BIG GOV MAKE DUMB
George Orwell is regarded as one of the most well-known authors during the 20th century, one reason is his focus against totalitarianism like Fascism and Communism. It was during this century where mankind has committed some of the worst human atrocities in just one hundred years from World War I and II, the rise and fall of Communism, the Cold War, a large portion of Europe falling into civil war, and much more. A lot of these conflicts like World War II and the Cold War heavily affected Orwell has a person and a lot of these same events has shaped his writing. One of the events that really changed him was when Orwell traveled to Spain, Catalonia during the civil war. It was here where he realized the dangers of totalitarianism. And because of the rise of totalitarian states the twentieth century, these events lead to the inspiration of Nineteen-eighty-Four, as the novel shows a number of similarities of many these nations and their effects on its citizens. Orwell writes how 1984 uses plenty of strategies like control of education and information to affect people’s way of thinking and memories, as well as psychological manipulation. The people of Oceania are unconditionally following their government’s orthodoxy and mindlessly accepting all propaganda as reality in order to deceive the public. Rational reasoning and tolerance shaped movements like the Age of Enlightenment. For Oceania, the party of INGSOC not only impose rationality and tolerance, but they control and define the world as a whole to its citizens.
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Throughout many nations from the Soviet Union to Nazi Germany, totalitarian nations have some way censored the practice of learning, as they recognized that being intelligent will bring independent thoughts. Similarly, the party of INGSOC did the same as these nations. Orwell shows the form of censored knowledge has mainly focused on the form of the Newspeak. As Syme says, a Newspeak worker,“[we are] cutting the language down to the bone(51)…” The goal of Newspeak language is not to simply change words, but by slowly over time with new editions of Newspeak Dictionaries for the purpose to narrow and shorten the capacity of thought. INGSOC has to develop the public’s cognitive dissonance to the point of altering the very structure of language itself to make disobedient or rebellious thoughts impossible to even conceive thoughts for political power. According to American Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf, “Language is not simply a reporting device for experience but a defining framework for it. So if…you describe your life in negative terms you will find that this will reinforce your mind’s negative emotions and make you unhappy…” INGSOC has to create a mindset where the people are constantly thinking to say and think that Big Brother is great. This was also why the practice of religion was banned in Oceania. If citizens ever have the chance to practice a religion like Christianity and read about the bible before INGSOC did anything, people will learn that you should have a faith with God, that you should not worship false idols like Big Brother, and more. As time goes on in INGSOC, the effects of the decline in language through suffering will lead to the use of comforting euphemisms are used to substitute for hard reality, and we see this for people who normally communicate on a normal day. Political opponents that are against Big Brother are not murdered or shot; they are liquidated and become an unperson. Winston was not sent in a room to that entirely changed him abusing his worst fear; he just learned the basic 101 principles of Big Brother in room 101. Words which do not carry the same connotations of negativity and rebellion tend to therefore obscure what is really happening. Neutral words for euphemisms become a substitute for thought. So in a way, political correctness and Newspeak are quite similar, both these wholesome sounding words censor language in the name of doing making a phrase more appealing.
Can the government really affect the way we think by affecting our vocabulary? Can literature like William Shakespeare have the same effect on readers today compared to the Newspeak versions? According to the theory of Linguistic Determinism, it would be yes. Linguistic determinism is the theory that the very structures of language have the possibility to expand, limit, and/or determine what people can learn, and how people can use that knowledge to process things such as categorization and perception. This theory refers to one of the two-part theories of the Sapir Whorf hypothesis. Edward Sapir, the one who made this theory, says that “human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society.” Sapir believed that language did, indeed, have an effect on our thinking. Benjamin Lee Whorf, Sapir’s student, proved this reasoning further. He declared that upon studying the Hopi language, a form an Aztecan language, he discovered that they had no words that referred to time. This discovery led Whorf to believe that because they did not have any way to refer to it, Hopi speakers experience time differently. Examples in real life would be different versions of literature. For example, if you ever read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with all the racial slurs censored, you will know that readers will have a different effect from the novel since the number of slurs Mark Twain uses written there purposefully to address the topic of racism. Since the party does control what something like independence really means in their point of view, people will just follow since they have no way of experiencing of being independent, or if Orwell wants to show if someone takes away any concept or word remotely revolving the term “freedom,” you will not develop or learn “freedom.” The party has the ability to change words to their narrative. The role of education will become the foundation for what INGSOC does, as most citizens will have no critical skills in what in fact they are doing and accepting.
