Ignorance is strength

So I started re-reading George Orwell’s famous book, 1984. It’s a story written in 1949 about a scary future of authoritarian government in which the people are fed concepts such as the party mantra (“War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.”), which includes the wonderfully simple and yet deliciously complex line “Ignorance is strength”.

Controlling access to information, ideas, and even thought is fundamental to the world Orwell is portraying. The notion that the world is more secure and safe in and of itself through pure ignorance of truth re-enforces the powerful separation between the Inner Party, Outer Party, and everyone else. Since everyone else can never really know what is going on at any point in time they are unable to make informed choices for themselves and must always defer to the wisdom of the Big Brother. Not that anyone would ever question this greater wisdom, since society has at this point been largely pre-conditioned to think as they’re told – even going so far as to understand what is a thought crime before such thought is committed. The concept of “newspeak” is used to redefine everyday language into a form that is less likely to result in thought crimes.

Another fundamental concept used within the world of 1984 is the notion of “doublethink”. This describes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory sets of beliefs or value systems (a double standard), as a means to use logic against logic, what is otherwise rationale against itself. This can be used, for example to simultaneously believe that the stars are a mere few kilometres away, while also retaining the theory that they actually are millions of miles away when a scientific formula requires the latter to be true (albeit very briefly). It is through a combination of careful thought regulation, information control, and the notion of doublethink (as a safety net to prevent the ruling elite from realizing the truth of their own actions) that this scary world of the future retains complete control over the masses. And there is no point protesting – because nobody is listening anyway.

Orwell wrote a number of other interesting works of fiction that had semblances of such potential future real life. Animal Farm is the obvious other example (which I’ve read more recently than 1984), but there were many more, and I think it’s time to play catchup. Another great work of fiction from around the same time as Orwell (and sharing many similar concepts) is the 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley, “Brave New World”. I just ordered a copy on Amazon.


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