“1984” is a dystopian novel written by George Orwell and published in 1949. The novel is set in a totalitarian society in the year 1984 and follows the life of a low-ranking member of the ruling Party, Winston Smith, as he navigates the oppressive and all-controlling state. The novel is a warning against the dangers of totalitarianism and a critique of the abuse of power by authoritarian governments. It has had a significant cultural impact and has become a classic work of literature.
In the novel, Winston lives in Oceania and the ruling Party controls every aspect of people’s lives and seeks to eliminate independent thought and individuality. Doublethink is a crucial tool for the Party to maintain its power and control over its citizens. “Doublethink” refers to the concept of holding two contradictory beliefs or ideas simultaneously and accepting both of them as true. It is achieved through constant propaganda, psychological manipulation, and gaslighting of the citizens. A quick example of doublethink is the Party’s infamous slogan: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” The citizens of Oceania are expected to believe that perpetual war is necessary for maintaining peace, that surrendering their freedom to the Party ensures their slavery to its ideology, and that embracing ignorance strengthens their loyalty and obedience.
As an employee of the Party’s “Ministry of Truth”, his job involves rewriting historical records to align with the Party’s current version of reality. Winston struggles with the contradictions and lies perpetuated by the Party, yet he struggles with the conflicting desire to rebel against the regime while also remaining loyal to it. Here’s an excerpt where he thinks through the reality control dubbed doublethink akin to mental gymnastics required to attain an “unending series of victories over your own memory” and your own logic.
Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. For several months during his childhood there had been confused street fighting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles) — the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’…
His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, 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, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink…
The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory? … But you could prove nothing. There was never any evidence. Just once in his whole life he had held in his hands unmistakable documentary proof of the falsification of an historical fact. And on that occasion–1984, Part 1, Chapter 3, p42-46, by George Orwell
Later on, after Winston, the main character, (spoiler alert) challenges the narrative and is captured by the thought police he is interrogated, his thoughts become defeated and he submits to the self-deceiving doublethink. He gives in to defeat because there is nothing else that can be done!
He accepted everything. The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were guilty of the crimes they were charged with. He had never seen the photograph that disproved their guilt. It had never existed, he had invented it. He remembered remembering contrary things, but those were false memories, products of self-deception. How easy it all was! Only surrender, and everything else followed. It was like swimming
against a current that swept you backwards however hard you struggled, and then suddenly deciding to turn round and go with the current instead of opposing it. Nothing had changed except your own attitude: the predestined thing happened in any case. He hardly knew why he had ever rebelled. Everything was easy, except––!
Anything could be true. The so-called laws of Nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense…1984, Part 3, Chapter 4, p350, by George Orwell
Overall, doublethink in 1984 represents the extreme manipulation of truth and the erasure of independent thought, where individuals are compelled to believe and accept contradictory ideas in order to maintain the Party’s control over their minds. This is akin to the church routinely whitewashing church history and gaslighting members about it.
Mormon Cognitive Dissonance
The Mormon church is currently working to shift the dominant narrative around its own history. It is working to control the information and only allows a faithful spin on information on the church (this is also called propaganda). They are working to alter the past while telling us the past is not alterable.
There are instances of altering the past, cognitive dissonance, and conflicting beliefs which sometimes require doublethink to reconcile within the Mormon church. Here are a few examples that reflect doublethink tendencies:
- The continuous unspoken changes to the secret Mormon temple endowment ceremony. There’s no record of these changes, and members may go into mental gymnastics mode to reconcile the changes while also believing the ceremony or covenants have not changed as the church teaches.
- The Proclamation on the Family (issued in 1995): It promotes traditional gender roles and the importance of the nuclear family. However, within the Church, there are individuals and families who may experience conflict between the idealized vision presented in the proclamation and the reality of their diverse family structures or gender identities.
- LGBT+ Issues: The Church holds the belief that same-sex attraction is not sinful, but acting on those attractions (engaging in same-sex relationships) is considered a violation of the law of chastity. This position can create internal conflict for LGBTQ+ individuals who identify as Mormon, as they feel the tension between their sexual orientation and the Church’s teachings.
