George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four illustrates what is probably the greatest state of tyranny that could possibly exist. The technique most extensively used by the government to maintain its state of absolute control is doublethink, the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs. Through this technique, the citizens of Oceania are able to follow such twisted logic as 'the Party defends democracy, so the Party must never leave power', 'the Party liberated the proles, but the proles are less than human and therefore must be oppressed.' It ultimately allows people to believe they are liberated while existing in the greatest state of tyranny possible. The use of doublethink in the modern era if not as blatant, is certainly as widespread as it is in Orwell's classic.
Most people in our society believe their own freedom and independence to be unquestionable. On the surface this belief may seem to be valid. We seldom see people physically forced to stop advocating their political, philosophical or religious beliefs. Our government is democratically elected and we have a constitution which give us certain rights and freedoms. Upon closer examination however, these aspects of our culture are nothing more than mechanisms of doublethink.
One of the key aspects of doublethink is not being aware of its use. In preforming the act of doublethink a person believes one thing when it is convenient to do so, and then something completely opposite when it is not, all the while being totally unaware of the contradiction. Modern society's unthinking acceptance that we are free only serves to blind people to the contradictions and inconsistencies of their beliefs.
A primary example of this is modern man's views on freedom of speech. People have come to view freedom of expression as a fundamental freedom and believe that our laws and government are designed to protect it. But the same people who so strongly defend freedom of speech will be among the first to impose limits on that freedom in the name of ethics and decency. Saying that a freedom is fundamental and then placing limitations on it is clearly contradictory and can only be accomplished through doublethink.
Whenever this contradiction is identified, those who support the limitations are quick to point out that our society respects, for the most part, a person's right to express his or her religious, political or philosophical views is protected. They are only kept from expression that might violate commonly held morals, such as racism or pornography.
What people are able to ignore is the fact that society still limits expression it finds unacceptable. The only difference between modern censorship and that under Hitler is that each has a different idea of what is, and what is not, unacceptable. Both try to censor those ideas they do not approve of.
More of the twisted logic of doublethink can be seen in the argument that we still have freedom of speech if we limit certain forms of expression such as hate literature and pornography because the ideas they express are in some way wrong or invalid and freedom of speech does not apply to them. Limiting the expression of certain ideas because they are thought to be wrong is the primary justification every regime throughout history has used for censorship, but we still use it while condemning its use by others.
Illustrating these contradictions is likely to meet with great hostility because it forces people to accept that something they have been taught to defend as the final definition of freedom, they violate everyday. Only by realizing that the many justifications modern society has for censorship do not change the fact that freedom of speech is violated everyday can people be forced to make a choice. Either freedom of speech is an absolute, or it is subject to the whims of whoever is currently in power.
Another revelation that is likely to meet with hostility is pointing out that individuals have virtually no control over what they say, do, or think. This hostility stems from the flattery modern society pays to the individual. Politicians are always trying to convince voters that their individual concerns matter. The words individual and person appear throughout our constitution and laws. Pop culture reflects a growing interest in individuality in varying hair styles, body piercing, and tattoos. Though this is portrayed as a means of attaining individuality it is superficial individuality on a massive scale. Afterall, "Let's all dye our hair and be unique". This gives people the illusion of being ina group and being an individual at the same time. To question a person's individuality is to question something they have become absolutely sure of. This absolute certainty has blinded people to their own failure to think and act independently.
Few people today actively think things through rather than simply accepting what they have been told. Irrational faith in the media causes people to accept what they are told as fact. Students in our education system are encouraged to accept what they are taught as the truth rather than reach their own conclusions. The views of powerful and/or educated people are commonly accepted without question.
Far worse than simply accepting what others tell us as the truth, most people are convinced that they have arrived these conclusions through their own reasoning. People must be able to accept the information of others if they are to learn, however this does not justify forgetting the source. Most people who accept what they are told without questioning it will quickly forget where the information came from and become convinced that the information is their idea. Rather than saying "So-and-so says it works this way," people say, "I think it works this way," and actually believe what they say.
It is this distortion of reality that allows people to unquestioningly accept the ideas of others while remaining convinced of their own independent thoughts. Only by questioning everything we are told and drawing our own conclusions can we actually say that our thoughts are our own.
People also gain security in their own individuality through our culture's emphasis on the superficial differences between people. The anti-racism campaign, probably the most popular modern movement allows for individuality by citing the uniqueness of each individual through their dress, hair style, language, etc., while promoting the idea that we are all the same inside. The idea that we are all fundamentally the same is quite popular, but it is the same as saying that we are only individuals in superficial ways, but not in what truly has any meaning, not in the fundamental attributes of our character.
Given the other contradictions of our social system, its not surprising that people have been given a sense of individuality by emphasizing superficial characteristics that make no difference in a persons true character while destroying the one aspect of humanity that does. This contradiction is founded on the fact that people are superficial by nature and will thus accept it. The only way to counteract it is through self-awareness and accepting that we are each fundamentally different in who we are.
Perhaps the greatest evidence of doublethink being used today is how defensive people get when society is questioned. This defensiveness is the result of an extreme insecurity felt by everyone who subscribes to the contradictions of our system. If our social system were both valid and consistent, questions would be encouraged as they would only serve to reaffirm our faith in it, but the fact is that questioning commonly held social values brings the contradictions in society to light and may force people to face reality, making it impossible to continue the doublethink on which our society is based.