Part 4: Doublethink
© by Frances T. Shure, 2013
Frances Shure, M.A., L.P.C., has performed an in-depth analysis addressing a key issue of our time: “Why Do Good People Become Silent—or Worse—About 9/11?” The resulting essay, presented here as a series, is composed of a synthesis of reports on academic research as well as clinical observations.
In answering the question in the title of this essay, last month’s segment, Part 3, addressed the topic “Obeying and Believing Authority,” which reported on the experiments by Stanley Milgram, Jane Elliott, and Philip Zimbardo, all of which demonstrate our human proclivity to trust and obey authority, even in violation of cherished moral values, leading to the development of faulty identities and beliefs as well as resulting in flawed decisions which often negatively affect others.
We continue Ms. Shure’s analysis this month in Part 4 with the concept “doublethink,” developed by George Orwell.
We shall begin on the lighter side with George Orwell’s brilliant concept of “doublethink.” In Orwell’s classic novel, 1984,doublethink means the capacity to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accept both of them.
In Orwell’s not-so-fictional novel, the term “doublethink” is a Newspeak word that is replacing the Oldspeak term, “reality control.” Newspeak is a new politically correct language with a very limited vocabulary, developed by the controlling powers (the High) for the purposes of controlling the public’s worldview and limiting the possibility of independent thought. In other words, controlling words permitted in the language would result in controlling the thoughtspeople would be able to have.
Orwell’s doublethink is the cognitive process of consciously inducing unconsciousness, so that one holds two conflicting beliefs at the same time and uses each as required by the situation at hand, in order to remain in conformity with the official platform of the day. In the novel 1984, it is imperative for citizens to be well grounded in the hypnotic skill of doublethink, for if the High are to keep their controlling power permanently, the prevailing mental condition in the land must be that of insanity, citizens themselvesusing this subtle process of thought control to stay out of touch with reality.
“Doublethink” is not a term accepted in psychology’s lexicon, although it should be, in my opinion, as it is a common psychological defense mechanism. Doublethink is a concept that has established itself in our culture, describing well the capacity of the human mind to contort when it hears a resolutely pronounced official account on any issue—9/11 being only one example—and at the same time is aware of evidence contradictory to this official pronouncement. Doublethink has the same meaning as another Orwellian term, “blackwhite,” which means the ability to claim brazenly that black is white, in bold-faced contradiction to irrefutable evidence.
For example, exasperated with a friend, I declared, “I know you believe that 9/11 was a false flag operation and that we are in the Middle East for natural resources, but you keep speaking of the “War on Terror” as though it’s the real reason we have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and why we now use drones to kill so-called terrorists. Why do you do this?!”
She shot back testily, “Well, we are surrounded by the official story; it’s everywhere—the TV, the newspapers, our teachers and friends at school, work. What am I to do?!”
Doublethink was her survival strategy—insanity to stay sane.
A similar exchange occurred with a friend who had included in her recent book words corroborating the official 9/11 myth, which I knew she did not believe. Frustrated, I confronted her: “Why do you use those words? I know you don’t believe them.”
With irritation she replied, “Look, I know we were lied to. But my work in the world is very important to me, and if I am to continue it, I can’t have my taxes audited!”
She was fearful of retaliation from corrupt authorities, and therefore had adopted the defense of holding both worldviews in mind, using each as it suited the occasion—classic doublethink. Thank you, George Orwell!
Doublethink is a defensive strategy of holding two contradictory beliefs in mind at the same time and using them semi-consciously rather like a chameleon, switching colors back and forth as needed.
An alternative defense strategy is the use of denial to avoid cognitive dissonance.
Editor’s note: To be continued in our next newsletter with Part 5: Denial and Cognitive Dissonance.