Friday, March 1, 2013

A quick primer in contemporary doublethink

In George Orwell’s eerily prophetic book Nineteen Eighty-Four, citizens were able to seamlessly adjust their thinking based on what Big Brother wanted them to think. When we were at war with Eurasia, we had always been at war with Eurasia and Eastasia was our ally. When we went to war against Eastasia, we had always been at war with Eastasia and Eurasia was our ally.

It all depended on doublethink – “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... 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 as 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.”

Observing modern political discussion and behavior is a practical exercise in doublethink.

• If a wealthy man spends millions to influence and support politicians: If you agree with his politics, he is protecting democracy; if you disagree, he is a threat to democracy.

• If a president entangles the military in a foreign war: if you agree with his politics, he is making the world a safer place; if you disagree, he is making the U.S. the world’s police force and wasting precious resources.

• If the government runs up a debt it cannot repay and spends more than it receives: If you agree with the leader’s politics, this is merely doing what is necessary to maintain the economy. If you disagree, this is passing the cost of our desires onto the backs of our children and grandchildren.

• Dismantling the Constitution and ignoring the Bill of Rights is OK when politicians with whom you agree are doing it and horrifying when politicians with whom you disagree are doing it.

In each case there is an objective reality: Wealthy men are using their economic power to influence and support politicians in advancing their world vision. Presidents have entangled the nation in expensive foreign wars. The federal government has run up a debt it cannot repay and expenses continue to outrace revenues. The Constitution is being dismantled and the Bill of Rights ignored.

But people’s opinion of the men and women who commit these acts depends entirely on whether the perpetrators pay lip service to a particular political philosophy. If you agree with the avowed philosophy, then the acts are acceptable and defensible. If you disagree, the acts are reprehensible and a threat to democracy. The acts are nearly identical, but doublethink enables us to defend or condemn as appropriate.