Orwell’s Oceania and the United States of America

Truly inspired fiction possesses the remarkable property of enlightening our worldview, clearing the smoke from our eyes so as to better see reality. George Orwell’s 1984 is one such example and Richard Mynick does a good job in his article A comment: Revisiting George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 2010 decisively exposing the many and significant parallels existing between Orwell’s Oceania and the United States of America today. For example, in the section Training the Population in “Doublethink”, Mynick illustrates how both the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it systematically present two contradictory beliefs to the American people in order to continuously dupe them and stifle inquiry:

For example, within months of the Iraq invasion, the US media were forced to acknowledge that there were no WMD after all. But this fact was presented as though devoid of meaning or consequence. Media accounts casually dismissed it as matter of “flawed intelligence.” Applying such a phrase to a major war crime (as defined at Nuremberg) is doublethink because on the one hand, it acknowledges error. But no sooner is error acknowledged than two new lies are introduced: that the intelligence error was only very slight; and that only the exactitude of US intelligence was at issue (“the lie always one leap ahead of the truth”).

Acknowledging the non-existence of WMD while defending the general character of the war (the job of US officials and media spokesmen) is another instance of doublethink, since a war can hardly be justified when the stated reason for waging it is false. One can hold both beliefs simultaneously only by juggling them—momentarily banishing one belief to oblivion while discussing the other.

In the novel, the interrogator O’Brien famously holds up four fingers and demands that Winston see five. This demand does no more violence to logic than Obama’s position on torture, expressed in his May 21, 2009, speech from the National Archives. Posturing as a champion of the Rule of Law, and standing next to the original parchment of the US Constitution, Obama declared that torture is wrong; that we must uphold our constitutional values; that “We do not torture”—then added that US officials who ordered torture will not be prosecuted for it, and photographs documenting US torture would be withheld from the public. He proceeded to defend “extraordinary renditions,” and to propose the medieval policy of indefinite “preventive detention” in the same speech.

Of course, some readers may be tempted to ignore Mynick’s (and Orwell’s) critique because it comes from the impure source of a pro-socialist website or because one point might be in error (and therefore the whole article must be wrong).  Please don’t fall prey to those logical fallacies. Please read the full article, put tribal loyalties aside and judge it on its own merits. Personally, I’m no fan of socialism and view it as contrived and sophistic. That said, this particular article possesses a wealth of insight.

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