~1984 by George Orwell, page 239
The first time I read 1984, I learned that not even the mind is inviolate. The cruel torture practiced upon Winston had nothing to do with his physical self but his mental anguish at having betrayed Julia. O'Brien was a sadistic bastard who succeeded in breaking Winston and Julia, rendering them so harmless that they could see one another and feel no desire. Under the spreading chestnut tree/ I sold you and you sold me. There is a point of no return, a realization about one's true nature that cannot be undone. There is a sickened sense of disgust, of hatred for oneself, of weakness and the realization that one is truly broken. The first time I read 1984, I was in eighth grade and I was Winston.
I reread 1984 over Sukkot. This time, I focused upon the methods used in order to create this ugly society in which power is desired only for the sake of power, torture for the pleasure of torture. I had not paid enough attention to them the first time. Ingsoc is a study in diabolical genius.
"He who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past."
That's brilliant. He who controls the present is able to have anything printable edited and ensure that the only official versions of these documents are the edited and corrected versions; he is simultaneously able to destroy any variants. Hence the past as it actually occurred never happened, because the texts don't allow it to have happened. If the only texts in existence are modified texts but they depict a different past, then the first past never happened.
But what about people? Don't they remember a different version of events, a different past? But no! Hence the constant references to solipsism. The only thing that matters is what one thinks has happened; that is the past. So if the past only exists in texts and in the minds of people, and the texts are reformatted to tell a different story (and no variants exist) and the minds are structured to allow for the process of doublethink, there is no past in terms of there having been real events outside oneself that happened in a certain way. Not if one believes that everything happens within the mind.
Or as Winston thinks to himself:
- Anything could be true. The so-called laws of nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. "If I wished," O'Brien had said, "I could float off this floor like a soap bubble." Winston worked it out. "If he thinks he floats off the floor, and if I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens." Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: "It doesn't really happen. We image it. It is hallucination." He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a "real" world where "real" things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens. (229)
Now, how brilliant and disturbing is that?
There's a beautiful conversation on page 205.
- O'Brien smiled faintly. "You are no metaphysician, Winston ", he said. " Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?"
" Then where does the past exist, if at all ? "
" In records. It is written down."
" In records. And - ?
" In the mind. In human memories. "
" In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?"
It's a very disturbing thought to consider that the mind has the power to create reality. Of course, this only works in a very controlled subtext, where every single person's mind is dominated and in accord with one another; in other words, when every person has mastered doublethink.
- Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so 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. (176-177)
It would be nice if the Asch conformity experiments supported the doublethink point- that is, that after enough people claim one line is shorter than the other, the subject actually sees it as being that way. And guess what? Recent research says that may be the case. See this New York Times article, "What Other People Say May Change What You See."
Blakeslee concludes the article by writing, "If other people's views can actually affect how someone perceives the external world, then truth itself is called into question."
Welcome to the Orwellian world.