Campus Reform | A look at how the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ played out on college campuses in 2020

A look at how the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ played out on college campuses in 2020

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four describes a dystopian future dominated by a totalitarian government that uses surveillance, language, and propaganda to subdue its citizens.

Leftists on American college campuses took its precepts for a test drive in 2020.

Article image

While George Orwell's famous dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is a work of fiction, it is widely regarded as a warning against totalitarian regimes, especially those that seek to quash freedom of expression. This year, some of the most prevalent themes in the novel presented themselves on America's college campuses.

Thought Police

Oceania, the dystopian government of the novel, uses a secret police force called the Thought Police to discipline citizens who hold to unapproved thoughts.

The student newspaper at Princeton University published an editorial in November encouraging the university’s administration to “act against racist speech.”

“For too long, white people, and particularly white men, in this country and on this campus, have held the power to decide what constitutes acceptable speech and action,” reads the piece. “They have consistently deemed racist, and particularly anti-Black, fictions acceptable.”

The authors want the university to consider examples of “racist speech” as “harassment,” which means that “separation from the university is a possible outcome” under university disciplinary policy.

Similarly, the University of Arizona issued hundreds of dollars in fines to a student who disagreed with the school’s COVID-19 policies on social media. 

The Dean of Students informed the undergraduate that he had violated the university’s code of conduct by posting “negative views regarding COVID-19 health and safety protocols.” 

On November 3 — the same day that Campus Reform reached out to the University of Arizona requesting comment about the incident — the school sent another email to Orsay, stating the September 23 letter "inaccurately and incorrectly" listed a prior discussion with Orsay for "online comments/postings" about the school's COVID-19 policies as an "aggravating factor."

Ministry of Truth

Winston Smith — the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four — worked for the Ministry of Truth, which was responsible for manipulating reality through propaganda and misinformation. Smith and other workers were responsible for destroying documents to support the ruling Party’s agenda.

A student newspaper at Johns Hopkins University removed an article featuring a university study claiming that COVID-19 did not significantly increase the United States death rate.

Using publicly available data from the CDC, a university employee found that “the deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19.” She also noted that “the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same” between 2019 and 2020.

Regardless, the newspaper pulled down the article after it had allegedly been used to spread “dangerous inaccuracies” online.

2 + 2 = 5

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the citizens of Oceania were forced to accept irrational ideas — “doublethink” — in order to signal their submission to the Party. "“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four," the protagonist writes at one point. "2 + 2 + 5" is a motif throughout the book, referencing the citizens' willingness to deny observable facts as they bend to the Party's political will. 

In August, professors at Brooklyn College and other universities asserted that “2 + 2 = 5” on social media. Many alleged that Western concepts of mathematics are rooted in racism and “white supremacist patriarchy.” Another professor said that the United States “colonizes” math.

A month later, Harvard University Public Health’s official Twitter account granted credibility to the notion of “2 + 2 = 5” by endorsing an article called “Why Some People Think 2 + 2 = 5… and why they’re right.”

Several universities further engaged in doublethink by violating the gender binary.

For instance, a Georgia State University business school program — which was explicitly being offered for women — listed ten pronoun options on a signup form. The options included “ere,” “ey,” “xie,” “hir,” “vis,” and “yoself.”

Similarly, Harvard Medical School referred to women giving birth as “birthing people,” insisting that it “in no way” meant for the comment to “erase or dehumanize women.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft