Orwell’s 1984, From Warning to How-To Guide

As highlighted in George Orwell’s 1984, language and how it is used influences how we think and act, so controlling language is a key strategy employed by totalitarian regimes of the left and right to manipulate people and enforce group think.

In Orwell’s dystopian novel what is described as New­speak leads to a situation where “thoughtcrime” is impossible as “there will be no words in which to express it”.  Such is the insidious evil of distorting language to control how people think Orwell writes in ‘Looking back on the Spanish Civil War’, we now live in world where whoever rules is able to say “two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs”.

While the cultural-left’s use of politically correct language is widespread it should be noted using language to persuade and convince has been evident since the time of the ancient Greeks. Rhetoric includes devices such as using emotive language, attacking the person, appealing to expert opinion and facts, generalising and employing logic and reason.

It also should be noted employing rhetoric is not restricted to the cultural-left. During America’s involvement in the Vietnam war the military used the expression ‘collateral damage’ to describe innocent civilians being injured or killed and ‘friendly fire’ when its soldiers were the victims of American firepower. Forcefully removing peasants from their farms and villages, instead of being described for what it was, was labelled as ‘pacification’.

Notwithstanding rhetoric is common across the political spectrum what distinguishes political correctness and wokeness from other forms of argument and language use is its origins in the culture wars as instigated by Germany’s the Frankfurt School in the 1920s.  More recently, it has morphed into a rainbow alliance of cultural-left theories including: feminism, postmodernism, deconstruction and LGBTQI+, post-colonial and gender and sexuality theories.

Woke activists always portray Western civilisation, capitalism, Judeo-Christianity, marriage between a woman and a man and heterosexuality as its chief enemies. Identity politics and victimhood prevail where so-called disadvantaged individuals and groups are always presented as victims made powerless by an oppressive system.

Rather than relying on reason and rationality (as such concepts are Eurocentric, phallocentric and binary) arguments are subjective and relative in nature and based on emotion.  The intention is to impose a New Age, politically correct utopia where all are equal and free of discrimination (unless you are Eurocentric, male, pale and stale).

As noted by Jennifer Oriel in Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March, an even more insidious and dangerous aspect of woke language control and group think is any opposition and criticism is vilified and attacked without remorse. Civil debate and reasoned dialogue have given way to personal attacks and vitriol.

Oriel traces the climate of intolerance to Herbert Marcuse’s essay ‘Repressive Tolerance’ where Marcuse writes

… the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed… what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.

Recent events involving Australia’s universities illustrate the success of cancel culture in influencing and controlling how people communicate, think and interact with one another. In the language of 1984’s Big Brother the University of Sydney proudly proclaims the purpose of education is to “unlearn”. On the basis “not everyone has been taught how to unlearn” the university exhorts students to “challenge the established, demolish social norms” in areas such as same-sex marriage, indigenous land rights, peace studies, refugees and the environment.

Victoria’s Monash University, the University of New South Wales and South Australia’s Flinders University have Diversity Toolkits and Inclusivity Guidelines telling academics and students what to say and what to think instead of promoting open discussion and dialogue. Academics are told not to espouse “heteronormativity” and “heterosexism”. The arrival of the First Fleet is described as an “invasion” and academics are warned about misguided students “who see themselves as part of the dominant culture” and who might be difficult to indoctrinate.

Monash University’s ‘Inclusive Language Guide’ provides another example of how advocates of political correctness have taken the long march through the institutions. On the basis “language is enormously powerful and politically charged” the guide suggests using “workforce” instead of “manpower” and “artificial” instead of “manmade”.

Australian universities also have Safe Spaces where Muslim, women, LGBTIQ+ and indigenous students are guaranteed a secure and safe environment free from supposedly hostile white, Eurocentric, heteronormative and racist students.

Trigger warnings are also increasingly prevalent where vulnerable students are warned beforehand if they are about to encounter supposedly offensive texts. Examples include literature dealing with homosexuality, violence, rape, racism or mental illness. Literary texts such as Macbeth (violence and murder), the play Medea (where children are killed) and novels like The Man Who Loved Children (where someone commits suicide) are decidedly problematic and offensive.

How literature is taught at Sydney University also adopts a decidedly postmodern, politically cor­rect approach. Instead of the Western culture’s literary canon, students learn about “the rise of identity politics, the culture wars and queer theory”. Under the heading “postcolonial modernisms/modernities” students learn how “race, gender, class, sexuality, nation and religion shape ideas of being modern”.

