Essay:Comparison of Conservapedia and Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Nineteen Eighty-Four is the title of a novel written by British author George Orwell, published in 1948. The story focuses on Winston Smith, who works for a totalitarian regime ("The Party") which is led by a mysterious and possibly non-existent "Big Brother". The Party concerns itself with keeping the residents of Oceania (a superstate which controls a large portion of the world) complacent by any means necessary. The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was the basis for many terms which are now in popular use, such as Big Brother, Memory Hole, Room 101, Two-Minutes' Hate, Newspeak and Orwellian.

The purpose of this essay is to point out the startling similarities between the methods used by Conservapedia and those used by The Party as portrayed in Orwell's work. While many of Orwell's "visions" of the world described in Nineteen Eighty-Four could be based on the USSR, it is also important to remember that this book was published over half a century ago, and hence a lot of the concepts he wrote about were relatively unheard of.

Understanding, and contributing to, this essay would be much easier for those who have read Orwell's masterpiece. I recommend to those who have not read the book that they head on down to their local library and borrow the book, or at least place their name on the reservations list to do so (even today, the book is still popular).


Comparison of Conservapedia and Nineteen Eighty-Four[edit]

Big Brother[edit]

Big Brother is the (alleged) leader of The Party. Posters of Big Brother are seen throughout Airstrip One (Great Britain, renamed for the purposes of the story), portraying a moustachioed man. The eyes of the poster follow whoever comes close and the words Big Brother is watching you are shown beneath his image. The purpose of Big Brother is to put a "face" to The Party, and to remind the masses that they are under constant supervision.

  • All sites based on the MediaWiki software encompass surveillance through use of the Recent Changes page, including RationalWiki.
  • In the absence of Sysops, MediaWiki sites can rely on bots and filters to help fend off attack.
  • Aschlafly, as the creator of Conservapedia, is required to be viewed as infallible and all-knowing if one wishes to keep their Conservapedia account in good standing.

All properly maintained Wiki sites are under constant surveillance by sysops and other editors; this is not a Conservapedia-only affair. However, while other Wiki projects are based on consensus and mutual agreement,[1][2] an unwritten rule of Conservapedia is that Aschlafly be viewed as a lesser god, to be obeyed at all times without question.


Ministry of Truth[edit]

One of the four ministries in control of Oceania, the Ministry of Truth concerns itself with falsifying information in order to keep the truth hidden from the public. The ministry is responsible for destroying all previous records of the truth, and to replace said records with updated versions which match the version preferred by The Party.

  • Conservapedia will often take biased information[3], uncited information, estimates combined with incorrect mathematics[4] and fabrications[5], this "information" is then represented as the truth.
  • Any information placed on Conservapedia which conflicts with their ideology, however verifiable, is removed[6][7] (see Memory Hole).
  • All new additions to Conservapedia are thoroughly screened, even on users' talk pages[8], which are considered somewhat of a 'sanctuary' in the Wiki community.[9]
  • Aschlafly concerns himself with the creation of slander in order to discredit those who oppose his views, when he can see no way of discrediting their work itself[10].

The ministry as described in Orwell's work functions in much the same way as Conservapedia. The information released by the ministry is often fabricated, much in the same method Aschlafly will release his insights as fact when he has no sources he can cite. Sources that are cited are more often than not inaccurate, often coming from sites which have clear bias. Conservapedians have a choice when it comes to where their citations come from, however they often choose to use sources which match their ideology, despite the fact that there are many sources on the same issue which are far more reliable and verifiable.

Memory Hole[edit]

The term memory hole refers to wall-slots which are distributed throughout the Ministry of Truth, the slots connect to chutes which travel throughout the building and lead to a large incinerator. The purpose of memory holes is to permanently dispose of information The Party does not wish the public to see, whether because it is inconvenient, embarrassing or simply does not match Party ideology. It is described that once something has been inserted into a memory hole that not even the ash remains.

  • MediaWiki-based sites all grant editors the right to remove information they do not wish to see on the site, however the information is usually stored in a page's History (or Fossil Record) list.
  • Conservapedia is renowned for burning pages that contain information they do not wish the public to see,[11] this can happen in the following circumstances:
  • A well thought-out, rational argument has been made against CP that they are unable to rebut in a meaningful fashion.
  • A CP sysop or admin has made an unbased claim that they are unable to sustain.
  • A CP sysop or admin has been embarrassed by another editor.
  • An article has become overrun with non-biased information that conflicts with CP's ideology.
  • Aschlafly makes a dick of himself.

The term memory hole seems almost custom-built to fit CP's methods of burning.


Social Class, The Party[edit]

Social class is a very important part of Orwell's book, as the different levels of society each play their roles very differently. At the top of the class system is Big Brother, who is a class unto himself. Beneath Big Brother is the Inner Party, the backbone of The Party and the iron fist of Oceania. The Outer Party are the civil servants of The Party, expendable plebs whose job it is to make sure The Party's plans are put into operation without delay or incident. The remainder of the populace are referred to as Proles (short for Proletarians), virtually meaningless to The Party, they are the labourers who live their 'insignificant' lives in the shadow of The Party and Big Brother.

