The rise of powerful totalitarian dictatorships, such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in the Soviiet Union, was a source of imagination for author George Orwell. Throughout his life, Orwell witnessed numerous atrocities committed by fascist political regimes. This led him to craft political novels that warned against the dangers of absolute power in the wake of technological advancement. in his dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell highlights the dangers of embracing totalitarian regimes such as the fictional Big Brother, reminding us to constantly question the authority which we are under.
In 1984, Newspeak is Big Brother’s method of manipulating the masses through speech restriction. Newspeak is a new form of language that does not include any words that could promote rebellion or free thinking. Words that have unorthodox meanings and uses are criminalized, promoting only government approved thought. Teh character Syme state, ‘don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make Thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it,’ (53) explaining Big Brother’s goal in the creation of Newspeak. The fundamental idea of Newspeak is stripping down words so they are left with hardly any meaning. The same idea can be seen in our modern world as hashtags are commonly used on social media platforms such a Twitter. The primary aim of hashtags and tweets, like Newspeak, is to capture essential meanings only. Olivia Aldridge states in her article on this subject ‘a particularly popular or clever hashtag quickly snakes its way into everyday speech – at this point ‘turn up’ is common in everyday conversation’, explaining to readers the ways in which hashtags control the way we post and even what we say. The use of hashtags is certainly far less corrupt in nature and intention than Orwellian Newspeak, but the fundamental function of each remains the same.
Doublethink is the power to hold two completely contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously. The slogans of the novel’s political party ‘War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength,’ (4) are clear examples of Doublethink. The concept requires the use of logic against logic, or complete disregard for contradiction. President Donald Trump is notorious for the use of Doublethink as he publicly declares his belief that three million people voted in his election fraudulently, while simultaneously declaring that his win was historic in nature. Various investigations have proven that voter fraud in the 2016 election was miniscule, and Trump still calls for a nationwide search to find these supposed phantom-voters. Gloria Borger states in her CNN article that ‘this invented problem is internal to Donald Trump alone, and his inability to accept inconvenient portions of reality’. This inability to accept inconvenient truths is precisely what Orwell attempted to warn readers about through the introduction of Doublethink in his novel.
Thoughtcrime is the Orwellian term given to unorthodox or negative thoughts about the party, making them illegal. 1984 character, Winston, elaborates on the consequences of Thoughtcrime when he says, ‘Thoughtcrime does not entail death; Thoughtcrime IS death’ (27). This reveals to readers that committing Thoughtcrime is certain to get you killed by the party. Big Brother takes does not take destructive remarks lightly. Similarly, in modern day society, microaggressions are naturally conditioned by the perception of the offended. Dr. Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as ‘the everyday verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership’. When an individual accuses another of microaggression, they claim the power of knowing what the other person is thinking or implying. This self-proclaimed power of punishing people for their misinterpreted thoughts and statements is the same power Big Brother holds over their society.
1984 is a political statement that warns against the dangers of totalitarian regimes. While our society today is not identical to that of Orwell’s creation, the warnings he asserted in his novel are more important than ever. Orwell insists that we must be aware of attacks on our personal freedoms, never losing sight of what makes us human, the right to our own thoughts. His novel teaches us to question everything, and never let other people dictate what we think and do. We should use technology carefully, weary of the dangers that accompany it, and never allow it to use us. We should remain aware of the fact that individual ignorance is power to the institutions that govern us. Nobody in our society should blindly agree with the masses, instead each of us should implement critical, independent thinking into our daily lives.