Recent polls are showing that by a good 60% margin, Barack Obama is seen as a candidate who can "unify" the nation. This may be the most brilliant example of what George Orwell called "doublethink" in the recent history of the Democratic Party. Think about it: for over thirty, maybe forty years the American public has been variously sermonized and threatened by crusaders in Obama's same party into embracing not unity, but "diversity." Call it what you will - brilliant or duplicitous - it is still a masterful political achievement.
For decades students in our schools have been told to "celebrate difference" and to see America as a "salad bowl" rather than the "melting pot" of old. Those who resisted the collective swoon for "diversity" and who descried the resulting balkanization of our educational institutions were forced into "diversity training seminars" and reeducated under the watchful eyes of "diversity officers." For as Mao Tse Tung famously said, those who oppose progressive change "must go through a stage of compulsion before they can enter the stage of voluntary, conscious change." But if these polls are correct, and Obama is indeed the great unifier, what will happen then to all of the "diversity officers" and "diversity training" seminars on our college campuses and in our corporations? Will the entire "diversity" superstructure in our society finally be dismantled? Will Democrats, for maybe the first time since JFK or MLK start talking about what unites us rather than what divides us? Will citizens be thought of as "Americans" first and not categorized and rewarded based on skin color? Is Obama, the great unifier, going to finally liberate us from this divisive ideology? Don't hold your breath.
George Orwell claimed that there was something more calculated at work when politicians begin to claim for example that "Slavery is Freedom" or that "Hate is Love," or in Mao Tse Tung's words, that "Compulsion is Voluntary." The new and improved Democratic Party version seems to be that "Diversity is Unity." Orwell called this "doublethink" and he claimed that it was a condition endemic to the totalitarian mind. It meant the ability "to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory" and "to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies." For example, a liberal socialist political platform usually involves "liberating" us from our attachments to property, families and nation in the name of "freedom." When the State chooses for us, however, the result is slavery. Doublethink in Mr. Obama's case ("Diversity is Unity!") gives him the luxury of defending not only the divisive and intolerant Reverend Wright and his party's divisive policies over the years, but it also allows him to be seen as the savior who will finally make America whole.
Since it is difficult to recall a time when national unity was high on the list of Democratic Party priorities, the coming months should be a rather curious time for many. For instance, when Obama runs in the general election, will his supporters cover their old "Celebrate Difference" bumper stickers with a new "Celebrate Unity" sticker? Will the old "rainbow" flag be replaced by a new flag sporting a picture of a melting pot? Doublethink, however, can help with these exasperating decisions: just display both.
In all seriousness however we need to be aware that doublethink is at bottom a form of intellectual laziness, irresponsibility, or a form of "having your cake and eating it too" with a disdain for objective limits and consistency.
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in Iraq for example the doublethink mantra of "Defeat is Victory" can be heard loudly in our newsrooms and lecture halls. But this version of doublethink is nothing new. Since the Vietnam War, when liberals began dominating the media and universities, the mantra of "Defeat is Victory" has been a popular refrain. Before the 1960s it would have been terribly difficult however to generate the kind of divisive animus for America that must exist in order to pull off this version of doublethink. Take for example a Christmas Day, 1950, LIFE Magazine editorial entitled "The Blessing of God." At the time the editorial was written, vastly outnumbered U.S. Marines were making a dramatic and courageous stand at the frozen Chosin Reservoir against communist Chinese human wave attacks in North Korea. In this desperate situation the staff at LIFE penned the following:
God, as always, is in the hearts of all who will have Him there. We, as a people, are indeed blessed of God. Blessed in the justice of our cause; in that conviction we do not waver. . . . We are blessed, most of all, in ourheritage. In a set of beliefs or habits . . . in which God looms large. We do not need to put God at the head of our battalions. He is in them.
