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"Who controls the past...controls the future..."

Sharp passage here from 1984, as Winston Smith performs compulsory morning calisthetics under the watchful eye of the "telescreen" surveillance monitor.

The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles) - the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened - that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.

'Stand easy!' barked the instructress, a little more genially.

What is truth, exactly? Unfortunately, it's often nothing more than what official history says it is. Which is why I admire truth-tellers like Howard Zinn as much as I do.

June 24, 2009 in Books | Permalink