Cultural Revolution in Orwell’s 1984 and America’s 2014

In Orwell’s novel Winston Smith, the protagonist, finds himself living in an inhuman world he cannot recognize as normal or natural. Aware of life in London before the Revolution and now experiencing the chilling new world of Big Brother and the Party in Oceania, Winston feels alienated, enslaved, and dehumanized. He has vague fond memories of the past he recalls from his childhood, but his current life as a government employee in the Ministry of Truth bears no resemblance to his earlier life. The threat of Thought Crime and Thought Police has deprived him of basic freedoms and human rights like freedom of speech and the right to marry. A new world order has revolutionized old traditions and dramatically changed the status of human life: “He felt as though he were wandering in the forests of the sea bottom, lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster.” The Cultural Revolution in 1984 has transformed society through three major assaults: the attack on the family by the manipulation of marriage, the destruction of the past by propaganda, and the disintegration of truth by verbal engineering. Political, cultural, and sexual revolutions—both then in 1984 and now in 2014—all utilize the techniques that operate in Winston’s world.

1984_posterWinston lives unmarried, enjoys no family life, has no clear recollection of a mother or father, and cannot pursue courtship or romance. His mother and father mysteriously disappeared “in one of the first great purges of the fifties.” The Party through its Junior Anti-Sex League discourages marriage and family for its members to cultivate loyalty to the Party as a person’s primary allegiance. Winston’s secretive affair with Julia requires elaborate deception and cunning to conceal their forbidden romance from the spy networks and the Telescreen. For the inner circles of the elite ruling class and its civil servants for whom nothing in the past is venerable or esteemed, marriage has lost its cultural status and sacred nature, and only the lowbrow Proles who represent the ignorant masses perform the lowly functions of bearing children. Human beings have been reduced to creatures of the state rather than fathers and mothers and members of a family. To deconstruct the human family, then, makes room for the idea of government as the new family or church. As one of the speeches at the Democratic Convention in 2012 stated, “Government is the only thing we all belong to.” To subvert the family is to elevate the state.

Winston works at the Ministry of Truth that proclaims the three ruling ideas of the Party: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH—slogans repeated everywhere and throughout all the media. The Ministry of Truth destroys all historical records and fabricates its own version of the past. Whereas the Party publicizes that Oceania had never formed an alliance with Eurasia, Winston’s own memory recalls beyond a doubt that the two nations were in unity only four years ago. When the Party boasts that it invented airplanes, “He remembered airplanes since his earliest childhood. But you could prove nothing. There was never any evidence.” He explains the process of the deconstruction of history that contradicts even the living memory of witnesses who participated in the events: “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.” Winston identifies the psychological techniques of ideology revising and reinventing history to fit the political theory and agenda of the Party—a method known as “Reality control” or “doublethink” that alters the past to control the future and then manipulates the present to recreate the past. Human memory, concrete experience, and the testimony of eyewitnesses lose credibility before the official records published at the Ministry of Truth posing as sources of authority: “All history was a palimpsest scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.”

Winston also lives in a world that defies truth and violates reality by the manipulation of language, the technique known as verbal engineering that belongs to the specialty of Newspeak. The political purges of the Party to extinguish its enemies or critics by cruel deaths are named “vaporization”. People never die or are killed but change into “unpersons”. The words virtue and vice, moral and immoral, good and evil, and right and wrong disappear and assume designations like “ungood”, “plusgood” and “doublegood.” The entire range of meanings, nuances, and distinctions that communicate moral reality is leveled and impoverished by its meager vocabulary. If there is no word in Newspeak to convey horrific evils expressed in graphic phrases like “the ugliness of sin”, then the facts of ugliness and sin slowly disappear from human consciousness. As Syme explains this aspect of indoctrination to Winston, “Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.” Fewer words mean a loss of awareness, a failure to perceive all of reality, and a deadening of emotions. The agenda of Newspeak is to numb the mind and desensitize the feelings to blunt man’s understanding of the enormity of evil perpetrated in the name of Big Brother and “equality”. Newspeak utilizes the word “orthodoxy” to mean a blind adherence to the Party’s slogans, a version of today’s “political correctness”: “Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

