Saturday, July 25, 2009

Propaganda: Orwell Blackwhite Doublethink

No discussion of propaganda would be complete withuot a reference to George Orwell. For example, this famous bit from the futuristic novel 1984.

The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. "

– Part II, chapter IX - chapter I of Goldstein's book

I believe that in this one paragraph, Orwell foretold the coming of the both the Internet and Fox News. For those of you who wonder how a book called 1984 could be about the future, you will just have to figure it out for yourselves. When I first read it, 1984 did seem so impossibly far into the future that almost anything could be true.

A modern example of doublethink could be taken from the 2004 election, where the man who volunteered twice for duty in Vietnam, and was a decorated war hero, was said to be a coward and a traitor by the Republican party faithful, while George W Bush, who sat out the Vietnam war in luxury, and never served in combat, was said to be the war hero.

What Orwell was saying was, if enough people believe the opposite of reality, then reality itself becomes the delusion. The lie then becomes the plain facts. This can happen with modern propaganda. If Fox news repeats often enough that Obama is responsible for the economic collapse, then anyone who denies it can qualify for a mental health checkup.

It is not enough any more to believe in and publicly state state something completely opposite to reality any more . Now to be an up-to-date "blackwhite" from the year 2009, you must also curse, misspell, and accuse people who rely on plain facts of being mindless zombies. With the anonymity and speed of of the Internet, you now can cross-post with multiple identities, misrepresenting your true agenda to gain more credibility. For example, you can claim to be a liberal on the Internet while driving your Hummer with Vote Bush bumper stickers in real life. It is not enough to merely be ignorant, but you must be proud of it. You must believe that education itself is ignorance, and that it is your God-given duty to be as ignorant of the facts as humanly possible, while continuing to spout the opinions of your political party at a pace impossible to imagine in Orwell's day.

The most frustrating irony of all this is that when all the Doublethink becomes the norm, one of the very first goals of the doublethinkers is to accuse their opponents of doublethink. Think about that (twice).

More up-to-date examples found on the Internet, of doublethink, what Orwell called blackwhite.
  1. "The bible is the source of all scientific advances"
  2. "Scientists have held back the advance of technology that comes from the Bible"
  3. "It's the liberals who start wars, not the conservatives"
  4. "Darwinists caused the holocaust"
  5. "Jesus was pro-war"
  6. "Big business loves saving the environment"
  7. "Palestinians are stronger than Israelis, so Israel has to defend itself by any means possible"
  8. "Arabs blew up the Oklahoma federal building"
  9. "Liberals are intolerant, conservatives are compassionate"
  10. "Black people are oppressing whites in America, so they are the true racists"
  11. "I believe in Adam and Eve because I love science."

From Conservapedia, two conflicting ideas in different entries placed together for the absurdity.
"Hitler is a leftist" and "Leftists favour reduced military spending"

Classic Conservapedia definition of a liberal
"A liberal (also leftist) is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing. Liberalism began as a movement for individual liberties, but today is increasingly statist, and in Europe even socialistic."

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to this problem, I defer to Adolph Hitler. In his seminal work, Mein Kampf, he perceptively writes:

    ... in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie ... [emphasis added]

    And H.L.Mencken observed that, 'people will believe what they want to believe.'

    Certainly isn't encouraging. Especially in a time when useful information, even (in some cases) the truth, is readily available, that the masses can continue to be manipulated so readily.

    Sigh :-(