If classic texts such as Shakespeare’s tragedies are studied, students are made to deconstruct them in terms of power relationships involving the new trinity of gender, race and class. A third subject involves deconstructing “text-production as a social and ideological act”, where students consider the “ideological influ­ences impacting on theoretical discourse about language and textuality”.

This politically correct view of literature is the opposite to a liberal view of education; one where literature is studied for its moral and aesthetic significance. Instead of appreciating how language is crafted or what a literary work suggests about what it means to be human and how we relate to the others and the wider world the focus is on deconstructing texts in terms of critical theory.

Universities in the United Kingdom have also succumbed to the Kool-Aid. Manchester University, for example, in its ‘Guide to inclusive language’ descriptions like man, woman, father, mother are replaced by individuals and guardians. Other words now excluded include man-made, manpower and mankind. The Brighton and Sussex University’s Hospitals NHS Trust now tells midwifes to replace breastmilk with human milk or chest milk, breast feeding with chest feeding and father with second biological father.

Such is the power of Orwellian language control that even the United States Congress is no longer immune. In early 2021 the Rules Package, released by Nancy Pelosi and James P. McGovern, both Democrats, is described as the most “inclusive in history” with specific mention of honouring “all gender identities by changing pronouns and familial relationships in the House rules to be gender neutral”.

An even more extreme example of politically correct, woke language is clause 8 (c) (3) where descriptions including father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, husband, wife are cancelled as considered somehow offensive to LGBTIQ+ activists.

Kevin Donnelly’s latest book,The Dictionary of Woke, excerpted above, can be ordered via this link

13 thoughts on “Orwell’s 1984, From Warning to How-To Guide

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Some of this Orwellian ‘language-awareness’ material and conceptualisation has been around for years in schools, TAFE and universities, where there was back then (I’m talking 60’s and 70’s) some considerable critique of it – and for a while it seemed to recede. It has risen again like a weed, being rehomed into a higher order of ‘theorising’ as post-modernists have turned universities into asylums for the production of even more lunatic brutalising of our language in the name of ‘diversity’. A new generation of students has been imbued with this theorising, have taken it out to workplaces and public institutions. The corporate sector did not escape either. We call it ‘woke’ nowadays, and it is everywhere.
    Hopeful though. I find. is the fact that most of my grandson’s friends at school doing the HSC, in one of the most woke schools in Sydney, have read 1984 and Animal Farm, in their spare time, not via the curriculum. It is their lives that will be ruined by the loss of stable referents and the collapse of economies due to ‘woke’ energy failures; and when the surveillance society of the Elites becomes fully established they will have these books to recall how they were duped.

    • john mac says:

      Yes , EB , the issues are so broad in scope that fighting wokeness is like fighting a Hydra – for any one of our victories , they score two (or more) on a daily basis . The Gramscian march is complete with not an institution free of it’s grip . One of it’s main weapons is the stranglehold HR depts have over corporate policies , from hiring practices to behavioural guidelines wherein they make any prospective employee jump through hoops of fire , negotiating a minefield of trick questions , and full health histories, habits etc , all designed to humiliate , and chip away at one’s soul. This relatively new field is peopled by agenda driven bureaucrats (too many of them women) who staff their fiefdoms with like-minded busybodies , smugly enjoying seeing others squirm , and wield more power than any CEO . The tail wags the dog here much the same as the “Administrators” at any university hold more power than faculty . and by God , don’t they love words and phrases ! To plow through their texts is at once hilarious and chilling , knowing how much they are committed to the cause of dehumanising us , for a better world of course !

