When the likes of Marjory Taylor Green, the newly elected representative from Georgia, starts spouting her QAnon nonsense about Jewish space lasers and baby-eating democrats, it’s easy to dismiss her as simply “looney” (as Mitch McConnell did) or a shameless publicity-seeker. Either or both of these characterizations may be true, but neither capture the depth of the problem afflicting the GOP. Like the citizens of George Orwell’s prescient novel of 1948 entitled 1984, today’s GOP is afflicted with doublethink.
For those of you who have not read 1984, it’s a harrowing tale of the ways a totalitarian state reduces its citizens to empty shells by eliminating history and then fills them with lies, contradictions, and cultish behavior of devotion and hatred. The state even goes so far as to create it’s own “subversive” underground, through which it recruits citizens prone to independent thought or rebellion and then later arrests, indoctrinates and brain washes the recruits into proper cultish beliefs and behavior.
One of the primary methods of indoctrination is doublethink, forcing people to believe contradictory truths at the same time. By systematically undermining history and replacing it with a web of lies; through stimulating fear of deprivation; by terrorist violence; the state succeeds in making people believe only what their leader Big Brother tells them. That Big Brother lies constantly keeps the citizenry in a continuous state of devoted confusion: doublethink.
Orwell explains doublethink this way: “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.” Sound familiar?
Sociologist Arlie Hochschild provides a real-life glimpse of the workings of doublethink in her 2016 book Strangers in Their Own Land, an exploration of the beliefs and behaviors of citizens on the coast of Louisiana, the most polluted coastline in the United States. Despite their lifelong, firsthand experience of witnessing massive environmental damage wrought by petrochemical industries whose practices and waste disposal has killed the coastline, the people of the coastal Bayous still believe that government regulation is bad and that democrats are evil.
Similarly, despite the statistical evidence that America’s economy performs better during Democrat administrations than Republican, indoctrinated members of the GOP continue to believe the opposite, a perfect example of doublethink. Having been told for generations that Republicans are fiscal conservatives, and that smaller government is better, doublethink has firmly taken hold, which is why attempts at reason and providing evidence to the contrary fails to change minds. The effects of doublethink make people impervious to truth because their powers of reason have been surrendered to the power of feeling.
What Hochschild calls “the deep story” is not about facts or history, but about feelings, and this makes such stories nearly impossible to dislodge. When people operate on the feeling level only, reason and logic are set aside in favor of devotion to belief. When belief becomes devotion, it accounts for the structure of identity itself, akin to religious faith. A threat to the “deep story” thus becomes a threat to life itself.
The violent events of January 6th point directly to the GOP doublethink problem. Given the number of people now affected by it, doublethink is not simply a GOP problem, however, but a national crisis.