Interest in George Orwell’s 1984 has awaked in recent days — shooting to #1 on Amazon’s bestseller list and selling out its Signet Classics edition — helping the book find a new audience that has little, if any, memory of actual fascism.
Today we associate Orwell’s dystopian vision with government Internet surveillance and CCTV cameras. It is a testament to the relative peace that has reigned since the end of WWII that Orwell’s vision of a deeper totalitarianism has been lost.
Now at stake, or so it would seem, is the notion of truth itself — a truth that corresponds to what our eyes and ears tell us. Yet the spin game of politics has always distorted here and there, so is our present moment really that different?
People are noticing a difference.
Kellyanne Conway’s recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, where she used the dystopian-sounding phrase “alternative facts” in defending press secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks on inaugural numbers, sounded eerily similar to 1984‘s newspeak and doublethink. Conway is the former campaign manager for President Trump, and currently as counselor to the president.
1984’s sales have gone up 9500% since the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. Our societal slide from truthiness to post-truth to alternative facts may have triggered our deep-seated Orwellian fears.
For a lot of listeners, the prospect of “alternative facts” is like saying 2+2=5 (alternative math).
The use of the phrase “alternative facts” has become such a lightning rod moment because it directly challenges our clear delineation between facts and falsehoods. As host Chuck Todd sharply pointed out to Conway, “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”
In other words, you can present your numbers and I can present mine.
To allow for an alternative fact is similar to Orwell’s doublespeak, which is “the acceptance of two contractionary ideas or beliefs at the same time.” It is typically construed as the act of being aware of the truth while telling carefully constructed falsehoods.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” –George Orwell, 1984 pic.twitter.com/ePfu3m720g
— Terry Moran (@TerryMoran) January 22, 2017