In George Orwell’s landmark dystopian novel 1984, the Party controls its citizenry by controlling reality. The true genius of the Party is not that it simply “vaporizes” dissenters, but that it makes it impossible to dissent with any type of objective proof. Through the delegitimization of science, rewriting of history, and use of doublethink; the Party manages to create a world where the only truth is what the Party decrees- and no one has any external method of refutation. Chillingly, this specific methodology outlined in Orwell’s work is so realistic, so airtight, it just might be happening today.
In 1984 the Party has, in fact, abolished science. Not necessarily as a process, but as a concept, in order to cement its own control, or tyranny, over the truth. The idea that empirical, absolute truth can be derived from science is done away with as it’s a method of deriving truth alien to the Party’s influence. While torturing and converting Winston, O’Brien makes this point exactly, stating that the Party is perfectly happy to use scientifically accurate astronomy for navigation, but doesn’t concede that it’s somehow true, offering an earth-centric model as an equally true alternative (Orwell 265-266). The Party is happy to wield science as a tool, but it gives it no credibility as a method that derives truths, especially when it’s results are deemed inconvenient, thereby perverting its purpose and very nature. Out of the three aspects that make the Party’s power possible, we’re furthest from disregarding science. Nevertheless, we’re apt to twist science ourselves as well.
Both sides of the political aisle reference ‘the Science’ as the unquestionable and inherently moral basis for their actions. They then proceed to take whatever action benefits them politically regardless. This can be seen on the right in regards to vehement anti-masking, and climate alarmism on the left. There are measures of truth to both positions: the evidence on the effectiveness of masks has been unclear, especially due to their apparent lack of effectiveness on a state by state basis. (“What U.S. States Require Masks In Public?)(The Heritage Foundation). On the left the claim that the climate is warming is indeed true( “Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet.” ). That’s the science. Then terrible policy that goes far beyond what the actual science suggests is pushed for political purposes, often shielded from criticism by ‘the Science’. The most recent and notable example of this is the Green New Deal. The parallel present here is not subtle; just as in 1984, we’re apt to use science when it’s convenient, but scorn it for political purposes. To ensure that “the Party is always right” (Orwell 90.) O’Brien makes a claim mentioned earlier that falls in line with this mode of thinking: the sun is the center of the solar system until the Party says otherwise. (Orwell 265-266.) If this continues too far, eventually our technological progress will likely begin to slow, along with the rise of quality of life. Productive discourse is already under threat, but with the abolition of empiricism it’d become all but impossible. If we’re not careful we might lose true science altogether and be left only with ‘the Science’, where “it is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes to the Party”(Orwell 249). Or, more accurately, one’s party.
When it comes to rewriting history though, we in the real world are nearly as gross offenders as Big Brother. What’s worse; we tend to do it for the same reason- to decide reality as we see fit. History is the only frame of reference we have for predicting human behaviors on a political or cultural level. If those in 1984 could remember history, remember the capitalists aren’t evil, remember what life was like before, and remember the past the Party is lying about, the Party would fall. As Goldstein wrote within 1984, “The past, it is argued, has no objective existence, but survives only in written records and human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. ” (Orwell 213.) Since the citizenry can’t remember any history, they have no way of knowing the Party is lying. Since the Party decides the records, in the eyes of the citizenry, they aren’t lying at all. Winston recognizes this and asks an older gentleman about what the past was really like, “’You are very much older than I am,’ said Winston. ’You must have been a grown man before I was born. You can remember what it was like in the old days, before the Revolution. People of my age don’t really know anything about those times. We can only read about them in books, and what it says in the books may not be true.” (Orwell 51.) Thankfully, the real world still keeps largely accurate official records, but by every other metric the rewriting of history happens in real time. News sources selectively embellish and omit details to this very end. Media stories push the Party narrative rather than the facts on the ground. Many, but certainly not all, descriptions of supposedly race-based incidents fall into the category. Jacob Blake and Kyle Rittenhouse being some of the most recent examples. Violent incidents chalked up to a racist motive, with no actual evidence of that motive and quite a bit to the latter. (Yakubu)(“Wisconsin DOJ Says Jacob Blake ADMITTED He Was Armed with a Knife…”). Language, the very definitions of words, are made nebulous in order to take advantage of their connotations. The term “anti-racist” has an intuitive definition- to not judge or see those of different skin colors as inherently different based on skin color. Basic MLK philosophy. It, rightly, has a connotation of being and unquestionably morally good thing to be. But as Cartoon Network, along with similarly orthodox groups, claim, one must see color and treat people differently on that basis in order to be anti-racist. Regardless of whether this is right or wrong, it is a connotational bait with a definitional switch. That’s the point: to use an incontrovertible connotation in order to require support for a controversial definition. (Davis) In this example is another parallel to 1984 that’s not hard to notice- the aiming of ideology at children. Dissent is often censored in service to that very same Party narrative, whittling away any and all potential evidence one may bring up to combat the Party’s reality. (Weinstein) In 1984 all forms of thoughtcrime will get one vaporized. Today it’s obviously not that bad, but statues of heroes like Abe Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Ulysses S. Grant are torn down for being symbols of racism. (Jackson) Schools and streets are renamed on the same basis. (Utter) Che Guevera is considered a martyr, even when Cubans who lived through his control relate a different history. (Fox News) The founding of America is suddenly changed from 1776 to 1619 despite the ahistorical nature of doing so. (Lowry)(Marfin). This has been folded into school curriculum in many states, once again being aimed at children. (Farrow). Hypocrisy and self-contradiction is the norm when it comes to politicians, but is rarely addressed. Orwell himself put it best, “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right….. The past was brought up to date” (Orwell, 40).
