Monday, January 23, 2017

Orwell's Ministry of Truth

Winston examined the four slips of paper which he had unrolled. Each
contained a message of only one or two lines, in the abbreviated
jargon--not actually Newspeak, but consisting
largely of Newspeak words--which was used in the Ministry for internal
purposes. They ran:

times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify

times 19.12.83 forecasts 3 yp 4th quarter 83 misprints verify current issue

times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify

times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite
fullwise upsub antefiling

With a faint feeling of satisfaction Winston laid the fourth message aside.
It was an intricate and responsible job and had better be dealt with last.
The other three were routine matters, though the second one would probably
mean some tedious wading through lists of figures.

Winston dialled 'back numbers' on the telescreen and called for the
appropriate issues of 'The Times', which slid out of the pneumatic tube
after only a few minutes' delay. The messages he had received referred to
articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought
necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For
example, it appeared from 'The Times' of the seventeenth of March that Big
Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South
Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly
be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command
had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It
was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother's speech, in
such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened. Or
again, 'The Times' of the nineteenth of December had published the official
forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the
fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth
Three-Year Plan. Today's issue contained a statement of the actual output,
from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly
wrong. Winston's job was to rectify the original figures by making them
agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very
simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short
a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise
(a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be
no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston
was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes
to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to
substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be
necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his
speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of 'The Times' and pushed
them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as
possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes
that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be
devoured by the flames.

What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he
did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. As soon as all
the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number
of 'The Times' had been assembled and collated, that number would be
reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on
the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied
not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters,
leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs--to every kind of
literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or
ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past
was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party
could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any
item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the
needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was
a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was
necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done,
to prove that any falsification had taken place. The largest section of
the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked,
consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all
copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded
and were due for destruction. A number of 'The Times' which might, because
of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big
Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing
its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also,
were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued
without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written
instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of
as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of
forgery was to be committed: always the reference was to slips, errors,
misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the
interests of accuracy.

But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty's
figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one
piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing
with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of
connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much
a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great
deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For
example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of
boots for the quarter at 145 million pairs. The actual output was given as
sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked
the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim
that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was
no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than 145 millions. Very
likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew
how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every
quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps
half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every
class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a
shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become

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