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Orwell's Warning: Doublethink
The Rational Argumentator ^ | April 11, 2003 | G. Stolyarov II

Posted on 04/11/2003 7:08:41 PM PDT by G. Stolyarov II

This essay is the fourth in a series designed to dissect the totalitarian mentality portrayed in George Orwell's 1984 and to draw parallels to trends in modern academia and the socipolitical arena of today. The following is an index of previous portions of this commentary: 1. Collectivism: 2. Antiprogressivism: 3. Relativism: 4. Doublethink - You are here. Read on to continue your analysis of this topic.

It is apparent at present that the fallacy of relativism is littered with assertions of infantile naïveté and a complete disregard for man's welfare. Relativism, evaluated from the perspective of logic, would crumble in the face of the first blows. Of course, for the devious planners of the Party such a truth would imply only this: that logic itself now poses a hindrance to their morally incorrect aim. What remains as their option? To supply an "alternate framework of evaluation" which is devoid of logic and simultaneously possesses an obscurity and opaqueness which conceals its sheer foolishness. This mandatory analytical strategy in Oceania has been rightly dubbed "doublethink" and emerges from the overall jumble of contradictions within this oligarchic tyranny.

"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. Even in using the word 'doublethink' it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. Ultimately, it is by means of doublethink that the Party has been able-- and may, for all we know, continue to be able for thousands of years-- to arrest the course of history." (p. 177) This unfortunate technique, opposed in its essence to logic is evidently founded upon contradictions, inconsistencies, rhetorical tricks outside the Absolute Reality, in summation, logical fallacies. It is by means of logical fallacies that the Party is able to instill its illogical philosophy, which in turn would lead to the actualization of its ever more illogical objective, the intrinsic value-pursuit of destructive power. Into every one of its aspects the Party weaves this hypocrisy. "This peculiar linking-together of opposites-- knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism-- is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even where there is no practical reason for them. Thus, the Party rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of Socialism. It preaches a contempt for the working class unequaled for centuries past, and it dresses its members in a uniform which was at one time peculiar to manual workers and was adopted for that reason. It systematically undermines the solidarity of the family, and it calls its leader by a name which is a direct appeal to the sentiments of family loyalty." (p. 178) And, unusually enough, it is because of such flaws that the Party is strengthened. Its persecutions and abuses become softened in the populace’s perception because the Party simultaneously embraces a viewpoint diametrically opposite its actions. A man thoroughly bludgeoned with doublethink would therefore be crippled into a state of intellectual paralysis, unable to criticize his overlords' misdeeds because he sees not the identity of such atrocities nor the side of the multi-faceted Party ideology from which they sprout their roots. This is the aim for relativist "sages", the goal of not knowing.

And it is precisely this unconscious, empty-minded automaton which becomes the foot soldier of the paradigm. An example employed by Orwell of the consequences of such "mental training" as that, which the Party utilizes to indoctrinate its subjects, is the tale of one, Mr. Syme, a colleague of Mr. Smith's in the Ministry of Truth. Syme is a staunch adherent to the dominant dogma and is one of the principle framers of yet another tactic intended to undermine divergent thought in Oceania, the language Newspeak (to be extrapolated upon in greater detail within subsequent sections). This man performs his duties with unquestioning loyalty, but in the end he is destroyed, "vaporized" (i.e. mysteriously erased from existence and the memory of a society which believes in the "mutability of the past"), due to one key admission he has created in his psyche, a cunning insight into the elite's motivations and the strategies by which they would implement it. He comprehends the deception, treachery, and vile political aims, he relishes them nevertheless, yet this did not save him. Mr. Orwell explains, "Zeal was not enough. Orthodoxy was unconsciousness." (p. 49) The relativist mold cannot produce a fully functional automaton if the conspiracies are known, the fallacies identified, the artifice grasped. The man aware of the genuine nature of such an order will, as the Party realizes, seek the only rational opportunity remaining to him, an adaptation to such a regime which, through his loyalty, will be earning him elevation and security, offspring of comfort, which the fundamental aims of the Party cannot by any means permit. These were precisely the aspirations of Syme, and precisely the reasons for his elimination by the orthodoxy.

