It’s been decades since I first read 1984, but it clearly is a book for our current cultural and political moment. I bought a copy at a used book store the other day and the tattooed and purple-haired young lady at the register gave me a curious glance. She commented, “Oh, I’ve had other people asking about this book. Why are you reading it now?”
I wasn’t going to get into a discussion about current events, but I couldn’t entirely stop myself. I said, “Well, it just seemed timely.”
“It just…” She hesitated. “It just seemed like the right time?”
“Yes,” I answered, realizing this was definitely not a conversation I wanted to have. “It seemed like the right time,” I said, to which she responded with a mistrustful look.
It was almost, but not quite, a conversation from Orwell’s dystopian novel, where truth can barely be hinted at, and then carefully covered over, never stated outright.
“Timely” is right. Even more Orwellian was a comment in a New York Times article that a colleague passed around last night with some amusement. The Times reports, “M.I.T.’s Choice of Lecturer Ignited Criticism. So Did Its Decision to Cancel.” The lecturer is Dorian Abbot, “a scientist who has opposed aspects of affirmative action.” Well, that’s enough to get you canceled.
Here’s the Good Part
Among those weighing in on the topic was, of all people, our Censor of the Year from 2014, atheist and evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago. A pioneer of cancel culture, Coyne earned that distinction by using his own clout to squash a young physicist, Eric Hedin, who was then teaching at Ball State University. Hedin’s thoughtcrime (Orwell’s term) was to introduce his students to intelligent design. Acting in concert with the bullies at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Coyne got Hedin canceled. The idea was to put the less powerful scientist down the memory hole (Orwell again), but they didn’t entirely succeed. Hedin is still teaching, though no longer at Ball State, and he tells his story in a recent book, Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See.
Cut to 2021 and here is the same Jerry Coyne, now presented without irony as a free speech advocate! From the Times story:
“I thought scientists would not get on board with the denial-of-free-speech movement,” said Jerry Coyne, an emeritus professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Chicago. “I was absolutely wrong, 100 percent so.”
Wrap Your Mind Around This
Coyne, who punched down, canceled Eric Hedin, and never apologized, deplores what he calls the “denial-of-free-speech movement.” Try to wrap your mind around that one. George Orwell had the perfect word. In 1984, he called it “doublethink”:
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, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word — doublethink — involved the use of doublethink.
Doublethink is one tool by which the prestige of science is used to hypnotize the public on behalf of a materialist picture of reality. Another is intimidation and bullying. Part of our motivation in producing the Science Uprising series was to call forceful attention to how science itself — the truth about cosmic, biological, and human origins — is canceled in the process. As the masked narrator puts it, “Any view that challenges materialism is punished. It’s this materialist dogma that keeps many scientists behind a mask. But some scientists are willing to speak about where the evidence leads.”
If you haven’t explored Science Uprising yet, a great place to start is the most recent episode, “Human Evolution: The Monkey Bias.” The scientists who appear unmasked in the episode are geologist Casey Luskin and biologist Jonathan Wells. It’s highly worthwhile.