Nineteen Eighty-Four

Trovo particolarmente inquietante quando si rileggono libri o rivedono film o riascoltano canzoni che descrivevano in maniera grottesca, iperbolica, distopica qualche immaginario futuro e ci si ritrova davanti una descrizione letterale dello stato in cui effettivamente ci troviamo oggi. Nel caso di 1984, l'esempio più evidente è quello del doublethink, secondo il quale le persone riescono a sostenere due tesi opposte ritenendole contemporaneamente effettivamente vere. Sul newspeak non c'è nemmeno da commentare, basta aprire un social network qualunque o semplicemente ascoltare come parla la gente.

Mi sono quindi appuntato una serie di passaggi chiave, che ricopio anche qui.


The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.

Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfullfilment of the Ninth Three-Year-Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up bu it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.


But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day, and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were – in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day enver passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police.


Today there were fear, hatred and pain, but no dignity of emotion, no deep or complex sorrows.


And a few cubicles away a mild, ineffectual, dreamy creature named Ampleforth, with very hairy ears and a surprising talent for juggling with rhymes and metres, was engaged in producing garbled versions – definitive texts, they were called – of poems which had become ideologically offensive but which for one reason or another were to be retained in the anthologies.


You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?


Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema. This again was never put into plain words, but in an indirect way it was rubbed into ever Party member from childhood onwards. … All children were to be begotten by artificial insemination (artsem, it was called in Newspeak) and brought up in public institutions. This, Winston was aware, was not meant altogether seriously, by somehow it fitted in with the general ideology of the Party. The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it. He did not know why this was so, but it seemed natural that it should be so.


If there is hope, wrote Winston, it lies in the proles.

If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, 85 per cent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as the sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because, being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.

But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that. When you put into words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.


How could you tell how much of it was lies? It might be true that the average human being was better off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different. It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness.

‘Was life better before the Revolution than it is now?’ would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a work-mate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression of a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant facts were outside the range of their vision.


Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not only that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make for? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

And when he told her that aeroplanes had been in existence before he was born, and long before the Revolution, the fact struck her as totally uninteresting. After all, what did it matter who had invented aeroplanes? It was rather more of a shock to him when he discovered from some chance remark that she did not remember that Oceania, four years ago, had been at war with Eastasia and at peace with Eurasia. It was true that she regarded the whole war as a sham: but apparently she had not even noticed that the name of the enemy had changed. … He argued with her about it for perhaps a quarter of an hour. In the end he succeeded in forcing her memory back until she did dimly recall that at one time Eastasia and not Eurasia had been the enemy. But the issue still struck here as unimportant. ‘Who cares?’ she said impatiently. ‘It’s always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway.’



In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. Was, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades os the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude towards it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hysteria is continuous and universal in all countries, and such acts as raping, looting, the slaughter of children, the reduction of whole populations to slavery, and reprisals against prisoners which externd even to boiling and burying alive, are looked upon as norma, and, when they are committed by one’s own side and not by the enemy, meritorious.

In the early twentieth century, the vision of a future society unbelievably rich, leisured, orderly and efficient – a glittering antiseptic world of glass and steel and snow-white concrete – was part of the consciousness of nearly every literate person. Science and technology were developing at a prodigious speed, and it seemed natural to assume that they would go on developing. This failed to happen, partly because of the impoverishment caused by a long series of wars and revolutions, partly because scientific and technical progress depended on the empirival habit of thought, which could not survive in a strictly regimented society. … From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations. And if fact, without being used for any such purpose, but by a sort of automatic process – by producing wealth which it was sometimes impossible not to distribute – the machine did raise the living standards of the average human being very greatly over a period of about fifty years at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction – indeed, in some sense was the destruction - of a hierarchical society. … In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

Nor was it a satisfactory solution to keep the masses in poverty by restricting the output of goods. … Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the onl way of achieving this was by continuous warfare. The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouting into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, material which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.

Efficiency, even military efficiency, is no longer needed. Nothing is efficient in Oceania except the Thought Police.

The war, therefore, it we judge by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. … But thought it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. … The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquest of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war’, therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist.


Even the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages was tolerant by modern standards. Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance.

All the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes that characterise our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived. Physical rebellion, or any preliminary move towards rebellion, is at present not possible. From the proletarian nothing is to be feared. Left to themselves, they will continue from generation to generation and from century to century, working, breeding and dying, not only without any impulse to rebel, but without the power of grasping that the world could be other than it is. They could only become dangerous is the advance of industrial technique made it necessary to educate them more highly; but, since military and commercial rivalry are no longer important, the level of popular education is actually declining. What opinions the masses hold, or do not hold, is looked on as a matter of indifference. They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect. In a Party member, on the other hand, not even the smallest deviation of opinion on the most unimportant subject can be tolerated.

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as thought by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity. But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one’s own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body.


The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness. For the purposes of everyday life it was no doubt necessary, or sometimes necessary, to reflect before speaking, but a Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgement should be able to spray forth the correct options as automatically as a machine-gun spraying forth bullets.