Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Orwell and Newspeak.


As I mentioned in my previous post,  I've gained the impression that Orwell developed his Newspeak dictionary in order to explain the cognitive phenomena he observed about him with regard to those committed to the Left.  That's not to say that the same cognitive phenomenon can't be observed amongst the Right, rather, Orwell realised that many mass movement type ideologies are logically contradictory and to sustain themselves their adherents must engage in mental gyrations to maintain their belief in them. Where I feel that Orwell erred in his understanding of Newspeak is in its relation to the human intellect of the average man.

Orwell understood Newspeak as being part of the apparatus of totalitarian control: something forced onto an unwilling and unwitting public. And to a degree it was, but what I don't think Orwell ever grasped was the devilish mechanism by which Newspeak operated.

In 1984, Orwell felt that masses would "wake up" if they had access to Goldstein's revolutionary book. It never occurred to Orwell that the masses wouldn't care as long as their animal pleasures were provided for. The Party, much like Juvenal before them, recognised that public would not care much about higher concepts such as truth or freedom as long as they were provided with bread and circuses; or in the Party's cynical terminology, Prolefeed. The average man, provided with a diet of booze, sports, porn and simple material comforts could be relied upon to never trouble his head with higher concepts such as truth, justice and love. In fact, trying to pry them away from these things in the name of "truth" would likely cause them to support the existing regime. (Note: this means that a capitalist totalitarianism, with its superior ability to provide for material goods, will be harder to dislodge than a socialist one.)

The Party understood the cognitive mechanisms of the average man better than Orwell did. Newspeak was a thought control mechanism aimed primarily at the natural intellectuals of the society, and the way it worked was by forcing intellectuals to think like the common man. Newspeak, was in essence, a mechanism to force thinking people into  "prole-mind".

Take, for example, the concept of Doublethink; the idea of keeping two mutually opposing ideas in one's head without noticing the difference. Orwell saw this mode of thought as an aberration with regard to normal thought but never realised that this state of affairs is the common mode of cognition (Cognitive dissonance) of the average man.

Or take for example the sublime concept of "Bellyfeel". Orwell describes the phenomenon better than I can;
Consider, for example, such a typical sentence from a Times leading article as "Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc." The shortest rendering one could make of this in Oldspeak would be: "Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism." But this is not an adequate translation. ... Only a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic, and casual acceptance difficult to imagine today.
Orwell was trying to express what cognitive neuroscience is only now beginning to formalise.  In trying to understand the blind enthusiastic support Democrats have for Obama, the statement "Democrats bellyfeel Obama" is a far more accurate understanding of the pseudo-cognitive process involved in their support of the President than, "Democrats give their full and enthusiastic support of the Obama presidency after a careful consideration of his policies". "Gut-instinct", more than reason, is mass-man's mechanism of political orientation. This is why Fascism and Socialism are better understood as appeals to the "gut-brain" rather than logically and empirically justified modes of political thought. Orwell really needs to be recgonised as the father of modern political neuroscience.

Totalitarian regimes cannot solely rely on oppression for their survival, they also need to rely on some measure of co-operation amongst the populace. The way they do this is by exploiting the cognitive miserliness of the average man. The five minutes of "hate", the glorification of Big Brother, the endless propaganda all work by exploiting and conditioning System 1 thought processes. Newspeak was a language which forced those of any intellectual ability to think like the average man thereby rendering them susceptible to the cognitive conditioning techniques.  To think in Newspeak is to think like a prole and avoid System 2 thought.

Orwell, like most other left wing intellectuals, never fully appreciated just outside the mindset of the proletariat he was. Though a committed Socialist who felt that he belonged to the "workers", there is plenty enough evidence that he had a hard time mixing with "the people." He just simply wasn't one of them. His understanding of prole stupidity, based upon his won frame of reference, was that Newspeak was "forced" onto the proles, whereas, in reality, it was their natural mode of thought(System 1). Orwell's fundamental misunderstanding of Newspeak lay in the assumption of what I call the  rationalist fallacy.

