Although the apocalyptic vision of the future that Orwell presented in 1984 has not yet occurred, some of the most chilling concepts he described are gradually becoming doctrinal pillars of law in the United States. An analysis of contemporary society reveals that an Orwellian manipulation of language is causing a dramatic shift in the way people think and is exerting tyrannical control over the common American. This control is being brought about by newly formed standards of speech backed by governmental regulation and which commands that government approved behavior be displayed. These events parallel the control that Orwell's "Big Brother" (1) exerted on the populace in 1984 but which is commonly referred to today as political correctness.
Three of the most potent ideas discussed in Orwell's 1984 are "doublethink" (3), the destruction of actual events (17) and "thoughtcrime" (8). These ideas work collaboratively to bring about the control sought by the ruling American oligarchy. Quaintly referred to today as "political correctness" this movement continually shows its influence in the official language of laws and in public policy. A careful review of some of Orwell's most frightening ideas as compared to actual events in recent history illustrates that 1984 was not only a well written expose on socialistic fascism but was in many ways a premonition of things to come.
Prior to examining the way in which Orwellian concepts have become a force for behavioral change, it is helpful to examine the way in which the meaning, and therefore, the power of words have been changed. As the decades have passed since 1984 was published, many words have actually had their meanings changed and certain words have become emotionally charged, even damning, to the individual who uses them. Perhaps the most powerful bodies for dictating the changes in word meanings are the U.S. Government and its agents. As public officials use words and write them into law, so then are the meanings taken.
Specifically, words that have been modified by the political correctness movement have twisted many formerly innocuous words into powerfully charged political weapons. For example, fifty years ago the term pro-life meant that a person was life affirming. Today, the term is accompanied by an entire host of connotations depending on which side of the abortion issue the individual using the term represents. Other words such as liberal, conservative, minority, undocumented worker, discriminate and many others have been hammered into ideological armaments that mean contradicting things to different groups but have official government meanings.
But it is not the emotionally charged nature of the words that makes them potent. It is the fact that the new meanings and new requirements that accompany those words are becoming codified. As individuals find themselves on the lagging curve of thought, belief and behavior, they will eventually find themselves in a similar position to Orwell's main character, Winston Smith. Like Smith, individuals that fail to willingly accept the changed meaning and legal requirements of the new verbiage, will suffer terrible consequences such as being labeled racist or intolerant.
In 1998, the NAACP worked with an Ypsilanti, Michigan computer technician to organize a boycott of the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster. At issue was the inclusion of the word nigger. The NAACP wanted the word removed or redefined to meet the demands of political correctness. In response, Merriam-Webster acquiesced and sent a letter stating:
We are currently exploring alternative ways to present information about the usage status of offensive words that will speak to the concerns that have been raised. (Abraham 156)
Clearly, word redefinitions born out of political expediency open a vacuum of power that is vulnerable to government exploitation.
People Are Equal Except When They Aren't Equal
Doublethink, as defined by Orwell means:
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. (Orwell 99)
One of the great statutory examples of doublethink established by the United Stated Government deals with the act of discrimination. Because of the terrible injustice that was committed against millions of African slaves, descendents of those slaves receive preferential treatment in various aspects of life. From quotas that require certain schools to admit specific numbers of slave descendents, to jobs that have positions set aside specifically for individuals with a slave ancestry. This is contrary to the Jeffersonian ideal that all people are created equal. Still, the concept of equality has been refashioned by the government and forced on society through initiatives, laws and policies with the full force of the government behind them.
A specific example of this came recently when the Supreme Court addressed the issue of the University of Michigan's Law school admissions policy.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the University of Michigan's consideration of race in admissions procedures. (Arnold 15)
This ruling enshrines the inequality of individuals based on the color of skin which is in direct opposition to the concepts of equal treatment under the law. And in making the ruling, the government provides a dual meaning to the 'equal protection under the law' that the fourteenth amendment was designed to provide.
Controlling the Future by Controlling the Past
But distorting logic with the implementation of doublethink is only the first step toward forcing ideas on the American public. Historical references to times where ideas were not as they are presently advanced by the government are being brought in line with the current ways of thinking. By doing this, contradictions are prevented and the government is insulated by a wall of infallibility. Changing history is, in fact, the job of the main character in 1984, Winston Smith. Smith alters past events and destroys records of "malreported" (Orwell 14) stories sending the incorrect documents down a series of pneumatic tubes to be destroyed in a furnace. Smith then updates the official records with the new government authorized truth and the impediment history presents is overcome.
The country is rife with battles over information that must be included in text books that are given to school children, particularly with respect to what history books include. Perhaps the battle is so fierce because indoctrinating a generation of Americans with government approved history is essential for changing opinions and modifying attitudes. Today many text books are working to provide balanced representation of minorities and women in the context of events in which they played little or no part. In addition, the books provided by the National Center for History in the Schools describe events in emotional terms rather than historical such as restless white Americans [who] pushed westward ... animated by land hunger and the ideology of 'Manifest Destiny' ... engaged in abrasive racial encounters with Native Americans. ("Makeup test" 67)
Some might argue that there is no truth, just differing points-of-view. But it is precisely that line of thinking that illustrates the point behind modifying history. In saying there is no truth is equivalent to saying there is no history. It is a willingness to accept anything that government presents as fact. Orwell explains this concept calling it "blackwhite" which means the ability to wholeheartedly believe anything the government puts forward. Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith states the sinister nature of what it means to obliterate history when he says "History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right." (Orwell 71)
As a Man Thinks, So Is He
Ultimately, the only way to assure that doublethink and government infallibility become fixed in the minds of the populace is to control the mind itself and to assure that any deviant way of thinking is an illegal act. The U.S. government has taken and is taking great strides to assure that incorrect ways of thinking carry their own punishments. Of course, this idea of punishing thoughts is never blatantly stated. Such directness and openness is contrary to the workings of a controlling oligarchy that view the vast majority of Americans as incapable of understanding the important issues that impact them.
One of the most obvious forms of thoughtcrime in modern society is the advent of so-called hate crimes legislation. These laws have the stated purpose of adding additional punishment on to the sentences of individuals who have acted against a member of a protected minority group. What these laws actually do is punish individuals for having specific thoughts. More specifically, if a man kills another man he is guilty of murder. However, if a man kills a gay man he is not only guilty of murder but of a more serious crime as well, a hate crime. Hate crime legislation metes out additional punishment for the thoughts of the person committing the crime or in other words for committing thoughtcrime.