Handfuls of Dust and Splinters of Bone, Part 5
Doublethink and the Subjugation of Reality
What is it to “extend the area of sanity,” as Orwell suggests? Sanity is truth, standing in contrast to the madness of doublethink. Doublethink, which together with Newspeak is the foundation of the Party’s construction of whole realities, is insanity. Simply defined, insanity is the denial of what is real.
The culmination of the madness is to deny not just facts, but reality itself. At one point O’Brien shows Winston a newspaper clipping that proves that the Party has been lying. Then he tosses it down the memory hole.
Ashes,' he said. 'Not even identifiable ashes. Dust. It does not exist. It never existed.'
'But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.'
'I do not remember it,' said O'Brien.
Later, Winston tries to argue that there is reality outside the mind of the Party. “You don't even control the climate or the law of gravity.”
O'Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. 'We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility, levitation—anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We make the laws of Nature.'
One quickly recalls Karl Rove’s infamous boast, “We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Something is true if it serves “the narrative.” Bush administration officials were probably well aware that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction claims were fraudulent, but because they were part of a reality construction that served their ends, those claims became true—in the sense of their inclusion into official reality.
That is why Orwell has O’Brien say, “There will be no science.” If science, in the ideal, is the pursuit of truth independent of human prejudice, then it is contrary to the interests of the Party, which must then commandeer scientific institutions to produce whatever “facts” serve its narrative.
I cannot help but interject from the perspective of 2022 (the bulk of this essay I wrote in 2009 and 2010). Over the last few years we have seen “fact checkers” repeatedly flag objectively factual statements as false. From the Orwellian perspective, they are indeed false, because they contradict the Party’s reality. That is also why countless social media posts describing people’s first-hand experience of vaccine adverse events were removed as false information or violations of community standards. These stories conflicted with the officially true narrative that vaccines are safe, and the bigger, implicit narrative of humanity’s endless technological progress improving life.
Something is true if it serves the greater good. Something is true if it serves the Party. Something is true if it improves the position of our side, Team Good. Lies in service of the Party are therefore not lies.
The most extreme liars give every appearance of truthfulness, because their mastery of doublethink is such that they are able to lie to themselves about lying. The architects of today’s colossal deceptions believe and disbelieve them simultaneously. Within their lies, they are telling the truth, We must understand doubethink if we are to understand the operation of power in the world.
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 know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.... and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.
Doublethink necessarily accompanies devotion to power, because power supersedes truth. Examples abound in politics, such as the United States and its established media claiming to champion democracy and human rights while supporting some of the world’s most brutal regimes so long as they acquiesce to US demands. Today, politicians earnestly invoke high legal standards in prosecuting their opponents, while cynically ignoring the same standards when it comes to themselves and their allies. Standards, principles, and morals are subordinate to power, trotted out in service to it, discarded otherwise.
When external reality does not conform to the matrix of lies, external reality must be modified. The propagandist does so with clear conscience, because after all the narrative-contradicting real world records and data are, by definition, false. When Orwell wrote 1984 in the late 1940s, the technology to alter records of the past was in its infancy: airbrushed photographs and so forth. Today, when nearly all records are electronic, this alteration can happen with a few keystrokes. Entire events can be rewritten or erased. We are entering an era of intensifying confusion as to what is real. Struggles for power are escalating into struggles to control reality itself, via the control of words and minds.
The post-modernism that took shape in the 1960s gives philosophical cover to the madness when it asserts that reality is a social construct. Ignoring, for this moment, the paradox implicit in that statement’s use of the word “is,” let us observe the hubris in it. It isn’t actually “post” modern at all, it is the culmination of modernity’s ambition to conquer nature. Declaring that there is nothing outside the human realm, it enthrones humanity as reality’s master. It does grope toward an important truth—that reality and perception, observer and observed, self and other are mutually co-arising and intricately entwined—but it fails to countenance the possibility of other intelligences beyond the human. Reality is, perhaps, all a story—but who is the Storyteller?
Here we can see a link between the totalized power of the Party in 1984 with the ideology of domination that animates modern civilization. Each is mad, because each traps itself in a false reality, a matrix of illusions pretending to be real. This madness swells as civilization moves from the industrial to the digital age, as the malleability of the virtual world and its disconnect from the material facilitate the delusion that reality is our own construction.
Lost in a self-reinforcing world of numbers, symbols, and beliefs, we cannot see the suffering our choices cause. The power of this false reality is such that even when we can see the suffering, we twist evil into good—if that is what is required to maintain the narrative.
What I am describing here is doublethink expanded to the level of an entire culture. It is the opposite of sanity.
How do you and I, as aspiring members of the Brotherhood, expand the area of sanity? Certainly, we can strive to recognize doublethink, and especially its pernicious expression in the tendency to do evil in the name of good. We can face the insanity of the division of the world into good and evil. We can unlearn the war mentality that maintains it. But joining the Brotherhood is not the result of a mental exercise. The human mind will always organize the world into categories and meanings. We have to accept that. But we must not allow that power to usurp the sovereignty of other aspects of the social being.
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further to this....
the opposite of chaos is harmony. What an extraordinary blend of spices and atoms and directions exploded, stretching now near to '14 billion' whatevers in a linear sense. We have linear time stretching this eternal explosion out into a story so vast, the cosmos becomes sacred storied ground...
But even if I get this, and I do...... as a small speck..... I still have the day to day conundrums..... dog training issues, and sources greens etc.....
....... and seriously, how much bad weather can we withstand before we jettison off the planet....
yikes, what a trip.
"there are no bad dogs. only bad owners...." so much responsibility. My microaggressions surface....
The only logical meaning of "post-modern" is "of the future, that which has not yet happened." Other uses are doublethink, as is drawing a boundary between "the modern era" and the now. The proper response to doublethink is to laugh: "No, really! What are you trying to say?"