  • Conservapedia is structured very similar to the social classes seen in the book, with the different classes being:
  • Big Brother, the unquestionable leader
  • Aschlafly
  • Inner Party
  • Outer Party
  • Low-ranking sysops and users with block rights - HelpJazz, JessicaT and RodWeathers.
  • Proles
  • Regular Editors

While all Wikis are structured around different levels of user privileges, few (if any) take it to the extremes seen at Conservapedia. Regular editors are often reminded of their expendability, while any form of dissent (however justified) toward any member of a "higher" class will result in swift bans being issued.


Unperson (or Nonperson)[edit]

An unperson is any member of the public who is viewed as The Party as being "unacceptable" either due to their conduct, ideals or for undisclosed reasons. The person in question is removed from society (usually to be executed at a later date) and all traces of that person's existence are destroyed by the Ministry of Truth by means of photo manipulation and revisionism of any articles the unperson appeared in (for instance, newspaper articles). Mentioning an unperson is considered a crime in itself (see Thoughtcrime).

  • Users becoming blocked indefinitely,[12] their user and talk pages are burnt.[13]
  • Contributions made by the editor are deleted, sometimes burnt as well.
  • Questioning the decision to remove a user is a bannable offence.[14]

While not a concept that was first introduced by Orwell (such methods were commonly used by the USSR), this is a startling trend nonetheless. Wiki sites will generally allow a user to return soon after their initial offense, with indefinite bans being a last resort. Wikis will generally keep contributions made by banned users, instead of attempting to remove all traces of their existence.


Thought Police, Thoughtcrime[edit]

Orwell's work conceived that there may come a time when certain thoughts are criminal and deserve to be punished. The acts of resenting The Party or Big Brother, the act of affection or love are considered thoughtcrime by The Party. Any member of the public who engaged in Thoughtcrime would be arrested by the Thought Police, and would be labelled an unperson.

  • The act of admitting to any 'liberal' traits or ideology, regardless of other conservative views one might hold, is tantamount to cyber-suicide at Conservapedia.
  • Aschlafly is constantly on the lookout for any editors who may have what he considers 'liberal views', so that he may denounce them.[15]
  • The act of inserting any 'liberal' material into an article is enough to earn a ban, usually for five years or indefinitely.

Aschlafly, and most Conservapedia sysops, are willing to completely disregard the amount of work an editor has placed into their project if they believe the editor has what they consider to be 'liberal views'. At Conservapedia, there is only one correct ideology, Aschlafly's. Any other views or ideologies are treated as 'thoughtcrime' as described by Orwell.


Newspeak[edit]

Newspeak is the preferred language of The Party, who are (at the time the novel is set in) in the process of removing all traces of Oldspeak (English) and replacing them with Newspeak. Newspeak is a straightforward language, each word has one meaning, and only words that are approved by the party may be used. The rationale behind this is to eliminate the ability to convey dissenting opinions of the party, along with the ability to articulate dissenting thoughts. Newspeak is another form of control used by The Party to keep the masses at bay.

  • Aschlafly believes that modern English has a liberal bias.[16]
  • The bible retranslation project is an example of Aschlafly attempting to create his own newspeak version of the bible.[17]

English is a complex language, full of subtlety, nuance and ambiguity. Aschlafly sees this as a threat, as liberals may be able to place hidden messages in seemingly innocent articles, even the bible. His attempts to gain total control over his site have led him to believe that words should only have one meaning, and certain words (such as "RationalWiki") are prohibited from his site. While most sites will censor certain words, this is more to do with civility than outright censorship and control.


Doublethink[edit]

Doublethink is the act of believing in two contradictory ideals. It is sometimes very different to separate Doublethink and hypocrisy. The primary difference being that Doublethink refers to beliefs and views, not actions.

  • Aschlafly swears by the word of god as written in the bible, yet believes the bible to be biased.[17]
  • Wikipedia is seen by Conservapedia as being biased, yet they believe a Wiki based from a "YEC viewpoint" to be neutral and truthful.[18]

Doublethink is likely the result of blind faith. When one believes in an ideal without any rationale to back it up, not even a contradicting view of equal importance to the person is enough to deter them. Aschlafly, who has shown nothing but blind faith is a prime example of how lack of rational thought can lead to doublethink. Psychologically, such an occurrence should lead to stress when a person realizes that their views contradict one another (referred to as cognitive dissonance[19]), however those who follow their views blindly have been known to enter a state of denial when such a realization occurs.


Anti-Sex League, Sexual Repression[edit]

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is the belief of The Party that sexual attachment distracts people from their loyalty to The Party. Sex is used to perform "(one's) duty to the party",[20] that is, to create new Party members. The act of pleasurable sex is viewed as rebellion and desire for sex is considered thoughtcrime. The organization known as the Anti-Sex League pushes for complete celibacy, envisioning a day when all children are the result of artificial insemination. The Party's neurologists work on abolishing the orgasm, allowing Party member's minds to be free to focus solely on their loyalty to The Party.

