Opinion... Blurring of the truth in rude health

I found myself recently thumbing an old copy of George Orwell's 1984. Flicking through, much of what is unfolding today chimes with my memory of the book.

"Doublethink" was Orwell’s concept of simultaneously holding two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and getting people to believe in both absolutely.

It requires logic to be used against logic. So "war is peace" or "freedom is slavery". This brainwashing pervades the book and the characters and it is this doublethink that is contributing to the unease I am feeling today.

For me this blurring of the truth, or brainwashing, is in rude health. The recent news that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is saying that staff should not use the term "climate change" but instead use "extreme weather events" is of course nonsense, but I can only assume that they have calculated that people will believe that the facts and science for climate change can be eroded. "Extreme weather events" suggests one-offs that have nothing to do with longer-term structural change. Responsibility of government and citizens is removed — we cannot affect the weather.

This process brainwashing is pervasive. The £350m a week we were to save to reinvest into the NHS after Brexit was a plain lie, but it surely contributed to the "yes" vote. The White House said the crowd at president Trump’s inauguration was the largest ever — it wasn’t. These and so many more like them lead to an erosion of public confidence in politics. 

This is exacerbated when lies are not questioned and there is no concomitant outrage. It is no wonder, given that my scepticism of what is true and what is not is now so parlous that I feel some of the helplessness and despair of the novel. 

In a world where communication and technology deliver the opportunity for knowledge sharing and, I hoped, more equitable trade and wealth distribution, what I see is its power being used to deliver misinformation to more, to challenge facts with media tricks and to advantage fewer globally.

The political changes we see in Brexit or in the policies of Trump produce negative regressive reactions to the inexorable advancement of technology, information and knowledge. We need to harness the power we now have to communicate and educate, to propound truth, deliver facts and empower the many. These are sadly the opposite of what we see now. Until I see a profound change of direction, my anxiety will remain.

Noel Farrer is a founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates

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Founding partner of Farrer Huxley Associates Noel Farrer on landscape and green space

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