent surveillance has a chilling effect — even though Big Brother isn't always watching, you behave as if they were every second... because they really might be. If the thought police even suspect you of thoughtcrime, they send you to the Ministry of Love (or "MiniLuv" in Newspeak) where they torture you until you submit to their brainwashing.

In the novel, the "Thought Police" are agents of Big Brother's totalitarian government.

"Memory hole"[edit]

Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.
—Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell[11]

"Memory hole" is a neologism that refers to... uh....

The term comes from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, where "memory hole" refers to a file transfer system that leads to an incinerator. Since all texts that contradict the Party's take on history are disposed of, citizens have no evidence that the government has ever been wrong, so the government can rewrite history however it wants.[12]

Today, the term is used metaphorically for when people (most often politicians) carry on as if a certain event in the past lacks historicity. Examples are attempts to gloss over the Three-Fifths CompromiseWikipedia or ignore certain past atrocities like the Holocaust and the Holodomor. A more modern example is Ben Carson on his supplement-peddling past and the general unwillingness to call him out on it.

Were you there? Minitrue version[edit]

Nineteen Eighty-Four features a critique of the reasoning used by some Young Earth Creationists: Were you there?.[13]

O'Brien[edit]

Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.

O'Brien, the main antagonist of the novel and a member of the Thought Police, serves as the voice of the ideology of the Party. After capturing Winston, he tortures him for an indeterminate amount of time within the walls of the Ministry of Love. While torturing him, O'Brien reveals to Winston why the Party resorts to totalitarian control of the people and their goals for the future of humanity. He tells Winston that the Party seeks to destroy individual identity, where people merge their individuality into the identity of the Party. In their minds, to escape the mortality of human life, the Party acts as the immortal avatar of human existence. To the Party, nothing even exists outside it. They resort to solipsism methods in order for people to doubt the reality around them, and to further give away their identity to the Party (O'Brien refers to this as "collective" solipsism). Their brainwashing is so destructive that they can even make people believe that Party members can levitate or turn invisible. It is even suggested that O'Brien had been converted from this kind of torture ("They got me a long time ago."- Part 1, Chapter 1), but it's unclear whether this is true or an exaggeration. All of this is to serve one purpose: to control every aspect of experienced reality, or at least the perception of experienced reality.

Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy -- everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.

This is what power is to the Party, complete and utter control of everything. A truly nightmarish view of a future dominated by authoritarian order and totalitarian control of society. While Orwell was critiquing the Stalinist Soviet Union in his time, his warning stands the test of time — and in a very special part of the globe, it's unfortunately still very much relevant.

Adaptations[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. No, really. However, even the protagonist is unsure of the actual year.
  2. The action does not stray outside London and its surroundings, and having just the Party's propaganda as a source there's no way to know if such superstates really exist and Oceania either is just the British Isles (and maybe just Great Britain or even less than that) or rules over the entire world. Even the rocket bomb attacks could well be made by the Party instead of Eurasia Eastasia, as one of the protagonists wonders noticing they target just Prole neighborhoods.
  3. One of a zillion examples: See the Wikipedia article on Room 101 (disambiguation)., or less surprisingly, the TV Tropes article named after it.
  4. Of course, Orwell himself probably wouldn't have liked his name being used in this sense.
  5. It would have been an immense (and somewhat anal) undertaking to realise his vision completely, and completely unnecessary for the purposes of the novel.
  6. It is conjectured that since Orwell had a bad experience with Esperanto in 1927, he gave Newspeak a simplistic grammar and vocabulary as a kind of "take that" against Esperanto's deliberate use of these concepts.

References[edit]

  1. http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/19.html
  2. https://www.abhafoundation.org/assets/books/html/1984/176.html
  3. Richard Deacon: Kempei Tai. Tokyo: Tuttle, 1983, pp. 156-167
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Operation Trust.
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Hundred Flowers Campaign.
  6. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
  7. Seth Finkelstein, "Libertarianism Make You Stupid".
  8. p. 312 — Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, Penguin, 1989
  9. p. 314 - Nineteen Eighty-Four
  10. p. 220-1 - Nineteen Eighty-Four
  11. Chapter 3 of Nineteen Eighty-Four on Wikiquote
  12. "Memory Hole in 1984" on Study.com
  13. James F. McGrath. "Big Brother's Young-Earth Creationism". 
  14. Sales of Orwell's '1984' spike after Kellyanne Conway’s 'alternative facts' by Travis M. Andrews (January 25 at 5:52 AM) The Washington Post.
  15. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders (2013) The New Press, 2nd ed. ISBN 1595589147.
  16. http://web.archive.org/web/20091016092825/http://1984comic.com/pdf/1984comic_chapter_01.pdf
  17. http://web.archive.org/web/20091016092916/http://1984comic.com/pdf/1984comic_chapter_02.pdf