Power is [was] still out today, so I am learning new things about the way my phone works. Specifically, I'm trying to figure out if I can write documents on my Chromebook and get them onto my phone in a way that can be uploaded to the interwebs. If you're reading this, I have succeeded[1. If you're reading it on my blog, I mean. Obviously if you've stolen my laptop and are reading my scratchpad files, that doesn't count.].
Meanwhile: I finished reading 1984 last night, and want to talk about some of the new thoughts I've had. Specifically, I want to talk about the uncomfortable familiarity of doublethink.
Doublethink is, in 1984, close to being the Party's central doctrine: the virtuous responsibility of its adherents to learn how to hold contradictory thoughts in one's mind simultaneously. But, more than that, it's a way of holding the scaffolding of bias in your mind such taht it reinforces the Party's views wherever possible.
"It needed also a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors. Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain."
That was the part of the book where doublethink became a lot more chilling. That was the point where it stopped seeming like doublethink was some extraordinary effort by a near-alien political body, a pursuit doomed to at least partial imperfection forever. It started seeming like regular old run-of-the-mill cognitive bias. It started seeming like the way human brains work all the time.
I thought about how much easier, for example, it is to ignore or make excuses for the undeniably problematic nature of the Office than it is for Tosh.0, or how easy it is for me to see subtle distinctions in cases that support my political arguments, and how easy it is to dismiss an opponent's argument when they pull out the same kind of subtle distinctions as "Distinction without difference." That doesn't necessarily means that my arguments are wrong, but it does mean I lean towards continuing to believe things rather than changing my mind, for reasons that aren't very good.
One of the most unrealistic things about Dystopian fiction, the same unrealistic thing that shows up in conspiracy theories, is the idea that there's a high-powered organizing force creating the flaws in human nature and society that the writers or conspiracy theorists see around them. Doublethink is, I think, a possible and real phenomenon; it's even the natural state of most thought. The ability to coordinate it, though, the way IngSoc seeks to do, might be a little beyond human ability. Instead, we naturally drift towards rationalizing systems in groups and clusters.
O'Brian is right about a lot of things in his interrogations with Winston. He's right about the implications of collective solipsism (though I strongly believe that Winston was right about solipsism being inherently flawed,) and I think he's right about the reasons for the inevitable downfall of other authoritarian governments, that they grow soft or weak. The cult-like methods used in the Ministry of Love would also probably work, if they could be executed on a large enough scale.
I'm glad that history didn't go the way Orwell wrote about, but I also don't think he was trying to make a prediction. Rather, I think he was trying to illustrate the concepts that were active in his time, which allowed for individuals like Hitler and Stalin to reach a peak of power, and establish the idea of a gradient. It's better for humanity to be fractured into thousands or millions of subgroups with their own variously broken modes of thought than it is for there to be three dominant groups piloting world affairs. It's better for the revolting middle class to at least sort of half-believe in the values of equality and liberty, because when they fail to live up to the moral demands of power, they will at least not fail completely, undermining the class structure more and more by degrees. And even if there's no way to crawl out of the oppression of the thought-landscape you have access to, even if there's no way you can think totally clearly, (which no one can,) it's better to be closer to reasonable rather than further away.