The rationalist fallacy assumes that the average man is "rational" when it counts. The problem is that average man is not, cognitive miserliness is the norm. Therefore any system of thought or organisation which relies on the rationality of Joe Average is going to fail in the long run. The problem is that a lot of mainstream conservative thought is based upon this premise which in turn undermines its own survival and helps feed the leftist beast. Any Conservatism which believe in the right of the cognitive miser to choose is a dead man walking. This criticism of the prole-mind is not based upon any snobbery, rather it is of functional basis. Competency, not class, should be the sole criteria for decision eligibility.  The Left needs the stupid to survive.

8 comments:

Drew said...

Thinking carefully about the concept that "average man is "rational" when it counts", might still be true if one carefully limits the definition of when it 'counts'.

I have found that when dumb people's personal interest (money, time, fun, etc) is on the line they all of a sudden get a lot smarter than the typical thoughts normally used to muddle through life. They all of a sudden are finding good advice from appropriate sources and learn quickly how to maximize their return.

Except this intelligence, adaptiveness, and resourcefulness immediately recedes when the immediate risk and opportunity passes. Those same demonstrated skills disappear when delayed gratification is required. When there is the expectation that someone can do it for 'em, the minimal thinking effort returns. Or if the avg intelligence is being -forced- to do something (file taxes, etc); the task at hand just becomes too complicated and expect the tax man to do it for them.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Drew

Except this intelligence, adaptiveness, and resourcefulness immediately recedes when the immediate risk and opportunity passes.

This is why I coined the term 'Stenosophism" to explain the short term/local/concrete nature of the average mind.

I'm not actually committed to the term but it makes the phenomenon difficult to discuss unless there is a term for it.

Anonymous said...

Or it could have been as simple as Orwell's wanting to parody CK Ogden's stripped-down "Basic English" in as many ways as possible, which resulted in second- and third-order effects such as the ones you noticed ...

TDOM said...

“His understanding of prole stupidity…”

“The rationalist fallacy assumes that the average man is "rational" when it counts. The problem is that average man is not…”

I will disagree with the assumptions underlying the first of the two preceding quotes. By and large proles are not stupid. The vast majority are of average or near-average intelligence. They just aren’t intellectuals and have never been trained in critical thought. Our mass-produced educational system is specifically designed to prevent them from acquiring the necessary skillset. Institutions of higher learning used to provide this training, but since they have been opened to the masses, even these institutions have become utterly deficient in teaching how to think critically. Thus the rationalist fallacy is the result of the average man not knowing how to think critically, not stupidity. The ruling class (left or right) has always exploited this deficiency. However, prior to the industrial revolution, it never had to deal with the problem of providing an educated working class while preventing them from developing the ability for critical thought.

“The Left needs the stupid to survive.”

No, all the ruling class needs (left or right) is the absence of critical thought in order to survive.

“Orwell really needs to be recgonised as the father of modern political neuroscience.”

While Orwell had a keen sense of politics, he should no more be considered the father of modern political neuroscience than should Sophocles be considered the father of psychoanalytic theory for telling the story of Oedipus Rex demonstrating his keen understanding of human nature.

The Social Pathologist said...

Thus the rationalist fallacy is the result of the average man not knowing how to think critically, not stupidity.

What exactly is non-critical thinking?

Thinking is either accurate or it is not. Rational or irrational.

Do you honestly think that given a choice between watching a football game or a lecture on critical thought, the average person-of-Walmart would choose the lecture? Seriously.

Critical thought requires effort. As the cognitive scientists have shown, most people are cognitive misers. It's not that they can't think it's that they do not want to think. How do you explain Heisenberg's embrace of Nazism, or the embrace of the Left by the professional teaching staff at Universities? Our best and brightest. It's not like philosophy departments are bastions of the Right. If these people can't think critically who can? Or is there another set of elites, above these ones, who control their thinking as well?

The notion of "every man a potential philosopher" presumes that everyone one is a blank state, and that with enough education they can be made right. It's an enabling myth of the Cathedral.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

I don't think Orwell was trying to parody Ogden. What's really interesting is that during the mid to late 40's, Orwell seemed to be shifting towards the Right. I think he recognised that stupidity was one of the enabling mechanisms of the Left.

Orwell may have felt that Ogden's Basic English facilitated stupidity and thus enabled Stalinism, hence his hate. Note, Orwell was initially a keen supporter of Ogden's idea.

