On Monday night we discussed the idea of freedom. These discussions remind me of this scene from George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984, where the main character (Winston), mulls over the pressure he was feeling (from the governmental forces known as “the Party”) to disconnect his ideas from reality.
Someone who looks to the bible as their source of truth and knowledge of God wouldn’t end up affirming everything a writer like George Orwell thought or wrote. (Though I guess that’s true for any author.) Nevertheless, this passage seems to reverberate powerfully these days.
He wondered, as he had many times wondered before, whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one. At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun; today, to believe that the past is unalterable. He might be alone in holding that belief, and if alone, then a lunatic. But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him; the horror was that he might also be wrong.
He picked up the children’s history book and looked at the portrait of Big Brother which formed its frontispiece. The hypnotic eyes gazed into his own. It was a though some huge force were pressing down upon you–something that penetrated inside your skull battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make a claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable–why then?
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center. With the feeling that… he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.
If that is granted, all else follows.