Reality as We Know It
Why we will never get past 1984
A Paper by Joanna D.
“Socialism only works in two places: Heaven, where they don’t need it, and hell, where they already have it.” –Ronald Reagan
George Orwell was a socialist. But he was not a blind socialist—he knew the penalty for failure. In 1984, he reveals in a remarkably clear-sighted way that the penalty for failure is success. Success is prevalent, a success not of the ideal, but of the error. No matter what the original aspirations were, any ideological failure is bound to live in infamy. In depicting the ideological wanderings of Winston, from, it turns out, the perspective of a failed socialist government, Orwell reveals not only how perversions of “true” socialism will persist but why they will. The book contains three fundamental statements on the essentials of English socialism, or its perverted form, Ingsoc. These principles are all based on contradiction. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
War is Peace. In 1984, Orwell presents three socialist world kingdoms. Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia have similar socialist ideologies and yet they fight a perpetual ineffectual war. None of the countries wishes to end the war. Winston is born into a world of filth and scarcity created by these wars. The reasons for this less-than-utopian situation include suppression, unity, and distraction.
A socialist may use war as a way to keep the people in their place. “There have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have bourne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude toward one another, have varied from age to age; but the essential structure of society has never altered…The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable.” Despite all assertions to the contrary, the upper class of Ingsoc do not actually want everyone to be equal. “For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” Since war is an excellent means for the consumption and destruction of goods, it imposes rationing and shortages and prevents peace and plenty. If the government can instill a patriotic fervor in the people and cause them to give things up cheerfully, so much the better. Here is the first problem with socialist governments. If peace and plenty naturally follow a surplus of goods to the extent that goods must be suppressed, than why is a government or the arrangement of rule even necessary to “true” socialism? If they naturally occur in an automated age, than they ought to sweep away government without any help. “True” socialism has not happened yet in America, and if the government increases as Orwell projected, “true” socialisms will never occur.
In theory, if an exterior war threatens a country, the divided country will unite against the common enemy. Different groups will forget their small squabbles. Thus, by uniting with “enemy” countries for the common purpose of exploiting the fears of the population, the socialist can take advantage of “war” to make the populace forget the squalor in which it lives. Fortunately for capitalism, war cannot always unite the divisions of a country. When the Saxons, Jutes, and other Germanic tribes invaded England, they were met with very little resistance because the majority of the Gauls were not able to stop their private feuds long enough to protect themselves. One could object, however, that they did not have a strong ruling class. The ruling class is the key to uniting the country. But ruling classes can fall. “There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented Middle Group to come into being, or it loses its own self confidence and willingness to govern.” This is why it is so important to distract the middle classes and the lower classes from the government.
A socialist can also use war to divert the people’s anger and frustration. Conditions being necessarily unequal, unless an outlet is found, there will be rioting in the streets. Public enemies, POWs, and fictional atrocities committed against their troops in foreign lands will allow the populace to vent their anger against their government without even their awareness that such anger ever existed against their government. And all this is carried out by the cunning of the Ministry of Peace and the industry of the Ministry of Plenty.
Freedom is Slavery. Oceania is ruled by the Party, headed by the figurehead Big Brother. True citizens of the Oceania believe that “freedom” as expressed in the capitalistic past was the slavery of the lower classes. By placing an ideal of freedom before the people, the government has enslaved the lower classes and led them to believe that now they are truly free.
Morals and ideals are determined by their allegiance to Big Brother. To be a functioning part of the society, indistinguishable from the rest of society, is the goal. “Alone—free—the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal.” The normal people, of course, do not know this, but by placing Big Brother ever before the people, by presenting him ever to be loved, the government has given the people an ideal which determines their morals, allegiances, and actions.
In the same way, the morals and allegiances of the main characters are determined by their ideals. Each of the protagonists has their own allegiances to their ideals, and in the pursuit of these ideals, the two protagonists compromise their morals to conform to their goals. Yet by changing their morals to their ideals, rather than their ideals to their morals, they have removed all barriers to allegiance in a flawed ideal, and as a result, become as enslaved to the Party as the antagonist is.
Winston, the main character, works as a propaganda agent changing historical records to match the Party line. He feels that “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” In pursuit of this freedom, which he daily disowns in his job, he writes seditious things in his diary and has a love affair while he is married. In order to overthrow the Party, he agrees to violate his morals to satisfy them. He promises an opponent of the Party to, “lie, to steal, to forge, to murder, to encourage drug taking and prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases, to throw vitriol in a child’s face.” But when Winston and his lover are asked, “You are prepared, the two of you, to separate and never see one another again?” neither is willing to agree. Thus, his second ideal is to stay with his lover. He ends up agreeing with every lie the Party feeds him and being apathetic toward his love.
