Newspeak: Orwell's most prophetic idea
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By subjecting learning to power or self-aggrandizement, we turn intellect from these activities and cause it to function merely ideologically, to embrace uncritically as true and good only those ideas or facts that serve our selfish political, economic, social, or psychological interests. An intellect functioning ideologically cannot truly think, because it has lost its most important attributes: integrity and freedom. Integrity enables intellect to judge experience (including our own thoughts, feelings, and actions) honestly. Freedom enables intellect to operate independent of external controls. We would be blind to this loss of integrity and freedom in ourselves, but its symptoms are not hard to see in society: amoral opportunism and proliferating crime, moral relativism and complacent subjectivity, the denial of all authority at one extreme and self-righteous authoritarianism at the other, to name only a few.Skip to next paragraph
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Orwell speaks directly to this condition of mind and culture, and to the current ''crisis'' in education, because he dramatized the consequences of subjecting learning to power and intellect to ideology, thus demonstrating that no added quantity of learning can of itself preserve a society's vitality and well-being; only the capacity for objective and critical thought can do that.
If you doubt the shortage of this kind of thought in America today, just try, for example, to get an undergraduate to make an objective and reasoned moral judgment instead of saying: ''I can only say what is right for me.'' Or notice how our political language serves power and ideology: what, for instance, does ''free world'' mean on the lips of politicians defending American foreign policy? Does it mean that part of the world where people freely choose their ways of life and governments and openly express their opinions, or that part friendly to America, including oppressive regimes like those in Haiti and Chile? Or consider how the verb ''to feel'' is rapidly supplanting the verb ''to think'' in American life. From politicians and intellectuals on down to students , we hear how one ''feels'' rather than ''thinks'' an action to be right, an opinion to be wrong, an alleged fact to be accurate (thus a headline in the New York Times: ''Missile Issue: Both Sides Feel the Other Has Advantage'').
High on the lists of reasons for this practice would be this: To think is to support one's ideas with objective fact and logical argument, and this involves both effort and risk; to feel is to experience a nonrational impulse that is at once free of effort and seemingly invincible to contrary fact or argument.
The advantages of supplanting thought by feeling are obvious. But when feeling takes the place of thought in this way, the ability to think objectively and critically soon dissolves into self-serving and self-deceiving ideology. Thus does the diplomacy of disarmament degenerate into a contest of feelings; and thus does the specter of Orwell's intellectually incapacitated, psychologically enslaved human being rise before us.
These few examples of ideological thought not only recall Orwell and betray patterns in our culture, they also provide a practical hint for the reform of our schools and colleges.
That hint is the need to defend intellect against the seductions of power and ideology by teaching students not only more facts and skills, but to scrutinize intellect itself; that is, to see how words both express and shape thought, character, and culture; what the cliches and catch phrases of the day actually mean and what advantages people gain from using them; how the words with which we think are related to power and ideology, objectivity and self-interest. The integrity and freedom of intellect grow from just such scrutiny.
Orwell was right, as was de Tocqueville before him:
Only those are free who can judge themselves and their world objectively; and those are most enslaved who cannot see their slavery. In 1984 we should read '' 1984,'' not just for its portrait of totalitarian politics but for its clues to education and culture.