This passage of the editorial is telling for several reasons. First, what has happened to God? Second, the word "we" is palpable here in 1950 but completely absent in our current editorial climate. Third, what happened between 1950 and 1968 to destroy the sense of "we" in America? Some will claim that Vietnam caused this drastic change but the two situations were strikingly similar: communist aggression coming from the north, supported by the Soviets and Chinese, and an American response to that aggression.
One must ask the following: what would have happened in Korea if, as in Vietnam, the press and universities had organized, not a defense of, but a full out assault against America's "beliefs and habits?" What if they had chanted "Defeat is Victory" and attacked the "justice of our cause?" Would South Korea be free today? On the other hand, if the press had defended our mission in Vietnam and had not made fun of the strategic "domino theory" that formed the basis of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia, would South Vietnam be free today? Could the Cambodian genocide in 1975 have been prevented?
The problem with doublethink is that in the interests of gaining power its practitioners tend to play fast and loose with objective reality.
Let's grant for "objective reality's" sake that the 1950 use of "we" excluded black Americans and other non-Europeans. This is an ugly and painful truth. But when Martin Luther King rightly wanted to achieve a more inclusive sense of "we", he didn't say to judge people based on the "color of their skin" but instead on the "content of their character." MLK probably understood that any future sense of "we" would fall apart if Americans were categorized by arbitrary qualities such as skin color.
This kind of divisive, arbitrary designation however has been a hallmark of Democratic Party policy. It is interesting in this regard to revisit a famous curmudgeon dubbed the "Old Oligarch" who lived in late 5th century B.C. Athens. A critic of the excesses of Athenian democracy, the Old Oligarch said that the Athenian democrats were ready to use the arbitrary "lottery" to grant access to just about any institution except, interestingly enough, the military:
Such offices as bring safety if they are in meritorious hands - and danger to the whole people if they aren't - the general populace feels no need to participate in. That is, it doesn't think it has to participate through lottery in generalships or cavalry commanderships. For the populace recognizes that there is more advantage in not exercising those offices itself but for those to exercise them who are most able to.
For example, what would happen if the military, or the NFL for that matter, began rewarding soldiers or players based on arbitrary distinctions such as skin color? First of all, the sense of "we" or "team" would disappear, and secondly, the team would no longer be effective or successful if the participants failed to be rewarded based on the "content of their character." As the Old Oligarch says, the populace in Athens had figured out that when something important is at stake, such as national security, the arbitrary distinctions and fancy flights away from objective reality should probably stop.
At about the same time that America began to divide over Vietnam many feminists mobilized to attack not America so much as nature itself. This happened in a couple of ways. First, about the time of Roe v. Wade, progressive intellectuals like Judith Jarvis Thompson and Mary Anne Warren set out in groundbreaking and influential essays to convince women that an unborn child for example was nothing more than a "renter" in the mother's "house" who was subject to eviction, or, even worse, nothing more than a "fish."
For example, in 1973 professor Warren famously argued,
"a fetus, even a fully developed one, is considerably less personlike [i.e., less conscious] than is the average mature mammal, indeed the average fish."
By convincing women that fetuses were less "personlike" than fish, Warren and others were hoping that women would somehow use "reasonable" arguments like this to overpower the biological and emotional connections they had to their unborn children. In this case the carefully constructed yet understandably suppressed doublethink cry became "Murder is Justice." Says Warren:
"Mere emotional responses cannot take the place of moral reasoning [i.e., justice] in determining what ought to be permitted."
And since "moral reasoning" rather than emotional ties should convince women that they had "a right to obtain an abortion at any stage of [the] pregnancy," the conclusion, says Warren, is quite liberating:
Whether or not it would be indecent (whatever that means) for a woman in her seventh month to obtain an abortion just to avoid having to postpone a trip to Europe, it would not, in itself, be immoral, and therefore it ought to be permitted.
