Oh Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour. In fact, every hour since that dark night in January 1950 when you died, alone, in a hospital. Perhaps, web paranoia speculates, your truth-telling got too dangerous for the powers that be and you were terminated with extreme prejudice. It makes a crazy kind of sense.
The recent furor about “alternative facts,” in a culture polluting its thought processes with post-truth license and fake news, suggests that George Orwell’s dire predictions about double-think and thought-crime are with us—albeit 33 years late.
Two examples have made recent headlines. In the U.S. the disputed attendance figures at the presidential inauguration. Biggest ever? Nowhere near. In the U.K. the parallel case is the submarine-launched missile that decided to turn around and make for Florida. A successful operation, the British defense minister stoutly maintained. Disney World may have thought differently.
The connection with “managed truth” in Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 is easily drawn. What is less often taken on board is that the big lie only works if it comes accompanied by big power. If the bipedal chickens in Animal Farmdaubed on their coop door “Four Legs good Two Legs Better!” no one would given a clucks-worth of notice. The pigs can write the slogan up, as rule of farm law, because the farm is theirs.
In 1984’s Oceania, there are two institutions which systematically disseminate falsehood at the behest of the state: Minitrue—the degenerate descendant of the BBC—and The Times—the degenerate descendant of “the paper of record.” The hero, Winston Smith, works in the newspaper’s press room, changing history as the day to day needs of the Party dictate. How does the party slogan go?
“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Orwell had worked for the BBC during World War II and had observed how its “news” was falsified in the interest of “control.”