- Historical Narrative: Like many religious groups, the LDS Church has a specific narrative and interpretation of its history. However, there are instances where conflicting evidence or historical facts challenge that narrative. This can lead to individuals in the faith grappling with conflicting information and trying to reconcile it with their existing beliefs.
- The First Vision: The story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision has multiple accounts with differing details, but they are not contradictory. The church teaches (when it is forced to acknowledge the multiple accounts) that they all tell a consistent story, yet these accounts are not consistent.
- Tithing: The church claims tithing is used to “keep the lights on” and that church leaders are not paid. In reality, tithing is not needed because the church has amassed huge investments and corporate enterprises with excess tithing funds and all church expenses could easily be paid with these funds. Tithing is used to increase church investments which they hide, while the church requires members to tithe to attend the temple. Local church leaders at the ward and stake levels are volunteers, but all the top church leaders are paid well for their church service.
- Lamanites: The Book of Mormon states that the Lamanite’s dark skin was a curse from God because the people were wicked, and they are
the primary“among the ancestors” of the Native Americans. The church also claims its doctrines are not racist and that dark skin is not a curse.
- In 1970 blacks were banned from holding the priesthood or attending the temple endowment ceremonies, and in 1980 blacks were allowed. God didn’t change his mind or doctrine but changed policies. The priesthood ban was not doctrine, even though a century of prophets stated it was doctrine. Leaders will not lead the church astray because God won’t allow it.
- Novermber Exclusion policy. In November 2012 a church policy leaked that forbids children of same-sex married couples to be baptized. Church leaders supported the policy claiming it was a revelation from God. A couple of years later, the policy is reversed and children of same-sex couples are allowed to be baptized, this reversal is also credited to a revelation from God.
- Mormon means “more good” and in 2010-2013 multi-million dollar campaigns for embracing the term are celebrated at church. Then in 2018 when the term Mormon is a victory for Satan.
- Polygamy is practiced secretly and denied publicly, Polygamy is practiced openly, Polygamy is banned and polygamists are excommunicated.
- Word of Wisdom is at first “not by way of commandment” and then becomes a commandment and requirement for salvation.
These issues (and many more) cause considerable cognitive dissonance for believing members, questioning members, and nuanced members alike.
Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental discomfort that arises when a person holds two or more conflicting beliefs, values, or ideas. This discomfort can lead to feelings of confusion, anxiety, and guilt, and the person may feel motivated to reduce this dissonance by changing one of their beliefs or behaviors to align with the other. Doublethink is a deliberate and conscious act of accepting conflicting information and manipulating it to fit with one’s own beliefs or ideology.
While both cognitive dissonance and doublethink involve holding contradictory beliefs, cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable psychological state that arises unintentionally, while doublethink is a conscious and deliberate act of accepting contradictory information to fit with one’s own beliefs or ideology.
Is the church hoping members adopt a version of doublethink to reconcile this cognitive dissonance? They sure don’t want members seeking answers to their questions, and they state that when you have questions, research is not the answer. They may not torture members who disagree with the narrative, but they will take action against them. The church excommunicates members who speak out to address this dissonance between what they feel is right and what the church practices. We are told not to criticize church leaders, even if the complaints are valid. If they could get away with it, the church may follow examples of other church practices of torture as in the Spanish Inquisition. Luckily all they can do is excommunicate members, but this is not a gentle practice either.
What does it say about the church though, when it has excommunicated so many members for speaking truth? The church will often adjust and incorporate whatever criticism these defectors point out, but only after expelling the member for speaking up. This happens over and over with people like Jeremy Runnels, Kate Kelley, Sam Young, Michael Quinn, etc, etc.
Let us know what examples we’ve missed in the comments or how you experienced cognitive dissonance or even used doublethink to trick yourself into reconciliation. How did you navigate through it? Tell your story at wasmormon.org.
- Is it Wrong to Criticize Mormon Church Leaders?
- Elder McKay’s Sure and Certain Foundation for Unhistory and Brainwashing
- These Are Not the Droids You’re Looking For
- Dallin Oaks Teaches “Research Is Not The Answer”
- Church as transparent as it knows how to be