The result was an amazing achievement. Feminists like Warren and Thompson and others convinced millions of women that the natural, feminine, emotional connection they had to their unborn children could be trumped by rational argument. Doublethink in this case rates as the most brilliant and successful defiance of objective, natural law ever in the history of human civilization. In short, according to professor Raymond Dennehy in his fascinating new book, Soldier Boy, these feminists had convinced women that "there is no moral difference between a woman bearing her child or killing it."
To add to this astonishing early victory against nature, more recent feminists have seduced young women into a new, more deadly expression of doublethink: "Murder is Compassion." That is, it is more "compassionate" to kill your unborn child if you cannot adequately provide for him or her after birth. In one of George Orwell's most beautiful novels, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a young man, Gordon Comstock, contemplates this same kind of reasoning after his girlfriend becomes pregnant. But in Orwell's novel the young Comstock chooses life:
Here was the poor ugly thing, no bigger than a gooseberry, that he had created by his heedless act. It's future, its continued existence perhaps, depended on him. Besides, it was a bit of himself - it was himself. Dare one dodge such a responsibility as that?
Comstock seems to be aware that there is something unnatural and frightening about killing a family member. In Professor Dennehy's words:
"Humans have always recoiled at the thought of homicide and the contemplation of killing one's own family members is more horrifying yet; but there's something grotesque about a woman killing her own child, born or unborn."
For proof of the success of these more ghastly forms of doublethink we have the numerous recent polls showing that a pro-abortion candidate like Hillary Clinton can still be very popular with Catholic voters. Indeed, the 1992 general and midterm elections were dubbed the "Year of the Woman" based on the argument that incoming politicians like Barbara Boxer and other staunch defenders of even partial birth abortion would bring more feminine "compassion" to the male suits in Congress.
But many men were obviously shocked by these feminist claims. How could a child in the womb be nothing more than a fish? How could a woman justify murdering her seven month old unborn child so as not to miss out on a European vacation? How can murder of the innocent be compassionate? The natural, masculine, biological drive to protect and defend innocent life was distorted by these feminists as mere attempts to "dominate" women and perpetuate "patriarchy." Is this more unity or more division?
Coming on the heels of this dramatic success against unborn children, many Democrats naturally graduated to an attack on the traditional family. In this case, the doublethink cry was "Slavery is Freedom!" Young radicals like Hillary Clinton set out to undermine parental authority in the family by likening a child's relationship with his or her parents to the condition of slaves with their masters and to the condition of oppressed women under male "patriarchy."
In a devastating critique of Hillary Clinton's proposals for the American family, the eminent historian Christopher Lasch wrote in the October, 1992 issue of Harper's Magazine,
"her writings leave the unmistakable impression that it is the family that holds children back, the state that sets them free."
Hillary later expertly spun this philosophy in a more palatable form as "it takes a village to raise a child." Lasch quotes from several of Hillary's essays in which she challenges, according to Lasch, the traditional view that "parents are competent to raise their children and that the burden of proof lies with those who argue otherwise." That is, according to Hillary, the burden of proof is on the parents to prove their competence, not the state to prove theirs.
In Hillary's words, traditional conventions regarding parental competence simply amount to "romanticism about the family" and "cherished, albeit fantasized, family values." After quoting these and a number of Hillary's other observations on the family, Lasch draws a rather sobering conclusion:
The best defense against the state is the informal authority exercised by the family, the neighborhood, the church, the labor union, and all of those other intermediate institutions that make it possible for communities to educate, discipline, and take care of themselves without calling in the state. The growth of the welfare state weakens those institutions, and reformers then cite the resulting disarray in order to justify another dose of the same medicine. Far from encouraging individual autonomy, however, the state turns citizens into clients.
Hillary's grand plan, according to Lasch, is to weaken the very institutions that make free societies possible, but with a strategic use of doublethink she can do all of this in the name of freedom: by "freeing" children from their parents the state can then turn American citizens into what Lasch calls "clients" or what most people would call "slaves." A recent major ruling in California against home school parents is a testament to the slow, gradual, march of this kind of thinking.
