Thursday, October 07, 2004

Misunderstanding Big Brother - a Doublespeak Primer 

I have a confession to make. I never read Moby Dick in High School. I was supposed to, and while I made a token stab at it, it was so big and rambling with so much seemingly superflous material that has nothing to do with hunting that whale that I eventually just slacked off. I read the Cliff Notes and faked my way through a paper, the fundamental thesis of which I can't even remember, and passed that segment of the class, but have always felt uncomfortable whenever someone else spoke of teh book and I could not honestly add to the conversation. A few years ago, perhaps from guilt or just curiosity, I made a commitment to myself to atone for my bad study habits and to actively pursue the clalsics of literature, including the dreaded Moby Dick. While I could easilly see, in retrospect, just what a monumental task it was to ask any High Schooler to really digest and understand this tome, it rapidly became one of my favorite books and I discovered it a truly phenomenal work to savor.

I have another confession to make. For years I invoked the ghost of Orwell and 1984 having only read summaries and seen the films. I corrected that recently and, upon doing so, have come to realize just how many others, even those in national publications, seemingly do the same sort of posing that I was guilty of. They try to compare everything they dislike about a particular government or group with Big Brother's Ingsoc (English Socialism). Big Brother and the telescreens become the perfect metaphor for the Patriot Act. Bloggers coming down on CBS for knowingly using falsified documents are somehow called "Orwellian". This, in particular, exposes the posers as given that the forgeries were a blatant attempt to interject new "historical" documents into the public record to discredit one out of favor it seems that CBS is more like Winston in the Ministry of Truth then anu blogger.

The real horror in the book was not the constant surveilance or innundation with lies as much as it was the effects upon the person of these affronts to human decency. To live in such an environment necessitated the practice of doublespeak. Briefly, doublespeak is the ability to simultaneously hold two completely contradictory ideas in one's mind and to completely believe both. The practice of doublespeak goes beyond simply recognizing that the two different concepts exist and making a conscious choice to act as if you believe both or to ignore one in favor of the other. In doublespeak one has forfeited his own humanity in order to truly believe both "facts" simultaneously and see them as two parts of the same truth. At the end of 1984 it is this internal victory of Winston over his own mind that he celebrates and that we lament.

In today's political campaign, one side is asking us to practice doublespeak in support of their candidate. Their part faithful seem to fervently believe all of the following:

  • The CIA intelligence reports on Iraqi WMD were obviously flawed and President Bush should have known they were wrong.

  • The CIA intelligence reports on the possibility of expanding violence and civil war in Iraq are absolutely correct and must be taken as an exact picture of the situation we face today (even if it was written three months ago and based upon five-month old data).
  • The allegations of Bush shirking his TANG duties must be investigated because the documents showing satisfactory drill point capture and pay records can’t be relied upon.

  • The allegations of Kerry gaming the system and exaggerating his actions in Vietnam must be discounted because the after-action reports (which he wrote) and award citations all support Kerry’s claims.
  • The 131 countries providing manpower and materiel support to our efforts in Iraq do not count as a "legitimate coalition" since it does not include full support of the UN. They were bribed and coerced into helping.

  • Kerry will obtain significant support from nations that not only opposed us in the UN and were funded by Iraq but have also publicly stated their intent to not join us in Iraq. He will gain this support by ensuring the countries have a "financial stake" in Iraqi success (but this is not a "bribe").
  • The DPRK tricked the Clinton administration by being duplicitous in its nuclear fuel/weapons negotiations, and Bush has only made it worse by not engaging in one-on-one talks with Kim Il Sung.
  • The best way to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons is to provide them with tools, assistance and fuel for their civilian nuclear power efforts, similar to the deal made with the DPRK in the '90s.
  • The Vietnam War was morally repugnant and replete with savage American servicemen committing the most heinous atrocities. It was a pointless endeavor that had nothing to do with our national security.
  • John Kerry exhibited his patriotism by going to war in Vietnam and defending America. His awards demonstrate his bravery under fire and are a great honor and credit to him.

Now, tell me again, which party is channeling Big Brother's ideals of Ingsoc?

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