Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The USA lurches towards Orwellian territory

The American Republicans, Ohio Representative Jim Jordan in particular, are taking the country one step closer to George Orwell 1984 territory (not to mention Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale) with a bold experiment in Orwellian doublethink. 

"Doublethink" is the simultaneous acceptance of multiple mutually-contradictory beliefs. It was a core tenet on which the ruling regime was built and maintained. In I984, the state has slogans like "Ignorance is Strength",  "Freedom is Slavery" and " War is Peace". As the book's protagonist, Winston Smith, puts it, "To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them".

1984 became an unexpected best-seller after Donald Trump was elected, for obvious reasons. But today's Republicans are still finding their own ways to utilize it. The House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government (now THERE'S a name Orwell would have relished!), a Republican-led vehicle for Jim Jordan and other Trumpist politicians, has sent subpoenas to three US universities and one think tank, calling for documents it says show the institutions' contributions to what it calls the Biden administration' "censorship regime".

The Subcommittee believes that these research institutions are complicit in silencing Conservative and right-wing voices, in particular "by advising on so-called misinformation". So, this is the Republican Party looking to silence progressive institutions which are critically reporting on deliberate political misinformation campaigns. Whether there is anything behind the Subcommittee's claims or not, it will nevertheless probably have its intended effect, and may lead universities and other institutions to think twice (doublethink?) about conducting such research, just as the 2024 election campaigns start to wind up. 

As one researcher put it, "The weaponization committee is being weaponized against us". It certainly puts one in mind of the Un-American Activities Committee of the McCarthy era. Scary stuff.

This comes in the heels of a Republican bill "to make Congress more open" and "increase transparency" in government, which also happens to include a "secret three-page addendum" that some Republican lawmakers insist does not exist, while others claim to have seen and read it. It's hard to make this stuff up.

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