  • Conservapedia forbids any mention of the mechanics of sexual acts.
  • The Conservapedia article on sexual intercourse contains nothing but one quote outlining the ideology they hold true when it comes to acceptable sex.[21]
  • Only one mention of sex being an act which may be enjoyed is mentioned on Conservapedia, as a form of love identified by ancient Greeks.[22]
  • Conservapedia contains a one-sided article on abstinence which promises that celibacy leads to "Peace of mind in one's life, future relationships, and marriage". [23]

Conservapedia, just like The Party, appear to see sex as the 'means to an end', the creation of new life. Only once do Conservapedia refer to sex as an act of love, however only as part of a definition of an ancient Greek philosophy. Just as with The Party's ideology, Conservapedia only endorses sexual acts under certain conditions, that is, when participants are of opposite genders and are married.

Room 101[edit]

Room 101 is a place within the Ministry of Love where those who have been found guilty of Thoughtcrime are taken to be tortured and mentally conditioned into accepting The Party's ideology. It is said that the thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.[24]

Had to end with a gag, didn't we?


Case Studies[edit]

CPAdmin1 / TimS[edit]

On December 31st 2008, long-serving Conservapedia editor and administrator CPAdmin1 had decided the time had come to stand down from his position owing to his moral objection to the methods used by Aschlafly and other authority figures at Conservapedia.

In his resignation notice, CPAdmin1 thoroughly explained his reasons for leaving Conservapedia. His complaints were properly backed up with evidence gathered from Conservapedia itself, pointing out the bias shown at the site and the intimidating tactics used by Conservapedia's Sysops and admins. In his conclusion, CPAdmin1 likened Conservapedia to Orwell's work.

"(CP) reminds me of 1984. If you disagree with the party you are gotten rid of. If something happens that makes CP or conservatism look bad, the evidence is gotten rid of. If you hold certain positions, you are frowned upon, and much more likely to get blocked."[25]

Following his resignation from Conservapedia, his parting message was promptly removed from the site in order to avoid embarrassment for Aschlafly and Conservapedia,[26] followed by the forced renaming of CPAdmin1 to TimS[27]. It would appear that even when confronted with hard evidence that their conduct mirrors that of The Party as portrayed by Orwell, Conservapedia still opts to use the "Unperson/Memory Hole" tactic.


Bugler[edit]

Shortly after the resignation of CPAdmin1, another of the site's authority figures placed a Parthian Shot on the site, revealing himself to be a parodist who had been working against the best interests of Conservapedia.[28] Bugler, who had long been a suspected parodist, was subjected to being labelled an unperson as their user page and talk page were burnt so as to remove all traces of their existence and to protect Aschlafly and Conservapedia from embarrassment.[13]


Notes[edit]

Please note that due to Conservapedia's habit of burning pages (See Memory Hole, above), links to Conservapedia may become "dead" at any time.

  1. RationalWiki's policy on consensus
  2. Wikipedia's policy on consensus
  3. Conservapedia demonstrating their use of a heavily biased source
  4. Unsourced estimate and incorrect mathematics on display at conservapedia
  5. Typical Conservapedian fabrication
  6. Typical Conservapedia-style reversion of a well-known fact
  7. Cited information is often removed from Conservapedia, merely because it does not match their ideology
  8. Conservapedia does not consider talk pages to be personal, and will constantly monitor them
  9. Wikipedia's talk page guidelines
  10. Conservapedia's article on Professor Richard Lenski
  11. An embarrassing page that has been burnt
  12. Conservapedia's Block Log consists of an ever-increasing list of infinite blocks
  13. 13.0 13.1 Bugler's user page and talk page are burnt so as not to embarrass Aschlafly.
  14. A Conservapedia user questions a ban, and hence is banned as well
  15. Andrew Schlafly accuses one of his editors of liberal traits, in an attempt to discredit their arguments
  16. I can't seem to find where we got this from, I know there's a page on CP where Aschlafly explains how words have changed in meaning. Anyone able to provide a link, please feel free to help out, if it hasn't been burnt that is
  17. 17.0 17.1 Aschlafly considers language in the bible to be too "devolved"
  18. Conservapedian delusions in regards to how they are superior to Wikipedia.
  19. I'm being lazy and citing Wikipedia, by all means check out the sources they cite
  20. George Orwell: "Nineteen Eighty-Four, A Novel", Chapter One. p. 31.
  21. Conservapedia's Sexual intercourse article, highlighting their views on "acceptable sex".
  22. Conservapedia believes that Eros as intended by God is only to be enjoyed by a heterosexual couple who have been wed.
  23. Conservapedia's one-sided Abstinence article.
  24. George Orwell: "Nineteen Eighty-Four, A Novel", Chapter Three. p. 136.
  25. CPAdmin1/TimS' resignation notice likens Conservapedia to Nineteen Eighty-Four
  26. CP authority figures demonstrate their Party-style tactics by removing dissenting opinions left on Conservapedia
  27. CPAdmin1 is forced to change his username
  28. Bugler comes out as a parodist