Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Mitt Romney and Orwell's "1984"

Having just read George Orwell's "1984", I can't help but compare the political mentality of the supporters of Big Brother to the one exhibited by the Republicans and their presidential candidate Mitt Romney. I will focus on three essential similarities: the use of doublethink, the dismissal of history, and the poverty of language. The frightening similarities go deeper and an exhaustive analysis would require volumes of work. Also, the analogies extend to the entire American political system, but I think Mitt Romney is a perfect example in relation to the nightmarish society portrayed by Orwell.  

In the dystopian society imagined by Orwell, the members of the ruling party of Oceania are trained in doublethink. That is, they are able to control their thinking so that they take to be true whatever Big Brother tells them is true, even if their direct perception of the world or memory contradicts what Big Brother says. The Party exercises perfect control over the masses - 'the proles' -  by keeping them in a state of blissful ignorance and continuous terror. Orwell characterizes doublethink like this: "To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary." 
There's no doubt that Mitt Romney is an expert in the use of doublethink. His policies on taxes, education, foreign affairs, immigration and so on change in relation to his audience and his momentary goals. Access to political power takes precedence over truth. He can say both that 47% of Americans are parasites and that Americans are the greatest people in the world. Both that the health-care system is in ruins and that Americans have the best health-care system. He will cut federal funding for education while hiring more teachers. He will increase military spending while reducing the Government's budget deficit. Romney will say whatever it takes to get elected and fabricate whatever evidence is required, but also promptly forget that evidence when it is no longer needed. And, being a guru of doublethink, Romney is able to do all this with a warm, confident smile on his face. 

The second striking resemblance between Romney's discourse and that of Big Brother's party members is their dismissal of historical evidence. In Orwell's novel, 'the proles', who make up 85% of the population of Oceania, are politically controlled and kept in a state of poverty and social unconsciousness by the Party because they have no sense of history. Because the Party controls the past, the proles don't know that there is a possibility that life can be better for them. They have nothing to compare their lives to. Also, they don't know when their rulers make political mistakes because they have no previous experience of failed government policies. 

In his campaign Mitt Romney only mentions the four years in which Barack Obama was president: American history began in 2008. What happened before that is of no interest. But what happened in the Bush Jr. era should be remembered. It's essential for Americans to remember George W. Bush and his policies, because those failed policies show that Romney's policies are also bankrupt. So, Americans should not only remember why they voted for Obama, but also why they didn't vote for McCain. It's because with McCain, it was more of the same. So, it wasn't only the hope offered by Obama, but also the rejection and disgust with George W. Bush's type of leadership and policy that American voters felt and reacted to. Romney wants to hypnotize the Americans into partial remembering and thus cut the logical connections between memories and facts. But the fact is that Americans voted for Obama because they were fed up with George W. Bush and Romney is an even more terrifying incarnation of George W. Bush.    

Masters of propaganda and thought-control, from Adolf Hitler to Nicolae Ceausescu, agree that the masses react well to simple slogans which are constantly repeated. Big Brother had three such slogans which were posted all over Oceania: "War is Peace", "Freedom is Slavery", and "Ignorance is Strength". Slogans work because the masses don't discern subtleties and have no critical thinking skills. During the first presidential debate Mitt Romney kept repeating that he will cut taxes, and magically create jobs and reduce the deficit. He offered no clear indication of how that would work exactly, but he hoped that by vigorously repeating it people would believe it. Because what do Americans want? They want jobs. It's essential to note that these slogans become effective because the public is kept in a state of linguistic poverty; they are unable to articulate what they want and why they want what they want. This is perfectly captured by the creators of Southpark. People don't want jobs - they want to live and don't want to die. They want food, water, housing and health-care. They want to be free to lead meaningful, happy lives; they want society to offer them the opportunity for authentic work but also recreation and spending quality time with their family. 

The main cause of linguistic poverty, as Orwell emphasizes, is lack of education. Education, as opposed to specialized training, lifts people from a state of unconsciousness and inertia and makes them lucid individuals who can reflect on the history and purpose of their society and on their role in it. Once the audience of the political discourse becomes more sophisticated and critical, politicians will be forced to elaborate their slogans. They will have to put more effort into persuading the electorate. They will rediscover the power of truth and historical evidence. Otherwise, under the spell of slogans, everyone will fall asleep and regress into an animalistic state. The sleep of reason creates monsters and, I think, this generation's deep slumber will create monsters which will defy both Goya's and Orwell's imaginations.

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