by George Evans, Professor Emeritus, Pacific University...
When are facts really facts? When is truth, really truth?
In a dispute about the size of the recent inaugural crowd, the president’s personal advisor, Kellyanne Conway, asserted that the widely accepted determination that Trump’s inaugural crowd was smaller than both of Obama’s was incorrect. Furthermore, she said that the administration had “alternative facts.”
The term puzzled me for several days. We know what facts are. But what the heck are alternative facts?
Then it hit me. She was, probably unknowingly, channeling George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
In that novel Winston Smith, the protagonist, works at the Ministry of Truth, which ironically is never interested in truth as we know it. Truth, for the Ministry, is whatever the Party in power wants it to be at any given moment. Two plus 2 equals 5, but only for the moment. If the Party wants it to be 6 or, indeed, any number, then Smith will change it.
The change then becomes the new truth everyone is expected to learn. Everything in history—what country they’re fighting against, the name of the dangerous revolutionary figure leading the Brotherhood, what Winston said and did yesterday—is subject to change, with the old truth being instantly wiped from everyone’s memory.
A new language is being developed to recognize the illusory nature of truth. It’s called Newspeak or DoubleThink, the object of which is to deaden everyone’s independent thinking. Make the idea of freedom or revolution cease to exist, and once the word disappears, the thought or experience of it will disappear as well.
To ensure this process works flawlessly, the Thought Police are watching and listening to everything everyone says or does. Suspected thinkers are rounded up, tortured, and vaporized. They soon disappear from memory.
From time to time the citizens of Oceania are required to attend two-minute hate rallies to let off built-up emotions (those that still exist in this soulless world) by screaming against the day’s targeted person or country. Winston does as he’s told, but never quite develops the required hatred.
One can imagine him today at a Trump rally against the target of the day—Mexican rapists; Syrian escapees; Muslims from all countries, including ours; African Americans, especially those living in crime-infested cities; Democrats, the Clintons, successful women—the list goes on endlessly.
A Trump rally, news conference or his ubquitous 'tweets' is all about individuals and groups to watch, to hate, because they threaten the Party in power, represented by Big Brother, our blustery, scowling new president. Our Thought Police are already coming to life.
Every day, it seems to me, our president seems to be establishing the fictional world Orwell envisioned in 1948 just after World War II. And he’s just started. First it’s the betrayal of language. Truth means whatever you want it to mean. It can change daily, even hourly.
Then it’s the treatment of independent thinkers and critics. Angry tweets and speeches. Odious name calling.