Doublethink 1984 Essay Power

For the album, see DoubleThink.

Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.[1] Doublethink is related to, but differs from, hypocrisy and neutrality. Also related is cognitive dissonance, in which contradictory beliefs cause conflict in one's mind. Doublethink is notable due to a lack of cognitive dissonance—thus the person is completely unaware of any conflict or contradiction.

George Orwell created the word doublethink in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949); doublethink is part of newspeak. In the novel, its origin within the typical citizen is unclear; while it could be partly a product of Big Brother's formal brainwashing programmes,[2] the novel explicitly shows people learning doublethink and newspeak due to peer pressure and a desire to "fit in", or gain status within the Party—to be seen as a loyal Party Member. In the novel, for someone to even recognize—let alone mention—any contradiction within the context of the Party line was akin to blasphemy, and could subject that person to disciplinary action and to the instant social disapproval of fellow Party Members.

Like many aspects of the dystopian societies reflected in Orwell's writings, Orwell considered doublethink to be a feature of Soviet-style totalitarianism, as reflected in this statement from a speech by Joseph Stalin:

We are for the withering away of the state, and at the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship, which represents the most powerful and mighty of all forms of the state which have existed up to the present day. The highest development of the power of the state, with the object of preparing the conditions of the withering away of the state: that is the Marxist formula. Is it "contradictory"? Yes, it is "contradictory." But this contradiction is a living thing and wholly reflects the Marxist dialectic.[3]

Origin and concepts[edit]

According to Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, doublethink is:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink.[4]

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.[5]

Orwell explains that the Party could not protect its near-absolute power without degrading its people with constant propaganda. Yet knowledge of this brutal deception, even within the Inner Party itself, could lead to the implosion of the State. Although Nineteen Eighty-Four is most famous for the Party's pervasive surveillance of everyday life, this control means that the population of Oceania—all of it and including the ruling elite—could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday thought and language. Newspeak is the method for controlling thought through language; doublethink is the method of directly controlling thought.

Earlier in the book, doublethink is explained as being able to control your memories, to be able to manually forget something, then to forget about forgetting. This is demonstrated by O'Brien, during the time when Winston Smith is being tortured toward the end of the book.

Newspeak incorporates doublethink, as it contains many words that create assumed associations between contradictory meanings, especially true of fundamentally important words such as good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, and justice and injustice.

In the case of workers at the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, doublethink means being able to falsify public records, and then believe in the new history that they themselves have just rewritten. As revealed in Goldstein's Book, the Ministry's name is itself an example of doublethink: the Ministry of Truth is really concerned with lies. The other ministries of Airstrip One are similarly named: the Ministry of Peace is concerned with war, the Ministry of Love is concerned with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty is concerned with starvation. The three slogans of the Party—War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength—are also examples.[1]

Moreover, doublethink's self-deception allows the Party to maintain huge goals and realistic expectations:

If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one's own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes.

Thus each Party member could be a credulous pawn but would never lack relevant information, the Party being both fanatical and well informed and thus unlikely either to "ossify" or "grow soft" and collapse. Doublethink would avoid a "killing the messenger" attitude that could disturb the Command structure. Thus doublethink is the key tool of self-discipline for the Party, complementing the state-imposed discipline of propaganda and the police state. These tools together hide the government's evil not just from the people but from the government itself—but without the confusion and misinformation associated with primitive totalitarian regimes.

Doublethink is critical in allowing the Party to know what its true goals are without recoiling from them, avoiding the conflation of a regime's egalitarian propaganda with its true purpose.[citation needed]

Paradoxically, during the long and harrowing process in which the protagonist Winston Smith is systematically tortured and broken, he contemplates using doublethink as the ultimate recourse in his rebellion—to let himself become consciously a loyal party member while letting his hatred of the party remain an unconscious presence deep in his mind and let it surface again at the very moment of his execution so that "the bullet would enter a free mind" which the Thought Police would not have a chance to tamper with again.

Since 1949 (when Nineteen Eighty-Four was published) the word doublethink has become synonymous with relieving cognitive dissonance by ignoring the contradiction between two world views—or even of deliberately seeking to relieve cognitive dissonance. Some schools of psychotherapy such as cognitive therapy encourage people to alter their own thoughts as a way of treating different psychological maladies (see cognitive distortions).

Orwell's "doublethink" is also credited with having inspired the commonly used term "doublespeak", which itself does not appear in the book. Comparisons have been made between doublespeak and Orwell's descriptions on political speech from his essays Politics and the English Language, in which "unscrupulous politicians, advertisers, religionists, and other doublespeakers of whatever stripe continue to abuse language for manipulative purposes".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abMcArthur, Tom, ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. p. 321. ISBN 0-19-214183-X.  
  2. ^Such as for example, the seemingly formal brainwashing program that broke Winston Smith.
  3. ^Address to the 16th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (1930) Quoted in: Alfred B. Evans, Soviet Marxism-Leninism: The Decline of an Ideology pg. 39
  4. ^Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 1, chapter 3, pp 32
  5. ^Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 2, chapter 9, pp 220
  6. ^Kehl, D.G.; Livingston (July 1999). "Doublespeak Detection for the English Classroom". The English Journal. 88 (6): 78. doi:10.2307/822191. JSTOR 822191. 

External links[edit]

Doublethink In 1984 Essay

What is doublethink? Orwell describes doublethink as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.'; In 1984, doublethink is the normal way of thought, and as a result everyone understands it and practices it. Doublethink is different from changing ones mind, lying, and self-deception in many ways. Doublethink involves believing in the two contradictory ideas at the same time. This is different from lying because lying is saying something that is wrong and knowing that it is wrong but still saying it anyway. For example lets say you broke a vase. When your mother asks you who broke the vase and you say the dog did it that would be lying. The reason it is not doublethink is that you do not believe in two different beliefs at one time. You don’t believe you broke the vase and the dog broke the vase, you absolutely know you broke the vase and are trying to put the blame on the dog as to avoid trouble. Changing ones mind is also different from doublethink. Changing ones mind is accepting or believing one thing, then deciding to accept or believe something else different then what you thought before. An example of changing ones mind would believe the earth is flat and then after seeing sufficient evidence that it is not flat but actually round. Due to the new evidence you would change your mind and now believe the earth is round as you previously thought it was flat. This is clearly different from doublethink because you are not believing in two ideas at the same time and accepting both. You are believing one thing, then completely change your mind and believing in another. Changing ones mind involves completely dismissing one idea to believe in the other, which means you, cannot believe in both at the same time. Finally doublethink is also different from self-deception. Self-deception is to mislead or be unfaithful to the way someone perceives him or her self or to mislead the way they think about something else. Self-deception would be the closet to doublethink then the other two examples given before. However it still is different from doublethink. With self-deception you are fooling yourself to believe something that really is not true. It is like your not accepting a fact or idea and replacing it with one that you believe, either if it is right or wrong. As said before doublethink is the belief of two contradictory things at once and believing both, and self-deception would be replacing one belief with another more acceptable to the self. An example of this would be thinking that you are such a smart person that you do not have to do any homework or studying and expect to do well in class. This is self-deception because even geniuses have to learn the material at one point. Some people, such as geniuses, may learn it at a faster rate but they do have to learn it. So by thinking you are smart enough to do well in class without doing any work would be...

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