Julia, the love interest, rebels against authority by being sexual immoral and vulgar. To hide this, she has joined the junior Anti-sex League, and is extremely enthusiastic at Party rallies. She ends up as an utterly chaste and clean-mouthed member of society.
O’Brien, a ranking member of the Ingsoc Party, follows the party line to the letter. He never betrays the Party line because the party line is a betrayal in itself. The party employs Doublethink. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion just so long as it is needed” Slavery, it turns out, is really freedom. The party will forever be free. The Party cannot and it will not depend on just one person. It depends on everyone. As long as everyone is a slave, then the party will continue. There are no formal laws. Thus the Thought Police can arrest anyone at any time for any reason if they do not conform to the party ideology. During the Inquisition, the Church demanded obedience and burned dissidents. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks demanded submission and made their enemies confess to heinous crimes. But in both cases, the victims of the persecution became martyrs for their cause. To avoid this, Ingsoc changes their opponents’ opinions, so that when they eventually die, they do not become martyrs. It is the business of the Ministry of Love to psychiatrically alter dissidents so that they comply. During the Inquisition, the Church demanded obedience and burned dissidents. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks demanded submission and made their enemies confess to heinous crimes. But in both cases, the victims of the persecution became martyrs for their cause.
Ignorance is Strength. In order to maintain the power of the upper class the middle and lower classes must be kept purposely ignorant. Or to be more specific, they must be purposely ignorant. This applies not only to the members of the middle class but also and in a greater depth, the upper class. To aid in this venture, the government has created a department to help the people maintain their half- purposeful, and half-subconcious ignorance.
Big Brother can never be wrong. It will never be admitted, it will never be proven. Big Brother is not only right, but his correctness is universal. Anything that is true now was also true one hundred years ago—unless it serves the purposes of the government for it to be otherwise. The people almost universally support Big Brother. Those that do not, or might prove too intelligent, “are simply marked down by the Thought Police and eliminated.” Since the common people almost uniformly support of the government, they will take any occasion in which the government is at fault and assume foreign sabotage. On one occasion, during a hate rally against an enemy country, Oceania makes peace with its enemy and goes to war against another country, but it must never be admitted that the country that Oceania is at war with has changed. At the rally, “the speaker had switched from one line to the other actually in mid-sentence, not only without a pause, but without even breaking the syntax.” This practice is another instance of Doublethink. O’Brien states the application, “Reality is inside the skull.” Everything is relative. It is this which enables the populace to continue in a blind obedience of the very thing that hurts them, that makes them poor, that commands them. It may hurt them, but it also takes care of them.
In the Ministry of Truth history is edited. This helps to keep the populace contented and under control. “The Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising.” In addition, editing is necessary for the Party to always be right. The reason for, “the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party.” If the Party appears to be wrong at one point or another then, obviously, there has been a mistake. Every piece of media, all propaganda, every broadcast, every pamphlet, every lewd novel, every piece of great literature, including the material supposedly opposed to the Party, and even history itself is edited, altered, written, and censored by the Ministry of Truth. And since the Party is never wrong, than everything the Party says now is the absolute truth for any point in history. If there is an apparent contradiction, then history is deleted. The only thing left is the memory of lunatics. Unfortunately for Winston, he is one of those poor lunatics who work to change history and just every once in a while, has proof that Big Brother was wrong.
Winston understands all this, but he does not understand the central tenant of the Ingsoc philosophy. He writes, “I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.” He knows how the Ministry of Peace unites the country, the Ministry of Plenty keeps it poor, the Ministry of Truth changes reality, and later, how the Ministry of Love changes people. But why? Winston hypothesizes, ““You are ruling over us for our own good,” he said feebly. “You believe that human beings are not fit to govern themselves and therefore—”’ No. O’Brien provides an answer, ‘”The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power.”’ This is the mistake which has been made throughout history. Socialism will never succeed, not primarily because its methods a nigh impossible, but because any government that is founded by a desire for power. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish a dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.” These are the reasons for the central tenants of Ingsoc. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. However, the Peace of the Party is War. The Slavery of the people is the Freedom of the Party. The Strength of the Party is the Ignorance of the people. The purpose of it all is power. Socialism will fail because no man can ever found a government based upon justice and fairness. The success of socialism is based on the assumption that man is basically good and will work for the good of others. That is the overwhelming error of socialism.