[NB this is a repost of a recent post on the old version of this blog.]
The more I think about it, the more I believe that Orwell’s 1984 ought to be regarded as one of the most important novels, if not the most important novel, of the 20th Century. For not only have several concepts, ideas and themes of the novel, such as Big Brother (Not the tacky TV programme, of course), Room 101 (ditto), Thought crime and doublethink (of course), become common currency there is also a deeper sense, an atmosphere, that pervades the novel that seems not only to contain within it so much of the 20th century (from both before and after it was written), but still seems remarkably prescient for now and the foreseeable future.
However, earlier today I was musing upon the concept of doublethink. It is, of course, central to contemporary political life. For just one example, Blair and Bush and their cronies, allies and fellow travellers must continue to spout their belief that every day, in every way, the situation in Iraq is getting better and better, whilst at the same time knowing (for how can they not know?) that it is going down the tubes faster than last night’s dodgy king prawn vindaloo.
The same thing applies in many other modern walks of life where people must profess one thing whilst knowing that the opposite is the case: advertisers, salespeople and so on and so forth. In fact, it seems to be almost a standard human trait to be able to believe in something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
This brings me to the point I was considering earlier. When I made the connection with doublethink, I was thinking about religion, as it happens. For example, how can believers reconcile their belief in a benevolent God, gods or whatever, when all around them is suffering, chaos and death and destruction?
This ability to believe something in face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary affects not only the politicians and those at the head of religions; it also affects their followers too. In fact, it often seems as those a willingness to believe what the rest of the group believes despite all the contrary evidence is seen within all such groups as a very desirable trait, a badge of loyalty.
So, I think Orwell was right to see doublethink as a very dangerous thing. After all, not only in the traditional religions and politics, but in the twentieth century we saw those two attempts to create new political religions: Nazism and Communism, recreate on a massive scale the dangers of allowing belief to override the real. The danger still exists, and always will exist if we continue to allow either political or religious beliefs to dictate what they believe is true, rather than basing our notions of truth on what the evidence shows. We may not be able to rid the world of doublethink, but we should always be on our guard against it.