Stupidity, confusion, impulse, dependence on authority are bred through this unconsciousness. One, Julia, a colleague of Winston's, has been capable of surviving the Party tyranny successfully due to a manifestation of these characteristics. "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 easily 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 certain grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird." (p. 129) It is, of course, a matter of common sense that persons lacking intellectual capacity are better able to succumb to logical fallacies. Therefore, such characteristics as those present in Julia, although they possess a chance of rendering the individual insufficiently "zealous" toward "government" issues, will at the least create no opposition to the Party's wicked objectives, nor an impression of striving for one's own comfort. As a guideline for totalitarian regimes, the degree of intellect present in a society is inversely proportional to the orthodoxy's ability to attain its goals. The historically recurrent persecutions of insightful thinkers by power-hungry oligarchies can now be explained as the offspring of a fundamentally flawed epistemology and analytical framework. Where, in a meritocracy, creativity and knowledge are valued for their necessity to life, in a collective despotism they are violently suppressed because they oppose the elite's ultimate value of death.

The doublethink mentality, antithetical to the intellect and, therefore, to thought, must therefore be conveyed by the orthodoxy to the populace through other means. It must be placed into yet unrefined minds, into persons unexposed to the obvious truths which we have thus far examined in this commentary, which, if brought into the open, would sound a death knell for totalitarian behemoths throughout the world. It must, in other words, be bludgeoned into those specimens of society on whom our initial explorations have been centered, the children. "A Party member is required to have not only the right opinions, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in Ingsoc. If he is a person naturally orthodox (in Newspeak, a goodthinker), he will in all circumstances know, without taking thought, what is the true belief or the desirable emotion. But in any case an elaborate mental training, undergone in childhood and grouping itself round the Newspeak words 'crimestop', 'blackwhite', and 'doublethink', makes him unwilling and unable to think too deeply on any subject whatever." (p. 174) Thus, thought and analysis within an individual are stifled by impression and stereotype, a typically orthodox approach. The "unwritten rules" of society are here enforced with vigor because, unlike an objective written law code (which Oceania, as must be emphasized, lacks, in accord with its lack of belief in objective morality, thus the inability to develop a universal framework of negative obligations for citizens. Because the prosperity of the ruling elite is the only standard, a code of laws would be a hindrance to them, since for the convenience of the Party what was a crime yesterday may need to become the mandate today, only to plummet again to the status of crime tomorrow), which seeks to evaluate an individual and distribute reward or punishment based on actions, a totalitarian regime is primarily concerned with thoughts. There is no opportunity to challenge one's paradigm nor to enhance one's intellectual capacities in Oceania, for the accepted spectrum of knowledge equals the mandated perception of the world. All else is restricted not merely by physical coercion, but by an attitudinal establishment, instilled into the credulous young and irreversible in later stages of life. What is the mentality of "crimestop" in greater depth? "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. But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one's 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." (p. 175) To summarize, crimestop is the practice of closing one's mind to the external. In precisely the manner that Oceanian children are instructed to submit their physical resources to the elite yet sadistically unleash the fullest extent of their savagery upon subversives, so they perform with their minds, literal sponges concerning whatever ludicrous absurdities and hypocrisy they are presented by the orthodoxy, virtual stones to any matter beyond the pathetically narrow limits of their indoctrination.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: 1984; antiprogressivism; authoritarianism; capitalism; collectivism; doublethink; george; georgeorwell; individualism; meritocracy; orwell; relativism; totalitarianism; warning
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G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician and composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, writer for Objective Medicine, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He can be contacted at
1 posted on 04/11/2003 7:08:42 PM PDT by G. Stolyarov II
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2 posted on 04/11/2003 7:09:57 PM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: G. Stolyarov II
3 posted on 04/11/2003 7:21:42 PM PDT by LiteKeeper
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To: G. Stolyarov II
I am convinced the key to imposing doublething is control over the structure of language --overuse of the metaphor, evasive (bland) abstraction, deletion of confrontive concepts and vocabulary, and so forth.
4 posted on 04/11/2003 7:24:36 PM PDT by RLK
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Your insight here is indeed correct. As a matter of fact, a later section of my commentary (not yet posted) is devoted to the oligarchy's imposition of Newspeak, the precise deletion of vocabulary, shades of meaning, and any terminology that may spark dissent that you mention. This trend, to a milder degree, is quite visible in today's "politically correct" lingo, which shuns argumentation in favor of blandness, monotony, and agreeability.
5 posted on 04/11/2003 7:30:37 PM PDT by G. Stolyarov II (
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To: G. Stolyarov II; RLK

The Party said that [the United States] had never been in alliance with [Saddam Hussein]. He, Winston Smith, knew that [the United States] had been in alliance with [Saddam] as short a time as [15] years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control,' they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink.'
6 posted on 04/11/2003 7:30:50 PM PDT by JohnGalt (Class of '98)
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To: G. Stolyarov II
1984 was a novel, and a rather mediocre one at that. Presenting it as a study of rhetoric is emabarassing.