  • Trevor Bailey says:

    In the second of three famous speeches to the House of Commons concerning the war in France, Winston Churchill delivered his ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ peroration on 4th June 1940. In a recent talk I delivered to some colleagues interested in the power of language to persuade, I excerpted 81 words from Churchill’s rhetorical masterpiece beginning with ‘…we shall not flag or fail’ and ending with ‘surrender’: 70 monosyllables, 8 disyllables and 3 trisyllables. The last group consists of ‘confidence’; ‘whatever’; ‘surrender’: Middle English from Latin; a compound from Old English; a Norman French word. Every other word is Old English, dating from the Anglo-Saxon language that predates 1066 by more than 500 years.
    By appealing to an ancient instinct in his fellow Britons, Churchill implicitly reminded them that Old English subsumed Norman French to become Middle- and Modern English. The conquerors became the conquered.
    I do not claim this insight is original. But since Kevin Donnelly and Elizabeth Beare have cited Orwell to good effect, I’m inspired to do the same: ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’

  • Citizen Kane says:

    The postmodernist (subjective relativism) world view, with its attendant politics of identity and victimhood with its ever-increasing scope of practice to the most marginal of identities (often constructed in a humanities faculty within the last 5 years) until it inevitably ends with the ‘royal ‘me centre of frame, is a quintessentially narcissistic world view. Hence we have ‘my truth’ and ‘my lived experience’ etc etc as the only frame of reference that adherents of such an ideology engage with the broader society and world around them. When, as in most cases in privileged middle-class societies of the contemporary West there is no remarkable story of systemic oppression or victimhood to hang one’s hat upon, the unidentified individual desperately invokes a tenuous if not absent connection to long past historical events or simply invents a new marginal identity group that is born under a purported oppression. The narcissist is centre of the universe just as the claim to ‘oppressed minority’ seeks to be centre of political discourse. It’s all about ME!
    One can’t help but think that the likes of Carl Jung would have diagnosed such a societal predisposition as a stunted and juvenile maturation of the collective psyche, if indeed such a thing does exist. However, it is unquestionably the result of a stunted personal psyche for those who ascribe to such a world view.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “An even more extreme example of politically correct, woke language is clause 8 (c) (3) where descriptions including father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, husband, wife are cancelled as considered somehow offensive to LGBTIQ+ activists.”
    ‘Activist’ is very much a boo-word for the political Right. Ideally, people are not ‘activists’ but are ‘passivists’; blithely copping sweet whatever is served up to them by their betters. Likewise ‘woke’ is a boo-word also. Far better that we have a nation of the ‘unwoke’: ie a nation of sleep-walking zombies, totally obedient and uncritical.

  • ianl says:

    Or to put this succinctly, Orwell wrote 1984 as satire, not a manual.

    (I have made that comment well over 12 months ago. As we see, this makes absolutely no difference. Howling at the moon).

    • Watchman Williams says:

      Quite true Ianl, There are those who also, in hindsight, attribute the gift of prophecy to Orwell in reference to his masterpiece, 1984.
      But whether it was written as satire, prophecy or something else, there can be little doubt that it is being used as a manual, or at least a reference book, for the establishment of an international totalitarian dictatorship.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    KD: “an even more insidious and dangerous aspect of woke language control and group think is any opposition and criticism is vilified and attacked without remorse.”
    The same tactic has corrupted the language and integrity of inquiry in the “climate change” space too, Sceptics are invariably – and wrongly – referred to as “climate deniers” and so on. The atmospheric alarmists – such as the UN and MSM – now attribute every so-called “extreme weather event” to ‘climate change’, based on little more than speculation and pseudoscience.
    The Devil’s Dictionary of CC calls the proliferation of this phenomenon “climate-craft”, a kind of semantic witchcraft: “By such mischief, climate-craft has extended its empire fare and wide. It now has followers everywhere, from the highest office in the Vatican to the lowest carbon cowboy. All are keen to conjure riches out of thin air. Such is the greed and gullibility of humanity.”
    Orwell (1946) said: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” So can a pot of “carbon credits” at the end of the UN’s “loss and damages” rainbow.

  • Biggles says:

    I am fascinated by Sydney U’s idea of ‘unlearning’. As a retired civil/structural engineer, I wonder how I could ‘unlearn’ the four years after high-school I spent bashing my brains out in order to graduate. Any suggestions please.

    • pmprociv says:

      With the relentless proliferation of their administrative classes, and gradual disappearance of teaching academics, unlearning might be all that universities will have to offer. How could it possibly hurt for engineers to unlearn all that oppressive Western stuff invented by their forebears? Think outside the box!

  • sirtony says:

    I recall reading “The Elements of Eloquence” by Mark Forsyth which is described in the blurb as “An informative but highly entertaining journey through the figures of rhetoric …”.
    I was particularly taken with “argumentum ad baculum” which means threatening someone with a big stick until they agree with you!

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