Doublethink, Dictators, and Data Dumps
Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Sir John Harrington:
When this weekly column began to run in a Catholic newspaper several years ago, it was called Room 101, invoking the name of the torture chamber in George Orwell’s Ministry of Love.
That lasted about two weeks, whereupon the editor called and said, “Change it: nobody understands it.”
So I suggested the title of a book by Solzhenitsyn which my parents had given me years ago – From Under The Rubble.
Which, we must presume, everybody understands.
In Orwell’s account, Big Brother’s Oceania emerges from under the rubble of a war both distant and endless – very much like the memorable GWOT, the Global War On Terror that Dick Cheney promised would endure beyond the lives of our grandchildren.
It’s no accident that 1984 is suddenly selling quite briskly on Amazon these days. Winston Smith’s tortuous ordeal with the omnipresent Thought Police offers images of a tyranny that are more powerful than any op-ed could possibly convey.
Just like today’s headlines.
Obama’s wide-open backdoor to the “Cloud” – all digital information everywhere – is more than O’Brien and his fellow torturers at the Ministry of Love could ever imagine. After all, today’s Thought Police can now merely lean back in their chairs and read data dumps from the NSA. As soon as your finger hits the key on your laptop or your iPhone, “they’ve got you,” as Winston moaned on his way to the rats in Room 101.
The Rubble finds Obama’s NSA-PRISM apparat to be a budding tyrant’s dream, of course, but we also find the response among conservatives to be quite curious. It could well represent one of history’s most damning instances of Doublethink.
What is Doublethink? It is a willful denial of reality – the most salient earmark of our age.
To indulge in Doublethink, Orwell tells us, is “to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy….”
Doublethink? Well, admittedly, many Americans are apparently not sure what to think at all. On the one hand, the government’s psychic vacuum cleaner is so unprecedented that it demands new language adequately to describe its virtually infinite threat to liberty. On the other, shouldn’t patriotic Americans trust their government?
Leaks and Drips
Leaking vital classified information is indeed a felony. I ought to know. Your humble Rubbler is the last U.S. government functionary to be publicly cleared of allegations of leaking sensitive government secrets.
The allegations were fabricated by a Reagan State Department official who didn’t like Senator Jesse Helms, my boss (the official was later convicted of perjury on separate matters). Happily, I had never leaked anything, a finding which the Justice Department soon discovered and, quite fortunately, made public.
Like many Americans, I don’t approve of leaking – after all, most leaks come from disgruntled bureaucrats (like the one who accused me). In turn, they empower lazy reporters who are delighted to get a hot story without having to take their feet off their desk. Better to go with the time-honored shoe-leather, says the Rubble.
Every administration condemns leaking, yet every administration leaks all the time – in its own interest, of course, not the public’s – an ongoing crime in itself.
Why the Doublethink? They just don’t like the competition.
Torn Between Two Loves
“Alas! Two Souls live in my breast;
the one longs to tear itself from the other”
Goethe, Faust I
During the Bush Administration, the revelations about atrocities against civilians in Iraq made public by Wikileaks were true, not fabricated. As more truths emerged, the war eventually brought the Bush Administration to its knees, and the country to ruin. Millions of patient and loyal conservatives who for years had wanted to believe in the war, finally didn’t.
The Republican Doublethink was there long before Wikileaks. Imagine the young, bright-eyed conservative arriving in Washington on Inauguration Day 2001, cherishing Bush’s promise of smaller government and a humble foreign policy. Within months, 9-11 had “changed everything” – and suddenly Bush inaugurated “Big Government Conservatism,” with massive new spending programs at home and imperial wars to end evil in the world abroad.
Then, propelled by the “Slam Dunk,” the “Smoking Gun,” and the “Mushroom Cloud,” came the “Patriot Act,” which launched the greatest invasion of privacy in American history and the virtual collapse of the Constitution.
Consider the plight of our ardent young conservative ten years ago. What we know now he did not know then. He still wants to believe, yet he sees betrayal and fear everywhere. In 2004 he hangs in there, but, come 2008, the economy is collapsing all around him, while the wars drag on. He has defended his “conservative” heroes for years, but slowly it dawns on him: how he could have been so wrong?
Then, recalling Russell Kirk, he calls to mind a fundamental political insight: most men, when forced to choose between love of freedom and love of security, will ultimately choose security. And, with a heavy heart, knowing that he shouldn’t have, our older, wiser, true believer realizes that he did, too.
Traitors, Patriots, and Palaver
“Never give to your friend any power that your enemy may someday inherit”
Paul Weyrich, to a Defense lobbyist, 2001
The Doublethink abides. Look at the Republicans – they’re divided too: Speaker Boehner calls the leaker a “traitor.” Jim Sensenbrenner, the primary author of the “Patriot Act,” disagrees: the NSA’s psychic vacuum cleaner is “un-American,” he insists, and the agency’s assertions are “a bunch of bunk.”
How many Americans agree with both of them, I wonder?
And how many Americans have succumbed to the now bipartisan assertion that patriotism no longer means love of country, but love of government?
Pope Francis recently stated, rather bluntly, that “without truth, there is no peace.” In that same spirit, Solzhenitsyn once observed that falsehood always brings violence in its wake.
For years we have been inundated with a bipartisan tsunami of Doublethink. A people saturated in Doublethink cannot distinguish truth from falsehood.
We are at war with Eurasia, says Big Brother; Eastasia is our ally. No, we are at war with Eastasia; Eurasia is our friend.
The people of Oceania believe both assertions to be true at the same time.
Our government protects us. Our government oppresses us. Can people tell the difference between truth and falsehood?
Big Brother doesn’t think so. His calling card, the banner on the Ministry of Truth, reads, “Ignorance is Strength.”
And “Freedom is Slavery.”
So in the end, Winston Smith, in tears, nursing his Victory Gin, finally resolves the agonizing tension. “Everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.
“He loved Big Brother.”
This article, Doublethink, Dictators, and Data Dumps is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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