‘War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’ – these are the inherently contradictory political slogans employed by the ruling party in Orwell’s 1984 to keep the proletariat in check. But what do they mean?
‘War is Peace’ implies that constant warfare needs to be waged on far-flung parts of the world in order to keep the internal population of a state loyal and patriotic. America and the Middle-East sure do spring to mind, think of the mindless flag-waving that accompanied the Iraq War.
‘Freedom is Slavery’ means that humans need to have a strict structure governing their daily lives to help them make sense of everything. Anyone who has done a gap year without working knows what Orwell is talking about.
‘Ignorance is Strength’ is an interesting idea. It implies that the less the masses know about how their government actually conducts business, the happier they will be. We are all guilty of this. How many of us spend our mornings flicking through Instagram or perusing celebrity news outlets when we should really be reading up on the Apollo House situation? If we were fully aware of every injustice that happens in our state on a daily basis, we’d surely go mad. Therefore, ignorance can be a strength insofar as the maintenance of law and order in a society is concerned.
While I am all-too-aware that this column is descending rapidly into some sort of George Orwell fan-fiction blog, the man made a lot of valid points about the society we now live in. Hell, there is an argument to be made for 1984 replacing the bible at all religious services – now that’s a mass we would all go to.
As Orwell outlines, slogans are an efficient way of maintaining control over a population – even if the society is one of blinding hypocrisy. It is for this reason that we should pursue a constitutional amendment to ‘repeal’ the use of all political slogans in Ireland. Why?
Boiling entire campaigns down to simple one-sentence slogans is extremely dangerous as it inhibits discourse, thereby depriving the electorate of a fully-rounded understanding of a given topic.
Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ is a classic example. Rhythmically-speaking, the slogan was so balanced and catchy that nobody stopped to consider what it meant. Not one commentator or debate moderator asked him what exactly it is that once made America great.
The MAGA slogan is doubly-powerful because the last word, ‘again’, implies a sense of nostalgia that things were once better than they are now. People always look back on the past with rose-tinted glasses and the Trump campaign capitalised on this. As he was never forced to detail during which era America was actually ‘great’, Trump supporters were free to read into this slogan and apply any meaning they wanted to it. For example, one supporter could believe Trump’s slogan is harkening back to the Reagan era, or to that of Reconstruction; no one is actually sure.
Obama’s 2008 campaign team was guilty of tacit mind control as well in the usage of the equally-catchy and uplifting ‘Change We Can Believe In’ slogan. Obama has never actually been questioned as to what sort of policy change he has achieved during his tenure. Perhaps the ‘change’ he advocated bringing in was simply tied to the fact that he was the first US president of African descent.
What other change has he actually brought about? Guantanamo Bay is still operational, the Middle-East is more war-torn than ever thanks to a morally-reprehensible campaign of indiscriminate drone-bombing, and race relations are at their lowest ebb since the 1960s. Should all of Obama’s short-comings be over-looked simply because he had a catchy slogan in 2008?
We all know how important slogans were to the maintenance of power in the Nazi regime. Goebbels, as the state’s chief propagandist, helped to form catchy sayings that aided and solidified Hitler’s rise to power. For example: Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer (one nation, one people, one leader) was surely chanted by all and sundry following Hitler’s ascent to the Reichstag in 1932. The rhythmic balance and catchy nature of this slogan somewhat obscured the fact that it was openly genocidal.
Similarly, the Nazis used music to indoctrinate the Hitler Youth. Music and slogans are wholly inter-linked in terms of their efficacy as a method of population control. Works of German composer Wagner were used to emphasise the Reich’s noble and glorious past, thereby drawing on the same sense of nostalgia that the ever-resourceful Trump also tapped into.
For those who are sceptical as to the powers of indoctrination music possesses, consider this example. How easy is it to rhyme off the lyrics of your favourite pop song? Is it easier or harder than learning an essay for a Christmas exam? This is quite sinister if you actually consider the values espoused by modern pop artists: hedonism, carefree living and spending, casual sex, and so on. While I agree that all of these pursuits are good fun, they should hardly be seen as cornerstones for the kind of society we want to cultivate.
We are not exempt from the power of brainwashing slogans here in Ireland. Take the REPEAL campaign, for example. Leaving aside the merits of abortion, whether you’re for or against it makes no mind. The simple fact that this is a one-word campaign should offend the sensibilities of any democratically-minded citizen. Are we just repealing the Eighth Amendment? Will anything be put in its place? Are we going to define when life starts? All of these valid concerns are left unconsidered because of the sheer simplicity of the slogan.
While it may well be en vogue to wear a REPEAL jumper in an Instagram selfie – I mean, think of the likes – emblazoning such a simplistic and reductionist political slogan across your chest marks you out as an opponent of serious discourse. How many of these fashionable political activists have consulted the literature of the other side of the debate before making the decision to purchase a jumper?
Take George Soros for example, how many jumper-wearers have heard of him? He is a Hungarian-American billionaire who has invested hundreds of thousands of euros in the REPEAL campaign, according to The Irish Independent. Shouldn’t you think twice as to what motivation he has for investing in a campaign like this, so far removed from his own country, before literally becoming an advertising billboard for his personal political inclinations?
I must stress that I myself will never fully form an opinion on abortion until such time as I have a child of my own. That being said, there are darker elements to this REPEAL campaign that have not been subjected to the fullest light of public scrutiny. True discourse is being blighted because a simplistic and catchy slogan has been catapulted to the forefront of the debate.
Image from Frockadvisor for the Repeal Project.