November 22, 2008

Ignorance is Strength

In my rather ample (at the moment) free time, I've decided to re-read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is partially just to refresh my memory. I was 15 the last time I read it, and I skipped over a couple parts, including the excerpts from Goldstein's book, because I had to write a book report and got too close to the deadline. Also, I'm trying to apply it to the current political climate, as I'm sure others have done.

Just so you know, those who have read the book will probably get more out of this post.

I have to say, first of all, that it's a lot more meaningful now than it was eight years ago. I obviously understand more of it, and in contrast to the last time, when the word "politics" was synonymous with the word "boring" in my mind, it's actually interesting.

As much as those of us on the right like to compare leftist policies to those of Ingsoc, and vice versa, it's important to note that the train of thought leading to the worship of Big Brother contains elements of both the collectivist/anti-individualist extreme left and the nationalist/war-obsessed extreme right. Ultimately, however, it is called "English Socialism," so it's pretty clear that despite Orwell's own leftist leanings, he's condemning totalitarian socialism (or "Oligarchical Collectivism," as it's called in the novel).

Ironically, Orwell's socialism can be seen as a type of doublethink: the ability to both believe a lie and realize that one believes a lie. He was apparently a "democratic socialist," but his own work seems to indicate his reluctant acceptance of the fact that this type of government will ultimately end in a dictatorship. Kind of fun to think about.

Right now, as the title would suggest, I'm reading through the "Ignorance is Strength" section of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. As I mentioned, I skipped over this part when I read the book before. These sections explain the historical events leading up to the establishment of Ingsoc and some of its core philosophies. Part of one passage, which describes the indoctrination and resulting mindset of Party members, strikes me as particularly relevant to our present situation:

The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, crimestop. 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.

As I said above, it's foolish to think that this applies only to one side of the modern political spectrum. On the other hand, as I read through that, I couldn't help but compare it to the thought process of someone who was educated by a system that emphasizes good feelings over critical thinking and good intentions over results, and who has additionally been hammered with propaganda until their only response to a criticism of their beliefs is to declare that criticism a lie and accuse the critic of being a racist or a homophobe. That type of person would also engage in many interactions such as the one described here:

An e-mail from a reader mentioned trying to tell his sister why he was voting against Obama but, when he tried to argue some facts, she cut him short: "You don't like him and I do!" she said. End of discussion.

Anyway, the book continues:

But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one's own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party 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.

Once again, I'm sure a liberal could find plenty of examples to throw back at me, but I still can't help thinking, for example, of Democrats describing the threat of Iraq's WMD program and then later claiming that Bush lied about WMD and Democrats were always against attacking Iraq. Or, if that doesn't work, how about Democrats encouraging financial institutions to approve loans to people who couldn't pay them back, then later claiming that "Republican deregulation" caused the ensuing financial crisis? Or even more recently, Bill Ayers claiming that he was never a terrorist, despite his earlier admission that he planted bombs and wished he had done more? Or how about...well, you get the idea.

More food for thought: Earlier in the book, Winston's lover Julia is described in a way that also seems somewhat relevant:

In the ramifications of party doctrine she had not the faintest interest. Whenever he began to talk of the principles of Ingsoc, doublethink, the mutability of the past, and the denial of objective reality, and to use Newspeak words, she became bored and confused and said that she never paid any attention to that kind of thing. One knew that it was all rubbish, so why let oneself be worried by it? She knew when to cheer and when to boo, and that was all one needed...

...Talking to her, he realized how easy it was to present an appearance of orthodoxy while having no grasp whatever of what orthodoxy meant. In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.

Of course, Julia rebels against the Party, but it's more because she doesn't like being controlled than because she disagrees with their ideas, which she admits she doesn't even understand. Once again, if you combine her knowledge of "when to cheer and when to boo" with the later description of the true believers, it's eerily reminiscent of something like this:

512 Obama Voters 11/13/08-11/15/08 MOE +/- 4.4 points

97.1% High School Graduate or higher, 55% College Graduates

Results to 12 simple Multiple Choice Questions

57.4% could NOT correctly say which party controls congress (50/50 shot just by guessing)

71.8% could NOT correctly say Joe Biden quit a previous campaign because of plagiarism (25% chance by guessing)

82.6% could NOT correctly say that Barack Obama won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot (25% chance by guessing)

88.4% could NOT correctly say that Obama said his policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket (25% chance by guessing)

56.1% could NOT correctly say Obama started his political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground (25% chance by guessing).

And yet.....

Only 13.7% failed to identify Sarah Palin as the person on which their party spent $150,000 in clothes

Only 6.2% failed to identify Palin as the one with a pregnant teenage daughter

And 86.9 % thought that Palin said that she could see Russia from her "house," even though that was Tina Fey who said that!!

Only 2.4% got at least 11 correct.

Only .5% got all of them correct. (And we "gave" one answer that was technically not Palin, but actually Tina Fey)

On a final note, I feel I should mention that many of the Party faithful in this book (especially Mr. Parsons) could be reasonably described as "community organizers." Not that I'm insinuating anything...

I'm going to keep reading now. Down with Big Brother.

Posted by CD on November 22, 2008 02:43 AM | TrackBack
Category: General Stupidity
Semi-Intelligent Comments

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