Revisiting Orwell to Understand our Times

Revisiting Orwell to Understand our Times, by Scott Powell.

The concepts of “newspeak” and “doublethink” in Orwell’s 1984 are fully manifest in what we now experience as political correctness.

Newspeak is the distorted reality accomplished by manipulating the meaning of language and words, while doublethink is the conditioned mental attitude to ignore reality and common sense and substitute and embrace a distorted or false narrative to the exclusion of other views.

As Orwell notes, “the whole aim of Newspeak and Doublethink is to narrow the range of thought.” This is the goal of political correctness, and it explains why its adherents tend to be so intolerant — shutting down speech from the politically incorrect on college campuses across the county, demanding that historic statues and monuments associated with the Confederacy be taken down, and demanding that people with opposing views on such subjects as climate change and gay marriage be silenced, fined or arrested.

It’s arriving:

Many assume there is a long way to go before the American government has the power of Orwell’s Big Brother. After all, the thinking goes, the press in the U.S. is not controlled by the government so Americans cannot be so easily brainwashed as they theoretically would be through state-controlled propaganda.

But what if the universities and the educational system and the major television and print media institutions embrace the groupthink that ingratiates them with the ruling elite? What if the culture shapers in Hollywood and the advertising industry on Madison Avenue follow a similar path in participating in and reinforcing the same groupthink norms?

And what if the rise of social media, and specifically the dominant players like Facebook and Google, promote a kind of groupthink conformity that effectively marginalizes and silences opposing views? Could it then be that propaganda in a free democratic nation like America might be more effective in shaping thought and attitudes than state-controlled propaganda in totalitarian societies, which typically foster abject cynicism? …


As the dominant social media forum in America, Facebook is a powerful medium for narrowing the range of acceptable thought. On its site, those who openly support a politically correct view—what appears to be the popular majority view—are frequently lauded with thumbs up, while dissenters often remain silent to avoid being criticized or denounced. All of which leads to what is called “the spiral of silence,” which reinforces the groupthink of what appears to be the social and cultural majority.

The growing battle over freedom of speech:

Orwell reminds us today of the critical importance of the First Amendment, noting “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Exactly what the politically correct crowd wants to preclude.

hat-tip Stephen Neil