When War is Peace and Freedom is Slavery
Language and Power Can Be Manipulated to Distort the Truth
I find it fascinating that people can read George Orwell’s 1984, and even have it be required reading in schools, yet never be able to apply the lessons and themes to real life.
One of my favorite novels, the story shows a dystopian future where totalitarianism is the order of the day, beliefs are crafted by the ruling political party, and the general public is scared into submission. The meaning of words is distorted, such as in their slogans “War is Peace”, and “Freedom is Slavery”. Language is cleverly used to manipulate the masses into compliance with the overarching agenda of the political party that controls the media, the education system and the workplace.
One of the most disturbing and iconic scenes features an Inner Party Member brainwashing the protagonist Winston Smith, during which he holds up four fingers and demands that Smith sees five fingers. In a slow process of torture, Smith eventually learns that his torturer is holding up exactly the amount of fingers that he tells him to see, and not what Smith actually sees and knows to be true. The ultimate lesson in brainwashing is completed when he surrenders his ability to reason, his inclination to challenge authority, and his knowledge of truth and logic. The ultimate lesson in brainwashing is complete when his courage to challenge deceit and retain autonomy over his mind is broken.
We read that novel with the assumption that it pertains only to authoritarian regimes of a distant past. We fail to recognize how in modern society, particularly in social justice spaces, we are being taught to see only what elite politicians, activists, influencers and the HR department wants us to see. We are being forced to accept that physical reality as it is before our eyes, and in our educated minds, is in fact subjective, and that the only incorrect answer is the truth.
Where was the torture process? Where is the dictator telling us to disbelieve our lying eyes? Where was the violence that usually precedes such total compliance to mass indoctrination? The process is a social one, where we decide that preserving our reputation and career and status is much more important than rocking the boat. If no one else…