Vision of Society in 1984

The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. (Emmanuel Goldstein in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, ch.3). Discuss with respect to George Orwells vision of society in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwells society displays a threatening projection of a totalitarian system into the future. Indeed it is a regime very similar to the tyrannies of the 20th century and strongly echoes Stalin Russia or Nazi Germany. The dominant mood inside this repressive system is one of threat and suppression due to the systematic persecution and oppression of non-conformists. As Goldstein explains in his Oligarchical Collectivism there have always been three classes: the high, the middle and the low with the middle and the high constantly changing their respective position. Eventually this movement was identified by historians as being cyclical. In an attempt to interrupt this recurring pattern the Party is essentially focussing on the problem of Stability. Indeed Stability becomes paramount in Oceania as well as in the other two superpowers Eastasia and Eurasia. In short it is the problem of how to keep things the way they are and maintain a hierarchical society without risking an overthrow of the established system. Several devices and attitudes have been conceived to achieve this aim. First of all the Party constantly controls and monitors its subjects. A crucial device in this scheme is the telescreen which, by being able to send as well as to receive information, allows a constant surveillance of all Party members. In addition other institutions such as the Thought Police or the Spies have been contrived to guarantee a maximum of surveillance. Moreover different concepts of thinking such as Thoughtcrime and Crimestop have been introduced in an attempt to detect and/or prevent any digression from the Party principles as soon as possible and thus eliminate any potential non-conformists. Even the expression of ones face is subject to scrutiny as it might for example hint at a resentment felt towards Big Brother or might even indicate a possible future criminal (in Oceania this concept is referred to as Facecrime). Although the system tries to suffocate all possible opposition from the very beginning, the Inner Party has nevertheless to confront several problems which directly threaten stability. Paramount among those is the industrialisation and the consequent introduction of machinery on a large scale which tended to generate an affluent society. According to Goldstein after a certain time people would become literate and learn to think for themselves, thus eventually realising that the privileged minority has no longer any function. As a conclusion the Inner Party argued that a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. Ultimately continuous warfare between the three superstates would maintain the dominion of the party. As a matter of fact war guaranteed stability by consuming the economic overproduction and thus prevented a rising standard of living and incidentally also generated more faithful Party adherents.

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Another threat to the system is the empirical method of thought which Goldstein identifies as opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. It is a way of thinking essentially based on the belief that the acquiring of knowledge is only possible through careful observation and experiments. Moreover it is a concept of reasoning which is not only the basis for any further scientific research or technological development but also stimulates and influences the way people behave in general. It is a concept of thinking which is closely linked to an objective perception of reality.

The Party however agreed that in order to maintain permanent rule it was necessary to dislocate any sense of reality. Hence the denial of any objective reality and the complete manipulation of reality became central features of Ingsoc : Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party (OBrien during Winstons interrogation 1984 p.261). To achieve this aim the Party ultimately denied their members all means of checking information. Yet through careful observation (as for instance Winston did) people could realise that indeed the Party insidiously manipulated their existence. As a matter of fact this is one of the potential dangers of empirical thinking for the system : By carefully controlling and judging information people might notice that for instance the whole functioning of society, the devotion of the government and the father figure of Big Brother, all was a carefully constructed lie. As a matter of fact contrary to the Party propaganda their standard of living was not constantly increasing, Goldstein did probably not exist nor is there any threat of an immediate invasion of any part of Oceania. Ultimately an awareness might arise that the state massively manipulates and blurs reality and that their whole party-distorted existence has no relation to reality whatsoever but only aims at sustaining the Partys authority. Winstons rational behaviour reveals to which extent an empirical way of thinking constitutes a threat to the system. Although small and unimportant as a person himself, many Winstons might eventually cause the downfall of the Party. Indeed Winston is the living evidence of Goldsteins statement that empirical thought opposes the Partys principles. Another crucial concept contrived to maintain the system is the concept of doublethink. In practise it means the power of holding simultaneously two contradictory beliefs in ones mind and accepting both of them. In Nineteen Eighty-Four this is not merely a way of thinking, it is a doctrine. It is a concept which lies at the very heart of Ingsoc. Undoubtedly an empirical point of view radically contradicts the concept of doublethink. Hence this is another fundamental reasons why Goldsteins book identifies empirical thought as opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. Indeed it refutes the very relativism (i.e. 2 x 2 = 5) as displayed by the regimes spokesman OBrien in the Ministry of Truth during Winstons interrogation. Another example of doublethink is the idea of world-conquest which is believed in most firmly by those Inner Party members who know it to be impossible (1984 p.225). As a general rule the greater the understanding the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane. Hence the somehow paradoxical conclusion that the prevailing mental condition in Oceania must be one of controlled insanity (1984 p.225). Eventually it is the denial of reality which is the special feature of Ingsoc (1984 p.205).

