Just before the recent US elections I read George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time. At least I think it was for the first time, I might have read it years ago and then been re-educated to reject such thoughtcrime. Stranger things have happened. In fact, stranger things are happening.
The ghost of Orwell’s doublethink came back to haunt us recently when we were told by US White House officials that more people attended the new President’s inauguration than previous ceremonies – despite what photographs or travel statistics showed. The White House staff explained away the discrepancy by saying their claim was an ‘alternative fact’. To accept this type of doublethink all you have to do is to believe two contrary ideas at the same time. Seeing things as black or white is so 1983.
Fake news is another doublethink. Normally used to describe such publications as the ‘Sunday Sport’, with such classics as ‘World War 2 Bomber Found on the Moon’, it has now been applied to the BBC. Of course this is not the first time the BBC has been accused of telling lies, it’s just that it’s normally done by people like Robert Mugabe.
Of course we all play with the truth at times. Occasionally it is not only socially acceptable, but essential that we do. Imagine a friend showing you her new purchase – a very expensive ski suit to take to Japan – that makes her look enormous. She asks your opinion on the purchase. Do you manage to say, with misgivings, that it looks ‘nice’ (a lie), or do you tell the truth, namely that when she’s finished she may be able to find a buyer in a sumo wrestling school? Most of us would lie – I certainly hope my friends would.
However all lies are not created equally. The lie to your friend was for her sake, was inconsequential and didn’t lower trust. Whereas when White House staff issue falsehoods, alternative facts or doublespeak then trust in them and their office is lowered.
Perhaps I need to accept some doublethink myself. Orwell’s themes of nationalism, censorship and surveillance are on the rise, but in the end everything’s going to be great.