TDOM said...

“What exactly is non-critical thinking?... Thinking is either accurate or it is not. Rational or irrational.”

I should assume that if you actually thought about that question, you wouldn’t have asked it because your statements above are a good example of it (non-critical thinking). Have you ever heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy? The three lower levels are comprised of non-critical thought. They are knowledge, comprehension, and application. In other words, the ability to learn and use what is learned. Nearly everyone is capable of this. The upper levels analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are characteristic of critical thought. Nearly everyone uses these to one degree or another. But these are skills that need to be learned and practiced. Not everyone will be able to achieve a high level of performance, but like throwing a ball, most everyone will be capable of doing it. If schools taught it, more people would become good at it. The problem is that schools don’t teach it. They are primarily concerned with the first three and of those knowledge is of primary importance.

"Do you honestly think that given a choice between watching a football game or a lecture on critical thought, the average person-of-Walmart would choose the lecture? Seriously."

No. Even I would probably choose the football game. But since nearly every kid is required to attend school, they aren’t given the choice. If schools taught it, they would learn it. They may never apply it again, but they would be taught how to do it.

"Critical thought requires effort. As the cognitive scientists have shown, most people are cognitive misers. It's not that they can't think it's that they do not want to think. How do you explain Heisenberg's embrace of Nazism, or the embrace of the Left by the professional teaching staff at Universities? Our best and brightest. It's not like philosophy departments are bastions of the Right. If these people can't think critically who can? Or is there another set of elites, above these ones, who control their thinking as well?"

Human behavior is based on a whole lot more than just rational thought. It also includes emotional thinking. Political ideology is based on an entire world view, not just rational thought and that includes those on the right as well as those on the left. Leftists seem to hold the view that compassion for others is of primary importance and that a functional utopian society can be created. Rightists seem to think that people should take care of their own and appear more motivated by greed. Morality is dictated by religion and fear of God for the right, and by legislation for the left. When corrupted, both the left and the right can become totalitarian, dictatorial, and/or fascist. My personal belief is that regardless of whether or not a government is run by the left or the right, that government will become corrupt within a generation or two if permitted to exist that long.

"The notion of "every man a potential philosopher" presumes that everyone one is a blank state, and that with enough education they can be made right. It's an enabling myth of the Cathedral."

I never said every man is a potential philosopher. One can think critically without being a philosopher. But even if it were true it does not necessarily imply a tabula rasa. It likely indicates just the opposite; that all are born with an innate set of abilities that includes the ability for critical thought. But like any other ability, it must be used and developed into its fullest potential. Unfortunately you are right about one thing; most people are too lazy to develop it. That our society also finds it to be a serious threat to its own existence and discourages it doesn’t help.

The Social Pathologist said...

The upper levels analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are characteristic of critical thought. Nearly everyone uses these to one degree or another.

Going through the motions is not the same as accuracy. The conclusion is more important than the procedure. That's why the average gut-instict prole usually has a better grasp of reality than the highly theoretical university professor. You can critically think yourself into a ontological falsehood. it's also why the scientific method triumphed over Aristotelean science.

It also includes emotional thinking. Political ideology is based on an entire world view, not just rational thought and that includes those on the right as well as those on the left.

Emotional thinking (i.e. bellyfeel) is the rationalisation hamster. As an indicator of information, it's only valid if the feeling is congruent with reality, else it is a lie. We all know where "feel-good" critical thought has led us.

Unfortunately you are right about one thing; most people are too lazy to develop it.

Most people are so preoccupied with the here and now that "abstract" concerns are of no interest to them. Chamberlain's "events in far away lands" is a natural human instinct. Stenosophism is a fact of human nature which hasn't been taken into account by political theories.

It's not that people are just too lazy to develop it, the problem is far worse. There are some that don't like the conclusions and try to suppress them. (Note, this a moral problem, not an information processing one. Therefore better information processing doesn't help.) Lies aren't are as a result of faulty reasoning, they are the product of malice. i.e. moral evil.

The silence on "race issues" is forced onto us by effort. It is not so much a product of failure of thought as it is a desire not to see. Moral evil, not stupidity.