This rambling comes from some remarks made in the recent past about the way in which Mailites frequently reference '1984' when, in almost complete certainty, they have never read it, or if the do, they don't understand it. Sorry it's so long.
One of the common memes of Daily Mail (and other) commenters is that life in Britain, especially under Blair and Brown, was in some way a fulfillment of George Orwell’s prophesies in ‘1984’ - though I should state at the beginning that the book is really called ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and is a satire, analysis and warning about contemporary political trends, not a prophesy or prediction.
It’s a fair bet that most of those commenters have never read the book, and have gained all their ideas of it in some secondhand way, probably from the comments of others and an unformed idea that it predicts totalitarian government, the booted foot stamping on a human face. The simple destruction and negation of their rights by such actions as adopting the European Declaration on Human Rights. I shall come to Blackwhite and Doublethink later.
But of course the book is much more than that. The central theme is about how the ruling elite destroys the ability of the masses to think individually and critically, and replaces truth with lies, intended to maintain the elite’s power and the masses’ impotence. The genius, and the chilling evil, is to persuade the masses to collude in their own emasculation.
I was intrigued by this thought, and the idea that the real institutions that embody the principles of Ingsoc discussed in ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ were more likely the newspapers and other outlets in which those comments are so eagerly published. So I went and re-read the book, after at least forty years.
For those who don’t know it, the book concerns the central character Winston Smith. Smith is an Outer Party member and a worker at the Ministry of Truth (which according to the principles of doublespeak deals in propaganda and lies, specifically altering the past to validate the present). He is a rebel, not convinced by the Party line, the Two Minutes Hate. He sees the manipulation and falsehoods.
Smith falls into a romantic relationship with a young woman, Julia, who is also an Outer Party member and a social and sexual rebel. She has a promiscuous past, unlike the repressed Winston. She represents, at its simplest, life and uncomplicated physicality. Smith is also deeply moved by the uncontrolled, physical lives of the ‘proles’ - the non-party people, the great majority, who live day-to-day and escape the restrictions paced on Outer Party Members.
Eventually, of course, Winston and Julia are arrested and subjected to torture and brainwashing. By the end of the book Winston has become a true follower of Ingsoc, a lover of Big Brother, a willing party member who can believe that white is black and 2+2=5.
But there is more. In the centre of the novel (a part I suspect many readers skip) there is a key section in which Winston is given a copy of The Book to read by a member of the Inner Party. In this section Orwell describes the methods used to establish and maintain thought control and manipulation of the masses. It is, of course, ironic, because the book is probably false propaganda used to entrap dissidents, but may also contain the truth.
Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.
The aims of these groups are entirely irreconcilable…
There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented Middle group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern. These causes do not operate singly, and as a rule all four of them are present in some degree. A ruling class which could guard against all of them would remain in power permanently. Ultimately the determining factor is the mental attitude of the ruling class itself.
This is the situation we find ourselves in under the present coalition government. A large number of members of the ‘High’, the establishment (for the ‘economic liberals’ are just as much members of the establishment and the ‘ruling classes’ as their Tory partners) have now banded together to defeat the rise of the middle and ‘Low’ working classes, to affirm their control of the levers of power, both parliamentary and fiscal, legal and commercial. To do this all means and methods have been mobilised, the press supports them, they are emasculating the BBC and gerrymandering parliament, they are suppressing dissent.
Orwell describes the world of 1984 in terms of war between three great power blocs, Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania. However, in our press and increasingly in our national life we are constantly engaged in a different war, the war against the foreign and the different, that which threatens our identity and core values and whips up the Middle and the Low to unquestioningly support the Elite. Why does the Winterval myth not disappear after being so comprehensively debunked? Why did the deportee’s cat have so many lives? In order to illustrate that the war exists and continues, the war which the others - Europe, Muslims, it doesn’t much matter who - are waging against us and which cause us to give up our rights to defend ourselves.
it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of Doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real
So the reader - the inner party member or initiate - knows that what he reads is not likely to be true, but in order to maintain the Doublethink of the war he must believe it. 2+2=5.
If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality.
Orwell describes this purpose further:
Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother [or in our case the personification of the right wing press and its political acolytes] is omnipotent and that the Party [the mindset and movement that stems from it] is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the party is not infallible, there is need
for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The keyword here is Blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as Doublethink.
I could go on, and I might if BBN would lend me his blog again, but to my perception these aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four apply much more readily to the Mail, Express, Sun and Star than to any ‘leftie’ group, including the Blair and Brown governments. For all their failings those governments seem to me to have been actively engaged in promoting reality about social issues, rather than promoting doublethink.
Where there is great doubt, there will be great awakening; small doubt, small awakening, no doubt, no awakening.