“Ignorance is strength”~George Orwell, 1984
This week we heard the phrase Alternative Facts issue from Kellyanne Conway’s lips. Alternative Facts, as defined by Kellyanne, include Donald’s erroneous claims that a million and a half people attended his inauguration, that his was the most watched ceremony ever, that three to five million illegal immigrants robbed him of the popular vote, that those who walked in the Women’s March hadn’t voted.
I listened to Kellyanne and laughed. Aloud. Like many others, I immediately thought of the term Doublethink from the dystopian work 1984 by George Orwell. Doublethink (or its modern equivalent Alternative Facts) is holding “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” So, I guess that means we’re expected to simultaneously gaze at the photos of sparse crowds where Obama supporters stood eight years ago, and still believe Trump’s inauguration was the most attended. Ever.
Days after Kellyanne’s pronouncement, Orwell’s novel 1984 shot up the bestseller list to number 1.
Other Alternative Facts to surface this week: Global warming is a natural occurrence. Witness the White House take-down of the EPA’s climate change page and its gag order directive to employees. As O’Brien says to Winston towards the end of 1984, “When we are omnipotent, we shall have no more need of science.”
Here’s another Alternative Fact: withhold contraceptives from poor countries in Africa and Latin America and thereby prevent abortions. Um, this will actually increase abortions (these are the facts from the Bush era, nothing alternative about them) as well as reduce access to cancer screenings and Zika virus prevention. In his 1946 essay “In Front of Your Nose,” Orwell warns, “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue.” In that vein, Nicholas Kristoff from the New York Times wonders whether we should use the word “lie” to describe Trumpisms. In his article “President Trump’s War on Women Begins,” Kristoff muses that “Trump may actually believe his absurd falsehoods.”
It’s no wonder we turn to Orwell. In addition to 1984, I would argue that Animal Farm is as valuable a read. 1984 depicts the bleak, unrelenting, insidious non-existence of a society in which free speech and free thought have been quashed. Animal Farm provides insight into how we get to 1984 (with perhaps some hints to avoid such a fate).
Thanks to Orwell’s novels and essays, we are forewarned. We can still act and read, and, yes…think. Trump and his Comrades are not yet omnipotent. In fact, Science Magazine reports that even before the White House ordered the removal of scientific knowledge from the EPA website, climate scientists engaged in “guerrilla archiving” and secretly backed up all the data. Perhaps this is what led the White House to scrub those plans. The EPA page remains in place for now.
Remember, as Orwell says, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
I just hope Reading Orwell in Oakland does not one day, say in the next four years, become as subversive as Reading Lolita in Tehran.