Thanks to Mr Belton, our young, dynamic English teacher, (nicknamed ‘Sexy B’) we studied the novel ‘1984’ when we were 12. We found out that George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, that it had something to do with propaganda and quite a lot to do with Stalin’s USSR.
Amongst many gems, Orwell coined the term ‘doublethink’, meaning that people could hold two diametrically opposed views at the same time.
Because Orwell was a writer, the concept of doublethink was largely ignored by psychologists, who were still trying to understand how genocides could happen.
In 1957 Leon Festinger coined the term ‘cognitive dissonance’ meaning a situation where two opposed beliefs or behaviours could co-exist.
In Orwell’s idea of doublethink, there was no tension or anxiety involved in holding opposing views. There was no need to bring in moral-based concepts like hypocrisy, deceit or plain lying. You just had two different views at the same time.
Whereas with cognitive dissonance there is a tension between the two beliefs, so that a person tries to reduce the tension by pumping up one of the beliefs and diminishing the other. Many (quite unconvincing) experiments took place to show cognitive dissonance happens, at least in samples of carefully selected American college students.
Also in 1948, the WHO made a statement defining the concept of ‘health’:
‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Health became an entirely different thing from not being ill. More recently people are using the term ‘mental health’ in all kinds of contexts, often stretched or inverted, so that people ask me things like ‘was Trump a bit mental health?’
Trump does not seem unhappy with himself in any way. Also psychiatrists are not supposed to diagnose people they haven’t met, even if those persons are famous, for instance suggesting certain politicians fit the profile for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
According to the ‘Goldwater rule’ in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Principles of Medical Ethics, ‘it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures whom they have not examined in person’.
Shouting at the television probably doesn’t constitute giving a professional opinion so it’s probably OK to keep yelling abuse. The TV can’t hear you, or so we thought.
Despite the rule, in 2019, ‘The Independent’ reported that 350 mental health professionals had written to warn Congress that ‘Trump’s mental state is deteriorating dangerously due to impeachment with potentially catastrophic outcomes’.
Conversely, “Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) was proposed as ‘a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason’’.
TDS is a refreshed version of BDS, Bush Derangement Syndrome, invented by a psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer, in 2003.
Notice that TDS affects everyone apart from Trump, including the 350 mental health professionals who wrote to Congress, leaving Trump the only person coming out of the situation looking completely healthy.
We should look at Trump and BritainTrump (and the other world leaders that Pink Floyd would have consigned to the Fletcher Memorial Home) and instead of asking why they are deranged, ask instead why they seem so well.
Along these lines, we need to revisit doublethink and ask, is doublethink a step forward in human development, a special power of some kind?
BritainTrump for instance wrote two articles within days of each other both opposing Brexit and promoting it. There are websites devoted purely to recording his lies. The Marcus Rashford related lie, June 2020, went as follows:“I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which to be honest I only became aware of, recent … erm, today.”
Simon Hattenstone, in the Guardian, wrote at the time that this was a new kind of non-useful lie:
‘on Tuesday he appeared to have taken his lying to a new, worrying level – he now seemed to be lying just for the hell of it’
Yet he seems happy with himself and so far the voting public seem reasonably happy with his behaviour.
Let’s assume Britain’s PM has evolved beyond cognitive dissonance into ‘dual mode’ so there are no signs of mental tension. Attempts to see the problem as ‘pathological lying’ or ‘mythomania’ are plainly judgemental. All we know is that there are two versions streaming at once.
Double thinking, sometimes called double-bookkeeping, tends to be regarded as pathological, whatever the motivation. Whether it’s unconscious or deliberate, whether it’s delusional or magical thinking, we’re suspecting, in the words of Tokyo Blade, a ‘Head full of Bad Wiring’. That’s in contrast to everyday observations of doublethinkers, suggesting they are very happy indeed, having their cake and eating it.
Could it make sense to belong to several political parties at the same time? While you’re in town on Sunday morning, could it make sense to attend the catholic church and then the Friend’s meeting house gatherings, if the timings are favourable and you’ve paid for a whole morning’s pay and display?
You can’t join the labour party if you’re a member of another party. Churches, on the other hand, don’t employ bouncers. Many are nice places to hang out and some offer low price coffee and biscuits. The methodist church even has a capsule coffee machine. Would you give up Hail Marys in return for Lungo Intenso? Maybe you don’t have to.
If I’m asked what football team I support and I reply, ‘Man Utd and Liverpool’, am I facing a beating?
My argument is that such thinking is commonplace, but also that it is extremely rare.