By Robert A. Vella
Orwell’s Thought Police are charged with uncovering and punishing “thoughtcrime” and thought-criminals. They use psychological methods and omnipresent surveillance (such as telescreens) to search, find, monitor, and arrest members of society who could potentially challenge authority and the status quo—even if only by thought—hence the name Thought Police. They use terror and torture to achieve their ends.
Orwell’s concept of “thought policing” derived from and had much to do with his own “power of facing unpleasant facts”, as he referred to it, and his willingness to criticize society’s prevailing ideas—which often brought him into conflict with others and what he called their “smelly little orthodoxies”.
In modern vernacular, the Thought Police is synonymous with totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Imperial Japan which used brutal methods to suppress internal dissent and to impose strict conformity onto its populations. However, there is another more pervasive form of thought policing which is just as authoritarian and just as insidious as its state-run brethren. In fact, many of us ordinary folk engage in thought policing and might not even be aware of it.
Thought policing can be defined as:
A person, or group of persons, who attempt to expunge the holding of and/or expression of particular beliefs from society through authoritative and/or non-authoritative means.
Now, I’m not referring to casual forms of censorship such as parents ordering their children not to use vulgar language, or internet bloggers editing abusive and extraneous comments. I’m talking about systematic intent to shape the beliefs and discourses of an entire population or a subset within.
Examples of non-state sponsored thought policing:
- A Christian fundamentalist community which ostracizes residents – typically atheists, agnostics, Muslims, and other religious adherents – for not conforming to its prevailing cultural orthodoxy.
- Islamists who go even further by intimidating, torturing, and murdering anyone who doesn’t conform to its orthodoxy.
- Proponents of laissez-faire capitalism who engage in a wide array of tactics – often using clever subterfuge and surreptitiousness – to discredit other economic systems (e.g. socialism and communism) through demonization.
- White nationalists/supremacists who also utilize propaganda techniques to vilify various ethnic groups as a means to propagate their insular ideology.
- Libertarian and anarchist radicals whose vehement anti-government rhetoric is designed to eliminate or severely restrict the democratic practices of sovereign nation-states by undermining the popular support for it.
- Activist followers of New Atheism whose intolerance of religion can be as profound as any of these other examples, and which can curiously be extended to secular beliefs that are more tolerant of religion.
In all of these examples, the people involved believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity (i.e. purity) of their respective causes. The basic problem common to all is that they are focused on beliefs and/or existence instead of the behaviors of others who are the targets of their antagonism.
- Christian fundamentalists don’t ostracize their non-Christian neighbors because those neighbors behave badly, but because those neighbors are not Christian fundamentalists.
- Likewise, Islamists commit jihad (i.e. holy war) against non-Islamists simply because they exist.
- Laissez-faire capitalists don’t demonize socialists and communists because they aren’t productive citizens, but because they aren’t laissez-faire capitalists.
- White nationalists/supremacists vilify blacks, Latinos, and other minority groups because they believe such peoples are inferior and should either be subjugated by them or removed from their perceived dominions.
- Libertarians and anarchists don’t denigrate the role of government because it hasn’t and can’t benefit society, but because of their questionable idealistic beliefs that people can either effectively govern themselves, or should live according to the primal laws of nature (see: Social Darwinism) regardless of the consequences.
- Activist followers of New Atheism aren’t intolerant of religion and religious acceptance because such beliefs can’t be benevolent, but because such beliefs are prevalent.
That which we don’t understand or don’t accept, we seek to destroy.
Personally speaking, I wish that all religion would fall out of favor and fade into the dustbin of history. Human civilization has become too complex to be limited by the auspices of mythology. I desperately hope that humanity can forever move beyond bigotry, racism, and xenophobia. These have no place in our future. I have no admiration, nor respect, for the ideologues of unbridled capitalism and societal anarchy. They are self-serving agendas which offer no solutions. And, I have little appreciation for those who self-righteously claim to know what science readily admits to not yet knowing. That kind of arrogance helps no one.
I defend the right of all people to believe what they chose. As an American, my nation was founded on such rights. The freedom of speech cannot be assailable in any land of liberty, and the machinations of the Thought Police must never be substituted for it under any guise. America’s laws are based on the governing of behavior, not belief. Unfortunately, those who would breakup this constitutional bedrock are minion in today’s very troubled world. Perhaps the values of The Enlightenment were not years ahead of their time, but centuries.