For you.

7 posted on 04/11/2003 7:36:40 PM PDT by Trailerpark Badass
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To: JohnGalt
Orwell warned, the people didn't listen.
8 posted on 04/11/2003 7:42:37 PM PDT by UnBlinkingEye
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To: G. Stolyarov II
This trend, to a milder degree, is quite visible in today's "politically correct" lingo, which shuns argumentation in favor of blandness, monotony, and agreeability.


Freedom of choice = abortion.

9 posted on 04/11/2003 7:43:42 PM PDT by RLK
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Comment #10 Removed by Moderator

To: UnBlinkingEye
Orwell was a socialist who picked up a gun for Stalin, even if he felt bad about it after. He wrote some great stuff though...
11 posted on 04/11/2003 7:47:35 PM PDT by JohnGalt (Class of '98)
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To: UnBlinkingEye
You misspelled dumb in your screen name.

Follow any internet chalatan you want, but this is trash. And I read it twice.

12 posted on 04/11/2003 7:52:58 PM PDT by Trailerpark Badass
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To: Coyote; Noumenon
Check this out.


13 posted on 04/11/2003 7:53:00 PM PDT by Lurker ("One man of reason and goodwill is worth more, actually and potentially, than a million fools" AR)
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To: Trailerpark Badass
Presenting it as an example of rhetoric may not be the best thing to do, but I don't think that's what's being done here.

It's an attempt at an in depth analysis of the novel, and when viewed in that light, it's not bad.

At least IMO.



14 posted on 04/11/2003 7:57:34 PM PDT by Lurker ("One man of reason and goodwill is worth more, actually and potentially, than a million fools" AR)
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To: Lurker
Perhaps your right, and I mischaracterized the poster's intent. I just never assumed that something I read in 8th grade would lend itself to "in-depth analysis."
15 posted on 04/11/2003 8:03:59 PM PDT by Trailerpark Badass
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To: Trailerpark Badass
Not only that,but the notion that mid-century totalitarian governments used sophisticated rhetorical tropes to subjugate the populace is absurd. Brute force, unrelenting, combined with enforced starvation of an illiterate population is what was perpetrated.

Orwell is, at best, an amusing distraction.

16 posted on 04/11/2003 8:15:04 PM PDT by Trailerpark Badass
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To: Trailerpark Badass
My recommendation? Re-read it - and compare it while you're reading it to current university "speech codes".

Orwell wrote better than you probably remember. I am sure you will enjoy it on another read-through.
17 posted on 04/11/2003 8:15:56 PM PDT by Republicanus_Tyrannus
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To: Trailerpark Badass
I read Orwell in the 8th grade also. But the one that really got to me was "Anthem" by Rand. Pardon the analogy, but while Orwell could be considered a nice wine, Rand was a shot of 100 proof single malt for a 12 year old.

I kind of enjoyed this guys analysis. Orwell wrote a truly masterful book IMO. It hasn't aged all that well, I'll agree. But, he did accurately lay out the 'logic' necessary to run a truly monstrous totalitarian state. Judging from recent events, one could call Orwell a truly prescient individual.

Lucky for us that the tyrants he envisioned have, at least recently, been consigned to the relative backwaters of the planet. In that regard, we have been very lucky. If it weren't for the US, the entire world would be living under various guises of Saddam, Il Jong, Pol Pot, et al.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading this well researched bit of work on a book which I too read in High School.

The fact that it isn't still required reading in most High Schools is more than just a little disturbing to me.



18 posted on 04/11/2003 8:20:30 PM PDT by Lurker ("One man of reason and goodwill is worth more, actually and potentially, than a million fools" AR)
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To: G. Stolyarov II
You can see this in action on

The party has landed.
19 posted on 04/11/2003 8:26:16 PM PDT by VxH
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To: Trailerpark Badass
Brute force, unrelenting, combined with enforced starvation of an illiterate population is what was perpetrated.


The intellectual class is convinced that wordsmiths can only create the ultimate totalitarian society. The wordsmith's are, in fact, the useful idiots of the viscous, illiterate thugs that always run the show.

20 posted on 04/11/2003 8:42:39 PM PDT by elbucko
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