George Orwell, in his book 1984, coined the word doublethink. Emma Baldwin (Newspeak in 1984 Explained – Book Analysis) defines it this way, “It refers to a type of cognitive dissonance where one is capable of bailing two things at once. These two things should, if one’s reasoning is clear, cancel one another out. The party slogans are one of the clearest examples of doublethink. It purports that one thing is another, even though those reading/hearing the slogan know it means something else entirely. For example: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

Doublethink is why, living in a contemporary 1984 world, social and governmental forces insist you look at the above picture and conclude that the boy is actually right side up. A rational person could not come to that conclusion. But doublethink is a means of destroying logical thought, a process intended to secure allegiance to the leaders who make such statements.

Doublethink, Alive and Well

Several years ago, riots rocked numerous American cities. One news reporter insisted that the demonstrations were “peaceful” at the same time buildings were burning and stores were being looted on film behind the reporter. Other reports insisted the same thing despite finding out later that windows were smashed, stores were looted, and many people lost their businesses.

Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea. She was taught that North Korea was a socialist paradise and that as their “dear leader” suffered on their behalf, they should struggle with him. However, at the same time that many people were starving, train cars carrying luxury goods and food were regularly delivered on special train cars to the leader’s family. Socialism for thee but not for me.

She described how she learned only to memorize the propaganda of the North Korean government. Force fed to believe how wonderful everything was in North Korea, she failed at the time to see the disconnect between what she was taught and the fact that she and her sister were forced to eat bugs to stay alive. “I had never been taught to use the ‘critical thinking’ part of my brain, the part that makes reasoned judgments about why one thing seems better than another.” (In Order to Live, p. 208) In a second book, she warns about the same process in the West that forces people to believe ideas contrary to human nature and to common sense. People who think can be dangerous; the truly dangerous don’t think.

Rational Judgment Thrown Out

Suspending logic, the meaning of words, and common sense is the point. One well-known, mind-numbing argument may not exactly be doublethink, but it coincides with doublethink in that it asks the listener to accept an illogical premise and suspend rational thought. The question is sometimes asked, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Any thinking person can recognize the self-contradictory nature of the statement. Clapping is defined by bringing two hands together. There can be no sound of one hand clapping because by definition and experience there is no such thing. I’m not sure of the point except that someone who doesn’t think might be persuaded that the speaker wants the listener to suspend rational thinking and see him as all wise and all knowing. Skip logic; listen to me.

Not to Be Confused with Paradox

Don’t confuse doublethink with paradox, which is an apparent contradiction that turns out to contain truth; it seems to contradict itself but may nevertheless be true. Examples abound in everyday conversation. They are clever ways of telling a truth, and used in the right context, most people understand them as paradoxes. The point is to reveal a truth that might normally be hidden.

  • Less is more.
  • The beginning of the end
  • The more you give, the more you get.
  • The best way out is always through.
  • The louder you are, the less people hear.
  • Impossible is not a word in my vocabulary.
  • The more things change the more they stay the same.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.

Furthermore, Christianity teaches its adherents that they must die if they are to live. The contradiction of dying to live is resolved when we understand that the death referred to is the death (rejection) of a sinful way of life. Death to that brings about life, likely a reference to eternal life.

Why Don’t They Teach Logic?

In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, an aging professor is talking to a group of children who face a dilemma, “’Logic.’ Said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?’” Because of the illogical conclusions of some in authority, they prefer not to teach logic; they indoctrinate. They only want people to accept doublethink. Although doublethink and newspeak eventually wore down Winston, the main character in 1984, writers, speakers, and the rest of us must be on guard against flimsy logic, false rhetoric, and fake jargon.

© 2024 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC, The Lazarus Chronicles

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