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Thoughtcrime

In George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four the government attempts to control not only the speech and actions, but also the thoughts of its subjects, labeling disapproved thoughts with the term thoughtcrime or, in Newspeak, "crimethink".

In the book, Winston Smith, the main character, writes in his diary: "Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime is death."

Thought Police

The Thought Police (thinkpol in Newspeak) are the secret police of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four whose job it is to uncover and punish thoughtcrime. The Thought Police use psychology and omnipresent surveillance to find and eliminate members of society who are capable of the mere thought of challenging ruling authority.

Orwell's Thought Police and their pursuit of thoughtcrime were based on the methods used by the totalitarian states and competing ideologies of the 20th century. It also had much to do with Orwell's own "power of facing unpleasant facts," as he called it, and his willingness to criticize prevailing ideas which brought him into conflict with others and their "smelly little orthodoxies." Although Orwell described himself as a democratic socialist, many other socialists (especially those who supported the communist branch of socialism) thought that his criticism of the Soviet Union under Stalin damaged the socialist cause.

The term "Thought Police," by extension, has come to refer to real or perceived enforcement of ideological correctness in any modern or historical contexts.

Technology and thoughtcrime

Just as technology played a significant part in the detection of thoughtcrime in Nineteen Eighty-Four — with the ubiquitous telescreens which could inform the government, misinform and monitor the population — a number of technologies have been developed to try to detect thought and emotional states. There are attempts to create image-recognition software that detects possible wrongdoers by looking for signs of anxiety. Other technologies range from lie detectors, the penile plethysmograph which was used to try to detect "homosexual or pedophile thoughts", and on to more modern attempts to use magnetic resonance imaging to try to detect brain chemical activity supposedly corresponding to memory or thoughts. All of these technologies have been proposed at one time or another as a way of detecting "bad thoughts".

See also

Further reading

  • Kretzmer, David and Kershman, Hazan Francine (Eds.) (2000) "Freedom of Speech and Incitement Against Democracy". Kluwer Law International, The Hague, Netherlands. ISBN 90-411-1341-X

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