It’s not difficult to see how this is happening today. Along with the aforementioned historical erasures, according to the non-profit group Claims Conference, one in ten Americans under forty aren’t aware of what the Holocaust even is (DeSantis). The only thing standing between us and this world of historical abolition in favor of a Party narrative is the Party in opposition. With two entities fighting for control, any uncontested Party history is impossible. If this was ever achieved however, humanity would run in circles. We would not know history and so we’d be doomed to repeat it. This is the exact outcome a real-life Party would most covet.
Today's world is unfortunately no stranger to doublethink either, it is, in many instances, necessary in order to support any one party as always right. In 1984 doublethink is utilized regularly to accept the Party’s alterations to the past. It alters the memory portion of the memory and records relationship discussed earlier. O’Brien forces Winston to adopt this mode of thinking through torture as a method of conversion. In one incident during this process, “O’Brien held up his left hand, its back toward Winston, with the thumb hidden and four fingers extended…. ‘And if the Party says that it is not four but five- then how many?”. Winston responds with four, then is immediately punished and called insane (Orwell 249). Despite presenting Winston with incontrovertible evidence of four, O’Brien requires an answer of five if that is what is asked. He requires Winston to hold two contradictory thoughts in his mind, and accept both. One, that O’Brien has extended one less than his five fingers, and two, that he is holding up five fingers. He requires doublethink, and support for today’s political parties require the same. Recent examples include President Biden asserting he had a plan to take down the virus while Trump had none, and also not changing anything from what Trump’s administration was already doing. (Watson) (Wingrove) More doublethink can be found in certain groups of Trump supporters, who find political violence against police officers reprehensible, except during the capitol riot. Or when Justice Amy Coney Barrett was characterized as a dogmatic fanatic due to her Catholic faith, while today Biden is praised for his apparent devoutness. ( 'The Dogma Lives Loudly within You')(Warren) There are endless examples, and as a result we have millions of people with completely different perceptions of what reality actually is. Not just disagreements on how to address the facts, but disagreements on the facts themselves. The most violent and damaging conflicts occur not as a result of reality- but as a result of our disagreements on reality. The earlier referenced BLM riots and Capitol riots are both good examples of this, both are events of violence and destruction born of differences in perceptions of reality.
Despite the multiple unsettling parallels to today’s world, the only way something like 1984 could happen would be in the aftermath of an absolute catastrophe. As of now, most First world governments have safeguards to prevent the level of Orwellian aspects that characterize pop-culture, but even these seem to be on the back foot as of late. The internet itself would need to be taken down or made utterly unrecognizable. Physical records would need to be annihilated on a colossal scale. Somehow, almost impossibly, doublethink and memory control would need to be instated. None of this could occur through any natural chain of events, but given a sufficient push, the underlying theories of human behavior 1984 relies on are sound. It could happen, at least temporarily.
To address the true question; if the Party controls the people’s reality, even their own perceptions of reality, do they control reality? Do they control the truth itself? The topic is a tricky philosophical issue that’s been argued over for centuries. The answer is dependent on what you consider the truth. If one considers truth to be only what one can prove with evidence, only what is backed by some larger external framework, be it science, logic, history, or one's memories- then the Party controls the truth. All of these concepts have either been destroyed or been made to heel by the Party in 1984. According the Party, “The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right.” (Orwell 46.) It is destroyed and delegitimized by doublethink. Winston believed, however, that “sanity was not statistical” (Orwell 126.) He states this and the reader agrees, but he cannot prove it. While he may be right in saying sanity was not statistical, he has no real method of verifying that he’s right with an external source. With the first definition of truth, there is no reason to believe he’s right at all. The reader has the luxury of being a source of reference outside the Party unto himself, but such a framework would not exist if one was truly to live under it.
There is a type of truth however, immune to these troubling conclusions. A truth derived from faith, principle, and internal fortitude alone. Winston believes he is sane based on nothing but faith. He has no evidence to support this notion excepting his own (potentially compromised) judgement, but he believes it regardless. When asked if he consider himself morally superior to the Party he says, “’Yes, I consider myself superior.’” (Orwell 156). He has faith that his memories are valid, despite lack of verification. For example, “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.” (Orwell 19). He has faith that the Party is not eternal, and that the Spirit of Man is alive and can defeat the Party (Orwell 156.)
The critical point here is that he can prove none of it! Given only the evidence he has at hand, he’s actually more likely mistaken than correct, but under this alternative definition of truth, he is right. It’s a philosophical checkmate: as long as one believes there is some force outside of the Party; be it the Spirit of Man or the society to arise after the Party is dead, the Party is no longer absolute in its control of reality. As long as there is some aspect of reality untouchable by the Party, there’s a frame of reference other than it’s collective solipsism, and therefore it’s solipsism necessarily falls apart. As long as one believes in a few bedrock principles unconditionally, the Party cannot pervert that person's reality. As Julia declares to Winston, “’It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything — anything — but they can’t make you believe it.” (Orwell 97.) Julia is right about this, but only as long as one does not surrender their bedrock.
The Party can control the truth, but only if the truth is defined is what the individual can prove.
Lucky for us, a great deal of the people on earth hold onto certain values and principles quite dearly. As dogmatic as it may seem today, we must not neglect the utility such faith also provides that is taken for granted. At the moment such faith may be unnecessary, but that could change with twistings and tyrannizations of the truth occurring all the more regularly. It’s so common that dishonesty from the media and the government is actually expected. As sad as that is, it’s also proof we aren’t past the point of no return yet. A large number of people are perfectly aware of when they’re being lied to, or manipulated, at least by one side of the aisle. We’re still somewhat awake. As long as we stay that way, as long as we stick to our bedrock, and as long as we hold onto the Spirit of Man, Orwell’s machinations will remain a warning, and never become a prophecy.
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