It was the concept of doublethink that struck the hardest blow -- a sudden horrible shock of recognition. Doublethink in the novel is:
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.... 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.If I am honest I have to admit that I am guilty of doublethink, that in my mind I hold two contradictory beliefs, that I tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, and that I keep the lie one step ahead of the truth. I have become irrational.
On the one hand, I supported Obama for any number of reasons from the very early days, watched his ascent to power with fascination and, frankly, awe -- as if he really was something of a superhero come to earth. In the primaries I was relentless in my Obamania, and in the general election I was wracked with an excruciating mixture of fear and hope for months and months. When he won the election, I had a kind of spiritual orgasm. Tracy and I retired to the couch for more or less 24 hours, watching YouTube clips of election highlights, playing our favorite joyful songs, and shaking radiant, gratified faces at each other in disbelief. Once inaugurated, I was happy with early announcements: phased withdrawal from Iraq, banning torture, no more using the phrase "War on Terror," funding stem cell research, bold stimulus to invest in green clean energy, health care, green transportation, etc. etc.
On the other hand, when I look at my country, when I look into my heart, I see that the US and the whole post-industrial world truly is a capitalist oligarchy, ruled by small elite groups for their own enrichment. The US political system is cleverly rigged, the economy is clearly aimed at pouring almost all of the wealth upwards, and the two-party system is there to simulate a minimal amount of "debate," staged by the handful of conglomerate media companies, that is largely limited to issues of importance to the ruling class. The two parties stifle any and all rivals and use extremely sophisticated coded media language to communicate to their followers. The system has now perfected the art of reaching just the right people with just the right language to support the elite's two chosen candidates. Congress is hardly better, with both houses bursting with millionaires -- and the rest with incomes and tangled connections of influence and power beyond the reach, and probably even the imagination, of most ordinary people.
The two concepts are entirely irreconcilable. To simultaneously understand that Obama has drawn almost his entire administration from the same elite roster as Bush -- and to dismiss my previous concerns about those people in hope that somehow they will get things right this time -- that is doublethink. To watch Obama deal with the financial crisis by plucking people from the the Wall Street titans, the self-described Masters of the Universe, and placing them in charge of "fixing" the very problem they created, and accepting that their solution is to immediately pay themselves and their friends absolutely colossal sums of money borrowed from future generations -- and even cheerleading this effort as unavoidable, as an unfortunate necessity -- that is doublethink. To know that President Obama is continuing to run the country for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful capitalist class and that the working and middle classes, when it's all said and done, are going to get shafted for every penny yet again -- and yet to literally beam at President Obama while he jokes around with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes, to marvel at his intelligence and calm demeanor and sober, good-natured bearing -- that is indisputably doublethink.
I am guilty of doublethink. I am as susceptible to microtargeted PR efforts as the Fox News consumers I disdain have proven to be susceptible to the PR efforts that target them. To admit this to myself is extremely sobering and makes me head for the safety of defiant justification: What, I want Obama to fail? And anyway what choice did I have -- Mike Gravel? Wasn't the most important thing to be rid of Bush, who was overtly Orwellian, and then get on with improving things? Isn't it an achievement all by itself, sad as it is to say, to have elected a president who is well-spoken, mild in temperament, smart? And wouldn't it have been almost impossible for me to not support the first African American president, especially when he seems to be just about pretty much damned perfect in every way? And if Obama supporters abandon him, won't the Republicans just reassert control?
Those may be good questions, but they don't absolve me from needing to think rationally. Obama may be my favorite president in a long time, but that has about as much to do with justice and economic fairness as saying R.E.M. is my favorite band. The system is rotten to the core, and looking at the truly obscene debt and deficits, could well be finally past the point of no return. It's by any honest measure wildly, dangerously out of whack. At a time when the financial sector, after betting the country's future on idiotic gambles that should have been illegal, has brought the world economy to its knees, Obama is presiding over a scuffle among different factions of the wealthy regarding who will take home the biggest bags of our money, and he's billing the whole thing to the national credit card. Which is just what Bush used to do.
But even after all that ... I. Still. Love. Him. Just as after his ordeal, Winston Smith, at the end of Orwell's novel, has his ideological breakthrough: I ... love ... Big Brother. How is this possible? Because doublethink is possible. And I am guilty of it.
I don't claim to be an economist or social theorist, but I do claim to have a fairly clever head on my shoulders. Admitting my doublethink is a step away from feeling good, but it is a step toward sanity.