Striving to silence voices with which the mainstream media disagrees, the New York Times has urged President Joe Biden to appoint a “reality czar” to lead the fight against “disinformation and domestic extremism.”
But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles) — the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four 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.”
— George Orwell, 1984 (pages 31-32 in the Signet reprint of the 1949 hardcover).
If all records are made to tell the same (lying) tale, then the memory of the past can be altered for the purposes of exercising control over others. Drawing a veil over the memory of the past, and imposing a false picture of the past in its place, is a tremendously powerful weapon — as George Orwell dramatizes in 1984.
“Liberty isn’t a thing you are given as a present. He who thinks with his own head is a free man. Liberty is something you have to take for yourself. It’s no use begging it from others.” – Pietro Spina in Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone
The year made famous by George Orwell in his oracular novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, has long come and gone. Commentators have had a field day expounding upon Orwell’s hermetic vision of a possible totalitarian world. Big Brother, newspeak, doublethink, now accepted parts of our lexicon, have appropriately been applied to various aspects of political life: the Patriot Act, spying, drones, cameras, media and government propaganda, etc.
“We need to introduce new ground rules for political discourse.”
(November 8, 2007)
NEW YORK – In his novel 1984, George Orwell chillingly described a totalitarian regime in which all communication is controlled by a Ministry of Truth and dissidents are persecuted by political police. The United States remains a democracy governed by a constitution and the rule of law, with pluralistic media, yet there are disturbing signs that the propaganda methods Orwell described have taken root here.
The DC Navy Yard shooting marks yet another disturbing and tragic event that illustrates the dangers of lax gun laws and limited access to mental healthcare. Irrational notions that gunman and former US serviceman Aaron Alexis may have been under government surveillance and one or more forms of electronic harassment have nonetheless arisen. These thought crimes are not helpful in this time of national mourning and point to the sheer lunacy of those who traffic in them.
This essay originally appeared on September 21, 2001 as an installment of my biweekly Daily Iowan column, “Firing Line.” The piece uses George Orwell’s 1984 as a basis to suggest how from the very beginning the corporate media played a central role in setting the stage for the prevalent Osama bin Laden-Al Qaeda myth, the related “blowback” thesis vigorously embraced by the progressive-left community, and the assemblage of rearguard actions defending such perspectives and reflexively labeling all accounts conflicting with government pronouncements as “conspiracy theories.”
An expertly orchestrated barrage of 9/11 propaganda in the weeks and months following the attacks had a devastatingly traumatic effect on a majority of the US population while simultaneously rendering many of the most legitimate and important questions to the sidelines. Together these discursive elements have helped to create an environment where, as Orwell envisaged, essential civil liberties have been forsaken and perpetual war has become the norm. -JT
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance-it is the illusion of knowledge.”-Daniel Boorstin
In George Orwell’s 1984 the Outer Party comprised a mere thirteen percent of the population and was subject to the ideological filters in play at the Ministry of Truth and the broader bureaucratic structure. A specific language and way of thinking were closely adhered to. Given their political import, Outer Party members were the most heavily indoctrinated and controlled inhabitants of Oceania. The majority Proles who constituted the remainder of the population was of little consequence so long as their political awareness remained underdeveloped.