The 1984 novel , along with Animal Farm , is George Orwell ‘s most famous work. This writer offers us political literature with very interesting psychological nuances. Orwell is famous for his democratic socialist (not to be confused with social democracy) ideology and his anti-totalitarianism.
Orwell even traveled to Spain to fight fascism in the POUM militias during the civil war. He shares this story in his book Salute to Catalonia (Homage to Catalonia) .
1984 is a dystopian novel based on the idea of a totalitarian government. It is set in Oceania, where the government has created a society based on total government control over all information. The main premise is: “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future.”
Today, many people consider the novel a great work of helping us think about our current society. The novel makes us ask ourselves to what extent we have become an Orwellian society.
Throughout the novel, Orwell presents a series of interesting concepts from a psychological perspective. In this article, we are going to analyze some of these concepts in depth. We are therefore going to talk about: (a) doublethink, (b) new language, and (c) a society based on the control of information.
Double think in 1984
One of the primary ways in which government has control over the population in 1984 is through the concept of ‘doublethink’. Doublethink is an activity where a person can have two conflicting opinions at the same time. They are two opposing beliefs that are considered true at the same time by the same person.
In Oceania, the population is educated in doublethink. Thus, they learn to accept opposites and understand their practical existence. In the controlled society in 1984 , it is no secret that the government is totalitarian. Totalitarianism is taught, and the population accepts and denies it at the same time. This is reflected in the three government slogans:
The ultimate goal of doublethink in Oceania is to make the population think automatically. The government wants all residents to get used to having two conflicting thoughts in their head without realizing that they are contradictory. Does this happen in real life too? Is there a similarity between doublethink and our way of thinking?
This is where the psychological interest in doublethink comes into play.
Double think in our society
Researchers have been able to show several times that our brains support conflicting ideas. This idea is connected with Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. His theory states that people are capable of having discordant ideas.
Festinger also states, however, that there are mechanisms in our brains that can ignore or resolve this dissonance.
Doublethinking would be a way to rationalize and deal with dissonances. In reality, we use doublethink more often than we might think. Governments take advantage of this and to some extent even abuse it.
A good example is our hostility to terrorist attacks. While this animosity often does not exist towards all those countries that carry out the same acts and even sell weapons to these terrorist groups. We must be extremely careful.
Rationalizing opposites is an automatic process that we can carry out without realizing it.
The new language of 1984
Another important aspect of the government’s control in 1984 is mind control. In order to gain control over the minds of its people, the government is trying to change language so that thinking becomes something practical, rather than something to reason with.
The danger is that if people thought too much, it would nullify the effect of doublethink, leading to the downfall of the government. Following the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, Orwell proposes that by changing language we can change the human mind.
In order to gain control over the minds of its people, the government of Oceania is trying to make their language as simple as possible. This changes the language into a completely pragmatic language. In this way, synonyms and antonyms lose their meaning.
It is no longer interesting to convey the nuances of words that lead to judgments and interpretations. Antonyms generate conflict and conflict gives way to reasoning. An example of this is the removal of the word ‘war’ from the dictionary, so that one can only speak in terms of more peace or less peace.
The lesson to be learned from this is that language can be dangerous in our lives. Language can change our perception and way of thinking. Thus, a political discourse can appear very different depending on the words used to describe it.
When a politician contrasts words like ‘democracy’, ‘constitutional’ and ‘peace’ with words like ‘attack’ or ‘war’, he tries to gain sympathy from his listeners. It is therefore important to find out why people choose certain language.
A society based on the control of information in 1984
Finally, ‘Big Brother’ in 1984 always keeps an eye on everything. He watches his citizens everywhere, including in their own homes. Even children are taught to look closely at their parents and file charges against them if they commit a crime. An important aspect of control is the manipulation of information.
In Oceania, government can rewrite the past to maintain government stability. In the novel, the Ministry of Truth is tasked with rewriting all writings, newspapers, and books in favor of “Big Brother.”
For example, if “Big Brother” said that chocolate rations would go up and they actually fell, then the Ministry of Truth would alter past data to make it appear that chocolate rations have actually increased.
As humans, we are not immune to the manipulation and control of information. The mass media, including television, radio and newspapers, usually have parties and governments behind them that alter information to influence our opinions. It is therefore important that we remain critical of all information we receive.
So in 1984 Orwell paints a clear picture of a very interesting dystopian society, which has great parallels with our own society. It is important to think about these parallels and recognize the possible flaws in our own societies.
If we want to prevent our world into an Orwellian world, it is important to adopt critical attitude towards the mechanisms that influence and convince us.