Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Speaking of doublethink, which will be on your mind today, Louis Menand had an interesting article on Orwell in last week's New Yorker:
"Big Brother" and "doublethink" and "thought police" are frequently cited as contributions to the language. They are, but they belong to the same category as "liar" and "pervert" and "madman." They are conversation-stoppers. When a court allows videotape from a hidden camera to be used in a trial, people shout "Big Brother." When a politician refers to his proposal to permit logging on national land as "environmentally friendly," he is charged with "doublethink." When a critic finds sexism in a poem, she is accused of being a member of the "thought police." The terms can be used to discredit virtually any position, which is one of the reasons that Orwell became everyone's favorite political thinker. People learned to make any deviation from their own platform seem the first step on the slippery slope to "1984."
Menand attacks various orwellian straw men, who are unfortunately not really straw men, since they appear to abound in wondrous profusion, while missing what seems to be the more germane point, which is his brilliance as an essayist.

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