Orwell, Freud, and 1984
By Paul Roazen
... Double-think is a Newspeak word for mastering reality by means of controlling memories. In 1984 old-fashioned contradictions become increasingly unsettling as apparent paradoxes dissolve under Newspeak logic. Since there are no laws, nothing can be illegal. The central principles of 1984— war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength—gain an eerie meaning by the end of the novel. Orwell once labelled schizophrenic “the power of holding simultaneously two beliefs which cancel out,” and considered similarly pathological the manner of thinking which ignores “facts which are obvious and unalterable, and which will have to be faced sooner or later.”
Double-think is described as the means by which one can hold “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously,” and accept both of them as true. In this respect double-think is almost a parody of the psychoanalytic ideal of normality—the capacity to endure in the face of ambiguity, frustration, delay. By contrast, 1984 suggests that through neutralizing knowledge and altering the past, it becomes possible to forget that one has forgotten anything...I have expressed my view that we are good and bad at the same time. We do not have to be tempted by the devil to be bad, for the probability of evil is always greater than zero.
But Orwell here is talking about active belief states, not about potential states. Whereas I am capable of waging war and enjoying peace, I do not actively believe that both are the same thing.
Realizing that I am both good and evil does not neutralize morality, rather it sharpens my quest for whatever level of perfection I have set for myself. However, to believe that "good" and "evil" are the same thing - somewhat like the Marquis de Sade and his emulators in today's films and novels - does indeed neutralize morality.
It is true that the initial confrontation with the pornography of evil is incredibly intense. Think of some of the really good torture scenes in Game of Thrones. Wow! Get things moving, don't they?
But after the initial horror, it deadens us to horrors and we need to seek more if we wish to feel that intensity again.
Think of the progress of Violence and Sex in the films since the 1960s. What was considered horribly violent in 1965 is laughable now.
I am not condemning anything. I am interested in the dynamics of morality. I do not seek to moralize.
There is a similar dynamic in the phenomenon of "Fake News", where we have a recreation of the Cretan Liar paradox:
Empedocles says All Cretans are liars.
Empedocles is a Cretan
Therefore, ... ?
which now is:
All statements about events are fake.
This is a statement about an event.
Therefore, ... ?
We are all liars and truth-tellers, but we must not believe that truth is a lie.