American Flag At Sunset
American Flag At Sunset

Beyond Orwell: The Players and Strategies of Today’s Censorship and Cancel Culture

Originally published at Townhall

Just a few generations ago, most Americans understood that George Orwell’s classics Animal Farm and 1984 were written as a warning about how freedom is lost to the tyranny and intolerance of totalitarianism. 

Written in novel form,  Animal Farm and 1984 were particularly apt for teaching young people at a time when the shocking revelations about Nazism and Soviet communism—that were coming out in the 1950s and 1960s—were hard to digest. Most important, what these works revealed was that a defining feature of totalitarianism is mind control. First, propaganda warps and destroys people’s grasp on reality. Second, propaganda is designed to foster groupthink, conformity, and collectivism, which marginalizes critical and independent thinking. 

Orwell described the scope of the totalitarian enterprise, noting in one section of “1984” that, “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, and every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

In 1984, Orwell wrote, “Who controls the past controls the future.” Orwell’s introduction of concepts and terms such as “newspeak, doublethink and thought police” are what we now experience daily as political correctness, misinformation narratives,  and cancellation. The analogs of “thought police” in 1984 are now the enforcers of political correctness and the political narratives of the ruling elite. 

As Orwell notes, “the whole aim of newspeak and doublethink is to narrow the range of thought.” Political correctness has the same goal and that’s why its adherents are so intolerant — seeking to silence, cancel, and delegitimize people with whom they disagree.

As it turns out, social media and information technology have great power to narrow the range of acceptable thought. Google, which controls 90 percent of internet searches, utilizes an artificial intelligence-driven search ranking that can manipulate not only consumer preferences but also election outcomes. According to Robert Epstein, a Harvard Ph.D. who has studied Google for more than decade,  Google’s ability to manipulate its search ranking algorithms has the power to change the choices of 15 percent of undecided voters, more than enough to change many recent close election outcomes.

The Covid-19 lockdowns and the death of George Floyd in May 2020 created an environment of fear. And fear of going to the polls gave Democrat activists and lawyers the opportunity to change election laws and protocols in key swing states to expand the utilization of mail-in ballots, ballot harvesting, and lengthening vote counting deadlines. 

Simultaneously, a full-blown transformation was also sweeping through America. With the pandemic came unprecedented policies and mandates that brought stress to families, destroyed small businesses while helping large businesses, and imposed mask-wearing, social distancing and “sheltering in place” lockdowns—none of which had any proven effectiveness. With those unprecedented mandates came social division, fear, and people turning on each other. It was as if Mao’s Communist Cultural Revolution of 1960s and ‘70s had come to America. 

Then came hoards instigated by Antifa and Black Lives Matter smashing windows, looting, and burning down neighborhoods resulting in the destruction of $2 billion of urban property across America. And as if on cue or following a plan, marauding mobs appeared with ropes in cities across America, seeking to topple historic statues and monuments. Columbus and Confederate Civil War heroes were the first to go, but no one should doubt that the Founding Fathers—the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—will be next. The goal? No history, no borders, no country. 

Future historians may well look back and mark 2020 as the year America lost its marbles and the greatest threat to national survival appeared, for what happened that year and continued over the next two and half years radically changed the country, effectively depriving American citizens of their First Amendment rights more completely than ever before. This resulted in a presidential election with results many Americans questioned. 

The country that had been moving forward at 4 percent GDP growth rate, enjoying four years of peace under a president with unusual strength was slammed into reverse with President Biden’s election, returning America to dependence on foreign oil, a weak and incompetent military leadership—on display in the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, and whose open border policy was an open invitation for foreign invasion across its southern flank.  

How did this happen to America so quickly? Were we fooled and manipulated? Was it a mass formation psychosis brought on by propaganda? What must we do to stop this, regain our strength and integrity to save our free republic and avoid being entrapped again? 

Find out tomorrow in Part II.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.