American Dystopia: Unfreedom of Speech Today

I sported my George Orwell t-shirt recently for a bicycle ride. It reads, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” This quote is taken from Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. It is sadly apropos today, since Americans live in an increasingly Orwellian world, especially concerning the freedom of speech. When one perspective controls discourse, it is free to define terms any way it wants and without the resistance provided by dissident voices.

In one scene, Winston, the protagonist of 1984, is lectured by party propogandist-torturer, O’Brien about reality and “the Party.”

Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party hold to be the truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.

George Orwell, 1984

O’Brien further tells Winston, who is a dissenter against the Party, that he must“relearn” everything. It “is an act of self-destruction, and effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.” Since it is afraid of objective reality, the Party claims to create reality by political fiat and to enforce it through political muscle. Independent thinking must be curtailed or eliminated, lest dissidents gain strength through objective truth. All dissenting views can be rejected as “disinformation.” We see this strategy today.

Orwell feared a civil government that allowed for no freedom, either in thought, speech, or association. Freedom is too dangerous for tyrants. It may unmask them. In the story, Big Brother monitors the lives and communications of all its subjects with technologies that seem prehistoric to our times. To make sure no alternative views are heard, the Ministry of Truth controls communication. 

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security formed the Disinformation Governance Board (DGB) in order to supposedly counter disinformation coming from Russia and misleading information that human smugglers circulate to target migrants hoping to travel to the border of Mexico and the United States. Nina Jankowicz was named the director of the DGB. She has written of “gendered and sexualized disinformation” and labeled the controversy over Hunter Biden’s laptop as “disinformation,” but has been proven dead wrong. Given Ms. Jankowicz statements, the DGB could have easily used “disinformation” as a blanket term to include much discourse the Biden administration simply disagrees with.

I am happy to report that the DGB was short-lived. President Biden’s press secretary recently announced that it was dissolved because of “outside pressure.” Yes, it was dissolved through the pressure of those who value free speech. But the threat that the DGB posed is not going away soon. It may reappear under another guise, so let us consider some central ideas at work.

We should distinguish disinformation from misinformation. Disinformation is false information that is intentionally presented for some purpose. It is a kind of propaganda. Misinformation is simply false information—claims that don’t match facts. So, all disinformation is misinformation, but not all misinformation is disinformation. If you accidently write something that is false, you are guilty of misinformation. If you intend to deceive with a falsehood, you are guilty of disinformation. Why does this matter?

To establish a claim as disinformation, you have to know that it was written in order to deceive for some purpose. That is far more difficult than simply identifying a claim as false. Some claims are clearly disinformation, such as many of the claims made by the USSR through its propaganda vehicle, Pravda. But unless there is criminal intent or effect, even disinformation should not be censored or penalized by the government in principle. As law professor Catherine J. Ross wrote, “In 2012 the Supreme Court held for the first time that lies (verifiable factual falsehoods) were protected speech under the First Amendment, United States v. Alvarez.” Politicians peddle disinformation constantly. They should be held accountable morally and politically, but their speech should not be shut down as disinformation. Let the people decide what is true and false without the “Censor State” interfering. The alternative is the heavy hand of governmental interference deciding what is disinformation and what is not.

The First Amendment’s protection of free speech is precious and can be easily lost. Let us refresh our memories on its five freedoms:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment

Let us also contend earnestly in the marketplace of ideas (while we have one) to affirm these freedoms in order to avoid an “American Dystopia” all too much like what the secular prophet, George Orwell, feared. The KGB may be gone, but the anti-American spirit behind it is not. It is very much alive in America. 

4 thoughts on “American Dystopia: Unfreedom of Speech Today

  1. This is an outstanding article! If we don’t learn from “1984,” we are doomed to repeat its imagined (and now, often, very real) errors.

  2. Dear Douglas,
    Thank you for your efforts in putting the truth out and warning “the woke,” and us. Well said – I’ve never read the novel, but as it seems to be heading toward more of a non-fiction book, I should probably read it. I’ve been listening on the Internet to James Lindsay warn us about the woke – aka communism and how it has been slowly infiltrating the univeresities and the political realm for decades. Thank you for your watchful eye on the deception and wrong doing.
    One last thing – we are trying to determine what organization 501 (c)3 to make a year end donation to. Do you have any recommendations? We have a number of places/ministries, but could use some more ideas.

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