“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” – 1984, George Orwell
I was probably 15 years old when I first read George Orwell’s 1984.
At the time I had only conceived of Winston Smith’s dilemma as doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do. He knew what was right and what was wrong. He knew of the manipulation and he could expose it. After all, this was fiction and the hero could escape the most intricately contrived conundrum. When I finished the book, I wrote off Orwell as a cynic.
It wasn’t until 2001 after 9/11, when allies became enemies, that I read the book again and begun to have a much clearer understanding of the reality of situation into which Orwell had placed Winston.
The control exacted by the Brotherhood was not simply through manipulating institutions, it was in fact through the manipulation and control of ideas. The Brotherhood was an idea. It was an idea which seemed indestructible because it was left to those who were born in this idea to conceive of a way to escape from it.
By 2001 I had also started to take a much more serious interest in national politics and the description of the Brotherhood forced me to reconsider my previous dismissal of Orwell.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites.
“The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.
“We are not like that. 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 in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
A couple months ago I was looking for a copy of another text and my eyes became fixated once again on 1984. I removed the book from the shelf and thought I’d read it again to see what new truths could be found from Orwell’s opus. I had been grappling at the time with some internal conflicts about the realities of behaviour change and whether or not individuals really can make a difference or if in the absence of the collective our efforts are futile.
Fanon writes that “Man is human only to the extent to which he tries to impose his existence on another man in order to be recognized by him. As long as he has not been effectively recognized by the other, that other will remain the theme of his actions.”
I have always felt that this “humanness” to which he refers is the struggle for equity. The struggle to have one’s self-consciousness acknowledged by others. And more so that in societies which are built on inequality, the desire to have one’s self-consciousness accepted is a continuous struggle – “the theme of his actions”.
And then there is Orwell.
“The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom.
“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.”
Like Mona Lisa’s eyes that follow you, so too has Orwell followed my own intellectualisation of the spaces which I have occupied. As I approached the end of the book my understanding of the division between this fiction and the real world would be challenged on such a scale that I would have to concede to the existence of mystical forces.
As the room 201 fiasco unfolded and the Minster denied that he was in the video the following is the quote from page 216, which I had read only two days before, as Winston is interrogated by O’ Brien and tries to avoid being sent to Room 101:
“You are a slow learner, Winston.”
“How can I help it? How can I help but see what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”
“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”
Editor’s Note: Please read this and other blogs from Akins Vidale at his own website, http://akinsvidale.wordpress.com/