Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four was prescient in so many ways – and now Big Brother is a reality – pretty much. But there’s one aspect of the human psyche that Orwell exposes that may not have occurred to the general public at the time – or even now – and that is his concept of Doublethink. What’s more, this phenomenon operates consistently – in the individual, in administrations of all types, as well as in the collective psyche.

Doublethink is described by Orwell as “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth

Sounds familiar? Just look around, and within, with as much objectivity you can summon. Of course Orwell was projecting his view of a state of governance, and here and now we could see Doublethink exercised to extremes by administrations just about everywhere – not least in Sri Lanka, where recent attempts to muzzle independent media are being confronted.

Orwell goes on to describe the protagonist’s thought process when he ponders on Doublethink:

His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved using doublethink”.

It’s a phenomenon we’re stuck with and the only way out would be some genetic shift that would alter consciousness enough to see the ‘truth’ and stick with it.

Tough task!

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