The topic of freedom of speech is still debated about, especially in different places and outlets like college campuses or social media banning certain people or organizations and how it should be regulated because of hate speech. On the other hand, what is freedom of speech if it does not protect all types of speech. From the point of view from Orwell, he expresses that “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” So to get rid of the idea and concept of freedom of expression from this criticism, INGSOC successfully does so by painting a narrative of two types of people in Oceania: one are the ones who are correct because they are loyal to Big Brother and the other who is delusional and not knowledgeable because they are in support of the obvious incorrect, heretic Goldstein. The main reason why propaganda is constantly used is to change the way people think to support Big Brother, but it also wants to bring an environment where people who are against the support of Big Brother feel like a minority. There were many instances where Winston Smith felt like maybe he was the one that was crazy, and everyone else was just correct. Plato’s phrase, “no one is more hated than he who speaks the truth” could not be truer in 1984. Throughout the story, we can how language is used. For example, the Parson’s family, where they constantly praise Big Brother using duckspeak. It does not matter whether or not Parson does correctly speaks in English or if he’s constantly contradicting himself using doublespeak; all that matters is that he is saying propaganda nonsense. How and what you say does not matter as much in Oceania, only the contents what you say. Ever feel nervous or hesitate yourself when a lot or everyone in the class had the same answer to a question, but in your mind, you had the correct answer? How about questioning all of the sciences from physics to astronomy, history, culture, society, or reality itself. And the use of the two minutes hate is another example to this, but at an extreme level, which was Orwell’s way of showing a method of using mob mentality to control citizens to shame dissenting opinions on a weekly occurrence. Likewise, Orwell predicted something similar in the United States with the use of American Soviet tactics, where the United States on a daily and weekly basis scared the American public of the rise of Communism and suspecting politicians of being spies by the Soviets. It is an effective way to entice people to be more aligned with Oceania. You do not want to get killed and conquered by the East Asian and Eurasian soldiers do you? Citizens are not in an environment where they can have an opposing argument, people just feel different because you do not have a mindset where they cannot think for themselves. Since language is so controlled by INGSOC to weed out words against their ideology, coming to a consensus to a fact or truth will be more difficult. The easiest option is not to believe in yourself, people will just lazily follow the advice and orthodoxy from Big Brother.
The media has always been influential as a platform for both manipulation and guidance for information because of the public at large trust the media’s reputation and the media on being impartial. That’s why Orwell was worried because the use of language from politicians but especially the media organizations can be manipulated to the point where it would affect people thoughts, and/or would take advantage of the already people’s loss in critical thinking since the media have the authority to tell about information. In Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, the English language today “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. Orwell wanted readers to understand language was not spoken or read for the purpose to clearly inform listeners or readers, but it is now used to express a message in a way to mask the truth or to make it sound appealing to audiences’ emotions. Similarly, INGSOC uses media for the sole purpose to continuously inform citizens to be encouraged and righteous from news like battles won or captured Eurasian spies and are enraged by news like about Goldstein. When the United States was attacked from the September 11 attacks, politicians and media organizations make sure to deceive the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. News and information became distorted when the media reported stories because of the way they reported stories made them convinced that there were connections from Iraq to Al Qaeda. Since people will trust that comprehensive coverage of events will permit the media from rendering their own judgments and biases, the media was and is still used to shape Americans’ opinions. Like Winston Smith, he hears the events that Eurasia suddenly attacked peaceful Oceania as nothing more than to anger citizens from Oceania. The made-up story of Ogilvy by Winston perfectly represents the media in 1984: a made up, fabricated story that portrays a pitch-perfect character with no actual flaws as a person, according to Oceania, that accepts the doctrine of INGSOC by following the ideology at an early age like getting a family member caught and who dies for his country. The whole point of propaganda is to appeal to the emotions of citizens using fear.
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A phrase used throughout the book that might confuse readers, even people in Oceania, is “freedom is slavery.” After all, how can citizens feel good to support their nation, when they live in these kinds of horrendous conditions? Changing the way people think is one thing, but convincing people they live in good conditions when they probably know in reality it is the opposite. One of the ways INGSOC fixes this issue is by changing the history of the world to make sure that citizens are essentially getting taught that they should value the state over the people.Since people are not educated in the actual history of the past, Newspeak by design is to filter whatever the party gets to decide, so people like Winston cannot remember the Golden Country. When Orwell portrays a scene where Winston was trying to make an old man remember old memories about the past, it shows how good the party did at eliminating the bad parts of history. The nation’s memories are just as malleable as its language. From the start of the revolution to change England, according to the party of INGSOC, they blamed the rich capitalists to excuse all of societies problem. Complaining about your low wages from factories? Blame society on the capitalists. Tired of working 16 hours a day? Blame society on the capitalists. Sick of waiting in line to go to the bathroom? Blame society on the capitalists. A good way to convince into explaining the poor living conditions of Oceania was to paint that narrative using a straw man that brought problems out of citizens control. After all, citizens of Oceania should feel lucky to work in hard labor, it was not like the greedy capitalists treated them any better. So because of the free market enterprise clearly did not work, the only solution was for the government of INGSOC to take over, and making sure that everything does not enter the private sector. If the citizens of Oceania ever find out about the history of the world and learn about events and people like John Locke or Jean-Jacques Rousseau who helped revolutions against a tyrannical government, people will know not to trust the government since INGSOC heavily exaggerated the problems of the world.
Since the people are educated to have a narrow mindset about a certain number of values from the INGSOC ideology, while having a cultural ingrained to further emphasize the same values from propaganda and media, the people of Oceania are unintentionally believing that Big Brother is great, as they do not know what’s actually happening. Whereas today people overtime try to develop their understanding of education, Orwell’s novel demonstrates on how the people will change from the influence of language, and how education can shape people’s perception of the world. Orwell’s novel proves that, under a totalitarian state, the power of education will be practiced in a way, can just as easily become “a plot against human consciousness(265).”
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