In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, doublethink is the power of holding two contradictory opinions or exclusive ideas in ones mind simultaneously, and believing and accepting them both absolutely. Doublethink requires using logic against logic, or suspending disbelief in the contradiction.
Doublethink is particularly common in social and political contexts, for example in the case of wealth distribution. An example most can relate to, whether it be openly or through our subconscious, is the old rags to riches/money can’t buy happiness contradiction. A fantasy for some, and a reality for others, rags to riches is used to describe a persons rise from a state of extreme poverty to one of great wealth. While primarily focused on sheer wealth in monetary terms, it also suggests a story of ones journey to happiness. However, it is not at all uncommon that a rags to riches story may come with a belief that money can buy external things but true happiness comes from the inside. The two, although almost direct opposites, can be believed wholeheartedly, in synchronisation.
The idealist in me believes that money is the root of all evil, and that a portion of the wealth of the top 0.1% should be physically taken from them and distributed evenly amongst the less fortunate. Simple. But the realist in me would jump at the offer of a ‘well deserved’ pay rise and take very kindly to a lottery win. It’s a doublethink.
I’m not sure whether doublethink is good or bad, I’m thinking it can be both (a doublethink within itself?!), but I do know that contradictory beliefs are everywhere and they are genuine. Doublethink offers a coping mechanism to soothe the discomfort of this cognitive dissonance, avoiding the mentally-draining internal struggles that often arise as a result.
It’s an incredibly thought provoking pillar brought forward by Orwell, in a novel that gives a glimpse into a world under total and absolute governmental control. In light of 21st century concerns regarding our privacy and freedom, Orwell’s concept of doublethink was so futuristic that only now is it coming back to surface in a completely different yet equally as significant context.