the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

July 16, 2005

Republican Crimestop


I’ve been reading Orwell’s 1984, DCDL’s book of the month, and for some reason a particular passage has been resonating lately — and I have a feeling the resonance may increase in the coming weeks (emphasis and paragraph breaks added, since Emanuel Goldstein seems addicted to page-long paragraphs):

A Party member is expected to have no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm. He is supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party. The discontents produced by his bare, unsatisfying life are deliberately turned outwards and dissipated by such devices as the Two Minutes Hate, and the speculations which might possibly induce a skeptical or rebellious attitude are killed in advance by his early acquired inner discipline.

The first and simplest stage in the discipline, which can be taught even to young children, is called, in Newspeak, crimestop. Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.

But stupidity is not enough. On the contrary, orthodoxy in the full sense demands a control over one’s own mental processes as complete as that of a contortionist over his body. Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not omnipotent and the Party is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts.

The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.

Of course we don’t live in the world of 1984, and there is no threat of arrest, torture, or execution for those guilty of thoughtcrime. Instead people are training themselves in crimestop of their own free will. I’m not sure whether that’s better or worse.

The DCDL discussion of 1984 was postponed indefinitely. Are people still up for it? Do you have suggestions of other books we should read and talk about? If so, leave a comment.


  1. I think the self-inflicted crimestop/blackwhite thought is worse than if envforced by a government. If the government was enforcing it, then there could be an underground resistance. But when people alter their behavior of (supposedly) their own free will, then they can claim it is their right to do so, and any argument to the contrary is an infringement on their first amendment rights.

    Now, it could be argued that the U.S. government is behind crimestop because it has used fear to help bend people in that direction. Also, someone not believing in crimestop is unwelcome at Bush rallies, “town meetings”, and other so-called public events.

    Johnny4:00 pm, July 18

  2. Good points about crimestop that are worth reiterating.
    I see blackwhite more as something that is actively
    propagated by our public officials, though. Look at Rovegate.
    White House loyalists have challenged every basic fact
    surrounding the Valerie Plame affair with their own “anti-facts”:
    Plame was NOT a covert agent, there really WASN’T a leak,
    “Ambassador Wilson has been wholly discredited” (Sen. Bond, MO).
    The Washington Post yesterday reported that John Roberts’
    name appears in a 1997-1998 Federalist Society membership
    directory, although Roberts previously demanded a retraction of
    such an allegation and continues to claim he was not a member,
    despite the evidence and contradictory statements of another
    Federalist Society official, who said Roberts was the contact
    person for the Federalist Society in Roberts’ law firm. What
    makes this case blackwhite, I think, is not so much Roberts’
    denials (of course it is possible, however unlikely, that
    Federalist Society officials added his name for no good reason),
    but the effect of this denial on the Post, which tells us that
    this issue now depends on “the definition of the word member”.
    Evidence notwithstanding, apparently, Roberts’ denial
    of the evidence tells us we cannot conclude Roberts was a
    Federalist Society member. This might be called journalistic
    blackwhite. I don’t think most judges use blackwhite to decide
    cases before the court, though.

    —Jesse • 3:38 pm, July 26

  3. Yet Another 1984 Parallel

    When I read in Talking Points Memo about the thorough deletion of Abramoff-Bush photos, I thought about writing another post comparing a passage in Orwell’s 1984 to current events (as I did about crimestop and creationism). I didn’t get ar…

    DCDL4:34 pm, January 28, 2006

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