Rethinking Doublethink

A mindset for the age of contradiction.

Rethinking Doublethink

Orwell really fucked us.

Sure, 1984 was good.

But he made Doublethink poison, when maybe it's the answer.


When he coined the word, Orwell meant it to be the enemy.

Doublethink was:

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.

Doublethink is a foundation for his dystopia, where nothing could be trusted.

Where citizens had gone beyond denial, into disillusion.

I love it.

It reminds me of the section in Hypernormalisation, where Adam Grant tells how Putin embraced 'shapeshifting'. Suppressing dissent by being unpredictable - pitting the right against the left; funding both Antifa and Neo-Nazis, and letting it be known, so that participation felt futile.

Unable to trust their own minds meant the masses were demotivated from political action.

They became passive. Dead.


But much as I like his construct, I think F. Scott Fitzgerald's take is more valuable.

Because Fitzgerald was a man on the edge.

Writing The Crack-Up, he was deep in the depths of alcoholism. He no longer believed he was a good writer.

The only glimmer of hope he had left, was to contradict himself.

To hope where there was no hope.

As he put it - “to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I've turned to those words over and over again over the years.

Trying to pull a failing business out of freefall.

Navigating cultures as descendant, resident and immigrant.

Trying to make my mind up, when neither side wanted to back down, and both were kind of right.

In a hopeless situation, to still have hope.

We don't always have the luxury of being single-minded; sometimes that's not even desirable.


Doublethink matters now, because our world is getting more complex, not less.

And to navigate complexity, first we must acknowledge and accept it.

We fucked up the internet by turning controversy into dopamine; it made us forget how to be calm in the face of dissonance. And so we live in an age that both needs and lacks nuance.

After all... quality matters, and it doesn't.

Transgressors need to be punished, and helped.

Speech needs a muzzle and a microphone.

Abortion is a necessary tragedy.

The fight against hate creates more hate.


As Simone Salis articulated, there's a difference.

'I think constructive “doublethink” is summing up two concurrent truths, driven by an open mind. Orwellian doublethink is about reconciling lies with truth, driven by fear.'

We've seen it for ourselves, in our own creations: even how we teach machines benefits from this logic.

Because it's good to engage with people you disagree with, read articles where you won't like the ending, challenge yourself to avoid simplistic readings - of yourself and others.

Accept that two opposing things can sometimes both be true.

Hold contradictory thoughts in your mind at once.

Find compromises.

Not because we're passive and indoctrinated.

But because it's the only way to embrace complexity.

And in our mess, there's more to life than simple good and bad, black and white.

There's empathy.

Enlightened compromise.