When Mao took over China in 1950 and began dismantling the traditional Confucian family there, new school textbooks were mass produced with the following introductory remark: "Chairman Mao is your new father and mother." Mao understood that Confucianism (one of the four "olds" that had to be destroyed in China) is built entirely on the success of the nuclear family. Without strong nuclear families, said Confucius, the village is weakened, and when the village is weakened, communities are in trouble, and when communities are in trouble, the nation ceases to exist. But the problem for Mao and other tyrants is that parents are annoying obstacles standing between the State and its ideological designs on the children.
By fomenting conflict not only between children and their parents but between women and men Mao hoped to destroy the nuclear family and thus usher in the State as savior and dictator. To do this however Mao had to destroy the entire Chinese cosmology of Yin and Yang, which includes not the opposition but the natural complement between not only children (Yin) and their parents (Yang), but women (Yin) with men (Yang). Since Chinese philosophy could not help him out here, Mao had to turn to Marxism -- a western theory of conflict and opposition, not cooperation. This can explain the 50 Million brutal deaths during Mao's reign: many Chinese people revolted against what they considered to be an unnatural Western theory of conflict that violated the Chinese natural law of complementarity between Yin and Yang.
What we have to ask ourselves is the following in this regard: when was the last time a major Democratic candidate for president talked about natural law and family values? Haven't many Democrats been supporting arguments over the years that "liberate" us from nature? Does making fun of family values as Hillary has done in her past writings help or hurt the black family? Does more division within the family square with Obama's doctrine of "unity?"
But the Left was not finished with its goal of sowing division. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s students across the country were subject to ever more creative sources of division and doublethink. "Postmodernist" intellectuals crafted a new and improved Marxist mantra called "race, class, and gender" and encouraged the academy and the media to see history and society through these new lenses. When a student read Shakespeare for example, he or she was encouraged by the professor to dismiss the beauty of the language and the tender intimacy of the love affair and focus instead on race divisions, class divisions, and gender divisions within the story.
Not only were great works of literature forced through this Marxist lens but history was as well. The history of America, in other words, is little more than a sad record of race, class, and gender oppression. By dividing American citizens against each other in this way it became even easier to justify not the unifying of America but rather the "damning" of America. And the more the academy and media bought into this argument, the more they could justify expanding affirmative action programs and claim in addition that European immigrants to America who overcame enormous difficulties themselves relied not on hard work and sacrifice to achieve success but relied merely on "white privilege."
But when these divisive affirmative action programs were challenged in courts across the country "diversity" was invented as a way of continuing the assault on what many considered "white privilege" or "white oppression." In the final analysis however, diversity or multiculturalism were never more than a charade to cover the underlying Marxist theory of conflict. Minority students brought in on affirmative action were rarely encouraged to study other languages and cultures because the liberal gatekeepers understood something rather disturbing about this endeavor: a thorough and sensitive investigation of other cultures and religions reveals a rather conservative, not liberal, orientation in their respective beliefs and habits.
A survey of many of the world's ethnic and cultural traditions shows, much to the chagrin of western progressives, a demonstrated respect for natural law, family, marriage, and restraint. Diversity in America, by contrast, is defined not by its enthusiasm for world cultures but simply by the tacit agreement of those with various skin tones on the Left to all embrace the drab and divisive monotone of "race, class, and gender."
The bottom line is that when the Left in this country embraced Marxism they committed themselves to conflict and division, not cooperation. Obama, unlike Hillary however is smart enough to understand that fostering division is a poor strategy for winning elections. In the words of Eric Hoffer:
Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding or captaining discontent. . . They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope.
Obama's relationship with Reverend Wright complicates this strategy, as does his receptivity to and defense of the anger in much of the black electorate. But if Obama's message is "unity" then it means absolutely nothing unless he addresses several decades of divide and conquer liberal ideology. In other words, unless he does this, Obama's message will amount to nothing other than the latest form of Orwellian doublethink: "Diversity is Unity!"