Finally apart from the permanent surveillance of Party adherents and the distortion of reality, the mutability of the past is another crucial tenet of Ingsoc. In fact as far as the philosophy of the regime is concerned there is a significant correlation between the future, past and present. Who controls the past the Party slogan runs controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. To admit that there has been a change is a threat to stability itself and a sign of weakness as well. Hence the Partys exertions to alter the course of history in an attempt to make it comply with its program. The importance of this issue is clearly highlighted by the incredible commitment of the Ministry of Truth. Indeed a whole department continuously extends the Partys claim on the past and rewrites history in such a way as to agree with Big Brothers previous policy. Hence if for instance Eurasia or Eastasia is the enemy today, then that country must always have been the enemy. And if the facts say otherwise, then the facts must be altered. Thus history is continuously rewritten. This day-to-day falsification of the past, carried out by the Ministry of Truth, is as necessary to the stability of the regime as the work of repression and espionage carried out by the Ministry of Love (1984 p.222). An empirical way of thinking however would utterly refute this continuous manipulation of facts. An example of this is Winstons careful observation and collection of evidence which unmasks the distortion of facts by the system. Thus for instance Oceania has not always been at war with the same enemy nor has the helicopter been invented by the Party. Eventually the protagonists main exhibit, the picture showing the apparently treacherous Inner Party members which he knows to be faked, clearly denounces the Party propaganda as essentially deceitful. In addition the Party is also interested in reducing the impact of science and technology as they are based on empirical thought and hence do not harmonise with the Partys regressive policy. Science might imply change and as such is no longer tolerated: Certain backwards areas have been developed, but experiment and invention have largely stopped (1984 p.197). Incidentally an empirical method of thought also fosters curiosity and doubt. It embodies the idea of controlling information and promotes a critical way of thinking which directly opposes the Partys interest in blind submission. As a matter of fact the Party is essentially concerned of how to prevent any infectious idea from disseminating. Hence the extreme control and surveillance of its members. An empirical way of thinking must not be allowed to disseminate lest like a bushfire, it should spread beyond control. Therefore the Party policy quite narrowly pursues the idea of constantly keeping their population in a state of total ignorance. Each block is highly separated and keeps its inhabitants in a sealed world (1984 p.204). But not only is each superstate a separated universe (1984 p.206), eventually also the inhabitants of each superstate are isolated from each other. Thus for instance it is not possible to find out the address of any Party member accept by direct inquiry, nor is it allowed to have private discussions outside the range of a telescreen. Cut off from contact with any outer world and with the past, the citizen of Oceania is like a man in interstellar space, who has no way of knowing which direction is up which is down (1984 p.206). Moreover this proceeding allows the Inner Party a systematic destruction of all means of checking information. As the Proles and Outer Party members are at the total mercy of the Party propaganda this ultimately culminates in the total distortion of reality. On the other hand in contrast to the Party members the opinion of the masses (i.e. the Proles) is looked on with indifference because they are kept in a state of absolute ignorance and stupidity. Goldstein quite accurately states that they can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect (1984 p.219).

As far as the structure of this society is concerned it is similar to a pyramid with Big Brother, the imaginary leader and in a broader sense physical representation of the Party at the apex. Eventually Oceania is based on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and the Party as such infallible (1984 p.221). The society itself is highly hierarchical and could be said to be based on a kind of caste system with strict divisions between Inner Party members, Outer Party members and the Proles, the lowest class.

All in all Orwells book celebrates the victory of irrationalism in politics and human society. It depicts a reactionary society which absolutely lacks any notion of human dignity. Thus torture and draconian punishment are established procedures; total surveillance and political pressure belong to everyday life. As a matter of fact a large body of the inhabitants of each superstate are reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves. The ultimate motivation, the mechanism which allows the functioning of the whole machinery is the Partys pursuit of power : The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake (1984 p.275). As OBrien underlines : Power is not a means it is an end (1984 p.276).

The empirical way of thinking however undermines certain central principles of Ingsoc established to maintain stability and hence is only tolerated when linked to weapon research. Moreover apart from being an objective way of perceiving reality it endorses also a symbolic meaning. In fact it is representative of the belief in the unchangeable character of scientific but also political and historical facts All in all empirical thought threatens the systems fundamental tenets: It essentially refutes any manipulation of reality and rewriting of history by the Party and eventually negates the concept of doublethink. It is in itself an essential threat to stability.

Bibliography:Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge OrwellPenguin Twentieth Century ClassicsA George Orwell CompanionJ.R. HammondThe Macmillan Press LTDGeorge OrwellJohn AtkinsJohn Calder LondonGeorge Orwell: A Literary LifePeter DavisonLiterary LivesGeorge OrwellLaurence BranderLongmans, Green and CoGeorge Orwell: The Ages AdversaryPatrick ReillyMacmillanA Readers Guide to George OrwellJeffrey MeyersThames And Hudson (London)

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Vision of Society in 1984. (2018, Nov 21). Retrieved from