As a songwriter I usually boil things down to three or four minutes. But some things take a little longer to say. Just ask Bob Dylan. Time is valuable. So I’ll get to the chorus of this non-song as quick as I can and you can read the extra verses if you like.
In this odd quarantine reset, I am rereading George Orwell’s classic, 1984, written in 1949. If you’ve never read it, our current times make a fresh backdrop.
In one defining scene, Syme, a language expert, speaks to Winston, the main character. They both work at the Ministry of Truth where all propaganda is produced in a tightly engineered language called “Newspeak.” See if his words strike you as extremely relevant for our times, 71 years after Orwell wrote them.
(NOTE: Quoting and exploring how these few words from 1949 might resonate in 2020, may touch a nerve with some. Not my intent but a lot of nerves are touchy these days. If this nonmusical musing based on literature gets “filtered” wouldn’t that be irony and prove Orwell’s point? So maybe share this quickly, so I don’t have to turn it into musical satire ; )
Syme says, “Don’t you know the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?”
He claims this will ultimately prevent “thought-crime” which is “merely a question of…reality control.” (Section 1, chapter 5)
Wow. “narrow the range of thought” for the purpose of “reality control” Sounds sinister, huh? The stuff of fiction. Like the Capitol of Panem in The Hunger Games or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. But fiction can certainly mirror reality.
The thought came: What or Who in our current world attempts to control reality by narrowing the range of thought? You may have your own open-minded, wide-ranging thoughts.
And here’s the chorus, which in songwriting usually contains the “hook.”
TWO of These Things Are NOT Like the Others.
Multiple choice. Substitute the following for “Newspeak”
The whole aim of _______________ is to narrow the range of thought, i.e.,” reality control.
- Political correctness
- Religious persecution
- Deleting this post
- Progressive academia
- Mainstream media
- Cancel Culture
- History revisionism
- Auntie Em
- Hate-Speech Laws
- FB algorithms
- All of the above
- All of the above except ( L ) and ( S )
Syme sums up by telling Winston that complete adherence to the Orthodoxy of Big Brother, the iron-fisted power in charge, will ultimately mean: “not thinking – not needing to think.”
Hmm, what do you think of that? Not needing to think. Is such a thing even a remote prospect in the land of the free-thinkers? Or is this a very real possibility for those who leave thinking to others?
(In case any tension is building up in you at this point, cue James Brown – Livin in America as a blood pressure release valve and reminder of what great grooves the land of the free has created.)
In Orwell’s future vision there is no First Amendment. In fact, the free speech the First Amendment protects has been criminalized. There is no freedom of speech. Or thought. (or groove) There is Newspeak, a lexicon designed to narrow the range of thought. Speak and think Newspeak or risk being “vaporized.”
In 2020 those not aligned with centrally created, commandeering group-think are not executed, at least not in the U.S. However, the 20th century is strewn with millions of bodies of those who opposed various bad Big Brothers and their group think. In 1949 Orwell had just lived through much of that and was watching versions of it expand around the globe, including his own country, England.
Currently, in the U.S., the reality is, nonsubscribers to stronger central control and other progressive views are marginalized, censored, shouted down, ridiculed, slandered, demonized, boycotted, bullied in the media, universities and public places, deviously investigated, unjustly indicted and sometimes physically attacked for their divergent views. Honest, civil debate is stifled and shutdown. Truth is muzzled. And muddied.
Friction and division are a daily diet. (Hey, that sounds like a Dylan line… Protests rage against a counter riot…Courts make law so the people defy it…OK, let’s write that song later.)
Need some good news? All this friction and division at least mean Orwell’s vision has not come to pass in our country. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are holding back Big Brother (or Big Sister). So far. Odds are, the current Newspeak coalition may forever rail – but will they ever prevail?
We can do more than hope not. We can keep the faith. Live the Truth. Pray. Love our neighbors and adversaries. Try to really see and hear each other through the smoke and noise of contention. Turn the other cheek – at least twice. We can think for ourselves. Uphold our Constitution. Vote and still bear arms (many millions slaughtered in ideological purges could do neither).
Is it naïve to think that in the arena of ideas - independent, untamable thinkers, might at least gain the respect of some who march in step to the monolith of group-think? – or as Orwell described the Party line, “all thinking the same thoughts, shouting the same slogans…all with the same face.”
Is it naïve to think at least some who closely monitor the trip wires of intolerance would tolerate thinking like this? And respond thoughtfully, respectfully? Open to the possibility that opposing views can find civilized solutions? Short of burning down cities? And civil war?
Sad to say, yes, that’s likely naïve. We are witnessing what history has proven, that the ultimate argument of all bully movements and ideologies is force. And the worst of them cannot be stopped by reason, rule of law or kindness.
In Orwell’s vision, thinking and speaking like this would get someone vaporized. Today it might just get filtered by the guardians of community standards, unfriended by the chronically offended, berated with the mangy verbal mascot of the intolerant, the F word. Made invisible. Silenced. Digitally vaporized.
But, here’s the beauty and wily goodness of Divine power. The most steely, ardent adversary can become the most passionate ally. Just watch the movies, JoJo Rabbit, The Mission and The Best of Enemies. Look at the life of the apostle Paul.
Likewise, ideas like freedom are difficult, ultimately impossible, to silence. Rewatch Brave Heart. Reread our own Declaration of Independence. Look at the life of Nelson Mandela. Read playwright Vaclav Havel’s first inaugural address upon becoming the president of a free Czech Republic after spending years imprisoned by a very bad Big Brother. Or contemplate the resurrection of Jesus.
Is it naïve to think the Truth can still set people free? And keep them free? I don’t think so.
( Cue Neil Diamond – They’re Comin to America )
And now, perhaps to your relief, I’ll go back to songwriting.