Winston Smith of Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwellian fame identified Newspeak as both false and absurd — until he didn’t. “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery”; he’d eventually affirm the entire lexicon. After imprisonment and the torture applied to him there, Winston’s long resistance to Oceania’s propaganda police gave way to psychic exhaustion and acquiescence not just to the demand to reproduce lies and absurdities, but to the false ideas themselves and even to the expected love for Big Brother himself.
The consequence of that acquiescence, by Winston and all the others, was the lapse of a people into a totalitarian-induced societal death spiral. Facts on the ground within Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR provided the raw material Orwell needed for his novel. The doomed trajectory in both ran from the telling to the compelled repeating to the living out and finally to the societal assimilation of lies.
It may well be that most of those who heard Ketanji Brown Jackson’s “I-am-not-a-biologist” rationale for her claimed inability to define “woman” for Senator Blackburn deemed her response absurd. Jackson herself may think it so. But an exchange (8:40) between fans at a Lia Thomas swim meet aired by Tucker Carlson suggests Jackson’s response has achieved meme status and is now reflexively pulled as if from a holster by some in the trans-protective community. A female fan, having declared Thomas “not a woman,” drew the retort of a male fan — “are you a biologist?” to which the woman replied, “I’m not a Vet but I know what a dog is.”
Both Jackson and Thomas’s defender know that feigned ambiguity about a person’s sex somehow shields one from the charge of transphobic hate-speech. But neither yet knows that appeal to biology is a no-no for adepts in transgender ideology, as Barnard College gender studies expert Rebecca Jordon-Jones was quick to note — “I don’t want to see this question punted to biology as if science can offer a simple, definitive answer.”
Transsexual ideology insists that sexual identity is not determined by biology, but by one’s sexual desires, be they shifting and/or mixed. Blackburn administered to the SCOTUS nominee a one-question pop-quiz on transgender ideology to which Jackson gave two answers. She cannot define “woman.” Why? Because she’s “not a biologist.” For un-woke graders of the exam, Jackson scored a zero. Woke graders assign the score of 50 out of 100. Refusal to define “woman” secures for Jackson all 50 points on that portion of the exam. But she’s docked all 50 points for her appeal to biology as the warrant for her first answer.
The whole scene witnesses to the speed at which America’s totalitarian turn is advancing, leaving even high-profile progressives at pains to keep up. Even this Democrat SCOTUS nominee, though aware that to answer Blackburn’s question risks sanction by the oppressed-group language police, cannot provide current Newspeak-approved answers.
At this stage in America’s totalitarian trajectory, Jackson, given her evident intention to obey Newspeak directives, and given the stakes involved, will likely not be spanked hard by The Ministry of Truth. Instead, Jackson will likely win progressive protection and encouragement to continue her learning as the apprentice she is. But, as long as the Woke hold power to punish, all of us are, voluntarily or otherwise, enrollees in the national classroom alongside Jackson.
More ominous and foreboding than the absurdity of the Jackson-Blackburn exchange is the danger that threatens America should the absurdity be allowed to stand. Voltaire, that most sarcastic of 18th century Deists, made the connection that all keen observers of totalitarian horrors eventually discern between the power of language and the unleashing of evil — “Those who can make you believe absurdities can also make you commit atrocities.” If Jews and the unborn are not persons, arguments against their extermination weaken considerably.
Despite his eventual acquiescence and assimilation, Winston Smith remains a sort of tragic hero due to the unusual strength and duration of his resistance to Newspeak and The Ministry of Truth that threatened his very life. Totalitarian suppression of populations has succeeded so frequently in so many places over the last three centuries because its perpetrators know that the Winston Smiths of the world prove few and far between. Ministries of Truth presciently count on widespread voluntary compliance, even eager, smiling efforts like Jackson’s to satisfy the scrutinizers of compelled publicly articulated absurdities.
If history offers a reliable harbinger of what lies ahead should America provide safe haven for widespread repetitions of scenes like the one that played out in the Senate this past week, our destination is not in doubt. It ends where it began, with lies that lead to death for the soul and society — lies that first surprise, then repel, then appall, cajole, capture, and kill. The death of the West is playing out before our very eyes.