These psychological techniques and methods of indoctrination persist in the ideologies that wage battle in the culture wars of 2014. The war against the normative meanings of the family and marriage ignores the past as if it did not exist or has no truth–the perennial wisdom of tradition, the unchanging teaching of the Church, and what Edmund Burke called “the collected reason of ages” and the moral knowledge found in the treasury “of the general bank and capital of all nations, and of ages.” Courts act as if words do not signify things–real things that correspond to unchanging facts–and call the Defense of Marriage Act “unconstitutional”, and they dismiss the majority votes in referenda about the legal meaning of marriage as of no weight in their deference to the state and subservience to ideology. Lawmakers that fund Obamacare and Planned Parenthood ignore all the physical, mental, and economic problems these policies unleash with their anti-life and anti-family agendas. Deft verbal engineering redefines perversion as “gay”, killing as “termination of pregnancy” or “selective reduction”, disordered relationships as “same-sex marriages”, cohabitation as “living together” and lethal injections as “euthanasia”.

In all these examples a Big Brother, a Party, and an ideology with a will to power subvert the past, attack the family, and resort to the euphemism of tepid language to distort the horror of the evils perpetrated in the name of government  with a Ministry of Truth and a Ministry of Love. A novel entitled 2014 would show the same pattern—a federal government utilizing courts, schools, and media to torture language, logic, and law to commit its own purges—all the victims of surgical abortions, abortifacients, euthanasia, disease, divorce, judicial tyranny and ideological politics, victims whose lives have become as dehumanized, brutalized, and alienated as Winston’s in 1984. His protest on behalf of his sanity and humanity resounds for all human beings in all ages whose dignity remains violable: 2+2=4, water is wet, and rocks are hard: “The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change.”

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
Articles by Mitchell:

  • Zingbex

    An apt comparison. But the main source of this war against truth is the CULTURE, not the government. In many ways, the government is led by the culture, and not the other way around.

  • Pingback: Barbarians (ISIS) at the Gate -

  • smeat3

    I read this article. Since 1984 is the context, I challenge you to read the article above.

    In my humble opinion, nothing has ever been closer to 1984 than The War on Terror, which created an endless faceless enemy. And never was a Big Brother agency more expanded in this country than by the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

    What word we use to define marriage I believe matters very little. No one reasonable is expecting churches to change their stances on what counts as a marriage. Marriage will always be between a man and woman in the catholic church. It’s a sacrament though, and should stay that, a pact with people and their god, and should have nothing to do with legal status. Those in a faith are still in it by choice and still decide what marriage means to them based on that faith. However, in a free country that gives rights to people based on their couple status, it makes no sense for the government to decide what is, and what is not, a legal life partner that can speak on the behalf of a deceased loved one, and share in the challenges of one’s life. “Disordered relationships” and “perversion” as referenced in the article, are fear and hate based attack-words on the very core of who these people are. It wasn’t that long ago that people defended slavery in much the same way this article is defending marriage. Or even more recently, the argument for miscegenation laws. If less government is actually the answer, than why not let free adult citizens decide what to call their own relationships?

    The gay couples are not the issue in this country. The vast majority of criminal behavior and societal breakdown is coming out of straight relationships, often unmarried, and in poverty. If we want to start fixing “the family” I believe that would be a much better place to start. Not to get all freakanomics on you, but most of these legal marriage arguments are symbolic at best. Nationwide there have been around 75,000 gay marriages. People go to states where it’s legal if they really want a marriage right now. That’s 150,000 people or .006% of our population. But as the saying goes, “no one is free while others are oppressed.”

  • Common Sense

    It’s good to focus on marriage. The family is the cell of civilization, and marriage is the

    center of the family. Marriage cannot mean everything and anything. Children need real homes, stable families, and the love of both father and mother. This is Nature’s plan and God’s design. Anything that destroys the family–fatherless families, divorce, new definitions of marriage– endangers the well-being of children, attacks civilization, and undermines moral norms

  • Margaret

    Did anyone else notice that Winston’s girlfriend and the character in the Obama campaign ad have the same name, Julia? It’s been years since I read 1984, but was the cardboard “Julia” of the ad a Freudian slip, total coincidence, or a deliberate reference with a meaning I’ve not yet figured out?

  • Dean Aiman

    This is so conservative. I swear like what is this thing with marriage??? How does it negatively affect society? Seriously… What is wrong with gays, euthanize and abortion… Lmao he calls it out but with no real backup…