When Saying So Can Make it So:
Revisiting Orwells 1984
September 17, 2007
If you ever read George Orwells 1984, you are likely
still haunted by the depiction of our humanity being erased by
the thought police. In that world, language became a tool of the
state. Everyone was taught from birth that war is peace, freedom
is slavery and ignorance is strength.
But it was just a make-believe piece of science fiction, right?
After we closed the book, we could get back into our real world
where . . . what? Is our government today also speaking to us
in such a way that would have us believe that black is white and
up is down?
Consider these current-day pronouncements:
The FDA allows food to be labeled zero grams of trans fat per
serving when in fact it could have one half of a gram of trans
fat per serving. How far removed is "zero equals one half"
from "two plus two equals five"? Does just saying zero
make it zero? Keep in mind that three servings of "zero grams"
of trans fats could actually have you ingesting one and a half
Our government may allow the USDA to certify foods as organic
even if they contain any of 38 non-organic substances,
such as pesticides, chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. The very
definition of organic, however, is the absence of these
very things. Is there a rational reason for altering the definition
of a word other than to allow large companies to reap the financial
rewards inherent in using an organic label? Since this new certification
defies reality, can the USDA then just hope that saying a food
is organic will make you believe it to be so?
On the pretext of safety, our government does not want Americans
purchasing drugs from Canada, even though they get the same drugs
from the same overseas pharmaceuticals as we do. They would have
us believe that those same pre-packaged, non-tampered-with drugs
are somehow molecularly re-arranged as to present a health hazard
if they should cross the U.S.- Canadian border. Does simply saying
so make it so?
Could Vice President Dick Cheney claim executive privilege when
he didnt want to turn over sensitive material in one instance,
and then deny that the vice presidents office is even part
of the executive branch when it best serves his interest to separate
himself from it? Can he be simultaneously a part of and separate
from the executive branch? Apparently he can because he said so.
Then there is presidential candidate John Edwards truly
Orwellian response to the question of evolution. He quickly answered
yes when asked if he believed in it. When further asked if there
was a conflict between his view of evolution with that of his
church, he again quickly responded, "No, not at all."
Now if he had said that he considered the churchs teaching
to be more of an allegory, then he wouldnt have appeared
to be engaged in double-speak. Because how can humanity require
both millions of years to evolve, and also be fully created in
only one week? I can only assume that he is counting on the average
American voter to believe that just saying so is good enough for
When Orwell wrote that ignorance is strength, he may have unwittingly
hit on a new kind of truth in which we are living today. Because
the dumber the voters, the stronger our government becomes in
We should not be accepting these non-sensical statements as unequivocal
truths without demanding an explanation. Instead, we should be
interrupting those who are speaking words that defy reality to
insist on clarification of their deliberate obfuscation. Politely
tolerating the intolerable is not good manners; it is bad democracy.
Because as Lewis Lapham once said, dissent is what rescues democracy
from a quiet death behind closed doors.
And if we are to ever see the light of day on matters that most
concern us, we need those doors wide open.