A term coined by George Orwell in 1949 for his novel "1984" to describe illogical or deliberately perverse thought which serves to distort or reverse the truth to make unpopular or dangerous ideas more acceptable. For example: "War is peace" to persuade the masses that waging a war is the only path to a lasting peace; or "Freedom is slavery" to convince the populace to welcome an authoritarian dictatorship.

The totalitarian regime in 1984 encourages the populace to practise doublethink: the ability to accept as true what you know to be false. For example, last week you knew that Party Member X was your next-door neighbour and loyal to the precepts of Ingsoc. However, this week the government has decided that such a person never existed - he is an unperson. Doublethink deprecates your own memory as against the memory of the system: if the party says that the person never existed, then who are you to say that he did? This is internalised, so not only do you not claim to others that this person existed: you do not even allow yourself to believe it. This supression of your own mental processes effectively gives the state mind control.

Of course, 1984 is a work of fiction, but this concept has chilling analogues in our own age, especially with the interpretation of history. For example, during the Gulf War, were we allowed to remember the historical fact that Saddam Hussein was once an ally of the United States, who provided him with weapons?

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word 'doublethink' involved the use of doublethink.
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Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. 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 and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies -- all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. Ultimately it is by means of doublethink that the Party has been able -- and may, for all we know, continue to be able for thousands of years -- to arrest the course of history.

George Orwell, 1984


I should like to make it clear that there is a discipline of doubt. You will remember that I suggested that it is quite normal to doubt, and that doubts will come to anyone who has a brain ...
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It is, rather, a sign of a healthy mental and spiritual state, to doubt when there are so many strange and terrible things happening around the world and so much muddled thinking and wrongheadedness in the churches. But do not hide behind your doubts: use them.
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Sometimes I am assailed by great waves of doubt. I think that Jesus Christ was just a man, that it is possible for great masses of people to be deceived, for the whole church down the ages to have been mistaken. At such times I have to battle hard to a place of faith, even though I recognise in such thoughts the prevailing corrosive cynicism of the West. One of the things that helps me is to keep it simple. It is best to put the church and the evangelical doctrines, and all the rest to one side, and to simply ask, 'Is there a God?' I have never been able to get round the fact that if I deny the existence of God I create for myself far more intellectual, and emotional, problems than if I allow that God exists. The order of the universe points to a creating intelligence. Every human society has given a prominent place to some form of religion... The arguments are many. What explanation will you choose for the acts of Jesus, for the rapid growth of the church despite persecution? As you wrestle with such questions and contemplate a bleak and godless universe without meaning or purpose, where the tenderest human love is race perpetuation or herd instinct, you find for yourself that doubt is truly a beneficial discipline, for it drives you back to the centre of all things. Once God's existence is accepted, I soon find my mind able to believe the other basic doctrines of biblical faith.

George Verwer, No Turning Back

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